Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jingmai from space

Google Earth is a great tool, I often find myself travelling through it. I love to see how the places I've been to look like from space. Jingmai mountain was very well shot, with a clear sky and good light.

Here is the picture I want to share with you:

On this picture, you can clearly see the difference of landscapes between conventional plantations (on the left side), ancient tea gardens (at the top) and secondary rain forest (at the bottom). The village you can see is Jingmai Da Zhai (''Jingmai big village''). The road goes on the left side to Mangjing: the Bulang area of Jingmai.

The white little dots in the plantation fields are actually small huts where the tea pickers can have a rest and gather the leaves.

These photos were shot in 2010, at this time, the tea trees density was high but since then, the field has been converted into natural tea gardens, with a density such as you can see in the foreground of the second picture, I will cover this subject in a future article.

Along the main road

Inside the ancient tea forest

The ancient tea trees are rarely located in a dense forest, the trees need light and room to grow and it must be easy to move around and harvest the trees. Ancient tea gardens are also managed to a certain extent, they form a different landscape from primary forest. 

I have seen very few tea trees growing in a totally untouched environment, i can remember of a few places near the village of Mengsong, in Bulang Shan, and remote parts of Yiwu mountain. 

When I started my tea journey, I thought the better the environment, the better the quality; now, I have found out reality is much more complex. Managing tea gardens can be very tricky.

This is all about learning, first, you have strong beliefs, and with better knowledge and experience, they are teared to pieces while new convictions seize your brain. I love that process.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mixed plantations

On my trips in Xishuangbanna, I came across a large variety of crops, from family gardens to industrial bananas, there is a lot to see in Southern Yunnan. In the surroundings of Jingmai mountain, an interesting field caught my eye:

One row of rubber trees (hevea brasiliensis) inter-cropped with four rows of tea trees (Camellia Sinensis var Assamica). This kind of setting contrasts with the usual vast mono-cultures.

According to several papers (here, here and here), inter-cropping rubber with tea would be advantageous on several aspects such as:

-increased carbon sequestration, leading to a richer soil on the long term.

-reduced run-off and soil erosion, rubber trees are infamously known in Yunnan for affecting the local climate, it is indirectly related to water retention capacity. Rubber tree tends to make the soil impermeable, during heavy rain, water will tend to flow down the slope instead of binding to the soil.

-increased revenues because of a more efficient usage of the field, if you wanted to have the same amount of rubber trees and tea trees in mono-culture, you would need more ground.

-increased stability because the price of rubber and tea leaves are not related.

Are we going to see rubber trees growing around Mahei, Lao Banzhang or Banpo Laozhai? Probably not, because the studies undertaken were aiming at lowland fields. As altitude increase, the price of tea increases and the yield of rubber trees decreases, hence, it would probably not be economical for the famous tea mountains to choose rubber trees as inter-crops.

However, many tea gardens require shade trees and natural tea gardens have room for other crops to be planted, maybe in the future, we could see a more advanced management of tea gardens, using nitrogen fixing plants to increase the soil nutrients and using specific predator hosts in order to keep pest away.

There is a lot of research being done on inter-cropping and tea, rubber, cocoa, coffee, banana, palm oil and other long term crops will be the first beneficiaries of these advancements. Because of the expected population increase (10 billion people in 2050), mankind must launch a ''doubly green revolution'' which implies a production increase as well as a reduction of the environmental impact. Let us hope there will be enough tea for everybody!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to describe Pu-erh tea?

This article is only a guideline, it is important to remember that the best tea is the tea that you like. Pu-erh tea has a rich taste and offers a large variety of profiles because there has been no standard in how it should taste like. Yet, it can be useful to know what to notice in a cup of tea. While reading, please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, it is only the most common comments one can hear here and there while drinking tea in China.


The flavor (Xiang Wei 香味) is an important part of tea quality, first, you can smell the dry leaves. In order to fully release their aroma, you can heat them up with steam, either by putting them at the tip of the kettle, either by smelling them in the pre-heated gaiwan/teapot. After the washing (the first brew), the damp and warm leaves will release different fragrances, it can be enjoyable to smell the leaves in the gaiwan at different steps of the tea session.

The empty cup of tea is another point of interest, the hot tea liquor on the cup walls slowly evaporates and great scents can be noticed, those smells evolve as the aromatic compounds evaporate, it can be worthwhile to smell your empty cup regularly.

