Category Archives: Puerh tea phrases

Tea with the Chens – From He Kai to Ge Deng

I have recently had cause to hang out with two different Chens – a Chinese name something akin to the English Smith. One in Hekai, on the edge of the Bulang Mountains, and the other from Guangdong who sources tea from the Six Famous Tea Mountains area.

Chen No1 is based in He Kai. I went up there a few weeks ago and then accompanied him to Lao Ban Zhang where he got 30 kg of fresh leaves. The cost of fresh tou chun leaves in Ban Zhang this year was anything from a little over 400 to over 600 RMB/kg, and this Spring, just over 4 kg of fresh leaves was making a kilo of mao cha.

We got back to his place with the tea around mid-day and spread it out to wilt for a while. He started frying tea later in the afternoon and continued till almost midnight, putting the tea out to dry the next morning, which is normal practice.

His sha qing approach is a little different from some tea makers as he tends to fry the tea for considerably longer than is typical, and then rolls it for a relatively short period of time. When tea is heaped in the pan during frying in the fashion described above, it is locally described as ‘dui de‘ or piled.

He Kai Chen left his tea to wilt for a fair time even though the weather’s very dry – although it had been raining a little at night when I was there – (one reason for wilting, apart from allowing the moisture content in the leaves to drop, is to allow it to even out, so that there is a more uniform amount of moisture throughout the leaf – from tip to stem. If this is not done, it’s easy to burn the leaves).

Typical tea frying woks in the Bulang Shan/Hekai/Ban Zhang area are set flat on a brick oven. Initially, the tea leaves are kept moving in the pan which must be done to stop the leaves from burning and to produce an even roast. As the tea is roasted, the heat is allowed to drop a little and the tea moved less. After frying for a while – maybe as much as 15 minutes – during which time the tea is turned and shaken out repeatedly (this allows some of the heat to disperse), the process slows down and the tea is turned and then piled in the centre of the wok and left for a minute or so. This process is repeated many times.

Chen Lao Ban then takes the tea out of the wok and leaves it on a tray for several minutes – again piled as opposed to spread out, which is the more common practice.

Making tea in this way, he then machine rolls it in an old electric roller with a wooden drum and tray, but only for a few minutes. The result is a tea that is very fragrant, has good body, with a light clear broth, little astringence and good hou yun.

When He Kai Chen makes tea completely by hand, as he did with some of the Ban Zhang tea, he does not follow this method, and has a more typical approach to frying and rolling.

Across the other side of Xishuangbanna, a few weeks later, I was in Ge Deng and bumped into another Chen. Chen Lao Ban is from Guangdong where he sells tea. He spends quite a lot of time in ‘Banna and has been sourcing/making tea in the Liu Da Cha Shan area for 5 or 6 years. He has set up a few small chu zhe suowhere he both processes fresh leaves and collects some mao cha.

Guangdong Chen has had a wok made according to his requirements: the wok is also set flat on the oven in a manner similar to Bulang Shan woks, but it’s a fair bit higher. One only has to fry tea for a few minutes in a wok in say, Nan Nuo Shan, to realise how important the height is! Most Aini people are relatively short, and build their ovens accordingly, so this can be back breaking for anyone taller.

His approach to tea making is almost as far from Hekai Chen’s as Ge Deng is from Hekai. The wilting time is probably about the same – somewhere between 3 and 5 hours, but his approach to sha qing is quite different. Tea Urchin referred to this style as ‘medium rare’. I like that description. I think a lot of people I know here would say it was ‘sha bu tou‘ – not fried enough, but Guangdong Chen (and lots of other people in Guangdong) seem to like tea with this kind of flavour; a little less smooth feeling in the mouth than is typical, a fair bit of astringency, and not much obvious fragrance; either in the leaf or the cup. And virtually none of the retro-olfactory aromas that He Kai Chen produces.

Chen Lao Ban says that when the tea is stored (in Guangdong), the astringence mellows, though I have to say, that in my (limited) experience of drinking tea in Guangdong, even after several years, tea is often still markedly ‘apre’. He Kai Chen also says his tea ages well. I have had some which was 3-4 years old which was reminiscent of a rather older tea; very smooth, good hou yunand a pleasant chen wei.

What is most interesting in all this is that Puer making methods, within a broader understanding of the process, can vary considerably. There is not necessarily any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing things – and I suspect there never was – although it is easy to find people who will swear by one particular approach.

Tea Moments – Drinking Tea with Lao Feng. Bang Wai 2011

HM had gone to Menghai to organise some pressings the other day when our neighbour Lao Feng, dropped by. He somehow seems to me like a kindred spirit and I enjoy drinking tea with him.

He came in, and having said he didn’t mind what tea we drank, I found a cake of Bang Wai on the shelf that I didn’t remember ever tasting (in fact I’m pretty sure now I never tried it).  We made a number of 150gram cakes last spring from a range of tea mountains: He Kai, Jing Mai, Naka, Luo Shui Dong, Ding Jia Zhai, Mang Zhi, Bing Dao, Xi gui, Bang Wai, Ban Ma. All in small quantities. At most we had a set or two of each: 10 or 20 Kg.

The Bang Wai tea looks good, though there’s nothing particularly notable from the outwards appearance of the leaves.

Bang Wai 250 gram cake

Bang Wai 250 gram cake from Spring 2012

The broth is exceptionally clean. Early steepings produced a pale yellow broth with virtually no astringency and a hint of bitterness that lingered on the upper palate. Later steepings produced a pleasing rich gold broth.

