31 December, 2014

The Last Red Embers

the last red embers
flickering in the white ash
of New Year's Eve

24 December, 2014

Pretty Lady

pretty lady
watches the garden rain
and I her

17 December, 2014

Chinese, X

swing low
sweet chariot, coming forth
to carry me home

home from China
I can smell grass cuttings
and blue sky

10 December, 2014

Chinese, IX

the mist, sprayed
the lilies, plastic - and yet
my airport temple

my airport temple
so careful, your design
artificial, yet robust
built to withstand
the ten-thousand children;
each morning -
one by one, your dusted leaves;
each morning -
ink, paper, brush replaced;
each morning -
your mourning, for you are alone.

but wait! he comes!
entranced by waterfalls
hid behind pillars
lanterns dance as he runs by;
be happy, now
my old friend -
my airport temple

temple blessing
waiting for the ink to dry
so I might fly

05 December, 2014

If You Want Me to Love You, Don't Give Me Tea

Sometimes people are so nice to me, and I am so hopelessly bad with people, that even the phrase "douchenozzle" is insufficient to describe the degree of shame that I feel.

Take, for example, my dear wife's family in Shanghai.  They are just lovely.  They are sweet, caring, they send our children little parcels with cute padded Chinese jackets that make them look like Confucius - they're just Very Nice People.  They have a young boy (still in lower school) whom I sometimes chat with via Skype to improve his English - which is awesome, by the way.  It feels as if I am perpetually writing them "thank you" cards.

I found myself speeding through Shanghai during a research trip to China in September.  As ever, my schedule was packed so tightly with meetings (so that I could get home to see my family as early as possible, in fact) that this had the consequence of giving me no time to see anyone that I wanted to see in China.  Family in Shanghai, family in Henan province, friends in Beijing.  I sped through China feeling like the world's biggest "douchenozzle".

To accentuate my douchiness, after the single night that I had in Shanghai, I returned to my hotel at 11.30 p.m., after a clutch of meetings and a dinner with collaborators, to find that my wife's dear family had (i) been to my hotel, and (ii) left me a small pile of gifts.  I had to pack up and check out to catch the early bullet train to Kunshan and Suzhou, and so I didn't even get to give them the common decency of a "thank you" visit.  I felt as if my nozzleness had really peaked.

So, back at home, I cracked open their thoughtful, carefully-chosen gifts.  They know that I like tea, and so they bought me lots of it.  This was very touching, and I felt entirely unworthy of their love.  Shoulders hanging in shame, I fired up the tetsubin and got ready to hate myself for the next hour or two over the teatable.

Then, something happened.

The tea started to suck.  I mean, suction - of a magnitude so unfathomable that merely to call it "suction" does not quite do justice to it.  This was more like hypersuction, so that nothing could escape its pressure influx.  It was taidicha, it could feasibly have been saved if it had been put through humid storage mill that crushes tea into a black, dark sweetness - but, as it is, the tea is just good, old-fashioned bad.

It was a 2000 CNNP "Zhongcha Green", as pictured above, and it was as rank as the proverbial French lady's unmentionables.  So bad was the tea, in fact, that I suddenly stopped hating myself for not being able to meet Biaojie.

Then, I remembered their previous gift from a trip after my graduation in 2011.  It was a pair of cakes that tasted of nothing but the rubber on a bicycle tyre.

I struggled with the rest of the day, trying to make clear in my mind that the love of my wife's family and their ability to pick good tea are two entirely orthogonal axes.  The inner functional product of the two is a big, fat zero.  They are independent data, with no correlation.  They are separate, distinct, and forever so shall they remain.

Thus, I still feel bad for not having the time to see some charming, loving members of the extended family, but I don't feel at all bad for hiding their tea in my "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS" cupboard of bad cakes.

You wouldn't want to look in that cupboard.  There's an awful lot of CNNP inside.

03 December, 2014

Chinese, VIII

taxi taxi
taxi airport taxi
taxi expressway

thank you driver
you're the laoban - no!
you're the laoban!

28 November, 2014

That's the Essence That You're Smelling

Friends, Romans, Homeboys.  Lend me your ears.

