Thursday, October 30, 2014

Winter 2014 Fushou Shan Oolong

Cultivar: Qingxin (ruanzhi) Oolong
Origin: Fushou Shan (near Lishan), Taiwan
Elevation: 2200-2500 m
Harvested by hand on October 10th, 2014
Process: low oxidized and rolled. Not roasted.

The Fushou Shan Oolong plantation is famous for its high elevation and its government and military connections. It's run by veterans from the Armed forces, and mainly supplies public officials with tea for gifts. It carries a lot of prestige, because it's the plantation that supplies the President's office and all tea drinking generals!  

Reputation and quality can be 2 different things. And any plantation faces the same problems with changing weather: some batches turn out better than others. What doesn't change is the soil and quality of the location. Since this is the first time I'm having an Oolong from Fushou Shan, I'm very curious to see how good it is. The silver teapot will help me push the leaves to their limit.

The dry leaves have a fresh color and big size. It looks very even (no sign of mixing). The rolling isn't as tight as that from Da Yu Ling or Lishan leaves. The dry smells are wonderfully light, flowery and almost perfume like (lavender and vetiver). The scents are like a breeze of sunny mountain air!

Let's brew!
There's a trend to more and more mixing of leaves even in high mountain Oolongs. Farmers tend more and more to mix several batches from the same season together. This allows them to make their quality more even and create bigger quantities of one tea. Top quality and average quality mixed together will produce a good tea, but it will lack the purity and character of a specific day's harvest. With this October 10th harvest, we are still using a highly selective approach and liked loved this batch.
The brew shines clear and bright. Excellent transparency. The flower scents are very light and delicate.
Sweet sunshine!
But what impresses even more is the energy of the aftertaste. High mountain is often compared to Champagne, because the taste feels effervescent, sparkling. With this Fushou Shan Oolong, the bubbly feel is similar a top Champagne: very small 'bubbles' and very long persistence of this effervescence. The feeling appears progressively and feels both deep and harmonious. It takes some concentration to experience it. This type of refined aftertaste requires and deserves your full attention.
And then it's bliss.
High mountain relaxation.
A look at this leaf shows how incredibly big the bud is growing (this is a sign of the high altitude of this plantation). This Fushou Shan Oolong is my new gold medalist!
The mouthfeel is very comfortable. The body feels more relaxed and the mind peacefully awake. I'm glad that I had it outside to show you the beauty of this tea. However, it's indoors, in a quiet place, that I enjoyed its delicate energy the most! As usual for this kind of tea, I recommend fewer leaves and longer brewing times!

It's now available here in my online boutique.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creative Chaxi for beginners

Drinking tea and focusing on this experience entirely can also be an exercise of creativity. Each time you drink tea, you feel differently and it's an opportunity to express your mood, hope, love with a special setup. It lets you connect to your inner self and it makes you feel good to combine tea and functional beauty.

You can see from my blog that there are rarely 2 Chaxi (2 setups) that are the same. In recent weeks, they have tended to become very beautiful (thanks to the use of kimono belts and the great tea ware I've collected over 10 years). I'm a little bit worried that instead of inspiring you to do follow this direction, you feel it's not possible with the few tea wares you have. Most probably don't have a Chabu.

That's why I have created this simple Chaxi with very simple accessories. The Chabu, the tea cloth, I use below my accessories is simply a dark blue T-shirt! In a second step, I added a tie to give it a more artsy touch. I'm brewing my 'strong' Hung Shui Oolong from Shan Lin Xi in a tall ivory gaiwan. It's the only brewing tool I used for my first years of tea study. It can be emptied in these 3 classic light celadon cups, respecting the Chaozhou gongfu cha rule.
My other items are new uses of common items:
- The waste water is a rice bowl.
- The porcelain plate under the cups is a small plate for cookies/cake.
- The dry tea display plate is the cover of another gaiwan.
- The vase is actually a pottery cup and I'm just using 1 branch of bamboo.
- There's a simple celadon jar, but you could also do without.
- My tetsubin is still in the picture, but you could place your kettle a little bit more on the side if it doesn't fit with the rest of your items.
- My Cha Tuo are 3 dry fallen leaves.
One of the functions of the Cha Tuo is to prevent tea stains. That's the case here. Cha Tuo come in many shapes. Very often, it's like petals and it makes the cup look like a flower. But there are also some that look like leaves and that gave me the idea to use actual leaves!
The Cha Tuo establishes the connection between tea and nature. Also, they remind us of the current fall season. The color match the hue of the Hung Shui Oolong's brew. It feels warm at a time we might feel blue...
The tea tastes so deep and complex, refined and powerful. The leaves open up nicely in the gaiwan. This setup makes it possible to focus completely on the process of brewing and enjoying the tea. Such great tea leaves love this level of attention. They reward the effort and creativity with pleasures that go beyond tea and come close to an art performance.
Tea is for everybody. Let tea inspire your creativity and sense of beauty!

