Friday, June 28, 2013

First Crack at China Cha Dao's Samples

China Cha Dao's seven mystery samples came labeled with greek letters.  Has all my hours of diligent blog reading,  puerh eye-shopping, swapping and drinking honed any useful identification skills? Since CCD is a Douji franchise and the samples came in a Douji bag with a Douji map,  the possibilities are narrowed significantly. But still it's great fun to play tea detective.  The general characteristics I'm checking with my eyes and nose are:
  • shu or sheng or other
  • approximate age
  • form
  • compression 
  • leaf size - this inspection is best done after a brew
  • bud ratio - all of the samples have a reasonable amount of fur
  • scent
 Attributes which are harder to suss out even with multiple brewings at least for me are:
  • wild arbor vs plantation 
  • blend vs single mountain 
  • regional characteristics - I can reliably pick out LBZ since my physical response of such rocket fuel is so extreme but it's not likely such tea would be included in a free tasting.
  • spring vs summer vs autumn pick - when something is not as potent, you can't automatically assume the leaves are not spring pick.

(I've put some initial guesses below even before brewing so don't read if you don't want to.)

  • Epsilon (Shu beeng) -   The only shu in the batch, it also came with a bonus strand of black hair. I have a few Douji Phonenix Tour ripe cakes I've never opened deeming them too young for consumption. Incidentally they are my best performing investment from last year at a 350% return.
  • Alpha (Iron Brick Xiang Dou?)  - Having the tightest compression of the sheng samples, it's definitely not stone pressed like the other shengs.  Judging by the edge and the planar shape, it also looks like it came from a brick.  Unlike their other stone pressed cakes, Douji ultra iron-pressed the Xiang Dou bricks to preserve the tea fragrance. I can see serious scrape marks from prying the chunk off that attests to how tightly this brick was pressed.
  • Zeta (mao cha?)- Is it loose leaf puerh mao cha or something other tea to throw us off. I guess only brewing it will settle this matter.  
  • Eta (Oldest Sheng beeng)   the oldest sample judging by the dark oxidation of the chunk but also the smaller sample size provided. I would venture to guess it's more than 4+ years. Although YiwuZhengShan Mountain Tea company started in 2005, Douji brand cakes first came out in 2006 of which I was lucky enough to be gifted five cakes.  
  • Delta (Sheng beeng) - the second oldest sample
  • Beta and Gamma  (Sheng beeng) - still working on it...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Vendor Hosted Tastings

After a long day's work, I was surprised by two packages from China.  A few weeks ago, Hobbes kindly asked if I wanted to be included in two vendor tastings of 2013 cakes.  I agonized for a few days in South Africa whether to tempt myself with such young sheng. But tea greed totally got the better of me as I had planned to throw tea parties and share with worthy and deserving friends.  As I sniff the new sweet sheng from Douji, a few of the chunks are intoxicating beyond belief. These are blind tastings which make it all the more interesting- can the other esteemed drinkers hone in on the region?

The second box are Scott's new productions. I want to open the impossibly shiny packets tonight so I can overdose on tea fragrance. But I must restrain myself until a party can be arranged.  Thanks to both Scott and Jerry for their generosity and risk-taking. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Airless Aging the Mandarin's 2005 Menghai Anniversary Cake

I had saved Tim's sample from the 2006 Live Journal Tasteoff as a future experiment in sealed aging.  This tea is a special edition 2000g Menghai monster of which only 999 cakes are in existence.  I marvel at the kind of man who would unflinchingly buy a new 2kg beeng of newborn sheng.  That's confidence!

I was going to wait ten years til 2015 to open this sample, but this morning, I just went for it.  Perhaps the supermoon yesterday subconsciously compelled me.  As I snip open the bag,  I'm kicking myself for not inserting a hygrometer probe to determine the humidity inside the bag.  This tea pressed in 2005 has spent 7+ years in this plastic bag. I sniff and note this tea has aged perhaps a tad more than my own cakes but this could be due to the fact that samples just age faster due to greater surface area exposure.