Finally, the tea liquor itself is full of fragrances, you can notice them better if you only pour your cup halfway. Nonetheless, the best way to enjoy those scents is to drink up the tea and use retro-olfaction, which means you breath air out through your nose while keeping your mouth shut, the air coming from the lungs will be full of tea aroma and you will perceive more complex flavours than by simply smelling tea in the cup.

Aroma is very volatile, it can change very quickly and is somewhat hard to describe. Yet, you will notice that some Pu-erh teas are more aromatic than others: Mengku, Nannuo, Mengsong and Jingmai are examples of highly fragrant teas, bursting in your mouth. Yiwu and Bulang teas have typically more contained aromas, it does not mean they lack of complexity but they have a different way to spread, they don't give everything in the first cup.

The aroma of a tea depends a lot on its processing and aging, it is up to the tea farmer to build a complex tea fragrance by adjusting the heaviness of Sha Qing and rolling process to the right degree. Aged tea fragrance is mostly built up by the storage environment. A common chinese saying tell: ''the more aged, the more fragrant 越陈越香''. In reality, it mostly depends on the aging conditions of the tea.


What makes Pu-erh so different from other teas is its complexity in the mouth feeling. Let's call it with the chinese word: Kou Gan 口感.

Pu-erh tea flavor has sweetness, bitterness and astringency.

a) Bitterness (Ku Wei 苦味)
There are three kinds of bitterness:
-Lingering bitterness: it feels a bit puckery and is very present in some Bulang tea, especially those from the varietal called ''Ku Cha 苦茶''.
-Bitterness that transforms into astringency, it is often associated with young tea trees.
-Bitterness which transforms into sweetness, it is characteristic of old trees in several areas (Lao Man E, Banzhang, Jingmai...), this last one is often the most praised of the bitterness.

In a tea cup, those three kinds of bitterness are mixed, it is rare to find bitterness that only transforms into astringency or sweetness. The duration of bitterness is also a quality criteria, most amateurs prefer bitterness that transforms quickly. For example, bitterness in Lao Banzhang tea should transform faster than in Lao Man E tea, this is considered as a major difference between those two villages' tea taste.

b) Astringency (Se Wei 涩味)
This is the feeling of having a rough tongue, as astringency deploys, the taste buds contract and it can feel a bit itchy. You can especially feel astringency when you touch your palate with your tongue. Astringency on the tongue is present to different extents on each tea. It is often heavier in young trees tea and in some aged teas.
Astringency can also be felt on the skin touching the upper teeth, it feels like the lips are hard to detach from the teeth. This kind of astringency is often found in plantation tea but is less common in old-growth tea.

The Chinese tea amateurs tend to regroup bitterness and astringency under the term Ku Se Wei 苦涩味, this term is used to describe the general aggresiveness of tea.

c) Sweetness (Tian Wei甜味) is somewhat hard to describe, it is often what remains in the mouth after you have swallowed the liquor, it deploys on the sides and on the upper part of the mouth, when sweetness deploys into the mouth, it can feel as if the skin slighlty expanded.


In many high quality Pu-erh teas, a pleasant sweetness can be felt in the throat, it is called Hui Gan 回甘. Deep and lingering Huigan are unique to old trees tea, this refreshing feeling can remain for a long time after drinking. Bulang Shan tea feature very nice Huigan, this is maybe what makes Lao Banzhang tea so famous.


If you pay attention, you can notice a lot of things happening in your body while drinking Pu-erh tea. This feeling can be called Chaqi 茶气, it varies according to the people and it seems not everybody does perceive it. Good tea can make you feel good, just like being drunk but without the negative effects. When drinking tea from old trees, one can feel more concentrated, relaxed and energized. If you drink too much Pu-erh tea, you can feel tea drunk or Cha Zui 茶醉 in Chinese.

''I feel this article is largely incomplete, if you have things to add, you are welcome to post a comment!''

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lao Man E

On my first visit, Lao Man E impressed me very much, even though it is a very famous place now, it feels so remote. Maybe I got that feeling because Lao Man E is only surrounded by ancient tea gardens, pagodas and temples. You cannot see anything else when in Lao Man E, you don't feel like at the top of a mountain. From Nannuo Shan, you can see the two major cities of Xishuangbanna, from Jingmai, you can contemplate the large paddy fields in the plains, you get a grasp of civilization. But in Lao Man E, there is only tea and meditation. 

Lao Man E in the morning

Old people pray all day, and sleep in an annex of the temple

They go back home on the second day

Tea is all around the village

Ancient tea forest

In these hills, there are wild tea trees... and big snakes!