La boisson des nomades créatifs

La région du Wenshan en Octobre 2014
Le voyage d'affaire ou de vacance permet de rompre avec les habitudes de la vie. A ce titre, c'est un excellent stimulant de notre créativité, car on voit des endroits nouveaux et on fait de nouvelles expériences. Tout est neuf et donne lieu à émerveillement. Ensuite, il est des endroits qui opèrent leur propre magie et c'est ma joie de les faire découvrir à des amateurs de thé qui viennent me rencontrer. A une heure de Taipei, nous arrivons sur cette hauteur dans le Wenshan.
Le lecteur réguliler reconnait facilement ce rocher qui me sert chaque saison de table à thé.
Ce jour-ci, j'utilise mon Nilu et du charbon. C'est pourquoi j'ai cet éventail Kong Ming (Zhu Ge Liang, un des héros du roman 'Les trois royaumes' de Louo Kouan Tchong). Il est fait en plumes de grues, oiseau à l'allure aristocratique, symbole de Kong Ming. Un tel éventail est censé avoir des vertus presque magiques, car c'est c'est muni d'un éventail que Zhu Ge Liang remporta une victoire militaire lorsqu'il sut prédire le changement du sens du vent.
Comme premier thé, nous dégustons mon Baozhong organique du printemps 2013.
Les infusions sont très savoureuses et font résonner la nature en nous. Les saveurs qui sont tout autour de nous se retrouvent en bouche et dans nos narines. L'ami qui m'accompagne prend conscience de combien ce lien entre thé et nature est fort et évident. Tellement évident qu'on finit parfois par l'oublier quand on boit du thé en ville.
Boire du thé dans la nature n'a pas que des avantages. Pour la première fois, je suis importuné par la visite d'abeilles, et mon éventail, magique ou non, ne permet pas de les éloigner! Aussi, nous décidons d'établir un nouveau Chaxi à quelques mètres du premier.
Un Oolong de haute montagne de Lushan est fait avec le même cultivar et a un oxydation similaire, mais son goût est totalement différent. Le goût caractéristique du Wenshan Baozhong devient plus évident grâce à cette comparaison.
Lushan Oolong
Le dragon de ce Chaxi est un symbole de la force créative de chacun. Il accompagne de manière très à propos nos discussions sur le thé et les arts.
Pour créer, il faut savoir établir des liens entre des choses auxquelles d'autres n'ont pas encore pensé. Le thé peut aider à nous donner un esprit plus relax, apaisé et libre de faire ces connexions. 
Nous finissons par un Hung Shui Oolong de Shan Lin Xi afin de ressentir l'impact de la torréfaction sur le thé. Plus de puissance et plus de longueur en bouche, mais aussi un très bel équilibre entre feu et fraicheur.
La beauté du thé et de l'endroit stimulent les papilles et les prises de vues.
Avec la torréfaction, nous avons une dimension supplémentaire dans les saveurs. Il nous apporte aussi plus de chaleur en cette journée fraiche et nuageuse.

En observant de plus près une plantation toute proche, je remarque la présence de nombreuses fleurs à théier. (C'est leur saison). Aussi, je me demande si ce ne sont pas ces fleurs qui ont attiré les abeilles...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 7542 puerh standard and compound interest.

1995/96 Menghai Tea Factory '7542' cake
The compound interest formula is very useful to understand to the price of older 7542 cakes.
The calculation goes like this:
Price in Y years = Price now x (1+ rate of return)^Y

What's interesting with the Menghai 7542 cakes from 1975 to year 2000, is that these puerhs were made with the same recipe, similar know-how in the same factory while the Chinese market was a monopoly managed by the CNNP corporation. (See picture above for the full name). This means that these products are all quite similar and should follow similar aging and pricing patterns.

