I recently received a gift of a tea brick from a friend who is not as into tea as I am...she was moving and clearing out her apartment, and gave me this, so I have no idea what sort of quality to expect.  So far, I've deciphered the characters 生普洱茶 = Sheng Puerh.  Does anyone have any further insights, both into what the characters say, and if this might be a tea of decent quality?  Photos of the front and back can be found on my blog post:

Tea Brick Identification Help: 2008 Sheng Pu-erh?

Thanks in advance!

Thank you!  What you said about the leaf size being more important than the rolling shape, and smaller leaves corresponding to earlier plucking, and thus more subtle characteristics, makes sense.

I also found your comment about Chinese vs. American judgments of tea interesting.

I have not noticed a clear pattern of whether I prefer higher-priced teas or not.  In some cases, the higher-priced teas lack qualities (like astringency or sourness) which I often find objectionable, but in other cases, I prefer some of the lower-grade teas.  Some of my favorite teas have been high-quality batches of moderate-to-low grade teas.  I've found this to be more the case with white teas though, in which my favorite teas are higher-quality batches of shou mei(寿眉) that I've tried.  With green teas I think I am somewhat more likely to prefer higher-quality teas, mainly because of the astringency in low-quality teas.

I suspect people would not describe my tastes as typical "American" tastes though.  When I think of typical American tastes I think of people being relatively averse to vegetal and herbaceous qualities, and also to bitterness, and to seek out sweetness, and this doesn't describe me at all!

I've tasted a moderate number of samples of Bi Luo Chun(碧螺春), and some have been better than others, but I'm not convinced I've tried much of the best-quality stuff available.

One thing that I have noticed is that there is a considerable amount of variability in the level of rolling of the leaf.  Some is tightly rolled, not quite into pellets, but approaching so, whereas other looks mostly extended, and only slightly curled or wavy.

I've heard suggested about oolongs that higher-quality teas tend to be more tightly rolled, but I'm not 100% convinced that this is always the case, and I'm also completely unclear as to whether or not this same rule would extend to a curled green tea like Bi Luo Chun.

Any insights?

I know this is not a particular scientific concept, nor am I well-versed in the concept's use in traditional Chinese medicine, but I perceive Chinese Red Tea or Hong Cha(紅茶) to generally have a warming quality.  I find this to be true of Keemun(祁门), of Dian Hong(滇红), and of various Congou / Gong fu red teas.

On the other hand, I also drink "black teas" from Darjeeling, and I find that these teas, especially the lighter first flush teas, but often even the darker teas as well, consistently have a more cooling quality to me.

I am curious if there is any theory or justification for this observation, in harmony with traditional Chinese medicine's theory of warming and cooling qualities, and I am also curious if there are any red teas produced in China that exhibit more of the cooling qualities that I find characteristic of Darjeeling teas.  And has anyone else made this sort of observation about the distinction between Darjeeling teas and Chinese hong cha?

Thanks much! =) That's exactly the sort of info I was looking for!

I've recently been reading about guricha and tamaryokucha.  I see a lot of sources mention that they're just different names for the same tea.

I also have found some sources, like Wikipedia (which I do not trust because their article on this type of tea is largely unsourced) which says that it can be either pan-fired or steamed.

I'm wondering if anyone knows about this type of tea, and can verify (a source that I could trust would be great) that they're just different names for the same thing, or if not, explain the distinction...and also, explain...can this type of tea really be either pan-fired or steamed...and is it still called the same name in both cases?

Thanks, this is fascinating and useful; even if there's no clear answer here I really appreciate these different perspectives.

Thanks, Brandon, that is a really clear photograph!

When I look for it, I can see what William remarked about the portion of red in the dry leaf even.  It's subtle but visible.

Yes, yes!

There's a ton of conflicting information on the net.  This is due to a combination of differing personal tastes, and genuinely different optimal ways of brewing tea using different teaware.  Different companies tend to give their brewing instructions in a different way.

