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.

pondělí 7. května 2012

A journey to Longling (autumn 2011)

In the September of 2011, when travelling through Baoshan, we visited the county of Longling, a beautiful and somewhat forgotten place. I do not know why, but Baoshan (保山) has really attracted me, I wanted to explore it, all the more as when I said to my chinese friends that when visiting my father, I would like to look around in Baoshan, they said "Baoshan? Why? There is nothing interesting there". And that was a challenge!

We have friends in the Longling county (龙陵县) who own a small tea factory there, in the Mengmao village, therefore we had some footing there, as well as information. We got the best possible guide too - the owner of Menglong TF himself. 
After visting the gem market in the Longling town and short visit to local tea clerk (and tea expert in the area), we depart to the mountains:

The gem market:

The scenery is, as one might expect, quite scenic, a valley with a small river, we see "Da Shue Shan" (Big snow mountain) in the clouds. Sometimes, we see taidi (terrace tea gardens). 

The Mengmao village:

The Mengmao village is charming - old buildings and surprised people. The village is inhabited by chinese majoriy Han who live here for many generations (they remember 17 generations) and originally came from the area of today's Shanghai as a part of an army, as the area is very close to Myanmar (Burma). 

Locals still produce and use traditional raincoats

The area is extremely poor these days, rice and corn being harvested, occasional high quality stillrooms of rice alcohol are present. Of course, tea is present too. Longling is known as one of the less explored areas by small tea merchants. Low prices and know-how of the area are kept secret by big factories, e.g., Xiaguan who buy tea from the region frequently.

The Mengmao village:

A storehouse for the rice alcohol:

Tea merchants are more interested in older wild tea trees - "ye sheng cha" - which grow here with mostly dark green or even purple leaves. We were lucky enough to visit several very old trees. We saw 5 old trees close to each other, we did not visit two more because of bad weather.

The road to the old trees:

Old trees themselves:

The maocha from these 7 trees goes to Malaysia every year, as well as as further tea coming from wild tea trees around. I met these malaysian merchants in the spring of 2011 - they spend more than three weeks evvery year buying maocha from wild trees in Longling and they are very happy about the material. The combination of clean environment, no chemicals used on any of planted crops (too expensive) and cheap and attractive tea is perfect.

I personally do not seek purple varietals of "yeshengcha", e.g. from Da Shue Shan in Lancang, nor from Menghai (Bada, etc.). These are often bitter, dim and except for being wild, pretty uninteresting. That is why I understand these customers who dislike these teas. However, they are often pleasantly surprised by their performance in Longling. The best material from there we bought was this spring maocha, which is currently not available anymore as most of it was pressed into these minicakes. The tea is unusually rich in taste, floral in a sort of Nannuo way (purely my subjective feeling), full, sweet and pleasantly surprising in every way.

It is worth noting that there are two taste varieties of ye sheng cha in this area - one is which I just described, the second type is maybe richer in taste, but extremely bitter - this type is sought after by these malaysian merchants. I myself haven't found a way to this tea, but I believe (it is confirmed by long experience of these merchants) that the tea has good potential for aging.

A green tea factory in a village nearby Mengmao. Chunmei and Luzhu are produced here mostly.

In the  Mengmao village, we were received and hosted by local patriarch, the eldest person (95 years) in the village. He gave us tea prepared by baking in the ceramic jar "Kao Cha Guan".

Another interesting thing was the visit to villages around, in one of these, we were a big attraction, as we were the first "white noses" to visit the place!
We experienced many more things and I definitely recommend a visit to this forgotten county. However, the journey may be more difficult than in other areas of Yunnan without a good car.

The owner of the seven old tea trees and I.

sobota 5. května 2012

2012 Chawangpu Jingmai Da Zhai Gu Shu Xiao Bing

The second place we have visited on our journey for maocha was the area of Jingmai. It was not our first visit there and we coordinated our arrival via telephone so that we could start harvesting maocha immediately.