After reading Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation recently, some light bulbs went off in my head.  Puerh aging is not just oxidation but the effect of active lactobacillus fermentation. Lactobacillus bacteria usefully employed in yogurt, cheese, saurkraut and other fermented foods are aerotolerant- meaning they do best in anaerobic conditions but will tolerate air.  Hojo Tea's article on vacuum sealed aging does not mention bacterial fermentation (probably they don't want to drive away potential germaphobe Japanese drinkers) but notes that the anaerobic conditions inside iron beengs from the sixties produce fruity notes without the "undesirable" earthy notes which they attribute to "unwanted" oxidation.   Some drinkers prefer the earthy notes but I can see how clean fruity floral notes unladen with forest floor notes to be more matched to the Japanese palate.

Larger beengs are reputed to age slower but this goes against my logical thinking. If the lactobacillus prefer an anaerobic environment, shouldn't larger compressed beengs provide better anaerobic conditions to age faster?  I can see in the moist environs of Hong Kong and Guangzhou, puerh must have good airflow or risk mold.  But for aging in drier climes, should vacuum sealed aging be preferred?  I may gamble on a few cakes as my current dry conditions are taking me nowhere. 

My ipad camera and lighting makes the tea look shockingly green even without any filtering.  I put it next to a naturally Taiwan aged 2005 CGHT to show you the Menghai is slightly less brown.

The brew is sweet and tastes more aged than the 8 year olds I've aged in my tea cabinet but it's not  ready yet.  Despite reading that sealing puerh will halt/drastically slow the aging process, I can definitely confirm that airless conditions does not deter aging at all.     

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wild Tree Purple Varietal Black Tea of Dehong

One of the teas I distinctively remember enjoying was the 2012 Dehong Wild Tree Purple Varietal Black Tea from YS so when I saw the 2013 version , I confidently sent away for three packets. The 2012 version was a pleasing combination of smoky savoriness and fruity juiciness; I've yet to meet a purple tea I do not like. ( As I tap out this entry, my food lightbulb blinks of smoking dried fruits for extra flavor. I have a smoked salt that is a nice accomaniment to stone fruit.) I prefer the 2012 which has a more intense flavor. Is it the year of aging which benefits this tea or was last year's tea simply better? Since I've found the purple DeHong puerh to be at their peak when fresh, I'm guessing the latter. I'll know more  definitively in a year's time.  The caffeine and cha qi in both teas are surprisingly gentle.

A friend told me that late night caffeine binges are alright since your body won't metabolize it until you have fast fallen asleep. It's the late afternoon indulgence that will kill your sleep. Empirically tonight I find this to be true.  I finally invited over friends that I meant to for five years. We drank this purple tea as an acompaniment to dessert although the tea holds well alone.

I have decided to declare a social bankruptcy as obligations even joyful ones have exceeded my ability to cope. I forgot my Mother's Day and mother's birthday present, ditto for father, and legions of good friend's birthdays and other special occasions to say nothing of neglected correspondence.  To make matters worse, I've become a Words with Friends addict ever since I returned from South Africa. (My unfortunate tag is chocomunch if anyone wants a challenge. I think if my close ones saw me puzzle over words instead of returning their calls, they might tut-tut me to no end.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Xi Ji Chuen Oolong

As I'm still bit jet lagged, I tried to pick out the most gentlest most benign tea for Saturday morning. I resolutely went past all the enticing young shengs and set my eyes upon only the oolongs in Ira's box.  

The Xi Ji Chuen or Four Seasons Oolong seemed innocent enough. Taiwanese oolong cultivar created in the eighties to be more disease resistant, it's considered an every day oolong.

Sadly enough, my throat closed up immediately. Yesterday I had the same reaction to a different oolong. I've somehow developed a tannin sensitivity to green tea. Drats. The universe somehow keeps on telling me tea is not the beverage for me. Of the many sorrows I had to endure this year, why do I have to get crushed even further. Tea was one of the few uncomplicated joys in my life. 