Buddhism is omnipresent in Bulang Shan

Natural tea gardens

Bamboo is used extensively in Xishuangbanna

Ancient tea gardens are all around, the Han culture is so far away, Lao Man E is the center of Bulang culture, it doesn't feel like China at all. I have always been fascinated by Bulang Shan, this is a mystic place, there are always weird things happening there.  Bulang Shan tea is like Burgundy wine, it has a strong character, it can be very good or very bad, sometimes, it gives a hard time to our stomach, sometimes, it brings our throat to nirvana. This area is so peculiar.

you can consult an article about Lao Man E on my website: click here

Thursday, August 30, 2012


There are two ways to deal with animals in tea plantations. Either we consider them as enemies and we try to avoid them as much as possible, either we accept them in the plantation, and try to cope with them. There are many different species present in a tea ecosystem, generally, we can separate them into three camps: pest, predators and neutral. If, like in Jingmai mountain, insecticides cannot be sprayed, the insect will have a large influence on yield. The tea farmers must then find strategies to attract predators and repulse pest. There is a lot to research about it, the 21st century will hopefully be the time when ecologists and agronomists meet together and start to talk.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Picking tea

I have spent a large part of summer in the tea mountains of Xishuangbanna. Part of a tea farmer's life is filled by tea picking, I tried it for a week, while a friend and I were trying different black tea processing. We had to harvest those nice natural tea gardens, formerly conventional plantations (Taidi Cha 台地茶).

On Jingmai mountain, it has been decided to prohibit the use of insecticide and chemical fertilizer, and restrict the use of herbicide. In order to avoid massive pest invasion, the number of tea trees per hectare must be severely reduced (four trees out of five have been cut), the tea trees are now at least two meters far from each other. Shade trees are to be planted in order to host natural predators and improve the tea quality.

The locals can pick tea at lighting speed, according to them, it takes one month of training to reach the right pace. My picking speed was slow and, at the end of the day, my bag was very light compared to theirs. I find pretty hard to see the buds on the tea tree, that's why i couldn't pick the tea faster, I had to look at the tree, pick a few buds and leaves, and look again.
one bud one leaf

 The experienced picker can do both at the same time and use two hands to pick, it sounds easy but it's not, because if you press to hard on the branches, they will swing and it will be impossible to get all the buds very quickly. Picking tea is harder than expected, especially when there is no picking table at the top of the tree. I understand now, why it takes so much time to harvest the ancient tea gardens: the ground is steep, the trees are scattered and you have to climb on some of the trees.

In Jingmai mountain, there are two main species of trees: big leaf varietal and small-medium leaf. In reality, there is an important variation between the leaf shape of each tea tree. On some trees, they are round shaped, on others, they are longer and narrower, shaped like a boat. This explains the large diversity of leaves in the cakes, and it does not necessarily reveals a blended cake.

I was very happy to hike in the tea mountains again, and i learned a lot of new things about tea agriculture. I am a happy man forever!

a happy man!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

name that insect!

This beautiful friend loves to hike on the tea trees. I met him on the hills of Xishuangbanna, at 1200m of altitude. He doesn't talk a lot, but he likes the Camellia Sinensis too. He is a tea friend in some way. Do you think this 'teamate' has a positive impact on the health of the trees, or is it considered as a pest? 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Yongde tea map

Here is a map of Yongde area, in the West of Lincang County, Yunnan.

The main tea villages are indicated on the map, following is a list with more information.

village name                       altitude           size of the tea gardens                      age of the tea gardens

Manlai (Daxueshan):           2100 m          400 000 wild tea trees                        thousands years old
Banka Xiang 班卡乡:            2000m                50 ha                                                        100 years old
Mangfei 芒肥:                        1500m                64 ha                                                           80 years old
Tuanshu 团树 ‘:                     2000m              100 ha                                                           60 years old
Yuhua 玉华Ž:                          1900m              150 ha                                                           70 years old
Pingzhang 平掌:                    2000m               50 ha                                                            60 years old
Mingfeng Shan 鸣凤山:    1900m               50 ha                                                            90 years old
Meiziqing 梅子清:               2000m             105 ha                                                          100 years old
Mugua Zhai 木瓜寨:           1500m               50 ha                                                            80 years old
Dika 底卡:                             1700m               50 ha                                                         100 years old
Wujia Zhai 武家寨:            2000m               50 ha                                                          100 years old

As you can notice, the quantity and age of the tea gardens is not super impressive, maybe this is one of the reasons why Yongde is a bit neglected. Good for the amateur! Yongde Cha features lower prices than other areas and has its load of hidden gems.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mengku tea map

Here is a map I've made this morning. It represents the Mengku area with the main tea villages. As you can see, there are two main mountains: Xi Ban Shan in the west and Dong Ban Shan in the east. The top of Xi Ban Shan is known as Da Xue Shan (big snow mountain) because of its high altitude (it peaks at 3233m), there is another Daxueshan in the North West of this area, they should not be confused.

