úterý 17. července 2012

Wenmiao - one of the last Kunming teahouses

Wenmiao used to be a temple of Confucius, but  it is a teahouse for ordinary people now. The teahouse is in the center of the city and is one of last oases of rapidly changing city.
There are two houses in Wenmiao actually - one is near the entrance, the other one is in the back of the object. 
In the first teahouse, there is traditional chinese music being played and most visitors have their own vacuum bottles, cups and tea - they pay only for hot water (one yuan if you go for water to a little window, four yuans for a vacuum bottle brought to you).
In the second teahouse named "Gai Wan Cha", the tea is served in gaiwans and you may buy a green tea (a very low grade of yunnan Chun mei) or a herbal tea. In working days, you get your own vacuum bottle; on busy weekends, water is carried around by employees of the teahouse. You pay four yuans for a gaiwan and hot water (i.e., about 0.7 USD).

People sitting in the first teahouse, "Hua Yuan Cha Shi" (Garden tea house):

One of cells in the second teahouse - visitors eating kilos of their favourite sunflower seeds.

Visitors often play various boardgames:

These pipes used to be seen frequently (see photos in the book Teahouses in Kunming), yet used only seldom these days:

This is the rhytm section of the musicians in the first teahouse. Classical opera is played, which is somewhat difficult to listen to. We used similar style of music in to make guests leave after the closing hours in the teahouse where my tea journey started (Sluníčko, Ždár nad Sázavou; the teahouse does not exist anymore):

Between songs, tea is consumed and cigars smoked. Some songs last more than an hour...

You may leave spent leaves from your mug or glass:

Hot water carried to the guests:

Around the Gai Wan Cha teahouse, there is a small pond with gold carps and blooming lotuses:

Sunday afternoon, a full teahouse:

The entrance to Wenmiao:

neděle 24. června 2012

Yiwu Zhangjiawan - a visit in the spring of 2012

We chose the material of Zhanghiawan village this year to produce our gushu Yiwu. Zhangjiawan is historically a part of Manla (曼腊), one of Six famous tea mountains. In Manla, there are the vvillages Dingjiazhai (丁家寨), Gaojiachong (高家冲), Xujialiangzi (徐家梁子) and Zhangjiawan (张家湾). In the time of Qing dynasty, these areas formed a single large tea garden large 5-6000 mou. The area of old tea trees Zhangjiawan Lao Zhai (Lao Zhai = old village) is an abandoned place, the people moved to Zhangjiawan Xin Zhai (Xin Zhai = new village). Xinzhai is near the road connecting Yiwu and Jiangcheng. The village is some 13 km far from Lao Zhai. The migration happened in 80s of the 2éth century. During the migration, old tea trees did not have much of a value and there was a general opinion that they are, quality-wise, about equal to new terrace taidicha. The inhabitants of Xin Zhai have planted new tea gardens about their village and started farming tea too. At that time, the ancient tea trees were 90% shortened to 1 meter, but often cut down entirely. Now, the shortened trees are 2m high, sometimes a bit more. The old trunks are clearly visible (see photos).

A recently shortened tree:

Most trees there looks like this:

One of few uncut trees, harvested as single bush:

Paradoxically, most people rides their motocycles from the new to the old Zhangiawan in the time of harvest. Gushu trees are the most important trees now. The Laozhai area is high in the mountains, close to the Laos border - approximately a hour of walking in mountains. In today's Laos, there are gushu tea trees in two places too - in Mengwu (孟乌) a Wude (乌德).

The path to Laozhai is scenic indeed!

Zhangjiawan Lao Zhai used to be an important resting place for tea caravans, travelling from Six famous tea mountains to Vietnam where a part of the teas ended, further caravans travelled through Vietnam to Canton and Hongkong.

In the years 1900 to 1933, the most famous tea merchant in the Zhangjiawan village was mr. Chenshi Yun (陈石云), the owner of tea house Chenyunhao (陈云号). His tea was sold mostly to Vietnam. According to available literature, his tea used to be very good, but more expensive too than what the rest of merchants in the village had.

Our maocha is a similar story. It comes from a family who produces tea very well - selection of the material, work with wok - everything is top notch. Their production is reserved for a long time and the family is bound by an agreement with a certain merchant. That is why could buy only a limited quantity. During the several days we spent in the village, we could try maocha from probably all the families there and therefore we thought we did well paying more money (about 30% compared to normal) for absolute contentment.

You may find some more photographs and information on the site of our shop:

úterý 22. května 2012

Aged jasmine tea, Xiaguan TF 1992

I got this 50g package of a rather rare jasmine tea from my friend and chinese tea merchant in Kunming. He got a whole carton (I think that it is 20 pieces in two rows) from a former employee of Xiaguan TF. 
Tasting of this tea worried me and I just felt happy about the box.  However, after half a year, my curiosity prevailed and I opened it. If any green tea is supposed to be drinkable after twenty years, I dare say that this tea is an ideal candidate. There are several reasons: The tea is packed in paper box, sealed by cellophane. The tea itself is packed in another plastic bag. It is quite a similar stoorage to Xiaguan Chun Jian 100g, which is ment for long-term storage. Also, this tea has been stored well and dry in Kunming. The last important reason is that it is a tea from Yunnan, probably high-mountain one from Dali or Xiaguan - these teas have good permanency in general.