2014 EoT GFZ

I have, it must be said, fallen a little behind with my writing here.  You know that I love you (long time), Gentle Reader, and you know that I would never abandon you without good reason.  The reasons are good!  But they are reasons nonetheless.  I could talk about a new academic year.  I could talk about the overwhelming crush of having the indescribable pleasure of (somehow being left in charge of) running a lab that is populated entire by ninjas.  I mean, these people actually have shuriken, and know what a "caltrop" is.  (If you didn't have to google the word "caltrop" to know it's meaning, you are my kind of town.)  I could also talk about evenings and week-ends spent programming two malleable young minds, who are simultaneously draining every last ounce of vitality that I have, and yet whom I love more than anything.  They are like parasites that I somehow wish to see thrive, because I have some sense that they are, in some baffling way, extensions of (the least bad) bits of myself.

But you, Gentle Reader, are above such quotidian quota.  You are, in a very real sense, rocking the free world, and you demand tea.  I am but your humble servant.  Let's put our tetsubin to the metal.

You may have gathered from the images in this article that I have been sucking at the ever-beneficent nipples of the Essence of Tea.  This is an outfit run by a man who speaks like the leprachaun from the "Lucky Charms" advertisements, who used to live in possible the greenest and most pleasant part of our green and pleasant land, and who recently upped sticks and moved to somewhere out beyond the Thunderdome.  I imagine his ginger locks blowing in the wind as he rides his motorcycle out in search of a battle to secure more gasoline for his makeshift homestead.

The first deposit from that copious lactation is the EOTGFZ.  It is a tea that is so massively costly that we might speak of it only in capital letters.  If you have to ask what they mean, you really shouldn't be buying this tea.  But you, Gentle Reader, are fluent in over six million forms of communication.  You know that the price of this tea is not unadjacent to £340/357g.  You chuckled when you read the product description that wryly observed "this may seem cheap next year". 

However, you would dig, in far out and happening ways, its precision, and its GFZness.  It is really rather good.  It is probably the most accurate sample of GFZ terroire that may be obtained.  I am grateful for the opportunity to add it to my limited understanding (or approximation thereof).

2014 EoT Yunyun

Yunyun!  It sounds like a Chinese girl's name.  The kind of girl who would wear big spectacle frames without any lenses in them.  I have an undergraduate student exactly like this.

This tea sells for £60/200g (a.k.a. £96 / 357g equivalent), which, for modern-day EoT pricing, means this must be as rough as your mother's facial stubble.  Only you, Gentle Reader, know the precise extremity of your mother's roughness of stubble.

The product description reads like a Stephen King slasher.  Man meets friend.  Friend tells tale of calling in at out-of-the-way service station ["gas station"].  Friend meets withered old crone in said service station.  Crone invites friend to macabre village of the damned.  Friend accepts invitation, only to find village is far from the beaten track.  Friend dons crucifix and readies his last bullet.  Crone introduces friend to 400-year-old "tea tree".  Friend sucks on leaves of said tree under the light of a gibbous moon.  Crone sells now-moist leaves to friend for low price.  Friend returns to the land of the living with only the leaves and a distant stare to show for his travels.  Man takes leaves from friend, presses them into bingcha, gives them a silly girly name, then puts them on web-site.

It's a tale we've all heard a thousand times before.

"Darkened with age, this would be appealing.  Now, it is fine, and clean, but somehow unattractive.  The overall effect is a hint of Menghai base, a roast-sourness above, and it is perhaps the latter that makes it seem citric."

Vendors' habits of not naming where their teas originate is not at all annoying, and it does not frustrate me intensely.

2014 EoT Duquan

Duquan!  Doo-choo'an.  This is a name with some charming Mandarin sounds.  It is EoT's most expensive cake, after the EOTGFZ, weighing in at £89/200g (£159/357g).  Selling xiaobing to make the tea look less expensive used to exercise me, when the practice first started en masse some years ago, but now my numbed, insensate nerves do not even register.  Do it, I say!  Sell 'em in 100g, even.  Sell it like wulong.  Let the chips fall where they may.

I tried this tea as maocha, thanks to the eternal milky generosity of EoT.  That particular maocha tasted very much roasted, which EoT's owner notes as being caused by having stored my sample in an unfortunate location (not to be disclosed, but please feel free to chortle as if I had).  This sample, from EoT's new abode beyond the Thunderdome, seems much better: its leaves are long, green, and fresh and do not at all taste of EoT's car (!).  They have a deep sweetness that seems just fine, again very much unlike EoT's car.