The most famous village in Mengku area is Bingdao, in the North. It is famous for its high fragrance and power, actually, Mengku has much more to offer, each village has its own characteristics. Bingdao tea is very high priced while most of the other villages are cheaper than Xishuangbanna tea.

I have never made it to Mengku, but I intend to go there soon, I have heard only good from that place. It is said the environment is much better preserved than in Xishuangbanna, the plantations are less intensive and very old tea trees stand in the fields. Let's see!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sustainable development: Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem Services Value

Nowadays, we talk a lot about endangered species, chemical pollution, climate change... More and more people feel concerned about the environment, many of those who read this blog love Nature.

But is love enough to deal with our current problems?

People generally agree that we should protect nature, but in practice, nothing is done. This explains why we've been talking for so long about environmental issues, they are problems that we want to solve, but we don't really know how to tackle them.

Today, I want to talk about ecosystems and how we manage our land. Biodiversity is threatened in most places on the globe, we destroy natural habitats (rain forests, wetlands, mangroves, rivers...) to convert them into something that we consider valuable for our societies, which means something that brings us money: crops, tree plantations, tea gardens, dams on the rivers. We regard natural habitats as useless because nobody can make a direct profit out of it: nowadays, people rarely hunt or pick berries for a living. Yet, many people want to protect nature...

Therefore, we must find ways to put value on Nature. As we put a value on a garbage collector for the service he provide by giving him a salary every month, we should put a value on a wetland to clean our waste water, on a beautiful valley for the aesthetic service it provides and so on.

Natural processes represent a huge amount of work that could never be achieved by the human race alone: pollination, water purification, irrigation, flood control, genetic diversity, air purification, fuel production, recreation services and much more.

Ecosystem services value is a very recent concept, not even ten years old. This new approach aims at classifying every kind of environments, natural and handmade, and for each of them, calculate a value per hectare per year, exactly like a salary. Of course, we will not have to give banknotes to the bees for the pollination service they provide, but having in mind a money equivalent helps society to make decisions, whether to conserve nature as it is, or modify it to make it more valuable.

Here are two examples of decision making:

First case: The drinking water quality of New York City was not complying with the US standards, building new water treatment facilities would initially cost $6 billion plus $300 million per year. Thanks to an ecosystem services assessment, they found out it would be worth investing $1.5 billion in improving the agricultural techniques of the farms upland to avoid chemicals run off, they restored the watershed natural environment to get a better water purification. Thanks to this tool, the city saved a lot of money.

Second situation: The Nakivubo swamp, in Uganda, is situated between the capital city and the lake Victoria. Pressures were made to use the swamp for crop irrigation and human settlements, this would bring the people some hard cash. This swamp clean the waste water that flow into Lake Victoria, an ecosystem service estimation was made and it showed that the swamp was worth $1 million to $1.75 million per year for its water treatment service. A waste water treatment plant would cost $2 million per year to the city. This study helped the decision makers save money.

Applied to the tea industry, this tool could be a good way to put the right value on ancient tea gardens and encourage even more the conversion of intensive terrace plantations into natural tea gardens. I have not found any estimation of the ecosystem service value for tea fields and I would be grateful if someone could give me any information about it.

As a conclusion to this article and to introduce even better this brand new concept, you can listen to this TED talk by Pavan Sukhdev: click here to see the video

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who is a tea expert?

written by isundust on on 2012-03-16

Who is a tea expert?

If in one sip, you can identify a tea, are you an expert? No way! It just means you are able to remember a tea you drank before.
If in one sip, you can tell the approximate age of a tea, are you an expert? No way! It just means you are a seasoned Pu-erh tea drinker.
When others mention a tea, you always say you have it in your collection, are you an expert then? Of course not! It only shows that you are a collector, like a philatelist.
When others mention a tea, you are able to tell them its characteristics and price, does it mean you are an expert? Nonsense! It only shows you're in the business or that you are an big enthusiast.

You know by heart the names of many tea mountains, villages and peaks, so what? You can explain in detail how the plucking is realized, and then?

