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Spring tea has arrived; A look at Yunnan Bai Mudan 云南白牡丹

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Shelley

Looks lovely, thanks again for sharing your tea drinking with us. I have just bought myself a new tea mug/cup. It is wonderful, I don't know why its so good but its nice to drink out of and I can see just how strong or weak the tea is. It is just so appealing, In fact your post made me go and make a cup of my favourite red (black) tea, boring I know but I really like it.

My experiments with other teas was interesting but I keep coming back to my favourite tea. I liked the green teas I tried, and I have those occasionally, I also really like Lapsang Souchong because of the lovely smokey taste.

 

TeaMug.jpg

Tea1.jpg

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abcdefg

NIce cup, Shelley. I like that it has a generous handle. Red tea/black tea isn't boring at all. I have a large tin of excellent mature, full-flavored red/black tea that is my "default" cup when I don't want to have to think about selection and preparation. Mine is 滇红茶 Dian Hong, aka Yunnan Red or Yunnan Gold, and, like you, I sip it in clear glass, albeit with less elegance.

 

IMG_9820.thumb.JPG.0b9a8aa8f5e9174c16c08ac5caffdd44.JPGIMG_9824.thumb.JPG.f38887919918fa8dad996af07b0905fe.JPG

 

 

 

My screw-top mug has double walls plus a handle and built-in strainer so I can use the "grandpa" technique in which the tea leaves remain all along instead of the liquor being decanted off. I definitely think it adds to the experience to be able to admire the color of the tea as one enjoys its aroma and flavor.

 

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Shelley

That looks like a generous sized mug, good for a walk to the park and a relax in the sun!!

 

I have gone off lidded mugs because I find it makes the tea taste stewed. I also don't like leaving the leaves in because again it stews too much for me.I have a large collection of beautiful mugs with lids and some with a strainer but I don't use them, they sit in my kitchen and look beautiful:)

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Luxi

@Shelley, your special tea mug is indeed special, but @abcdefg's is one I would kill for, ideal to take out to the garden.  I'll have to explore Taobao and other sites for something like that. 

 

@abcdefg I really enjoy your tea posts, and being reminded of fresh velvety white tea is like spring starting up (actually, here spring has been and gone right now). Thanks for posting! Did you know there's a 中国茶道 mooc on 中国大学moocs ? It's running now and you can register any time while it's running and keep access to the videos to watch in your own time. I saw the first lecture and it's very pleasant to watch even if one doesn't understand a word.

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abcdefg

@Luxi -- Thanks for the link to that tea course. I'll have a look in the morning. When I went to tea school here in Kunming, it involved lots of specialized vocabulary, plus the teachers talked fast and used some regional slang. Real hard to understand. I took notes as fast as I could plus bought a small directional voice recorder and photographed all the projected slides. 

 

Then each night I would review the recordings and the photos of the slides and try to make sense of my notes. My classmates were great and would help me figure out things that I didn't understand. I usually brought snacks for the class to share during the breaks as a way of saying thanks. I didn't want to slow the teacher down so I wouldn't raise my hand with a question unless I was completely desperate.

 

We had two textbooks, but seldom used them. One was about Chinese tea in general and the other was entirely about Pu'er. It was a struggle even though it was fun. Four hours a day, five days a week. Not sure if I would do it again today, to be candid. The return on investment has been approximately zero.

 

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Luxi

I think this is much more relaxed and relaxing than the course you did. I found the first 2 videos very pleasing to watch, lovely photography. Nobody is going to point fingers at you if you don't keep to the deadlines or do the assignments, just sit back and enjoy. Something else that helps if you're using Chrome, you can change the speed to 0.75 which doesn't distort the voice too much and helps a lot. Firefox may also have the option to slow down the video, I haven't tried. 

 

The tea teacher definitely has an accent, but not too heavy. She also looks and moves like the end product of a 'finishing school for young ladies of good family' :D

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Shelley

@Luxi I don't blame you for wanting abcdefg's mug:wink:.

