Saturday, October 4, 2008

On The Way To Buy Tea

It was during the National Holiday that we decided to go to Baguan Village again to pick up some tea and some tea cans for Sunee's return to Thailand. On the way we walked along the edge of Emei Mountain. These are some of the pictures I took.

This guy was crossing the sidewalk in front of us as we walked up toward the back gate to Southwest Jiaotong University. I took several pictures. At first, the praying mantis was a bit skittish but later he looked right at me as I tried to get a close-up.

The two pictures were taken as we made a short deter to see if I could get some pictures of the local tea plantation in back of the 2000 star hotel located near Baguan Temple. I say 2000 stars because one of the hotel's villas cost around 40,000 yuan a night or $6,000 US. The view of the tea in the surround-windows in the bedroom and living room are unbelievable! We did not get to see them this time.

Lao Ying Cha

When Sunee and I started our first tea adventure in Ya'an, we were looking for a place to get some noodles. We walked about two or three blocks from our hotel and found a small place offering noodles. Along with their nice noodles we were served a tea which was new to our tastes. It was a bit spicy but pleasant with a very good and mild aftertaste. When we asked about it, we were told it was Lao Ying Cha or Eagle Tea. Never heard of it.

While visiting Shangli the ancient town in the Mengding mountains, we found some of this Eagle Tea along with the Mengding Mao Feng so we bought some. Here is the pictures of that tea.


Laoying Cha (eagle tea) is made from the dried leaves of a type of a Laurel tree, Actinodaphne cupularis. The tree is evergreen
with thick dark green leaves, and it grows abundantly in the mountainous areas of Sichuan province. The family of Laurel trees (Lauraceae) includes the well-known Chinese herb sources for cinnamon and lindera. These herbs, like Laoying Cha, have essential oils that give them their characteristic fragrance and taste (see Appendix 2 for related plants, and Appendix 3 about
use of their oils). In the case of Laoying tea, the main essential oil components that have been identified are sesquiterpenes:
isocaryophyllene and germacrene. These ingredients are found in some of the mint family herbs, including the Chinese herb elscholtzia (xiangru) that is sometimes used as an aromatic beverage tea. Germacrene is also found in the aromatic bark of magnolia; isocaryophyllene is also found in the spicy herb cloves.

Laoying Cha has been consumed for centuries in Sichuan Province, particularly in the city of Chongqing. This tea is made
available in tea houses and restaurants along with ordinary green tea or black tea and is considered a must to consume with the typical oily dishes of Sichuan to balance the taste, promote digestion, and help clear the fats from the system. It has a reputation for lowering blood lipids, including cholesterol.

A variety of Laoying Cha grows in neighboring India: leaves from the tree Actinodaphne hookeri. It is commonly called "pisa" and is reputed to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar (cinnamon bark also has this use). In India, pisa is known for its ability to remove excess heat of the body, thus lowering pitta (fire). In the Chinese system, Laoying tea is said to aid in cooling the body, but it is classified as having a warm nature; it cools by aiding the surface circulation (alleviating heat through the surface). In this, it is like the botanically unrelated herb elsholtzia, mentioned above, which has a pungent and warm nature, but is used to dispel summer heat and reduce feverish feeling. The taste of Laoying Cha is very pleasant, and the spiciness is mild, not like the hot spiciness of some herb teas, such as ginger.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pu'erh From Yunnan

Before we decided to dedicate our travels in China to tea, we went to Kunming, Yunnan, as a favor to a fellow teacher who had to look for work elsewhere. He had heard of Kunming and wanted to go. Sunee and I decided to head on down to south Yunnan and see Sichuanbanna and the "Dai" culture which was supposed to be cousins to the Thais. We joined a Chinese tour which took us to some commercial pu'erh shops as is normally the case. We bought these pressed pu'erh pieces because they looked neat and Sunee got a good deal on them. We also bought some smaller pieces for hanging and about a half a pound or so of Pu'erh minis.

Pu'erh pressed into the form of Ancient Chinese money, Side A

Pu'erh Chinese Money, Side B

Pu'er pressed into Chinese Zodiac sign, Side A

Chinese Zodiac, Side B

Some pu'erh bricks we bought in Jinghong, Yunnan. They were pretty and that is why we bought them. I doubt if we will ever drink them. Next chance I get, I will buy some real drinking Pu'erh. But much research needs to be done first!

A close-up of one of the bricks.

Sunee liked the idea of these Chinese hanging pu'erh tea pressings. Cute but probably undrinkable.

