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  1. Now is the time to look for some of this year's crop if you like Chinese green 绿茶 and white tea 白茶。 The best of the best is picked right before Qingming Festival 清明节, which this year fell on the 4th of April, only two weeks ago. The slightly less expensive second picking is on the shelves and in the markets now. I bought a bag of real tasty Yunnan Biluochun 碧螺春 and a bag of Yunnan White Peony or Bai Mudan 白牡丹 from a bulk dealer nearby. She scooped me out about a hundred grams of each. These are teas that need to be enjoyed now; they won't be much good after about a year, so it's best not to overbuy. I've told you about Yunnan Biluochun before, so today I'll give you a look at Bai Mudan. (Link to biluochun: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48546-how-to-brew-green-tea-with-a-gaiwan-盖碗/ ) The most famous White Peony tea comes from eastern and northern Fujian; ours today comes from Simao 思茅区, the district in south-central Yunnan that also goes by the better-known name Pu'er 普洱。It is plucked early in the year, one long silver bud and usually two tender leaves. After being harvested (by hand) it is air dried and withered 萎凋 in thin layers under indirect sun for a day or two. Then it is raked into small piles 堆 and left that way to partly ferment for only a couple of hours. Last of all, it is carefully baked 烘焙 just enough to dry it and retard spoilage, usually only a matter of minutes. The leaves are handled gently, they don't go through the rough "rolling" operation 揉捻 or wok drying 杀青 to which some other teas are subjected. This preserves the gentle flavor of the leaf, but means that it is a perishable commodity. Unlike green tea, it is lightly oxidized. Here's what it looks like. If you enlarge the first picture and look closely, you can see that the long silver buds/shoots are covered in a fine, almost fluffy white down. This bag contains about 100 grams, the tomatoes and the textbook are for scale. Cost me 75 Yuan. Would have been cheaper per unit had I bought a larger amount or bargained more aggressively. I store it in a cool, dry living-room cabinet out of the sun and away from the stove, but I won't put it in the refrigerator. Let me show you my favorite way to brew it. You can use a teapot 茶壶 or gaiwan 盖碗 (covered tea bowl) of course, but the simplest way it to just make it in a tall glass. This glass method is especially good if you are just brewing for yourself or yourself and a friend. The one I'm using today holds 240 ml. The smaller glass beside it holds 200 ml, and is also OK. (Pencils and chopsticks for scale.) Don't use boiling water; it will "kill" the tea and make it taste somewhat sour and faintly bitter. Instead, use water that has been brought to the boil and allowed to cool down to 80 or 85 degrees Celsius. If you are in China and using water from your home water dispenser 饮水机,you can get the temperature about right by drawing water from the "hot" side of your dispenser in one pre-warmed drinking glass, and simply pouring it directly into your pre-warmed tea-making glass. No thermometer needed. Drop two or three generously large pinches of tea leaves right on top of the water. If you have a small digital tea scale and like to measure things, then use 5 grams. But with a little practice it isn't difficult to "eyeball" the quantity. Rule of thumb: if in doubt, use more leaves. Rule of thumb for the water: if in doubt, use cooler water. The water, however, needs to be of good quality. If it tastes nasty from chemicals or rust, the tea will not overcome that flaw. Tea leaves are said to be the father of a good cup; but water is the mother. After a couple of minutes, when leaves are starting to drift to the bottom, you can strain it into a small pitcher 公道杯 if you have one, or perhaps into a coffee cup. (This vessel needs to be warmed.) Then redistribute it to small drinking cups 品茗杯 for yourself and your guests. The leaves can be brewed 3 or 4 times. For best results don't let the brewing glass get empty; replenish it's level with more hot water when it gets down to a third or a quarter. Brewing tea this way, by dropping the leaves on top of the hot water, is referred to in tea lingo as 上头发。 This tea has a gentle flavor and a pale green-gold color; not a lot of caffeine; about a tenth as much as a cup of medium coffee. Most batches, if made right, will have a faintly floral note and a slightly sweet aftertaste. It isn't really made with peony flowers 牡丹花, despite the picturesque name. It isn't a tea which is actually scented with flower blossoms such as jasmine tea. Over the years it has become one of my favorite Chinese teas. Easy to make; easy to enjoy. Not overly rare or expensive. The experts tell me that the best time to drink it is in the middle of the day, late morning and early afternoon. Chinese tea lore suggests having it after you have eaten a light snack instead of on an empty stomach. Best enjoyed in spring and early summer. After you have finished brewing and drinking, take a minute to examine a few of the leaves. One long, thin bud 嫩芽 and a couple of small leaves in each complex: 一芽两叶。 If you have a gaiwan 盖碗 and a set of tea tools, it is fine to use them to make your White Peony tea. Again, use plenty of dry tea. These leaves are bulky, not compressed. This isn't Lipton's, cut up and crushed into tiny pieces. Suggest filling the gaiwan about a third full; loose leaf tea of this sort does not lend itself to measuring with a teaspoon. I would refer you to an earlier post for details of how to do the actual brewing. (Link to using gaiwan: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48546-how-to-brew-green-tea-with-a-gaiwan-盖碗/ ) Hope you will try out some of this year's spring tea now while it's at its best, in peak season. If in doubt about what kind to select, consider Bai Mudan, aka White Peony.