It is yellow, cooling, and enduring, and plenty of numbing sensations that suggest quality.  (The tea, not EoT's car.)  I begin to question my brewing skills, because I manage to distress this tea in its second or third infusion, in a way in which I distressed the Yunyun.  There is an edge of sourness, no doubt caused by my brewing, which nonetheless terrifies me as it reminds me of the sourness of dry storage gone awry.  I suspect that I may be somewhat out of practice with the ol' tetsubin and resolve to redouble my efforts.

Again, we are left wondering where Duquan might be.

Next up: Yuanwei.  I recall, when I tried the clutch of maocha many months ago, that this tea came out right on top, by an unassailable margin.  If you were thinking that you might assail this tea's margin, think again.

It has the buttery scent of thank-goodness-it's-processed-properly, which is a good hedge against future sourness.  Those of us who live in colder climes need to fear the road to sourness like we would fear the path that leads to the Dark Side.  Ironically, fear itself is that which leads one to the Dark Side!

Breaking the trend, we are told that this cake has an origin, that it came from China, and, more specifically, that it came from Mengsongshan.  I totes dig the Mengsongshan, and so this may explain the aforementioned margin-based unassailedness.

It is decent and safe, in a way that I felt the Duquan not to be.  At £54/200g, I teeter on the edge and come down on the side of "perhaps next time".

Finally, some 2000 Kaiyuan GREENSTAMP.  The wrapper, pictured above, looks nubile.

Check 'em.  Red, dark, little - this is Tea.  Actual Tea, not your silly modern stuff.  It has the humid scent of somewhere that you wouldn't want to take a good suit.  We are told that this was a special order from a Malaysian "tea master".

Gentle Reader, I feel as if we have known each other sufficiently long for me to confide in you that whenever I read the phrase "tea master" I immediately, and with neither forethought nor hesitation, punch myself square in the face as does Edward Norton's character in Fight Club.  I bunch up my right hand and just slam it into my own face.

I just thought I'd throw that fact out there, should it be relevant.

"Gosh - this is tremendous."  I don't tend to write that in my diary very much, and even less when in the context of tea.  Superdense, woody, thick, wildflower.  It's like tea cocaine.  That is meant in an affectionate, caring way.  The £140 price tag suddenly looks a lot more reasonable than it did at the outset.  Given that w2t is packing plenty of punch at around that price, I feel that this is something I could get behind.

Well.  It's done.  My face is healing slowly, after reading "tea master" again, from the above.  My thirst is slaked after much suckling at the udders of EoT.  I am appeased, and about to roll over like the mangy cur that I am, into a state of fitful slumber.

If you hear whining and yelping, Gentle Reader, it is merely my passing dreams.  I bid you good rest and fine drinking.

Addendum: notes added to the 2009 EoT Nakashan suggest that this tea is either caught in a bad place, during its aging process, or that it has some processing faults.

26 November, 2014

Chinese, VII

goodbye, old friend -
for looking after me, I thank
my hotel room

21 November, 2014

An Interview

Today, we interview the proprietor of white2tea.  While the actual proprietor could not be with us for what follows, the part of twodog will be played by selected lyrics from the classic hip-hop album, Liquid Swords, by the GZA.


Thank you very much for talking with us today, Mr. Twodog of white2tea. 

Much has been written about your business model of selling a limited inventory of well-selected cakes.  It looks as if you must sample widely; which criteria are you typically applying when you're tasting stacks of random tea?

I judge wisely
as if nothing ever surprise me;
between two pillars of ivory.

Well, that approach could be said to be working.  What are you looking for in a tea?  I notice that much of your inventory is particularly strong in some way. 

Dynamite force explode through your barrier
rips the retina;
who can withstand the astonishing punishing
stings to the sternum?

I think I know what you mean - the 2000 CNNP 7532 "Tiepai" was just like that.  My sternum, for one, is certainly still stinging.

You have gained a reputation for looking past the label - especially with cakes such as that "tiepai", which is probably a copy.  What advice can you give us about trusting the provenance of a cake from its wrapper?

All those labels
try to lure in like spiders to the web -
know what I'm saying -
you got to read the labels.