 

I tried that link but it seems broken:( it look like it would be nice to see, judging from your description it looks intriguing

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Luxi

@Shelley,  I have had problems getting into the right pages too. Looks like it (the Great Firewall???) likes direct links rather than shortcuts. Try these.

 

Here is the Home Page for the platform. The Tea course is in the Literature & History section :

http://www.icourse163.org/category/literary-history

 

and the tea course is on page 1 of that list:

http://www.icourse163.org/course/HUNAU-1001667002

 

There's an introduction to   中国大学 moocs platform in this post

 

I bet you're intrigued by the 'finishing school for fine ladies' teacher :lol:

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Shelley
1 minute ago, Luxi said:

I bet you're intrigued by the 'finishing school for fine ladies' teacher

Absolutely:lol:

and the tea too:shock:

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abcdefg

26,000 people are taking that on-line tea course! I'm currently unable to register, but will try again later. ("正在加载登录资源,请稍后重试")

 

The course just below it on the same page looks good too: 中国饮食文化

 

fish.thumb.JPG.5d9367492bf865e4c4340adc643a6ae5.JPG

 

 

Now, if only I weren't so lazy...

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Alex_Hart

Beautiful looking tea (and mug), abcd! Is it unusual to find it loose rather than in a cake, or is that typical? Don't suppose you know any sellers on Taobao :P.

 

Your tea class sounds awesome. I'm taking an elective on tea now and it's pretty interesting despite being nowhere near as serious as yours, and am looking to see if I can take courses at the main campus for ZheDa as my teacher continuously talks about their awesome tea rooms (one for Chinese teas and one for Japanese teas). Maybe after my Chinese has improved a bit.

 

I've been enjoying this year's batch of 龙井 and have three different boxes of it now (:wall), but wish I had access to your Pu'Er! Bought a 饼 while in 西双版纳 and am scared to drink it for fear of running out - bought another one on 淘宝 and was rather disappointed, and have had no luck tracking down a seller in Hangzhou. Perhaps another visit is necessary!

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abcdefg

Welcome back, @Alex_Hart, I've missed your comments and contributions.

 

White Peony 白牡丹 tea, and its Yunnan counterpart, are nearly always sold loose leaf 散茶 like this in boxes or in bags.

 

But I once had the pleasure of visiting one of Yunnan's six famous tea mountains outside Jinghong 景洪市 where a minor "off-the-menu" specialty was white tea compressed into cakes, similar in shape and size to Pu'er 饼茶。This was Nannuo Shan 南糯山 and these cakes are not well known. They were offered in two grades: one with a shoot and two small leaves, similar in its "pluck" to Bai Mudan, and another, higher grade that was comprised of all white to light green buds, thin and long. This "pluck"  produces 白毫银珍, usually translated as silver needle tea. It is usually sold loose, but this one small factory compressed it into cakes.

 

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Don't be afraid of running out of Pu'er. Drink it like there was no tomorrow. I can always help you find some more. 及時行樂 (Carpe diem)

 

But I don't know any sellers on Taobao, since I'm surrounded by it here. One or more of the wholesale tea markets should definitely be part of your next Yunnan itinerary. In my opinion, there is no substitute for actually being able to taste the tea before buying it. Sellers here typically let you do that; they are very hospitable and brew it up for you to sample.

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Alex_Hart

Pleasure to be back - checked in again and had no problems logging in nor did I need a VPN. Really enjoyed reading through your recent recipes! Since arriving in China, and especially since returning from Yunnan, I've been rather obsessed with tea so it's also nice to go back and read all your tea posts - cheers!

 

I was pretty disappointed that I didn't manage to get to visit the tea mountains while in Yunnan. Having asked around and finding myself pointed mostly to touristy shops, the owner of a guesthouse in 西双版纳 finally took me to a shop owned by her friend where I ended up getting my 普洱. 

 

I've actually seen a lot of white tea here pressed into cakes, though I'm unsure if it's just marketing or done for a reason. More common (it seems) than the 饼 is white tea pressed into tuo (汉子?). While walking around the tea market in Shanghai (天山), there was even a seller with "aged cakes of white tea" - was really baffled by this as I was under the impression only 黑茶 was aged. I was on my way to catch the 高铁 back to 杭州 so was unable to ask about it. Is this the same kind of "white tea" as you're talking about, or is it a misnomer?