Actually, we are only people who drink tea, why do we all want to become ''specialists''? Does it mean that every one of us would like to make a living out of tea?

In the end if we were only tea drinkers who can serve tea, who can love tea, who treat every single leaf with great care, that would be enough. If you get to understand every tea you have, if you can get the best out of them, then I would say you are amazing.

Each tea, no matter how expensive it is, has its own style, its own good and bad aspects; brew it with all of your heart, you can get the spirit of this tea, extract every special trait, point up the best side of it, grasp the full essence of this tea; then you are a real expert.

Let's talk about the Dayi 7542 recipe: this tea is very common, it's a blend of plantation teas, to my knowledge, this tea is brewed well when you get 4 characteristics: 1- no bitterness or astringency, 2- a changing and lively liquor, 3-a soup pleasant in the mouth, 4- the typical Chaqi of 7542. Few people can get those four features together in a same cup.

Today, I brought up a controversial debate; actually, I like this saying: '' the more I argue, the more I find out that I don't know Pu-erh tea''. As far as i'm concerned, I wish to argue and learn more with every tea friend I can meet.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

price of Pu-erh tea in 2012

    published on 2012-03-08 on a main platform for Pu-erh tea in mainland China.
    written by isundust

Yunnan drought and insights on the price of Pu-erh tea

After a time of stability, the price of Pu-erh tea is starting to move. Our journalists traveled to Xiamen (a city in Fujian) and visited several tea shops to ''test the water''. Because of the drought, the production is lower, the new tea doesn't arrive on the markets, the tea farmers are reluctant to sell the leaves, the price for Pu-erh tea is already increasing. Yet, the experts think the increase will mostly affect the ancient tea gardens leaves from the most famous mountains, it will have few impact on the mainstream tea, the 2007 situation of mad speculation is unlikely to happen again.

Production decreased two-three fold:

''The drought will surely affect tea production'' says Mr Huang, an experienced tea businessman from the Huang Pin Hao tea house. He told to our reporters that, because of the drought, the 2012 spring tea good be released in mid-April at earliest, this is two weeks later than last year's harvest. Even worse, this year's production is estimated to be two or three times lower as 2011. ''This implies that the price of Pu-erh tea will increase''

In 2009, Pu-erh tea price increased because of the drought, it recovered slightly in 2010 and in 2011, it increased again. This year, it will be a bit higher for sure.

''Last year, the price of Lao Banzhang tea peaked at 2200-2300 yuan per kilo, this year, it is expected to reach 2800 or 3000 yuan.'' says mr Huang

A speculation frenzy is not very probable this year.
Because of this expected price increase, the tea farmers are reluctant to sell their tea now.
''During the high price periods, the farmers usually release their stock slowly: if they have 100 kg of mao cha, they first sell only 10 kg, then the price increases and they can sell another small batch.'' says the tea expert.

''Nonetheless, a ten-fold increase like in 2007 is very unlikely to happen.'' Mr Huang tells us. On that year, it occurred because a lot of new investments were brought into the system, it led to a crazy speculation on Pu-erh tea. Today, the market is reasonable again, during the price peak in 2007, those who bought the tea were rich investors, nowadays, the main driving force of the market is the mid and low range teas for the everyday drinker, very few people would buy tons of Pu-erh as a financial investment nowadays. Therefore, the tea amateurs might accept to pay an extra cost because of the drought, but a new frenzy is not expected.

According to the tea businessman, the price increase will concern mainly high-end Pu-erh: Lao Banzhang, Bingdao, Mahei, Jingmai Shan, Kunlu Shan, etc... Those areas have very limited productions, and many people who buy from those mountains see it as an investment, hence the price increase will be more obvious on those premium teas. In comparison, the output of low and mid range cakes is much higher, and this is what the consumers buy mostly, so even if the trend is to the price rise, the market should not be too much affected.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

tea videos

I started this Sunday with tea, watching the sun rising. I love this moment when you have all your time to really enjoy a session. I spent ten minutes staring at the dry leaves, touching them. I took the time to preheat the tea set, trying to catch the most subtle aroma which develops in the hot gaiwan when you put the leaves in. 

As the sun was getting higher in the sky, I brewed a sample from Bing Shan in Mengku area, Lincang. Spring 2011, very fragrant, complex, it was stored in Kunming and has kept all of its freshness. It reminded me the time I was in Yunnan, when I could drink tea which, two days before, was still on a tree. The yellow liquor gave me a kick for the whole morning and left me a sweet and fragrant aftertaste in the mouth.