With time you can learn how to interpret each company's brewing instructions.  For example, Upton Tea Imports, a company I like, caters distinctly towards western tastes and western brewing methods.  Their brewing instructions are not suitable for gong fu brewing.  However, companies that specialize in Chinese and Japanese tea often give instructions more suitable for brief steepings in a gaiwan or yixing pot.  If I choose to brew these teas in a mug, or a western teapot, with a single infusion or only two infusions, I need to drastically reduce the amount of leaf and increase steeping times.

With experience you learn how to identify each source's brewing recommendations, where they are coming from, and what they mean, relative to the ways you like to brew tea.

However, if you just encounter brewing instructions and you know little to nothing about the source, and their preferences in taste and brewing, the instructions can often be as good as useless!

Experiment, and take everything you read with a grain of salt.  But brewing instructions from the same source are often very useful relative to each other.  I.e. if I am buying from Upton, and they say to only brew a tea 1 minute, I know that it infuses very quickly, because their default recommendation is 3 minutes, or if they say to brew it 5 minutes, I know it infuses more slowly than normal.  I can then adjust that if I'm brewing the tea to my own tastes.

I've read in numerous sources the idea that Da Hong Pao refers only to tea produced either from the original Da Hong Pao plants, or cloned plants a finite number of generations away, and that tea produced of the same cultivar but from more distant clones is more properly named Xiao Hong Pao.

However, I recently found Norbu Tea offering Xiao Hong Pao and on their page they say:

Xiao Hong Pao (小红袍, English: Little Red Robe) is a tea varietal which is known as one of the many Ming Cong (名丛, English: Famous Bush) that originally come from the Wuyi tea growing region of NW Fujian Province.  Contrary to the common story that keeps getting re-told in Western tea circles, Xiao Hong Pao is actually its own separate varietal, not "Da Hong Pao" varietal plants that are a certain number of generations away from the original DHP bushes.  It is entirely possible that some tea wholesalers misleadingly (either intentionally or unintentionally because of lack of knowledge) market some blend of several different Wuyi cultivars as "Xiao Hong Pao," but this just creates huge amounts of confusion with small tea sellers and consumers alike.  According to our supplier, this Xiao Hong Pao was produced from Xiao Hong Pao cultivar tea plants only.

Is this correct?  This is the first time I've encountered this information or this sort of claim.  I'd be interested in sorting this out and clarifying this issue.  If it is correct, this would be a pretty major piece of misinformation that is circulating very widely.  But I'm cautious here, as this is the first time I've encountered the idea that Xiao Hong Pao is really a distinct cultivar.

A thread on TeaChat also brings this up (I found this after searching) and several people whose knowledge I trust, including Ginkgo Seto of Life in Teacup, verify that this is actually a distinct cultivar.  I currently am unable to find anything that I would consider a reliable published source stating either way.  However, in the absence of clear sources either way, I'd be inclined to trust Gingko Seto and Norbu Tea.

Thanks, this makes sense.

Do you know, or have any sources that can explain what distinguishes gongfu / congou red tea from other red teas, and which teas would be classified in this category, and which would not?

Has anyone ever tried a moonlight white / yueguang bai cha(月光白茶) that was in compressed form, like Pu-erh?  Have you ever tried an aged version of this tea?  And would you consider this to be a Pu-erh tea, or how would you classify it?

I've only ever tried one moonlight white, 2010, a loose-leaf tea (not compressed) sold through Life in Teacup, and I loved it, and found it fascinating and unusual, and I have wanted to try more of this style.

I saw a compressed cake for sale on Rishi tea's site, produced in 2009, and it was out of stock and, according to them (I asked), possibly not going to be re-stocked even in future vintages.  I also saw some references on TeaChat to a similar tea of older vintage, sold through Yunnan Sourcing.  I just found this tea intriguing and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.


(2 replies, posted in Other Japanese Teas)

I do often like stronger flavors, which possibly explains it.  I also find that bancha sometimes has a strong grainy character to the aroma, often strongly suggesting corn to me, but considerably more complex than what I think of as the aroma of corn.

