16 August, 2009

There's No Rush!

One of my biggest mistakes when starting out in the world of decent tea was to hurry.

Consequently, one of the most beneficial lessons I've learned is not to hurry. It's not an easy lesson.

2009 Longjing AAA (Kim)
Tasty "AAA" Longjing (from Jing Teashop), with thanks to KCJ

Dr. Kim recently sent me a fantastic Longjing sample - the first I've had in years, in fact. Looking at the photograph above, it's a beautiful example, consisting of "sparrow's tongues". You can guess what it smells like. The photograph itself almost exudes that familiar gently-fried savoury aroma.

I haven't enjoyed Longjing in years because I've stopped buying it, which sounds logical enough.

The reason we stopped buying it was because we always had too much of it, and it doesn't last long. We had bags of Longjing, bags of Xinyang Maoijan, bags of all manner of other short-lived teas. They were thoroughly lovely when young, but rapidly become flat - after one year, they are a shadow of their former glory. This led to a rather uncomfortable sensation: we had to hurry to consume our tea before it died, and there was far too much to drink.

It reached the stage where we were saying, "I suppose we ought to drink some more Longjing." Once you lose the facility to roam about your tea collection and explore whatever takes your fancy, you've lost a vital freedom. Drinking tea stops becoming a delight, and takes on the form of a chore. ("Must drink while green and fresh!")

Little white flowers
Time and tide wait for no man

So, we stopped buying green tea. We keep a small amount of qingxiang [ching-sheeang] wulong, a small amount of hongcha, a small amount of other "perishables". I think it might be time to buy tiny amounts of lucha again, but it's difficult to stay on top of your quantities.

Two years back, CB very kindly gave me a half-kilogram of Dianhong. It was absolutely delicious - Yunnan's red tea is one of my favourites, up there with Qimen [chee-men, a.k.a. Keemun]. I have been drinking this tea at least three times per week in my office ever since - and it just ran out last week. After two years.

Tea takes a long, long time to drink - even given the admittedly fairly excessive quantities that I use. Be careful with your purchases, because they are going to hang around a long, long time.

These waterbugs are probably not going to be around for too long

Weigh every purchase carefully! I don't like the idea of waste - we waste far too much, of everything.

Pu'er, too, is not immune to this. Another weakness of mine, I have always bought too much pu'er. When I started out, this was particularly painful, because now all of those terrible, rough cakes are haunting my shelves. There remains the hope that they will age into something more palatable... but I'm not holding out my hopes.

So, these days I try to buy less. If I can't convince myself to buy less, then I at least try to buy smarter: sample first, buy small amounts, and only grab that tong when you know it's ab-so-lutely superb tea.

Not easy.


Unknown said...

I've been doing the same with japanese tea - from time to time I open a bag of sencha or gyokuro knowing that the coming week doesn't present many openings for those green moments. One shouldn't be doing guilt drinking, but as you said, it's too easy to buy. Just before reading your latest addition I bought 150gr of Long Feng Xia at TeafromTaiwan. With loads of pu-erh coming from YS... Well, well, at least I don't have to drink Lipton.

Have a grewat day, everyone!


Hobbes said...

No one should be drinking Lipton :)

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen it for sale in England. Then again, we have plenty of other brands of similar quality...



P.s. I haven't heard of TeaFromTaiwan - thanks!

Bret said...

I think we have all paid out dues, learning the hard way just like everyone else. Stocking up on teas that were my idea of worthy. Only to realize months later that now they are a ghost of their former self. Their worthiness had faded into nothing more than a memory. At least with Puerh the potential is there for future worthiness, if we are lucky.

Hobbes said...

Dear Bret,

That's very true. I'd hope that at least some of my bad/dull pu'er is going to improve, if only a little.

However, I worry about those various cakes that have been "wulong"d: either left too long before shaqing, or cooked too long during shaqing. They're orange, neutered, and I can't see them getting much better - they just don't seem to have the biochemical "content" to stand up to the years.