I have created a Youtube account and uploaded a few videos from Xishuangbanna, it was so great to watch them again:

Have a great week!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

why I love tea

Why I love tea

I love tea, I realize it takes a big part of my life. Five years have past since my first contact with unflavored loose leaf tea. I don't feel any addiction to caffeine, but I know the Way of tea is guiding my life. Today, I just asked myself ''why?''. Why do I do all this for a few leaves? Then, I tried to put my arguments on a paper and I ended up with this:

1- It tastes great

This is the most complex non-alcoholic beverage I have come across. Tea can be so diverse, depending on where it grows, how it's been processed, how you brew it... I taste tea in the same way as I enjoy music, I'm a very visual person and I transform what I hear, feel, smell, or taste, into a picture. When I smell tea, I try to imagine in which place I could walk to get the same fragrance: it can be a forest, a wooden house full of flowers with a fireplace in the background, or just a piece of soil, with moss and mushrooms... I can be very imaginative and that's why I love it, drinking tea is good for developing creativity, the more complex the tea, the more stuff in your mental picture.

2- Tea is a very holistic subject

I love science, and studying tea leads you to learn more chemistry, agronomy, environmental science... You get interested in things you'd never thought about, crazy things that can sound useless to most: oxygen 18, ecosystem services, degradation of glyphosate in soil... Because of tea, I'm studying environmental science at university, I love it because I can relate it to something I have seen and that I taste every day.

Tea is also a great source of Culture, maybe the good feeling you have when you're drinking tea pushes people to have crazy philosophical questions and that is how the human thinking moves forward. In China, especially, scholars have a strong relationship with tea. So far, the main cultural improvement tea pushed me to do has been to learn Chinese; I wouldn't have tried if I didn't like tea, but now, I agree it is a very rewarding language. It is useful because you can find Chinese speakers almost everywhere on the planet. It is also enriching due to its large vocabulary: by learning this language, you are introduced new concepts (for example Qi, Xuwei 虚伪, or the mighty Mei Banfa! 没办法!).

3- Wanderlust

Have you noticed that tea only grows in beautiful countries? China, India, Kenya, Argentina... a real call of the wild. Tea has brought me to China and India, but I'm really looking forward to explore the other producing countries. Studying tea has led me to the most memorable experiences in my life. Exploring a tea area is very much like looking for a treasure, or a hidden Inca tomb: you spend hours in crappy buses, meet very strange people, cross into forbidden areas, have great meals in the countryside, get lost in the jungle, and finally, you reach the tea trees, taste their leaves, and prepare for another trip...

4- Tea is an endless source of learning

One day, a tea master told me that, after 40 years of drinking tea, he was still learning something new everyday. Tea is an incredibly deep subject, as I mentioned before, it includes many side-studies, but there is even more than this...

Tea can be seen from different perspectives, it can be very simple or extremely complex, but in both cases, it is deep. Often, tea masters have two kinds of thinking, they can talk about very accurate and down-to-earth subjects: how tea should be plucked, at which temperature you should fry the leaves if it's raining... but they are also able to simply enjoy a cup of tea, without talking about it. In fact, I am sure a tea master can enjoy a tea bag much more than an Englishman, because one of the things tea teaches you is to be simple. Why is it so?

Learning tea is not a linear process. When learning mathematics, you first learn the addition, in primary school; when you take a PhD in mathematics, you study very advanced things but what you have learned in primary school is still true, in this way, this is a linear learning: the more you learn, the more you know. When it is about tea, I would say it is more of a cyclic pattern: you build up some knowledge, and one day, it is destroyed by a tea you drink or a person you meet, you realize that you were wrong, that you were missing something. Having your past knowledge destroyed is actually an improvement, let's say it's like building a house: you start it with basic materials, expand it and add new floors. One day, it gets too heavy and collapses, but then, you understand better how to build good foundations, you construct it again, using more solid material, expand it, add new floors... until next time it collapses! There goes the way of learning tea, there goes the way of evolution, we learn from what we knew wrong.

This is also why, there should be tolerance among tea amateurs, everybody is a student, and will always be a student. After one year drinking ''fine'' tea, I kind of despised those who drank tea bags and flavored tea. One year later, I realized I was wrong, because the teas I was drinking one year from there were actually of poor quality by my new standards. I must admit that, if on the first time I entered a tea shop, I had been given a Pu-erh tea, I would probably have said I prefer flavored tea bags because they do have a taste and they are not bitter and so on...