Bang Wai 2012 Spring sheng Puerh broth

Bang Wai 2011 Spring sheng Puerh broth

The tea has lost any ??? ‘qing chou wei‘ that it had and has yet to develop any noticeable ?? ‘chen wei’.  Initial impressions are of tobacco and old books, hints of leather.

By the end of the first couple of steepings, I could feel a warmth creeping up my occiput and face. The tea feels quite penetrating and both Lao Feng and I begin to feel the effects in the palms of our hands: a warmth and energy that makes the skin slightly moist. I can also feel it around my upper arms and shoulders.

Sharing tea experiences with Lao Feng is enjoyable, not least because he is very interested in the energetics of tea. Not from a scientific, Newtonian perspective, but from an experiential one. We concur that one sign of a good tea is how much it penetrates energetically. He comments that ‘some teas are powerful as they enter, and some powerful as they come out.’ It’s certainly so with this tea. The rukou had no clear sweetness or xiang qi – but there is a powerful, floral sweetness that floats up through the throat from somewhere deeper inside and penetrates the nasal cavity.

Bang Wai leaves after 5 or 6 steepings

Bang Wai leaves after 5 or 6 steepings

We become very still as we focus inward to better perceive/appreciate the process. Another friend comes by and quietly joins in. He too, quickly notices the effects this tea produces. He says he feels it first penetrates to the 丹田 ‘dan tian’ and then spreads out to the hands.

We recall a Chinese sage – no one can remember their name – who said about only drinking seven cups of tea. With this tea, it seems to be true. The experience is quite powerful and after 5 or six steeping we’re all happy to pause and enjoy the lingering sweetness and aroma that continues to float up in the throat for another 40 minutes or so.

 Bang Wai broth after 6 - 7 steepings

Meng Song Ku Cha – Bitter Tea

Sinensis assamica var. Kucha – or in plain English, bitter tea, is a sub-variety of sinensis assamica that grows in the Meng Song area. For reasons which are doubtless obvious, it’s not the most sought after of Puer tea, but with a light touch when brewing it can be rather pleasant, with a distinct, lingering, but not overwhelming bitterness.

A friend just dropped by with a few handfuls. We plopped some in the gaiwan. It’s not the prettiest maocha you’ll ever see, but it’s totally honest, unadulterated.

Meng Song sinensis assamica var. kucha

With maybe 5-6 grams in the gaiwan and very quick steeping times, the bitterness does not become overpowering and there’s some decent flavour and fragrance.

Meng Song Bitter Tea leaves after three steepings

The soup is clean – when sampling it’s good to use a gaiwan – not a pot – and no strainer. The broth has a pleasing colour with a hint of pale, almost pinky, gold.

Meng Song Bitter Tea broth

See here for an earlier post about Meng Song: www.zhizhengtea.com/puerblog/stone/

2012 Lao Ban Zhang

Yesterday we received our first little bit of 2012 Lao Ban Zhang. A few kilos, brought in by our friend from Menghun.

lao ban zhang 2012 mao cha

Lao Ban Zhang 2012 mao cha

Quite nicely made, and with a very ‘chun’ – unadulterated, pure flavour. It seems like it could have used a little more drying time perhaps. The kuwei is pronounced, the huigan a little slow, materialising after a couple of minutes, but pleasing enough when it does show itself.

Lao Ban Zhang Mao Cha from early 2012

Mao cha and gaiwan

It has that slight smokiness which disappears after the first couple of steepings and that I’ve almost come to expect of Lao Ban Zhang. As someone said to me a couple of years ago, “If it’s not smokey, it’s not Lao Ban Zhang.”

It’s just been made, so we’ll give it a little time.

2012 Lao Ban Zhang mao cha broth after four steepings

Lao Ban Zhang mao cha broth after four steepings

 

The leaves after four steepings look pretty good. A nice eveness to their appearance

Puer Glossary

A few years ago I thought it would be an educative and fun activity to start to compile a glossary of Chinese terms that are used in talking about Puer tea. After publishing the page, I largely forgot about it, and it looked like it got buried somewhere in the web of online Puer tea information.

More recently, because I realised that it had been viewed, I started looking at it again, and have subsequently realised what a labour of love it is.

Each time I looked at it, I would see entries that were garbled, contradictory, or even flat-out wrong. Every time I looked at it, I would think “Did I write that? What was I thinking? What was I trying to say?”.

So after maybe a year of dragging my feet – part of my reluctance to deal with it was due to some coding issues since I had imported the original document from another programme and ended up with lots of messy code which meant that each time I touched it, the whole thing was thrown into chaos – I finally got round to re-working it.

It’s far from perfect. There are probably still inaccuracies and some muddle. And there are certainly plenty of omissions. I also have some hope of including more expressions in dialect – because they are interesting and fun – ???????? ‘zhe ge cha jin ya chi’ for example. ‘This tea tightens the teeth.’ A reference to tea with some astringency along with a feeling in the lower gums – causing salivation – which is considered good. Actually, astringency is probably not the right word. It should be more like the French ‘âpre’ which sometimes is translated as acerbic in English, but is still not quite right; acidulous maybe.

So, still some way to go. Any comments or suggestions would be gratefully received by anyone who happens to find the glossary and be idle enough to look through it.

It can be found here: http://www.zhizhengtea.com/puer-tea-glossary.html