I vaguely remember ordering tea last week. I binge bought a load of green and white teas for my clients in South Africa because I thought someone in the office would hand carry it to them this month. Nothing but sighs escape my lips regarding this matter.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Dubai Layover Tea

My Durban adventures have now come to a close.  A hobbit needs habit and being flung in a far  corner of the world induces a torrential homesickness for which only going home can cure. 

Dubai is the easiest transit between South Africa and California.  About 26 hours is really the best you can do. Once I made the mistake of taking a four legged journey and was stuck in the airport/airplane pipeline for 46 hours.  I missed the last connection at JFK due to an overzealous on-board security check in Dakar where they send Senegalese agents to probe almost every nook and cranny of the cabin while we held all our on-board luggage in our arms. They barked out orders to the passengers and eyed us most suspiciously. My friends- never transit on a flight which has an on board stopover in Dakar. If the traumatic security check was not bad enough, they also fumigate the cabin. Also you may have special luck to be seated next to a garrulous person with dental hygiene so decrepit, you might faint when they crack open even a smile. Actually the male flight attendant giggled when I explained the uncomfortable situation and immediately rescued me. 

I've flowed through Dubai a few too many times but when I do, I usually stop at the French bakery.  Paul's which is a little better than your usual airport fare- serves cheerfully good almond croissants. While languishing on Emirates gluten free in-flight meals which are a cut above dreadful and knowing such a bakery is only trouble for my belly, I promptly ordered a trayful. 

I jealously watched this little fellow snoozing so comfortably while munching dolefully on all the wrong foods.  Nothing- nothing- on this tray was a good idea including the chopped up gunpowder tea in a plastic mesh bag.  BioTea is outright abusing the gunpowder designation - no sign of rolling anywhere. It's much easier to get good black tea in a bag than it is to get green tea. While sipping this subpar specimen,  I promptly mental made a list of teas I'm going to drink when I get back.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Endless Pots of Rooibos

Although the raging fire has been put out, I have a week to remain with the client in South Africa to promote good-will.  With the fear of reverting my sleep schedule, I been forcing myself to have only rooibos tea. Rooibus or honeybush is the national alternative brimming with health benefits. I don't fancy the spicy earthy taste which probably is the closest tisane to puerh on the flavor wheel. But when your mind is jammed, the palate can go numb.

The joy of working in my particular industry is seeing serious machinery operate. Apparently in Africa, tired drivers taking a snooze under quay cranes and getting squished is an occurrence. The first night I was here, a truck ran into a train but it's been almost five days here without a DI (deadly incident).

I had been mad the original perpetrators of this havoc remained behind back at HQ but it was such a huge huge relief to see normal operations restored on my third day that I'm glad the customer sent me an s.o.s. and dusted me out of retirement. I'd almost forgotten the exquisite thrill of getting an actual physical system running smoothly.  Running an entire maritime terminal takes a tremendous amount of code to handle logistics, automation and optimization.  Alas humans even the best engineers are not designed to behold the complexity of such distributed systems. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Snails and Carpaccio in Durban

After 24 hour notice, I hopped on a plane to Durban via Dubai to address a grave emergency.  The client requested my specific presence and of course I am exactly the man for such a job. They had run out of chocolates causing all sorts of mayhem.

Actually this dire situation was affecting the economy of the nation. I rolled off the plane at night after a two day flight, worked from 5am to midnight and again the next day until 2a.m. We wrought enough relief that today our team had a leisurely day out.  

I had the luxury of lunching on snails three ways and carpaccio instead of catered lunch.  Whenever I enjoy snails, I always am reminded of the infamous scene from Spartacus between Laurence Olivier to his strapping slave Antoninus played by Tony Curtis in a warm bathing pool.

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Like Marcus and most Koreans, my taste includes both snails and oysters. But of course the Hollywood script writers are quite sly and the question is not about edible molluscs at all.

I'm slated here ten more days as I didn't know how long the fires would burn.  I briefly fantasized about a quick jaunt to Namibia but I don't know what the days will bring at all.