Unneutered cakes (7542s etc.) should be no problem - we have plenty of evidence that they age properly. Neutered cakes (0622 etc.), I'm not so sure...



Unknown said...

Dear Hobbes:

It wasn't too long ago that I discovered that serious teas can be seasonal, that they didn't just stay the same forever in their packaging. I recall buying some top-rate Darjeelings and savoring them sparingly, trying to make them last as long as possible. Then I came back, and the sparkle, the brightness was gone from my Phuguri Estate 1st Flush, and I was terribly disappointed-- first, at the fact of the sheer waste; and second, because my meager disposable income had been flushed down the drain, quite literally.

And I've never made that mistake again. I buy fairly small quantities of the good-quality, perishable teas, and just drink them until they're gone. At which point I return to my "everyday" teas, which I decoct out of old shoelaces, back copies of Readers Digest, and "found" art the university students leave behind after the semester ends.

Hobbes said...

How's the chaqi on a Reader's Digest? :)

Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Yeah... We all the know the pain.
I think it takes two to three years of heavy tea drinking to figure out your average consumption in a season. From then on you can try to keep your orders of green within that limit.

But I think it's worth adding oolongs can really wait a couple of years, occasionally longer if kept in proper jars etc. My Wuyis from 2007 and 2008 are doing fine, haven't noticed much deterioration. Some are actually nicer than before with a more nuanced roast.

Regarding shengpu, was wondering what your experience was with the durability of small samples: all those 15 or 25g bits we order to find out whether it's worth buying more (or when cakes are very pricey). Have you noticed any deterioration over, say, 6-12 months?
They usually last shorter than that with me but I've recently bought an awful amount...
Best, Nerval

Bret said...

Bad, dull puerh transforming into good or at least drinkable tea? Who knows? It could happen! That reminds me tonights Lotto night, Ive gotta go get my ticket.

Bret said...

One more thing, if anyone can enlighten me. How can you differentiate between a tea that,s been "wulong"d and one that,s made from a blend of maocha from various years? I just bought some Xiaguan FT #4 cakes (havnt tried them yet) and YS claims they are a blend from three different years. Wouldnt the appearance of the brew be similar?

Hobbes said...

Dear Nerval,

An interesting question! I tend not to keep my samples of shengpu aroudn for too long - after I've tried them a few times, I either want to buy the cake or not, and am then quite happy to pass the samples onto whomever I'm next sending samples. :)

The really bad samples I just throw in my "leftovers" container - too unpleasant to pass onto others, so I just mix them in with the leftovers from cake-breakings, etc.

Dear Bret,

A blend of maocha from various years, say the frequent practice of Menghai, adds a bit of depth. It can be positive. It helps to maintain consistency, for one thing, which is quite important with the famous recipes. You buy 7542, you have strong expectations. This year's 7542-901, for example, was getting some bad press as it was unlike previous years in the tasters' estimation!

"Wulong" treatment (left out too long before shaqing, or shaqing'd too long) is very different. I have an article on this queued up, in fact! It's a complete neutering of the tea. I imagine that the point is to add complexity, and characteristics akin to those achieved through aging (a quick woody/tobacco effect, for example) - but the results are typically unpleasant. Give me a aggressive unneutered shengpu any day! (Theyr'e probably better for aging, too, given that they haven't had the stuffing knocked out of them.)



Simeon said...

Hi Hobbes , good article . Wise words , wise words indeed ! Just to throw temptation back into your path now that you've talked yourself into being sensible momentarily ! If you have not yet tried it the 2009 Menghai Silver Peacock is realy good ! I don't often enjoy plantation puerh and therefor wasn't expecting a lot from the sample I purchased with my last order from Y S . Scott's review is spot on . Definately worth a go !

speakfreely said...

What sage advice you offer here! I bought WAY too much tea when my interest first started to deepen. You were a recipient of some of that excess, as with the Dianhong. I guess the fear is that one might find something one likes, then run out and find it unavailable? But there's SO MUCH out there to try...

Veri-Tea said...