Well indeed, but some of us can have trouble identifying if the contents are fake.  How can you tell if it's major label or not?

Major labels:
flavour: tropical
punchlines: its unstoppable.

I suppose that's true - let the tea speak for itself, and the best producers will always demonstrate their special characteristics.  Isn't it a little risky, buying tea in an environment in which fakes are so rife?

Heavily armed military is necessary
it's a gamble.

Yes, it is.  Would you say that you were a particularly fussy drinker, or are you just looking for good, strong tea?

I ain't particular,
I bang like vehicular

Your inventory certainly suggests that is the case.  You have become infamous in the tea world for selling tea at an unsustainably low rate.  We're trying to understand your motivation here - what do you see when you look at the higher prices of other vendors?

What is the meaning of crime?
Is it criminals robbing innocent motherf'ers every time?

Well, no-one ever accused your higher-priced competition of robbing people, but I see your point.  So what is your motivation here?

I'm on a mission that n's say is impossible
but when I swing my swords they all choppable

Your "swords" here presumably referring to your combination of lower prices and decent quality.  Aren't you worried about the effect that this might have on the tea market?

I make the dope sales drop
like the crash in Dow Jones stock.

That's an uncompromising position, but at least the consumer benefits from cheaper tea.  What message do you have for other small-scale vendors out there, thinking about starting in the tea market?

Only raise your hands if you're sure -
Punk n's shatter like a glass jaw.

You do seem to like the "n" word, Mr. Twodog.  Are you saying that there is a large "churn" in terms of vendors, and that typical small-time vendors come and go quickly?

It's an everlasting game
and it never cease to exist,
only the players change.

That does seem to be true, looking back at all those who have tried their hand at selling tea.  Would you say that you are doing well, financially, out of this business?

Yo, I got more mils
than ho b's got birth-control pills.

While I fail to see the connection between female dogs and their contraceptive methods, I do take the point that you are at least breaking even in this venture.

You are, of course, based in Beijing and spend much time on your travels to find the next tea bargain.  Where does this activity typically take you?

I'm deep down in the backstreets
in the heart of Medina
about to set off something more deep than a misdemeanour.

Interesting, I wouldn't have considered the tea market there.  What do you look for when you're browsing a new neighbourhood tea market for bargains?

No neighbourhood is rough enough;
there is no clip that's full enough;
I can't fold I need gold I heat up and reload.

Do you have more white2tea-branded productions coming out soon?  I really enjoyed "Giant Steps", which you made in 2013.

Another production
coming atcha
rza-razor rza-razor sharp

That's fascinating.  Well, that's about all we have time for in this interview.  May we ask what our readers might expect to see from white2tea in coming months?  Are there plans for expansion?

The plan was to expand,
catch seven figures, release triggers
and live large and bigger than my n's
who promised his mom a mansion with mad rooms -
she died and he still put a hundred grand in the tomb.

Mr. Twodog, of white2tea: thank you for your time with us today.

19 November, 2014

Chinese, VI

at least you still know
the way to Tsinghua, old friend -
my faded shadow

12 November, 2014

Chinese, V

and this is where
the Japanese soldiers threw
the Chinese soldiers

05 November, 2014

Chinese, IV

roadside erhu
goes surprisingly well
with my wutang

29 October, 2014

Chinese, III

Chinese whispers
translator quietly translates
into my ear

24 October, 2014

Teenager Tea

Teenage pu'ercha is a great deal easier to handle than real teenagers, I think.  Although my boys are just 2 and 4 years old, at the time of writing, I look forward to their teenage years.  In tea years, it is approximately years 2-10 where the changes happen, depending on storage - after a decade, you're into much more gradual territory, and the character of the tea has, to some degree, been determined.

The teenage teas in today's article, then, are all "settled down", to a varying extent.

The first is the 2001 Chenyuanhao, a Taiwanese producer with a reputation for scrupulous control of processing.

While seemingly stored in Taiwan (this tea came from Origin Tea, after all), the black-with-rusty-orange leaves have the dense sweetness of more humid climes.  I seem to drinking nothing but HK-Taiwanese tea lately.  That is not a complaint.