Having a blog is cool because you can read what you've written in the past. I hope in five years, I will have a good laugh reading my first articles, that will mean I'll have improved myself. Being tolerant, this is an important thing tea has taught me.

How about you, dear readers, why do you love tea? What does it give you?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

tea vocabulary

from the blog ''Pin Ming Wei Qu'' (Sip tea with passion)

Specific vocabulary to describe Pu-erh tea

1.The character of tea (Chaxing 茶性): what kind of stimulation the liquor gives you when it's inside your mouth; the type of aroma that develops, the amount of bitterness and astringency, and more globally, the degree of pungency.

2.The quality of tea (Chazhi 茶质): how the liquor behaves inside the mouth, its texture. The way it flows through the throat, the degree of sweetness in the mouth and in the throat; the endurance of the tea, is the liquor thick or volatile? Soft or strong?

3.The fragrance (Xiangqi 香气): it develops during the manufacture. In the oral cavity, fragrance is noticeable on the upper palate, on the surface of the tongue, under the tongue, on the cheeks and in the throat

4.Bitterness and astringency (Ku Se 苦涩): 'bitter' is a taste, 'astringent' is a feeling. The bitterness is due to tannins which come out of the leaves; astringency appears when the tongue tissues contract.

5.Sweetness in the throat (Huigan 回甘): After the bitterness has vanished, you can feel a sweet sensation in the back of the mouth.

6.Salivation (Shengjin 生津) On the sides of the tongue, down near the cheeks, you can feel tiny bubbles of saliva being formed.

7.Astringency (Shoulianxing 收敛性): After drinking tea, a puckery astringency can appear on the tongue and all parts of the oral cavity.

8.Sweetness ( Ganyun 甘韵 or Tianzhi 甜质): simply designs all kinds of sweet feelings.

9.The character of water (Shuixing 水性): describes all the feelings that the liquor can give you: smooth, changing, alive, sandy, thick, weak, sharp...

10.Structure (Cengci Gan 层次感): the way the liquor is organized, how the flavors appear one after the other in the mouth.

11. Throat charm (Houyun 喉韵): after swallowing the liquor, a feeling is still present in the throat, it can be smooth, sweet, dry...

12.Fullness (Baoman 饱满): sometimes, the liquor is dense and thick, it gives a feeling of 'heaviness'

13.Smokiness (Yanxunwei 烟熏味): if the tea is dried over a fire, it can get a smoky smell. This flavor can transform or vanish over time.

14.Fruity sourness (Guosuanwei 果酸味): Sometimes, the tea can have a 'greenish' sour taste, similar to kumquat or lime.

15.Sourness (Suanwei 酸味): can arise if, after rolling, the tea was not dried properly and pressed while still wet, moisture develops and it becomes sour.

16.Taste of water (Shuiwei 水味): can occur because of a poor storage, the tea has a taste of fetid water.

17.Green taste (Qingwei 青味): If the tea frying (Shaqing) was too short or too weak, the tea can have a 'green fishy smell' (like unprocessed fresh leaves).

18. Locked throat: After drinking tea, the throat can feel dry, with difficulty to swallow and an itchy feeling. People can be a bit annoyed by this.

19.Liquor fog (Tangyun 汤氲): Describes the vapor around the hot liquor, it creates a kind of 'mist'.

20.Feeling (Chaqi 茶气): Some chemical compounds in the liquor react with the body. The Chaqi is more active in old tea, it can give you hiccups, warm up your body, make you sweat, etc...

21.Wisdom (Chenyun 陈韵): It is a general feeling when you taste an old tea, you can often feel the years that have past in the liquor.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pu-erh tea- a long way to go

written by 'He Cha Qu' (an assumed name), a tea blogger from Henan.

Pu-erh tea-- a long way to go

These days, I often hear friends saying they have so much tea that they don't know what to drink; eventually, they choose Pu-erh tea. In the market of Northern China, this kind of situation is common. Many tea amateurs have fallen in love with Pu-erh tea. They can make the difference between the taste of Banzhang,Yiwu, Bingdao, Jingmai, Nannuo... They debate about 'red marks', 'blue marks', '88 Qingbing', 'CNNP era tea' , they even know about the trends in each tea mountains. They talk about Deng Shihai, Chen Zhitong, Shi Kunmu, Chen Guoyi, Bai Shuiqing, Guo Zaitian and other Pu-erh tea masters. They review the last products of Dayi and Xiaguan: the main Pu-erh tea factories. This is the very difference between Pu-erh tea and the other kinds of tea: it is fascinating, attractive, addictive... It pushes you to permanently dig in, to learn new things.