The front side of the package:

From above:

From a side (here, described with pinyin, chinese is used on the other side):

Opened box, the sack of tea and a neipiao with description and a date

The neipiao in detail; the date of packaging is September 1992.

Dry leaves are quite dark, aromatic:

Wet leaves (sorry about the bad quality of the photograph):

A photo of the liquor - 4th brew, to be exact (the color was consistent over different brews):

The aroma of wet leaves bears only a trace of jasmine, I find several jasmine blossoms among the leaves. The tea is chopped and contains a good amount of tips, I think it is the "Yi Ji" grade. The aroma is unusual and difficult to describe aged aroma, possibly similar to sichuan Yibin Tuocha 1995.
I prepared the tea in a small ceramic gaiwan made by Petr Novák, using 5g of the tea. I did a rather short steepings, using a water of about 92°C degrees. The tea was quite sharp at the beginning, I probably used too much leaves. I do even shorter steepings after that, the taste gets much better immediately. The liquor is sweet and aromatic, parts of bitterness change to sweetness quickly. There is a slight unpleasant staleness but I expected it to be much worse. There is an interesting dominant agedness in the taste, very different from puerh agedness. There is a hint of the jasmine, very pleasant, undisturbing.
I am very glad I tasted the tea. I saw it for sale only on Taobao for 83 USD (500 RMB) - 50g, which is too much, unless you are passionate collector of tea artifacts. Still, if you manage to get to this tea, do not hesitate to try it. Generally, the price for "aged green tea" from these years (even a bit older) is about 200-300 RMB (32-48 USD) for 50g. Such teas may be bought from collector of aged tea at the Fangcun tea market (Guangzhou).
Thanks for reading, Honza.

čtvrtek 17. května 2012

A visit of the Huilong village, September 2011

The Huilong village (Hui Long Zhai, 回龙寨) is renowned for its excellent green tea of the same name, huilong. The village lies in the Yunnan province, Dehong prefecture, county Lianghe, being governed by Dachang village, a center for surrounding villages (weekly markets are held there too). 

People of the Achang minority ( 阿昌族) selling their surplus crops:

The Achang women usually wear high hats and large silver earrings:

We have visited the place in half of September 2011, during the fall harvest. Huilong has the altitude of some 1500 meters above sea, the peak being in the altitude of 1650 meters above sea. 

The place is rich in red ground, not the volcanic ground, as is often incorrectly declared (Volcano green tea, etc.). This error in ground classification has its roots probably in volcanic activity of near Tengchhong ( 腾冲 ). People of Han majority live in Huilong, but the not too numerous Achang minority ( 阿昌族) is present in the surrounding villages too.

Some images of the Huilong village:

The original Huilong tae comes from a small area around the village, from tea trees planted around 1920-1930, the original old big leaf  varietal of yunnan tea tree, brought here from Simao. The trees have been planted from seeds, not cuttings. Therefore, only tea from near the village and from original tea trees (which are quite strong and robust, with thick trunks) may be considered to be the original Huilong. The tea is rather expensive, we offered certainly genuine Huilong from the fall harvest of 2011. Best quality harvests happen at the break of March and April, fall harvests come after that. Fall harvest is about 10% cheaper than the spring harvest, but is of the same quality. In high sorts of the tea, only one leaf and a tips is harvested, but two or three leaves with a tips are more frequent. Local tea producers themselves drink the tea with larger ratio of leaves to tips as the tea is stronger and may be steeped more times.

Photos of the original tea trees:

What other tea is to be found around? The surrounding villages produce tea to (e.g., the area around Dachang). These teas come from from a more recent cultivar: the clone "Yunkang 10 Hao" - teas produced from it are much cheaper. The material from the original trees is sometimes blended with the Yunkang 10 Hao. Fortunately, local producers (at least those visited by us) were very honest and distinguish  various green teas based on the kind of tea trees they originate from.

Yunkang 10 Hao bush in Dachang:

Two kinds of green tea are produced in the Huilong village. One is processed in wok in the usual way, while the other, rare, is baked in the wok using much higher temperaturre and the process is shorter. The leaves plump and are hollow inside. I myself prefer the normal version of their green tea though.

It is often said that Huilong is handmade, etc. In the village, there are four families still having classical woks for green tea processing. However, the need for using them is very low, occasionally, small-scale requests appear and the cost of such tea is double of normal price. 95% of the tea is processed in modern drum rotated above fire.

Tea production:
Traditional wok, seldom used these days:


This drum rotated by an engine is used instead of wok:

Fire is lit under the drum which rotates quickly. Tea is thrown into the drum from one side:

On the other side, it falls to a bamboo basket and the process is repeated several times:

I am very glad we could visit the place, get to know the maker producing tea for the fifth generation and, most importantly, have a look how this tea is created. The Kunming market is full of "huilong" tea, but many of these remain only distantly similar (in looks and taste) to the tea of Huilong village.