The second reason that makes the 7542 interesting for puerh drinkers is that the 1970s 7542 are now very highly regarded by collectors. Some see this cake as the next generation green label! (The other cake that enjoys a similar reputation is the 8582 from the mid 1980s: it is seen as the next generation red label). So, this recipe (before year 2000) is a good standard to understand how a raw puerh should taste after a certain time.
Menghai Tea Factory '7542' from 1995/96
The stability of this puerh helps us to calculate the rate of return. Since the cakes are similar, we can assume that the price of a 39 or 34 years old 7542 remains the same over time. (This assumes a 0% inflation rate, which is rather conservative).

- Case 1: for a 1975 '7542', the market price I heard is 10,000 USD.
Let's be conservative and assume that my latest selected 7542 is from 1996 (it could also be 1995). In 21 years, it will be as old as the 1975 '7542'. Now, its price is 399 USD. What will be its rate of return, its annual growth rate to reach the same price as a 7542 from 1975 in 21 years?
10,000 = 399 x (1 + R)^(1996-1975=21)
According to the above formula, this rate is approximately 16.6%!
We can use this rate to calculate backwards also:
Price of a 18 years old '7542' = 399 = Price of a new cake x (1+ rate of return = .166)^18
The answer is that the price of a new cake should be approximately 25 USD.
- Case 2: for a 1980 '7542', I found a recent auction where a tong was sold for 184,000 RMB. Converted to USD, this means that 1 cake costs approximately 4,380 USD. Another lot sold for 195,500 RMB, but let's use the lower figure.
What's the rate of return here if the price of a 34 years old puerh stays the same?
4,380 = 399 x (1 + R)^(1996-1980=16)
Here, the rate of return is approximately 16.1%. We are very close the rate calculated above.
1995/96 '7542' puerh
These rates of return are very similar to the rates I calculated about 80 years old cakes based on previous auctions. Such rates are very high and explain why so many investors are tempted to invest in puerh. As a former financial executive, it's fun to run these numbers to look at tea from a different, purely financial perspective. What's important to remember is that we are looking at the most respected cake (brand) from a certain time. Lesser known and lower quality puerhs don't reach the same prices. During the 1975-2000 era, there were fewer products since there were fewer producers and 1 monopoly that didn't encourage much innovation. The quality and branding issue will be more important for investors for newer puerhs. It's difficult to say now which new puerhs will still be sought after in 20 or 40 years.

The advantage of the 1995/96 '7542' and the 1999 '7542' is that they are most likely to follow the same evolution of the 1975-80 '7542' (also known as 73 qing bing). And I had the opportunity to taste such a 70s '7542' recently! I could feel that the character of this old puerh is similar to my 1990s '7542'. The energy is still superb and it feels so pure and light! The taste has continued to become more refined, while the scents have turned darker and intoxicating while preserving a fresh and energetic feeling. It's very, very good and very few leaves are sufficient to make a great cup.
1970s '7542'
A 40 years old puerh is like a taste of paradise. The astronomical price doesn't seem so far fetched if you are old and rich. Being in my mid 40s, I don't have the luxury to wait 40 years, but 20 years seem OK. That's why now is a good time to purchase this puerh standard before the compound interest prices it higher and higher.

Note: See more pictures of the 95/96 cake in my recent article (in French).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Truth in advertising

The advantage of going from blogging to selling tea is that I spend time searching and selecting teas I find fantastic. But the disadvantage of selling tea instead of just blogging about it, is that it blurs the line between describing and promoting it. Nevertheless, I think that most readers can see that I take real pleasure and interest in good teas. Also, I give the opportunity to purchase small quantities (25 gr or sometimes even by the gram) that let you evaluate the teas at a reasonable cost (and I give free sample(s) with each order).

The Internet gives readers and customers the possibility to voice their opinions on forums or directly as comments or reviews on the blog and boutique respectively. I encourage you to share your feedback online. Your voice counts because, unlike me, you are not sellers, but simply wish to share your experience to help others make the best choice. A good review is a way to express your pleasure and support. And a bad review is a red flag that can help me correct a problem I may have overlooked.

Tea leaves are not the finished product, but the tea brew is. That's why I spend a lot effort to explain and show how to prepare tea in order to get the most out of it. But what ultimately counts is your experience of the leaves, not mine. That's another reason why your reviews are so useful.