Can anyone shed light on what the term "Congou" means?  Babelcarp explains that Congou is synonymous with Hongcha(红茶 or 紅茶), red tea, what westerners call "black tea", and that it's a corruption of Gong Fu.  Upton Tea Imports also uses the term in this way, in their catalogue and articles.

However, I've seen other sources which refer to congou as being a specific type or grade of Chinese red tea.  Some sources on the net, which I would not necessarily trust as reliable, say it refers to a specific grade of tea produced by only the fifth leaf from the top of a shoot of the tea plant.

Then, I see specific teas such as Panyang Congou as well, and I've found conflicting information about them...including claims that Panyang Congou is always a tea that does not contain tips, and then other sources selling tea labelled by this name that clearly is a tippy tea.  Again, according to Babelcarp, I found that Panyang refers to Tanyang(坦洋), in Ningde county in Fujian.  But...not much more detail and no authoritative sources to clear this up.

Any clarifying information would be greatly appreciated.

Hello and welcome to everyone who has posted here!  I've posted a few times here, but I thought to introduce myself here.  I'm Alex Zorach and I run a variety of sites, including a tea blog and RateTea.net.

I like this forum, in spite of its very low volume of posts, because it seems to be the most selective of the forums in terms of its focus on artisan teas and traditional teas, especially of the Chinese traditions.  I've already used this site as a source to consult a number of times, especially when researching topics related to Chinese teas.  I hope this forum can continue to grow a bit, while retaining its high quality of posts and scholarship, and focus on traditional and artisan teas and surrounding tea culture.

I'm curious if anyone has any advice about detecting and distinguishing between the relative level of oxidation and roast by the appearance or smell of the dry leaf of oolong.

I can tell a very dark-roasted oolong, as it has a more flaky appearance, due to losing water in the roast, and a more overtly roasted/toasty aroma.  However, I'm not convinced that I'm able to tell a low-oxidized, heavily roasted oolong from one that is both highly oxidized and heavily roasted.

And I can tell when oolongs are both low-oxidation and very light roast, as they have a very green color and a strongly vegetal character.

But with more intermediate oolongs, I have trouble assessing either of these...I tend to just see them as "darker" vs. "lighter", and I'd like to get better at distinguishing between / separating the qualities of level of roast and level of oxidation.

Any advice about how to do this...what qualities / characteristics to look for?

Kukicha is one of my favorite teas.  One thing that I've found, however, is that when I've ordered it, it often seems to contain a fair amount of leaf.  But I've also had kukicha that was almost exclusively stem.

The overall characteristics of the kukicha that is exclusively stem/twig and that that contains more leaf is very different.  The kukicha made mostly of twig seems to brew clearer and has a more woody taste, lighter, and typically less vegetal.  The kukicha containing more leaf seems to be much more like sencha in overall character, often brewing a more opaque and more greenish color, and with more vegetal tones in the aroma.

There are times I really want the purely twiggy kukicha, as it has a uniqueness to it: there is no other tea like it, whereas the kukicha with more leaf is less interesting and less unique to me, being more like other Japanese greens.

Is a tea really kukicha if it contains a large portion of leaf?  Is there a convention for these sorts of things?  Is this just something that varies from one vendor to another?


(2 replies, posted in Other Japanese Teas)

I've read many times that bancha(番茶) is considered a common or low-grade tea.  However, I've noticed that, perhaps because of this reputation, it is rarely sold in the United States.  There is also a lot of low-quality sencha floating around out there, especially in tea bags.  Sencha seems to have somehow become the de-facto "default" Japanese green tea sold in western countries: companies that do not specialize in Japanese teas and do not always know much about selecting the best teas will often sell sencha and nothing else.

The few times I have seen bancha for sale and tried it, it has often been better than a lot of sencha.  It's been my experience that the companies that offer bancha tend to be the ones that know more about Japanese tea.

There's also some level on which I don't think of sencha as being "better" than bancha in terms of its flavor, aroma, or how I feel after drinking it, even when comparing it with sencha of high quality.  There are times when I simply don't feel like drinking sencha, but bancha hits the spot.