Very wise words... I have thought about this more carefully over recent months, and realised that I probably do have too much tea on hand... more than I can drink myself (and no one who really wants to share it with me... *sigh*)... so I am being very careful with my purchases.

That said it is nice to have a variety on hand. But I will be more judicious in future about purchasing large quantities of anything... and do my best to use things up before I buy more!

Daniel said...

I agree with everything you've said about having too much tea and some of it going bad. My teas have recently begun their decline..... Some are even older than a year. What happens to me is that I purchase teas that I want to try, then I don't want to drink them all so I can always have them for that next time.

I've recently begun a campaign to put a serious dent into my collection of teas, only to find that I still have a good deal left! I'm afraid of drinking all my tea and running out!

I need to see what would happen if I ran out of tea. It would be good for me. (I think I'd just make another order right away).

What a relevant post. I challenge any and all out there to drink all their tea. Run out of tea. (I think I would flip out). I haven't not had tea ever since I began drinking tea, about three and a half years ago.

Bert said...

I faced the same problem.

Nowadays I only have one kind of green tea at a time opened and will drink it within a month or so. Luckily I prefer japanese greens and this tea comes sealed air tight, so I can store some and can buy multiple greens in one order.

For chinese greens i once had a lot more than i could consume in time, so i packed it in plastic bags and tupper boxes and stored it in the freezer. The result was, that the tea tastet slightly like the inside of the freezer.

So if I don't get a tool to seal the tea air tight, I don't buy a lot of chinese green anymore. Just one bag per order.

Best wishes,

Hobbes said...

Dear Simeon,

Thanks for the suggestion! As fate would have it, I ordered some from Taobao last week, and look forward to comparing notes with you. :)

Dear CB,

Speaking of excess, if you want anyone to look after that tong of ancient 7542 you bought a few years back... that must be getting really unfresh by now. ;)

Dear Veritea,

There must be someone out there near you who likes drinking tea, surely! Maybe they just don't know that they like drinking tea...

Dear Daniel,

I know exactly what you mean - I don't like to exhaust anything, either, because I don't want to run out.

I'm happy to run out of everything except shengpu!

Dear Bert,

Yes, Japanese greens are even more susceptible to such degradation. We've got two lovely tins of macha that are threatening to become old!

Toodlepip all,


Unknown said...

My first purchase was form Adagio, and I still don't think that it was pu-erh they actually sent me! Since then I've bought from Scott at YS and Tuochatea.com which both have supplied excellent teas, but maybe some of you could recommend other vendors?


ps. have anybody heard about www.zishateapot.co.uk? I'm considering a teapot from here.

Hobbes said...

Dear Terje,

YS and Tuochatea are both vendors that I have enjoyed using in the past. These days, I also like:

Houde Asian Art
Teamasters (via a blog)
Dragon Teahouse
Jing Teashop (not Jing London)
Puerh Shop
Royal Puerh

and for Japanese:
Artistic Nippon

Regarding Zishateapo.co.uk - the owner actually lives in Yixing, and her father is a famous potter. I can't really vouch for the store, but I hear good things. It looks like a really good place to buy a pot remotely - but my advice is always to buy in person if at all possible.

Nadacha also has some seriously good pottery, and he's 100% trustworthy.

Kind regards,


Hobbes said...

...and don't forget Taobao (the Chinese eBay-style site).

Prices there are about 30% the price of Western vendors, and it's just as reliable as eBay. You can use babelcarp.com to find the Chinese characters for your favourite brands. Purchase via Taobaonow.com.

You can get cakes that sell for $200 for about $40, if you find the right place. Or, you can get cakes that sell for $12 for $6 (e.g., Menghai Dayi). Huge savings.



Ruqyo Highsong said...

Crap. And here I've been trying to get a whole bunch of different kinds within a short time.

As my interest in tea grows, the more and more the tea-place starts to look like a candy-shop. Not to mention those sites for ordering tea. I want to try all of the teas!!

If money were not a problem, I'd be trying them all, left right and center. Mwaha.

Omg, you are right. Reading about and drinking tea...I am rather 'sad'. <_<