  2. Saw chance coverage Friday on the six-o'clock local news of the opening of this year's Yunnan Pu'er Tea Expo. (Quickly took these two snapshots of the TV screen so I could read them again after the program.) Decided to go have a look. It sounded like one of the fringe benefits of living in Kunming, which has become a major tea hub, especially for Pu'er tea. Turned out that it was well worth the effort and bus fare. It was held in the Convention and Expo Center, which is locally known as 国贸。 Several blocks were roped off to allow pedestrian access to several large dedicated buildings. I've been here before for other things in the past, one a very memorable local wood carving and woodcraft expo. Most of the exhibitors were wholesale tea purveyors who wanted to develop their potential customer base. All offered tastings of their wares, and most also offered on-the-spot retail sales. I entered one of these spacious pavilions, where about 15 tea tables were laid out, each staffed by a professional 茶艺师 (tea master) who was brewing and serving, plus telling guests about the virtues of their wares in a non-pushy way. I turned in to one of these "company stores" and a host asked me what I was most interested in sampling. I told him 熟普洱 (ripe) since it was still kind of early in the day for 生普洱 (raw) -- about 10 o'clock in the morning. I thought it was an interesting footnote on the tastes of most local people that he had to walk me around to about ten tables before finding one that was offering 熟普洱。All the others were presenting 生普洱。 The table was full, but a middle-aged man and his wife scooted over and gave me a chair. Turned out he was an exporter, visiting from Shanghai to make some sizeable purchases. Friendly and welcoming. His brother and their 80-year-old mother were in two of the other chairs. Shook hands all round. He was a keen businessman and had negotiated a special deal with the company hosts whereby we would all get two free teacups instead of just one if we gave them our contact information and added the company on WeiXin. He laughingly cut me in on his bounty. I did it without hesitation, though I may come to regret it if I get too much of their advertising. Two free white ceramic teacups bearing the company logo might not be worth it. The tea the young man was serving there was excellent, but out of my price range at over ¥1,000 per cake. None-the-less, I really enjoyed the free samples. Smooth, full and balanced. Each small pot could be brewed a dozen times he said. This is called 耐泡, a virtue which marks better Pu'er tea. I wandered around, stopping at a store giving demonstrations of how Pu'er tea cakes 茶饼 were compressed and then wrapped. They first steamed the tea leaves to make them pliable, then gathered them into muslin sacks, twisting the tails of the fabric in the center. This fabric bulge eventually produced the typical central "dimple" that all round Pu'er tea cakes feature. A second young workman centered this bag of tea under a heavy stone, lowered the stone and rocked it around to provide many pounds of compression. In smaller production facilities, they typically put a small stone on top of the tea disk and then stand on it, letting body weight do most of the work. A young man at another station hand wrapped the now-compressed tea cakes. The technique looks simple, but it's easy to get it wrong. I learned how in tea school, but now struggle with it every time I unwrap a cake of Pu'er at home in order to use it and then re-wrap it afterwards. There was a full schedule of lectures, most of them 30 to 45 minutes long. Most were on professional topics that were over my head and the few that might have been of interest to me were not happening at a convenient time. So I didn't sit down there, but kept moving instead. Near the lecture area, I found a display dedicated to how Chinese astronauts had enjoyed Pu'er tea on one or another space mission. I had not known, but am not surprised. Found one booth that was featuring (and selling) tea-related art. Paintings and large photos of people enjoying tea in different settings, some wearing minority garb. It was fun to just see so much good 功夫 tea brewing technique. That in itself was a treat. Foreigners who visit Beijing on their "See all of China in 6 Days and 7 Nights" whirlwind tours often are treated to a "tea ceremony." Sometimes it's planned by the guide and sometimes it's an expensive scam that they are invited to by a "friendly local" when walking around on their own in a Hutong 胡同。 