Have others had similar experiences as well?


(3 replies, posted in Oolong Tea / 乌龙茶 (青茶))

I don't know much about the tea you describe.  I also have never aged oolong, and have only aged Pu-erh for a few years, so I'm really a complete novice and most of what I would have to offer is from reading others' experiences.

But my impression is that you want to start with a stronger-tasting tea as the flavor will mellow with age.  I have tasted a fair amount of Pu-erh of different ages, a lot of non-aged oolong, and a few aged oolongs, and I definitely have a sense of how the flavor in general changes.  Think of sheng Pu-erh; some of it can be so strong before being aged that many people find it unpleasant.  It then becomes gentler over time.  It also acquires new characteristics which often have a more earthy quality.  Compared to Pu-erh, however, I've found that aged oolong has less of the original oolong aromas, and more of newer aromas it has acquired.  But I haven't sampled enough to know if it's really a trend or just a function of the particular teas I tried.

For aging teas you don't want to use an airtight container like you would for green or black teas.  An unglazed ceramic container is probably porous enough.  I've also seen the recommendation, if you use a glazed or non-porous container, to place the tea in it loosely and leave the top open, covering it with a cloth.

You can take two possible routes: aging the tea in as neutral an environment as possible, or aging it in an area where it is exposed to some sort of aromas that you think will impact it in a positive way.

I absolutely love the se chung(色种) oolongs, and I think they represent a under-appreciated realm of oolongs that tea connoisseurs would do well to explore.  There are so many of them and I have not sampled a large enough number of them to say with much confidence which ones I enjoy the most, but by and large I have found them to offer outstanding value.  I'm a bit of a price-conscious shopper, and there is a degree to which Tie Guan Yin can be overpriced.  But more importantly, I just find these teas to be interesting.

I've heard that Ben Shan(本山) is the variety that most closely resembles Tie Guan Yin, and from my experience, this has been true.  At the same time, I have found that it's not as enjoyable as the better Tie Guan Yin that I've tried.  It is the only se chung oolong that I have been less than enthusiastic about.  I prefer the varieties that are more distinct from Tie Guan Yin.  I have enjoyed huang jin gui(黃金桂) and qi lan(奇兰).  Rishi Tea has a very dark Qi Lan (as dark as many black teas), which was very interesting.  I have not yet tried Mao Xie(毛蟹) but from reading descriptions of it, I am very eager to try it.  I also tried one fo shou(佛手), and really liked it--and found it very different from Tie Guan Yin.  Most of the se chungs I've tried have been samples I received from Life in Teacup, although there are a number of other ones that I tried from other sources.

It's interesting to me how there's some affinity between some of these oolongs and the fragrance of osmanthus flowers--and not just huang jin gui.  Upton Tea Imports offers an unspecified Se Chung oolong which is scented with osmanthus flowers; I found it to be outstanding, and it was fascinating because it was impossible for me to tell where the tea ended and the floral scenting began.

I too have been following this site, and hope it can become more active--I just wrote about it on my tea blog, which has a moderate following; perhaps that can spark some participation!  I have found this site to be an outstanding resource, especially relative to the low post volume, and I think it offers something unique relative to other internet tea forums.

I am truly only a beginner to tea.  I find dan cong to be challenging.  When I've ordered it, if the sample is too small, I often find that I can't experiment enough with it to learn how to brew it well.  Some dan cong I've brewed a couple times and not really enjoyed it...but then I've gotten better results on a subsequent attempt.

I tried a dan cong from Adagio teas and it had a very strongly fruity aroma, much like apricots as chanteas describes.  More recently I tried the 2010 Mt. Wu Dong Red Tea Dan Cong, which I received as a sample from Life in Teacup, and it was completely different.  There was absolutely no fruitiness in the aroma; instead it was smoky and savory, with a lot of herbaceous tones.  I liked it, but after finishing up the small sample, I still felt like I did not know how to brew the tea effectively.