The Jingmai area is among the oldest tea areas and, these days, among the places with large amount of "gu shu" tea trees. The history of Jingmai villages is longer than 1400 years, however, there are no known trees coming from the time of the village origins.

According to the records of local buddhist temple, tea harvesting started around 1300 years. Two oldest tea trees have disappeared in the half of the last century - one being chopped down in 1956 in the Mangjing village, the other one burning in a big fire in Jingmai Da Zhai in 1976.

Nevertheless, the tea trees in Jingmai are generally rather old, compared to other areas. Many trees are 700-800 years of age and 300-400 years old trees are quite common. All of the small leaf, middle leaf and big leaf varietal of tea are present. The altitude is up to 1700 meters above sea leve, the average altitude being 1400 meters above sea. The gu shu tea trees grow in the area 23 000 mu large (1mu, 1亩 = 666 square meters) in the area of ten villages. The largest and best known is Jingmai Da Zhai, another well known village is Mangjing..

One of the highest trees, not harvested for many years due its height.

The total yearly production of gu shu tea trees in Jingmai is, in optimal conditions, up to 500 tons of dry material. Most gu shu trees are 2-8 meters high, some trees we have visited with local people were 14-15 meters high.

The village Jingmai Da Zhai is the most sought after due its characteristic taste, especially of trees from the peak of Da Ping Zhang. Opposed to the second well known village of Mangjing, the taste is more complex and the bitterness transforms faster to sweet aftertaste. Even though the people of Mangjing say that their tea trees grow in much wilder areas (which we confirmed in person) and even though the material from Manghing is half the price of Da Zhai, the taste is really very bitter and as our production will mostly go to drier storage areas, we have chosen the material from Da Ping Zhan in Jingmai Da Zhai. The situation may be different with autumnal maocha of Mangjing and if conditions of tea are good in this autumn, it will be a challenge to us.

The Jingmai Da Zhai village is inhabited by Dai people, related to thai tribes. Most villages are inhabited by Bulang people, who planted the ancient tea gardens many years ago. Further minorities are Hani or Wa.

The village Jingmai Da Zhai:

Buddhist temple in Jingmai Da Zhai:

The material for our cake has been picked on the 26th and 27th of March, from two places near each other, from two families. We have spent both days with the families, picked the leaveswith them and overseen their choice of tea trees. We wanted to be really sure about the harvested leaves as we decided to go for a selected material, for which we paid more than for "normal gushu" (picked from all the trees in the garden with certain, even though small, occurence of younger trees, e.g. of 50 years - we don't think that such material should be declared as pure gushu). 
The leaves bought the first day of the harvest:

The days spend among the old tea trees were really beneficial. In both days, we, with our teamaker, bought the harvested leaves from the two families and drove away to process the material in the village. The family of our friend and creator of our maocha makes living by making tea for generations, as most Jingmai Da Zhai families do. Our teamaker was mastering his work with wok for two years in one of menghai tea factories. The work with wok is one of the most important parts of maocha processing. His approach to tea making and doing everything by hand - even rolling - were a further step to a succesful product.

So called "kill green", a work with tea leaves in wok.

Rolling was, as well as all the steps to maocha creation, done by hand.

Before the material was rid of "huang pin" - yellow leaves - we visited some other localities and villages.  
The maocha travelled with us on a difficult journey through Menghai and Jinghong to the town of Yiwu where all of our cakes have been pressed.

The Jingmai gu shu cake is composed of smaller and middle-sized silver tips and leaves, mostly one tips and two leaves.
The cake just after being pressed:

The aroma of dry material is very distinct and very attractive. Two weeks after the pressing, we have tasted the cake for the first time. Jingmai tea is generally rather strong and the good thing about high quality Jingmai is, that 6g is enough for 100ml gaiwan (I mostly use 8g when tasting sheng puerh). Many and many tasty brews may be prepared. The taste is balanced, strong, the bitterness is pleasant and quickly transforms to sweet aftertaste. The tea has full taste with typical tones of flowers and honey.

Few more photos of the cake may be found in our eshop here: Chawangshop