 

Quick glance at Taobao seems to have a lot of these. 

 

EDIT: Remembered that my friend had given me balls of this white tea and compared the label with that on Taobao, they are the same - pics attached. Have yet to drink it, nor do I have any idea about the price, etc. It smells more like a 普洱, though.

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Edited by Alex_Hart
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abcdefg

Those are such tiny 沱茶! (沱 means "bowl" or "nest" or "dome.")  More commonly each one will make a teapot of tea; these look like they are gaiwan sized.

 

The one you have shown is Fuding 福鼎 tea, a well-respected white tea from northern Fujian. I've drunk it loose, as "silver needle" tea (白毫银针)and compressed into large cakes (375 grams.) Gentle flavor, slightly sweet after note 后感。Tastes fresh, even when it's a couple years old. It keeps better in this form than it does as loose leaves 散茶。

 

Obviously when the 沱 is the size of one's fist, it is essential to break it down with a 茶针 or 茶刀 before brewing. But it also helps to simply break these little cakes in half with one's fingers before adding the hot water. Affords more surface area contact.

 

If yours has a smoky, "Pu'er-like" aroma, it is probably because it was picked during non-ideal weather conditions. Normally, this white tea is simply withered and dried slowly under an alternating combination of direct sun and open shade. When it is raining, however, drying must be supplemented by additional low-temperature roasting at night to prevent spoilage.

 

Although the process of making this tea sounds simple, the various factors which influence its retained moisture and lead it to develop a certain flavor must be skilfully manipulated, and doing that well requires lots of experience and judgment. It is truly an artisanal process of the highest order.

 

On 5/10/2017 at 3:02 PM, Alex_Hart said:

While walking around the tea market in Shanghai (天山), there was even a seller with "aged cakes of white tea" - was really baffled by this as I was under the impression only 黑茶 was aged.

 

I was not aware that aged white tea in cakes was a premium product. But I confess to not knowing as much about Fujian teas as I would like. It's important to note that these cakes are compressed, but the tea leaves are not fermented first, as in the case of Pu'er. In "olden days" 50 years ago, Yunnan red tea 滇红茶 was sometimes compressed for ease of storage and transportation.

 

Part of the "problem" of living in Yunnan, if one could call it that, is that our tea markets tend to feature teas which are grown and processed locally. If I try to search out teas from Zhejiang or Fujian, or even closer places such as Sichuan and Guizhou, it takes more leg work and it often turns out that they have been bought from wholesale markets in Guangzhou or Shanghai. They are no longer bargain priced when they have a longer supply chain like that.

 

On the other hand, what I like about buying Yunnan tea here in Kunming, is that, more often than not, this or that particular teashop will have an alliance or connection with growers in one specific area, perhaps Lincang, perhaps Simao, perhaps Menghai, and so on. These small retailers seldom have a "comprehensive" stock, but they are de facto "specialists."

 

Some "chain" tea stores exist here in Kunming, as well as in other cities throughout China, and they tend to have a broader selection of products. But they lack the expertise of the smaller, single-family merchants.

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abcdefg

Did some snooping around on line this afternoon during a little bit of downtime and filled in one of the many gaps in my tea knowledge. Turns out that I was wrong about Silver Needle and White Peony tea being best when young. Several reliable sources indicate it improves after a year or two (maybe even three) if it is allowed to mature under the right conditions. Thanks, Alex_Hart for drawing my attention to that possibility.

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Alex_Hart

Thanks for the detailed response! And no problem - thanks for reporting back. I was wondering if it was fake:P.

 

Gaiwan sized!? When you say a pot of tea, do you mean a western pot? 

 

That just means you need to travel around and purchase tea! Was recently reading a blog by 普洱 fan who says the same cake of 普洱 will differ drastically depending on whether it's stored in 香港, 昆明 or wherever. He seems to prefer the 香港 ones (Wet storage? Traditional storage?). Would be interested in tracking down two samples of the same tea from different places to try them out. 