What none of them seem to realize is that these "tea ceremonies" are just the normal way that Chinese tea is brewed and served, even when you are doing it at home for one or two friends. Of course you hot rinse the small cups, of course you strain the tea as you pour it out of the small teapot into the distribution pitcher, and so on. There is a good reason for every step; the traditions make sense. They weren't invented in order to dazzle or impress. No flashing lights; no trumpet fanfare, no Lawrence Welk "bubble machine." I enjoyed watching people who were good at doing these things. One young woman was particularly handy with the tea knife 茶针 and could flake off Pu'er very efficiently. When i do it at home, even though I should know better, I often take a less sensible approach. She worked from the "dimple" outwards, instead of cutting in from the edge of the cake. This allowed her to tilt it, and not make such a big mess. She could catch all the flakes on the wrapper. Pretty slick, I thought, and I plan to imitate her approach next time I'm doing it on my own. Must admit that after two or three hours it got a little repetitious and I was swimming in tea. The old kidneys got a huge workout. Had hoped to find more displays of teapots and teacups and other 茶具, but maybe I just missed them since the place was huge and there were a couple of rooms I didn't cover too well. I didn't buy much, only a few teabags of Pu'er to give to an American friend back in Texas. (Someone who won't go to the trouble to brew it the right way.) Admission was free, but you had to register and give them your phone number in order to get an electronic entry badge with a scanable barcode. Today is the last day (four days.) But if it sounds interesting, mark it on your calendar for 2018. It has been running 12 years, and preliminary counts of this year's attendance showed it broke previous records by a wide margin. (Note: You can click the photos to enlarge them.)
  3. abcdefg

    The writing on my teacups

    Recently bought a tea set here in Kunming. I'm a sucker for pretty ones when they are reduced in price. This set was a "floor model" and the shop is closing. I got it for a song. According to the boss lady, it's from Jingdezhen 景德镇。I can read most of the writing on the bottom of the pieces, but the last word is one I cannot make out. Thought someone here might be able to help. Here's a normal shot and a mega-closeup. The character in the lower left corner is the one I cannot read. My guesses, based on context had to do with 陶瓷 (pottery or "china") and 制造 (made/produced/manufactured.) But these don't seem to fit. Add: Looking again just now, maybe it's the 繁体字 version of 制。Do you think that's possible? Any ideas? Thanks. And just for grins, here are some other photos of the set. I like this kind of thin-walled Jingdezhen china, I like the delicate appearance given by the parts of the design that are done in clear, glass-like material. That see-through look is something I think Jingdezhen does real well. It's usually called "rice grain" porcelain and is made by piercing the clay before it's fired, then letting it fill it in with a translucent glaze. I put red paper inside the pitcher 公道被 for one of these to try and demonstrate the translucent design feature. Cost about 300 RMB. The bottoms of some pieces were rough where they should have been smooth. Conceivably, this set contains some items that were "seconds." But I think they will be nice enough for casual use. A paper-thin, museum-grade set might be nice for bragging, but it would probably just sit on a glassed-in shelf because I'd worry about damage from standard use with friends. A couple years ago I went to the source (Jingdezhen in Jiangxi) and spent several enjoyable days trying to get up to speed regarding what makes one teapot cost ¥100 and the one next to it cost ¥1,000。It isn't always obvious at first glance, but one thing that always seemed to increase price was being extremely thin. Some of it was such that you could read a newspaper through it, even though it was white glazed. The white color also sometimes has a jade-like quality that makes it almost seem to glow. Amazing.