We also bought a bunch of these pu'erh nuggets that are about the circumference of a quarter. Each is wrapped and looks to be like a Hershey's Chocolate kiss.

Unwrap the "nugget" and it looks like this. Round (sort of) on the top and flat with a hole on the bottom.

Here you can get the idea of the coarseness and color of the pu'erh.

A cup of pu'erh. I decided I wanted to try some so we took one of the pu'erh nuggets to try. It is not like any green tea and that is for sure? I can see why people refer to the taste as "earthy." But, wow, is it smooth. There is virtually no aftertaste in the form of a bite of sweet or bitter. Just smooth from front to back. Now what does that mean? Well, I will have to get some really good pu'erh from the big tea store in Chengdu and find out what it is like. This pu'erh is good but I think it may be a little weak on taste. The is also a lot of "dust-like" particles in the strainer. What can one expect from such a tiny "tea kiss!" Sunee does not like it but I do. I am looking forward to going to Chengdu next month to pick up Sunee from Thailand and spend a couple of days. Tea time!

A Tea Ceremony

Yesterday, September 30, my wife and I visited the local tourist street in Baguan Village at the foot of Mount Emei. Sunee wanted to get some tea cans for the several pounds of Emei Mao Feng we had bought from one of the shops. Along the way we came across the new Zhu Ye Qing Tea House. This building had been under construction for some time and we had no idea what it was going to be. We immediately went in to check out their wares.

The store front is magnificent, tasteful and professionally designed. In the window were the normal accessories one finds in top notch tea houses. We went in and asked for a tasting of several of Emei's finest. Can't resist the tea ceremonies that go along with this tasting. Spent a good hour tasting teas and looking at the tea accessories. We finally decided on four different teas to try at home. We also made a mental note of the beautiful rosewood tea tray we will probably pick up later.

This tea is Su Xiang or Emei Spring Dew.

I tried to buy some of this tea in the local market but Sunee did not think it was a good idea since we would have had to buy a lot of it, unsure if we would like it. Here the packaging was smaller to give us a taste. It is called Emei Bird Beak tea.

We tried this Jasmine tea and found it most pleasing. Normally I do not care for a scented tea but this was nice. It is Emei Hua Mao Feng or Jasmine Mao Feng.

This tea is called Clear Fried Green tea. Not sure what this means as many green teas are fried. Guess we will just have to wait to find out what it is like.

An Unknown Tea

As I sit here writing my poetry
I wonder what tea this could be
I remember where it was bought
The name of which we both forgot

Here is a close up of the leaves. The lady we got it from told us but we forgot. Sunee thinks the name had something to do with clouds or Yun. I do believe this is an Emei Yun Wu Green Tea or Clouds and Mist Green Tea. Let's try it and then when we go back to get some more of the Emei Mao Feng from the sales lady, we will ask.

We steeped this for around two minutes and it was not strong. The color, as you can see, is not very deep. The taste has a slight spice taste but is mild and mellow. This is a very smooth tea but I think it needs to seep a little longer to bring out stronger flavors and sensations. The aftertaste is very pleasant and on the sweet side. The leaves are tiny with a whiteness about them I have not seen in a green tea. I think we will have to put a lot more leaves and let it steep a bit longer to really get the taste.

Guess we will go back and get a bunch of this tea from that lady. She is a ten minute walk from the university and our apartment. We liked it a lot.

Emei Mountain Hua Mao Feng (Jasmine)

After our tea ceremony earlier, we walked to the place we normally buy our tea. Sunee wanted to buy some more tea cans to take some tea back to Thailand with her in three weeks. We could not find the lady so we looked elsewhere. On the way out, a very nice but aggressive sales lady talked us into buying the "unknown" tea I wrote about earlier. She also gave us a sampling of her Hua Mao Feng so we could compare it with the tea we had just purchased.

This Emei Jasmine tea or Hua Mao Feng is not weak. Since I had not eaten breakfast, I made the mistake of trying to drink some. It gave me heart burn almost instantly as the Jasmine easily overpowered the tea. It smelled great but . . . I have always had a hard time with scented tea or flavored coffee. My old bod just does not agree with the scent or the flavoring.