It's only around 2000 that Pu-erh became really famous in Southern China. People were total beginners and started to learn, they are now highly knowledgeable. Even though the Pu-erh boom was slowed down by a market crash in 2007, it has recovered since then. The Pu-erh tea market in southern China is now very well established; the upper class spends more on tea than ever.

Nowadays, due to this higher level of understanding, we can often hear debates about 'single mountain vs blend' or 'Southern storage vs Northern storage'

Both blend and single estate have pros and cons. This is actually a sterile debate. It's just about mixing different teas together or not. Considering famous tea, let's take Longjing as an example, there is 'Xihu Longjing', 'Hangzhou Longjing', 'Zhejiang Longjing'... Xihu Longjing can be divided into 'Shifeng', 'Meijiawu', 'Longjingcun' and so on; Maojian from Xinyang can be classified into 'five cloudy mountains (Yunshan in chinese), two ponds (tan) and one village (zhai)' (Che Yunshan, Ji Yunshan, Lian Yunshan, Yunwu Shan, Heilong Tan, Bailong Tan, Hejia Zhai); Biluochun is called according to whether it is produced in the West of Dongting lake or in the East. The name of tea varies according to its production area and its tasting profiles.

Those legendary teas have unique characteristics, are limited in quantity and are not mixed with other leaves. They are premium products destined to the high end market. Regarding Pu-erh tea, ancient trees tea from Banzhang, Yiwu, Bingdao and a few other places have a unique taste and make the premium cakes. When it comes to blend, all of the tea factories and companies mix different teas together; they do that to adjust the quality and costs of their products. It is the same for Pu-erh tea.

Northern China storage versus Southern China storage:
People from the South prefer southern storage and those from the North enjoy best north China storage. It's like tastes for food or alcohol: northerners like to drink hard liquor while southerners prefer beer. The shame is that there is few aged teas in the North: you won't find much tea from before the 90's. If we wait for fifty years, we will get good aged tea from the North; it will develop a different taste. Maybe even in the north, we'll write books about tea, who knows...

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Written by Pu Jin Jing, a tea farmer from Lincang
As an introduction to Pu-erh tea processing, you can read this article:

The art of making tea
-- Shaqing-- 
What you need to know

Here are the main points you need to take care of while doing the shaqing

1.Inspect the fresh leaves, be sure there are no impurities, take out the reddened leaves (after plucking, improper storage and warm temperature can cause some leaves to oxidate). That way, we avoid to contaminate tea with off-flavors, the whole batch could be affected.

2.Make sure you separate the grades of tea you want to make before doing the Shaqing.

3. On the rainy days, spread the fresh leaves on mats, if the leaves have too much water inside, they are likely to stick to the wok and burn, this would give the tea a roasted taste.

4. Remember to clean the wok between every batch!

5. The wok should be around 100°C. It's hard to measure while doing the job, try to estimate it by putting your hand close to the bottom of the wok, it should burn slightly. When the wok gets too hot, the bottom will turn red, in this case, do not throw a new batch of leaves on it, reduce the fire and wait for the wok to cool down.

Problems related to the wok temperature: 
If the wok is too cold, the leaves won't be reduced enough and they will eventually turn red, with a fermentation taste (in the most extreme cases, it would taste like black tea). If the wok is not hot enough and that you process the leaves for a longer time, they will become darker, after drying, they won't have the fresh taste of young tea and the liquor will be turbid! If the temperature is too high, the leaves will roast and develop a burnt taste, it will also influence the aging potential of tea.

6.Young buds need more time than old leaves to process.
a. The hand-process is a balance between frying and shaking, the more you shake the leaves, the less they will fry, the leaves should reach a temperature of 80°C approximately. Between two batches, don't forget to check the fire!
b. If you use a machine, the amount of leaves you input must remain constant, otherwise the temperature in the cylinder will change. Again, the leaf temperature should be around 80°C! 

7. The Shaqing should take 5 and 10 minutes per batch. It depends on the quantity of leaves and on the bud/leaves ratio.

As a rule of thumb, you should to stop the shaqing when:
     a. the smell of fresh leaves has vanished (not obvious)
     b. the leaves and the stems do not break anymore when you fold them.

8. After the shaqing, the leaves must cool down quickly. If they don't get cold immediately, the liquor will be muddy! The aroma will be weak and impure.

In the art of making tea, many aspects must be controlled, i will go over them in future articles. If there are unclear points or things you disagree about, I invite you to discuss it here.