I was very glad to read Ryan's comment of my 2006 raw Lincang puerh a few days ago:
"This is one of the best young raw puerhs I have ever had the pleasure of trying. Its is incredibly sweet, complex, and refined. It is extremely present and active on the palate and leaves a powerful aftertaste. The quality of this young raw puerh is unparalleled to any other puerh I have ever purchased!"
Ryan also commented on my 1979 high roast Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding:
"The aroma of this tea is truly exquisite! It smells incredibly sweet with notes of molasses and dried fruits. It has a thick and smooth mouth feel, and has a very complex flavor profile. This tea is one of the best aged oolongs I have ever had."
Today, in an email, my tea friend Paola wrote to me that : "The imperial jasmine is unbelievable.  REALLY the best I have ever tasted. Did not know such a jasmine tea existed." It's not a review (yet), but I was still very pleased to read it.

And since this article is about advertising and marketing, let me also tell you the 2 meanings of my boutique's logo:
The Chinese calligraphy (and the stamp) both say Cha zhi Le. This means Tea Happiness. But it also has a personal connection, because the translation of my last name in Chinese is Le (Happiness)!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1995/96 Menghai 7542

Saviez-vous que Warren Buffett, le génial investisseur, a gagné 99% de sa fortune après l'âge de 50 ans? Etonnant, non? Cela me fait penser au puerh de collection dont la valeur augmente de manière pratiquement exponentielle! Une galette 7542 des années 1970s vaut actuellement environ 10,000 USD! Et les galettes plus anciennes valent bien plus encore.
Mais les puerhs ne vieillissent pas tous bien. La qualité du puerh à l'origine et le stockage sont deux facteurs déterminants. Avec la galette 7542, on a la chance d'avoir une recette qui fut assez stable dans le temps, surtout tant que la firme Menghai fut une entreprise publique. Sa privatisation eut lieu en 1996, et ce puerh de 95/96 est donc l'un des derniers de cette période. On peut donc mieux extrapoler comment cette galette va évoluer dans les 20 prochaines années. (C'est surtout vrai si on a eu, comme moi, la chance de goûter à une 7542 des années 70s, un puerh fantastique, soit dit en passant).
Neifei avec mention de Menghai
Quant au stockage, l'important est surtout qu'il soit propre et que le thé n'absorbe pas des odeurs étrangères. La particularité du puerh est sa longévité: on peut le conserver sur des décennies. C'est un avantage surtout si l'on est jeune. Passé un certain âge, on n'a plus forcément le temps et la patience d'attendre 40 ans. Et l'on n'a pas forcément non plus des dizaines de milliers d'Euros en budget thé chaque année. Aussi, ce genre de galette de près de 20 ans d'âge offre un bon compromis. L'autre avantage d'une galette de près de 20 ans, c'est qu'on voit mieux comment elle a déjà évolué.
En guise de dégustation test, j'infuse 3 grammes  en gaiwan en porcelaine sous le soleil indien chinois de la mi-octobre! Le bambou, plante symbole de l'été fait son retour également.

Le thé se décortique facilement sur les bords, mais le centre parait bien dur. On voit aussi distinctement les traces du tissu de pressage sur la surface de la galette. Sa forme est bien équilibrée et dénote un bon savoir-faire.
Au bout de 2 minutes environ, l'infusion est d'un orange éclatant et bien transparent. 
On obtient des couleurs plus sombres en infusant 6 minutes (en standard de compétition), mais j'ai voulu obtenir ici une concentration plus 'normale'. Néanmoins, cette couleur nous apprend que le stockage fut relativement sec (plus sec que pour mon autre 7542 de 1999).
Aussi les odeurs sont surtout dans les notes de camphor et dans les notes aigus.
Par contre, au niveau du goût, on a beaucoup de puissance, de fraicheur et de pureté, 3 caractéristiques essentielles pour le puerh âgé. Il y a encore de l'amertume, mais elle semble jouer en bouche avec le moelleux et la finesse de ce thé.
L'arrière-goût est très long et il laisse une impression très propre et pure en bouche.
Les infusions se suivent et se ressemblent!
C'est fantastique tout ce qu'on peut infuser avec 3 grammes seulement!
Les feuilles ouvertes apparaissent vraiment jeunes encore! Il en faut de la patience pour laisser le temps faire doucement son travail de bonification. Mais le résultat en vaut déjà la peine. Plus il devient meilleur, plus il est difficile de ne pas en boire!
Ce 7542 du milieu des années 90 commence à devenir très bon et c'est un très bon exemple de puerh cru, stocké au sec, qui garde beaucoup de fraicheur et d'énergie tout en s'arrondissant progressivement.