Sunee thinks she may have over done the tea by placing all the leaves into our teapot. This was strong tea for sure! We will go back to the lady for the Yun Wu, if that is what it is, but we will not get her Hua Mao Feng.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ku Ding Cha

Sunee and I have been drinking Kuding Cha now for about a year. Had no idea what it was until recently. We bought it shortly after moving here last year, tried it and found it bitter but very refreshing. Not long ago we found that it was not actually a tea from the tea plant but from the Kuding bush which grows wild in these mountains. It is supposed to be good for balancing one's yin and yang or some such thing. We were told that we should only drink it once every two or so weeks. We have been doing that for a long time now. The people of Sichuan have been drinking it for over three centuries.

Since we were turned on to tea and tea culture on our trip to Ya'an, I have been doing internet research to find out all I can about all the teas we have come into contact with. Kuding cha is no exception.

This is a close-up of the kuding sticks. "Ku" means bitter and the "ding" refers to the shape of the product and how it resembles the Chinese character "ding" (丁)

As you can see, the kuding cha looks like sticks. One is plenty for around eight to ten steepings (is this what one does to teas?).

Recently we bought some different kuding cha. The first was heavily twisted making them look like curly macaroni. The second was called Qing Shan Lu Sui or Clear Mountain Green Water. The curly kuding tastes exactly like the sticks. The Clear Mountain stuff is nice. It is not as bitter and very light with a beautiful green liquid. The stick kuding might be too bitter for many people but the Clear Mountain kuding is probably ok for most.

Curly kuding cha. This is actually more bitter than the sticks so one takes about a third of one of these curly thing for their tea

This is a close up of the Clear Mountain Green Water kuding cha. It is a very green dried product

Clear Mountain Green Water kuding cha loose leaf

The leaves open up and look exactly as they were picked. These are young leaves whereas the other kuding are mature leaves

And the liquid that results from the first steeping is absolutely beautiful

Our Tea Stash

I cleared an area from one of our bookcases to put the tea we have. This was last week.

Since taking the above picture, I have had to clear out a second area in the next bookcase to add some more teas. We bought four small packages from the Zhu Ye Qing store and Sunee just found a "lost" bag of tea we bought when we were in Leishan in Guizhou. This tea is called Qing Ming Cha. From what I can tell it means the green tea was picked during the Qing Ming Festival. I have seen a lot of tea advertised as pre-Qing Ming. If this is the same tea we were drinking right after our Guizhou trip, it is really good. We shall see!

A missing bag of tea from Leishan in Guizhou Province. If this is the same we had, it will be good.

This is what the Leishan tea looks like. It appears to be finely broken pieces with stems mixed in. Wonder what that means?

Excellent tea. Taste almost like a Mao Feng but not as strong and hardy

Monday, September 29, 2008

Emei Mountain Mao Feng

This is a review of the Emei Mountain Mao Feng we bought recently at one of the many tea shops along the tourist section of Baguan Village. It is light. It is very light, especially compared to the Mengding Shan Mao Feng. They taste very similar but the Mengding Mao Feng is at least twice as strong as the Mao Feng from Emei with the same steeping times.

You can easily see the difference with the Emei tea coming out rather pale. In fact, to get it to look as beautiful as the Mengding tea, we had to steep it almost three times as long. Now, is this because we bought inferior tea or does Emei produce a milder form of the Mao Feng. Heck if I know.

The dried tea is much lighter than the Mengding Mao Feng. There seems to be about 10% - 15% lighter leaves among the dark in the Emei tea. The leaves themselves even felt a bit lighter.

One can easily see the difference between the Mengding Mountain and Emei Mountain Mao Fengs. Can you pick the tea from the two different sources?

Meng Ding Mao Feng

In Shangli, the ancient city in the Mengding Mountains, we bought about a kilo of Mao Feng from the tea lady on one of the streets. Here are my assessments of it.

The Mengding Mao Feng makes a beautiful cup of tea and it did not take long for it to get this beautiful. The taste is strong and hardy, smooth with a slight lingering bitterish (is this a word?) aftertaste. This tends to be our daily tea as we drink several cups of it a day. In fact, I bought the glass cup and saucer to show just how nice the tea looked. As we processed more and more tea, I realized that I was having to work too hard to get the tea to look like it really did in this glass cup. Too much background tended to screw up the picture. I traded the glass for a more traditional china one we also bought specifically for taking pictures. This shows off the teas much better than the glass. The glass cup was very cute.

Here you have a good look at Mengding Mao Feng tea in its dried state. It is a dark tea with only a few tea with some lighter parts. The tea overall is solid with a distinct and enjoyable flavor.

Here is the cup of Mengding Mao Feng tea along with the dried tea. The dried tea is a very dark green, heavy and compact.