It turns out to be a heavy orange, aided by the quantity of leaves that I have rammed into Zidu, my pot.  It is tangy and a little "fishy", in the manner of some straw-like Yiwushan tea.  There are few other regions from which a tea of this character could be derived.  Again indicative of the region, to my mind, there are those wildflower overtones that I associate with the better teas from the area.

Dense, tangy, and sweet, with a reasonably smooth body, it actually seems a touch unready.  The floral Yiwushan nature is very familiar, and very welcome.

A second tea from Origin (and again kindly provided by JT), we have...

...some sort of "special order" Haiwan.  I don't usually touch Haiwan with a big stick, because it is the single guaranteed producer that you'll find in almost every single bad pu'ercha shop in China.  Laotongzi is, almost literally, everywhere.

Brushing off those negative associations is not easy!  The fact that this used to cost around $150 when it was available raises the eyebrows, too; presumably it is better than I think it will be.

The little leaves, pictured above, are filled with heavy and humid scents.  When I opened the sample bag, I was assaulted by obvious smokiness; this continues in the aroma cup, but, thankfully, not so in the tasting cup.  It is also immediately sweet, which I was not expecting at all.

Its standard "black" woodiness is not too underpowered, despite the high compression that would otherwise suggest it needs time to open.  It is easy enough to drink, and surprisingly rewarding: the "black" sweetness, although presumably down to Dayi-style cunning in the processing of this tea, is long-lasting and perhaps even cooling.  It tastes rather like Dayi, and has the low plantation ceiling of same.

Speaking of which...

I like Dayi, but I don't like Dayi.  There is a difference.  If you're of the mind for some low-ceiling plantation tea, with a probably blackness added by virtue of the old factory's dark pantheon of tricks, then it is always good fun.  When aged, even when aged in Taiwan (as is this), the result is often woody, sharp, and enjoyable.

This particular cake weds the Dayi blackness to a charming Nannuoshan sweetness that works very well together, and of which you'd think there would be more, given how many zillions of cakes Dayi churns out every year.

The problem with Dayi begins when the mainland tea market gets its brand-fixation problem going, and the price disappears through that same ceiling that is otherwise containing the character of the tea.  Dayi tea is simply not worth the often-huge asking price.  More than any other mainstream brand, Dayi seems to have some sort of terrible grip on the wallets of mainland consumers and I know not why.  I can guess (!), but I'm sure the true reasons are manifold.

This 2003 Dayi is, would you believe it, orange, woody, husky, and tastes like solid 11-year-old taidicha.  I refuse to look up its price, because it would make me chuckle.  Thanks to PM for this sample, which reaffirms all of my preconceived notions with respect to the Great Benefit.

22 October, 2014

Chinese, II

when I realise
the Tsinghua fireflies
are smartphones

17 October, 2014

Face / Off

In this battle between two adversaries, the part of John Travolta will be played by the 2014 "Huazhu" from Pu-erh.sk.

I've enjoyed a number of teas from PETROS THE DESTROYER this year.  In summary, each is well-made, each is a good and tasty example of each stopping-point on his travels around Yunnan.  One cake was "budget", the rest were... pretty expensive, actually.  Maocha prices etc.

Along with Nakashan, Huazhu is in the Mengsong region, and is talked about in favourable tones by PETROS THE DESTROYER.  He also notes that "Huazhu Liangzi is 'Banna's highest mountain", which is an interesting fact that I now know and which I will probably forget imminently.

Keeping up appearances, this Huazhu tea looks The Business, as you might agree from contemplation of the photograph above.  Once brewed, it has a long, flowery scent.  In the cup, we have the grape-like sweetness of new tea, with a substantial finish - cooling and bitter. 

Underneath it all, perhaps testifying to its Mengsong origins, is a broad, savoury character that supports all of that transient sweetness.  Of course, as with all of those teas made by PETROS, it is well-made and I do not doubt that these leaves are of excellent nature.

Big, bitter, broad, and smooth: this is strong and decent tea.  PETROS writes that it is "more or less accessible in terms of price".  However, the price of this cake is a seemingly-uncorrelated 96 Euro / 250g, which at US$180 / 357g is not at all accessible.  Objectively, after five infusions, I am left wondering who would pay $180 / 357g, but that's a personal decision.

If John Travolta is amusing but perhaps over-valued, then we now turn ourselves to the Nicholas Cage in our Face/Off: the 2013 New Amerykah from white2tea.