 

I know they say that 龙井 is also hyper-local. A lot of 杭州人 claim the 龙井 most people buy in 上海,北京等等 is fake. Since they break it down into 西湖龙井 and (浙江)龙井 , most tea sold as 龙井 ends up being of the latter variety since there are only a few mountains that actually grow the tea near 西湖. Would be interested in taking a trip around China just to try the different teas from every locale. 

 

EDIT: Brewed the white tea and was rather surprised - I was expecting a very light tea, but the taste is more reminiscent of a black tea. While it smelled more like a 普洱 before brewing, it doesn't share any resemblance to 普洱 after drinking it. Not very fragrant at all, but nice 口感. 

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Edited by Alex_Hart

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abcdefg
1 hour ago, Alex_Hart said:

Would be interested in taking a trip around China just to try the different teas from every locale. 

 

I've actually done that, or better said, am in the ongoing process of doing it. Have hit most of the majors by now, though of course not all. I taste and buy and visit the fields where each tea is grown, if possible following the harvest to the factories where it was processed. It's a project that is still underway six or seven years after its beginning; one which will probably never be finished.

 

Have extended my borders now outside the Chinese Mainland, to include the major tea growing areas of Taiwan. Have also extended the scope of the project to include places where famous tea-ware is made: Jingdezhen, Yixing, and Jianshui for example.

 

Lots of fun. My lady friend, unfortunately, doesn't like tea very much despite having studied it. so she is not as supportive of the project as I would have hoped. Many if not most of these trips are therefore solo. I keep hoping that will change, that it will evolve.

 

Maybe some long rainy weekend this summer, I can pull it all together into one single, "quest/voyage-type" account. 

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Alex_Hart

Would be a great read! How do you track down ways to visit the tea plantations? Do you go there on your own or with a group? I can see getting there on your own for places like 龙井 (where you can literally ride the bus to the fields - I actually commute by some of them every weekend), but Yunnan seemed rather harder to track down. Or maybe I wasn't looking in the right place - also feared tour type things as heard there are lots of scam-types. 

 

Then you should be visiting Japan, Korea, India and Sri Lanka soon! Shame you're solo - I've been trying to get my girlfriend to like tea, but her appreciation is still largely reserved for green tea. 

 

Almost took a trip to 宜兴 to buy my first pot, but was rather broke after a visit to some local mountains and settled for a cheap one off 淘宝 to hold me over until I can make the trip. C'est la vie.

 

EDIT: Just saw your index and saw you had posts about visiting plantations - 太好了! I'll check it out. 

 

EDIT2: I'm depressed - I just realized the Jianshui clay is from the Jianshui in Yunnan.. Where I've been. :wall

Edited by Alex_Hart

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abcdefg
12 hours ago, Alex_Hart said:

How do you track down ways to visit the tea plantations? Do you go there on your own or with a group?

 

It's hard to track these places down if one just comes in cold. At the best of times, I've been with Chinese tea friends, and that broke the ice. What I've learned by now, is that there is an informal network of people who love tea, study tea or deal with it in their line of work.

 

Two or three of us have rocked up in at fairly isolated village which is famous for some tree or leaf, not knowing a single soul. One friend says, "Wait, I think Lao Zhang's niece had a friend who went to school with someone who was born here, but I can't recall her name." Five or ten minutes later, after a flurry of phone calls and WeChat messages we are in touch with someone around the corner who was a friend of a friend of a friend. And then the party is rolling. China is so much about relationships.

 

Of course this also means that when someone who is a friend of a friend from that small, nearly nameless village on the other side of the far mountain comes to Kunming to see the doctor or buy supplies or whatever, and happens to be armed with my phone number, I gather some local tea friends and we all go to dinner, treating the village guests like visiting royalty. Maybe introduce them to someone else here who might wind up buying their tea next year, or at least introduce them to someone who might know someone who would like to distribute their tea year after next after an existing contract runs out.

 

And so on. I suppose it all comes under the broad general heading of 关系。

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