  4. When you read about Pu'er tea in the news or in general-purpose reference articles, you usually find discussion of its compressed forms, such as cakes, blocks and so on, with little or no mention of these teas in their loose-leaf form. So I thought it might be fun to remedy that oversight and introduce you to loose-leaf Pu'er; it has lots to recommend it. The two main kinds of Pu'er tea from a flavor standpoint are the fully-fermented ripe 熟茶 ones and the un-fermented raw ones 生茶。Both types can be found compressed into cakes 饼茶,bricks 砖茶,bowls/bird's nests 沱茶 as well as a few other forms, such as balls 丸子 and even gourds or melons 瓜子。Here's a cake 饼 of ripe Pu'er 熟茶 from my tea cupboard. It's easy to see how dense it is. Similarly, this brick 砖 of raw Pu'er 生茶 shows the same tightly-compressed structure. Tea which is compact, like these, is easier to transport, especially if one were moving it hundreds of miles over rugged mountains along a narrow "tea-horse" trail, 茶马古道 from South Yunnan all the way to high Tibet. It's also easier to store for prolonged, controlled ageing. I didn't have much loose-leaf Pu'er on hand, so before being able to present this topic adequately, I needed to make a trip to the wholesale tea market for supplies. That is definitely no hardship, and I always welcome any excuse to go there. Just ride city bus #25 for 25 or 30 minutes, arriving where 二环北路 enters 金买小区。 Kunming is one of China's three main "tea capitals" or tea trading hubs, alongside Shanghai and Guangzhou. We have two main wholesale tea markets, one in the north and another in the south. I visit both, but prefer the north one mainly for ease of access. This market has between 500 and 1,000 tea stores clustered together in two blocks of medium-rise buildings on both sides of the street. Most stores there have a three-tier business model: most income derives from selling large lots of tea in bulk by freight or by mail. This tea goes to other smaller wholesaler distributors as well as to some large chain retailers. Some of their sales are direct, to regional retailers who visit every so often and carry their goods back to their shops in bulk and sell them there at a mark up, often packaging the tea nicely. And last of all, there are the small-scale walk-in buyers, such as me. We are only one step above beggars in the overall scheme of things, but Chinese hospitality prevails, and the merchants welcome us, sit us down and brew us cups and cups of their best tea. And what's more, they typically regale us with tales. That's the best part. Before long, they are flipping through photos on their phone that show them posing in front of huge ancient tea trees way back in semi-secret mountains. "When the rain cleared, we found ourselves just beside this one, which was 1,200 years old, and has been in the family since ..." The white elephants flanking the market gate above are a reference to the (diminishing) wild herds in the hills of Xishuangbanna, where lots of great Yunnan tea originates. One enters any one of several such gates, and winds around inside, where steep warrens of tea stores are stacked three-stories tall. Photo above right, shows "melon/gourd-pagoda tea," stacked as an entry-way decoration to one of the many shops. The large cartons of tea behind it are stacked everywhere. These shops seldom have a polished feel, and serve mainly as storage space for bulk tea. Some stores mainly sell Pu'er and some mainly sell red tea 滇红茶,while others specialize in Yunnan's green teas and others feature Yunnan's little-known white teas. Most, however, have some overlap. It's delightful to wander from one to another, tasting this and that. You can usually depend on these sellers to know the best way to brew these teas, absent any hokey showmanship or flourish. They are not "performing a tea ceremony" for unwary tourists in Beijing's scam alleys, but they are still using kung-fu methods and utensils. These shopkeepers are not playing games with tourists, they just want to let you share their appreciation of their wares and hopefully buy some at the end. But there is never any pressure. After visiting one store where I could not understand the heavy dialect of the boss man, I wandered around several other venues and eventually found a top-notch, mellow loose leaf ripe Pu'er 熟普洱散茶, bought 150 grams of it; and likewise settled on a bright and balanced raw loose leaf Pu'er 生普洱散茶,bought the same amount of it. These two large bags of tea are enough to last me several years unless I wind up giving some away (which often happens.) Cost was 230 Yuan together, and the seller threw in a handful of balls of red tea 滇红茶 to lure me back another time. And I probably will return; could not have been more pleased with these purchases and the overall experience. Thus equipped, I rode the bus back to my apartment. Looking forward to showing you how the shopping expedition worked out, but am afraid of loosing what's here already, so I'm going to post as is and then add to it. (Sometimes the forum software fails and the browser swallows it all without a trace. This can cause a grown man to cry, which is not a pretty sight.)