I enjoyed the 2014 "New Amerykah 2", in which PM stated that he was aiming for "fullness" rather than the "bitterness" of the 2013.  This further reinforced in my mind that I had missed a trick when I failed to try the 2013 before it sold out.

Having pity on me, PM kindly packed up a sample.

The leaves are hand-compressed, and aromatic.  First impressions are highly favourable.  The first infusions is reassuringly bitter, while being fresh and yellow.  It fills the mouth quite obviously, and I can imagine PM's reaction when he first encountered the maocha for this cake.  It really does stand out.  There is a cooling finish, and its body is smooth.

Every time the tea settles into its sweet routine, I add more leaves to bring it back to the fresh richness of the earlier infusions.  I can see why this tea sold out, Gentle Reader, and hope that you managed to land yourself some.

This is a sharp and charismatic cake and, at least in this little face/off, unlike in the film, Nicholas Cage was the clear victor.

10 October, 2014

Bigtime Bibendi

"OK, hard drinkers: let's drink hard."

Perhaps George Clooney's finest hour.

In keeping with the spirit of George's famous utterance, Neil of Teaclassico has kindly provided us with some hard drinkin'.

1999 "Xiaofa" Xiaguan French Export shupu

Surprisingly, this "faguo" [French] export tuocha smells of neither garlic nor onions.  It has had 15 years of Hong Kong storage, which might account for that.  The leaves are on the larger side, for Xiaguan, and in truth they do have a distinctive aroma of what can only be called "fish".  This is not a problem, just an observation.

Tiny Death Star + shupu

The piscine aromatics do not continue into the cup.  What we do get is a big, stable, and enjoyable dose of shupu.  There is a particularly silky and thick texture that reminds me Xiaguan really know their way around the manufacture of tuocha.  I enjoyed it very much, but perhaps not quite enough to spend $89 on it.

Yet more serious is this: a 1980s maocha from the Yiwushan area.

Pictured above, this is a big, deluxe pile of a tea.  My expectation is that the older maocha gets, the weaker it gets.  This one, however, still seems to be quite strong, which makes me wonder if it is actually 1990s, rather than 1980s - not that such things matter, anyway.

The colour is a more solid red than might otherwise be expected, which again leaves me thinking that it might be 1990s.  Its body is smooth, if a little thin.  There is a detectable trace Hong Kong in its history, but this has been aired out - presumably in Taiwan, along with many of the teas sold by Teaclassico.  HK then Taiwan is a good route to take.

Aged well, with deep HK mineral characteristics, this is a gentle, warming tea.  I read this tea in the background while annotating an MSc thesis for submission, and I think the tea put me in a good mood.

The star attraction, and one worthy of George Clooney's attention, is the following:

This 1997 Tongqinghao "Chi Cheng" is quite special.  It came in a sample bag as "Tung Ching Hao", and so I suspect that the cake's pinyin name is not actually "Chi Cheng".  Without seeing the characters, it is difficult to disambuigate Taiwanese (or, rather, Wade-Giles) romanisation.

The leaves, pictured above, surely already have you whipped up into a frenzy.  They have the scent of (you guessed it) Hong Kong.  The scent of the HK tea, that is, not the scent of the HK teargas.

The brown-red colour and BEEFY flavour are very welcome.  I used lots of leaves, knowing that it would not become overbrewed (HK tea, aged), and the result is a vivid and vibrant fizziness on the tongue.  It leaves a humid bookishness in the nose which, for a serial university type, is quite alluring.

Not that anyone ever goes in libraries any more.

With passing infusions, as the leaves open fully, the centre of the soup darkens in colour.  There is a wildflower note that reminds me of the 2003 Zipinhao from Zitenglu / Wisteria Teahouse.  Its core of deep, sweet mahogany is enjoyable and I am already beginning to wonder as to its price.

I kept adding leaves to Zidu, my pot, to prolong the session - so good was this tea, that I did not want to stop.  Eventually, Zidu was so full that I had to decant the leaves into a larger pot - and (its bulk pictured above) it was almost half-full when I did so.  I brewed them for two days, and they were decent.

Teaclassico will, I understand, be stocking this in future, but one cake could already be enpurchanised and coming my way.  Be ready, ye shelves, for Tongqinghao is very decent indeed.