  5. abcdefg

    Tea articles: A user's guide

    I realized a few minutes ago that we didn't have an index or guide to articles about tea and tea culture on Chinese Forums. Thought it might be helpful to pull them all together in one place as a reference, especially for people who have recently joined. Be glad to try my best to add to them as we go along; so if you think something is missing, or there is something else tea-related that you would like to see, please let me know. 1. General introduction to Chinese tea and tea tools -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48538-chinese-tea-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%8C%B6/ 2. Yunnan red tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48661-dian-hong-%E6%BB%87%E7%BA%A2%E8%8C%B6-yunnans-simplest-tea/ 3. Brewing green tea, especially Biluochun -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48541-how-to-make-green-tea-that-isnt-bitter/ 4. Chinese flower tea, chrysanthemum, etc. -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52972-a-little-about-chinese-flower-tea-%E8%8A%B1%E8%8C%B6/ 5. White peony tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53980-spring-tea-has-arrived-a-look-at-yunnan-bai-mudan-%E4%BA%91%E5%8D%97%E7%99%BD%E7%89%A1%E4%B8%B9/ 6. Maofeng green tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/51305-springtime-in-a-glass-yunnan-maofeng-tea-%E4%BA%91%E5%8D%97%E6%AF%9B%E5%B3%B0%E8%8C%B6/ 7. Taiwan Oolong -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49780-a-taste-of-taiwan-oolong/ 8. Pu’er tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48844-warming-up-to-pu%E2%80%99er-a-beginner%E2%80%99s-guide-%E6%99%AE%E6%B4%B1%E8%8C%B6/ 9. Loose-leaf Pu'er tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54367-loose-leaf-puer-tea-普洱散茶/#comment-417513 10. What to do with old green tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52708-last-years-tea/ 11. Herbal iced tea cubes -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52126-tea-recipe-herbal-t-cubes/ 12. About buying a tea set -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49840-about-buying-a-tea-set-and-what-does-it-say/ 13. The famous tea mountains of south Yunnan -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/48134-south-yunnan-tea-mountains/ 14. Visiting Yunnan tea plantations -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/40013-learn-about-chinese-tea-and-see-plantations-in-yunnan-where-can-we-start/ 15. History of tea podcasts -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/49617-laszlo-montgomery-on-the-history-of-chinese-tea-%E2%80%93-a-listening-guide/ 16. Handwritten tea label -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/44897-handwritten-tea-label/ 17. Tea eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/53701-tea-eggs-yunnan-style-%E8%8C%B6%E5%8F%B6%E8%9B%8B/ 18. Quail tea eggs -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54342-quail-tea-eggs-鹌鹑茶叶蛋/#comment-417555 19. Casual tea survey a long time ago -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/14934-favorite-chinese-teas6 20. Xihu Longjing -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54141-西湖龙井茶-west-lake-dragon-well-tea/#comment-415472 21. Spring tea 春茶 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/56223-now-is-the-time-for-early-spring-tea-早春茶/ 22. Yunnan Pu'er Tea Expo -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/54670-yunnan-puer-tea-expo-云南普洱茶国际博览交昜会/?tab=comments#comment-421112 23. Kunming Tea Industry Expo 2018 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/57348-kunming-tea-industry-expo-2018/?tab=comments#comment-444897 24. Yunnan Spring Tea 2019 -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58172-hello-spring-tea-2019-早春茶/?tab=comments#comment-451530 25. Brewing spring tea in a glass -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58173-and-heres-how-it-brews-yunnan-spring-tea-2019/?tab=comments#comment-451545 26. Honey rose milk tea -- https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58346-honey-rose-milk-tea-玫瑰奶茶/ Just to be clear about it, I wanted to emphasize that this is not my private turf by any means. Others have already contributed fine articles, and everyone is welcome to pitch in with their own contributions. (Ahem... @Alex_Hart, as 杭州人, 龙井 Longjing has your name on it.)
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