Author Archives: payton

2003 Tong Qing Hao Sheng Puer

This afternoon my wife found a nice-looking little bag of Puer leaves in our Sheng Puer box. It was labeled (in my handwriting) “2003 Tong Qing Hao”, but had no other information. What was this mystery tea? We decided to drink it to find out!


We were originally going to do a rinse, but the rinse (a nearly instant infusion) was so golden and beautiful, we ended up drinking it as the first infusion instead. This proved to be a great idea.

As the liquid rested in my mouth, the aroma held a delicate fragrance. It was sweet but not cloying, like the smell of a honeysuckle bush as you walk by on a spring day.

The flavor was dry, sweet, and also definitely astringent, but the astringency only served to balance the sweetness rather than take the tea into bitter territory. A perfectly ripe lychee fruit came to mind, or the pith of a sweet orange. There was perhaps the mouth feel of a sour apple with a little bit of the texture of chalk. Altogether a very interesting and delicious tea!

2003tongqinghao-cupsOne surprise was that even though the flavor was very balanced, this tea still tasted very young for leaves that were 13 years old. Perhaps the leaves were just stored in a dry place or the date was wrong, but it definitely didn’t have any of the earthy characteristics of a mature Puer.

This was a good tea to kick-start an otherwise lazy afternoon. Seven infusions later we were awake and ready to get things done. I can always recommend an energizing Sheng Puer for a productive day!

An Ordinary Treasure

I’d like to share my experiences recently with a 2004 “Ordinary Treasure” Sheng Puer from Global Tea Hut.

I had tried this small package of Puer once casually when we got it in the mail, and I enjoyed it immensely. I love a good raw Puer (Shēng chá, 生茶) now and then, but most of my collection is still fairly young. Older raw Puer tends to be expensive, and certainly wasn’t something I expected to receive with my magazine.

Fortunately there was enough left in the tin for another try because I wanted to write a little about my experience. Today I brewed the last 7 grams in my Jianshui pot, gongfu style.otreasure-leaves

The liquor had a beautiful golden orange hue, like a sunset over the water. Being fairly loose, this tea does not need any rinse, nor a lengthy first infusion. The sunset appears almost at once. In fact, I had to cut my first infusion with a little extra water because it was a bit too intense. It actually felt elegant as I added the extra water and watched the tea’s deep orange fade to gold. Perhaps that’s where I saw the sunset for the first time.

Smooth and mellow, the flavor was comforting and energizing at the same time. While there was a definite sweet taste, it wasn’t the sweetness of fruit. More the earthy sweetness of oats and barley with a little bit of toasted almond. Despite it being only early afternoon, sipping this tea brought to mind the beautiful mountain sunsets of Yunnan; I think I could feel the cool breeze on the evening of a hot summer day.

At the third infusion the body became thicker with more of a eucalyptus effect, though still sweet and mellow. How enchanting! I found the heaviness unexpected for a Sheng and yet very welcoming. I wonder if this is the stage between a young Puer’s sharpness and the aged earthiness that I’ve found often arrives when raw Puer gets closer to the 20 year line.

The fourth and fifth infusions mysteriously remind me of nothing short of a Hong Cha! So rich and mouth filling with that hint of tannin. Even the liquor’s color belied its processing.

otreasure-hatThe sixth infusion went back to tasting more like Puer with a cedar flavor and a hint of an astringency along my tongue. It was still very drinkable though, and that’s with only about a two minute infusion.

Brewing this tea was quite a delight, all the way to the last drop. Many thanks to Global Tea Hut for bringing these leaves to the community. I hope to find more gems like this in the mysterious world of aged tea, and I hope you find some too.

Misty Peaks 2016 Mao Cha

Spring rain, dappled sunlight on leaves, and fresh tea: these things come together in my cup, a gift from the hundred hands of the earth.

Last month I received an exciting gift! Nicholas from Misty Peaks tea sent me a small package of their 2016 spring harvest. Misty Peaks is a unique and fascinating tea company. Where most vendors on the Internet sell various lots chosen from among hundreds of farms, Misty Peaks source their tea entirely from one family in Yunnan Province (the birthplace of tea in Southwestern China) and thus are able to guarantee a quality and artisanship that is remarkable. I feel very privileged to be able to drink and write about this tea so soon after its harvest.


The dry leaves I received are beautiful: large, long, and wiry. The package didn’t give a name for this tea apart from the harvest time, but I’d call this a spring Mao Cha (“raw tea”; see my other post on the topic for more information).

I used approximately 5g of leaf in my Jianshui Sheng puer pot (140ml) to infuse this tea. Once warmed, the aroma is like warm strawberry jam, like you might put over shortcake in summer. I nearly ate my pot.

misty-mao-cha-liquorThe liquor has the color of straw and gold. My first infusion, at about 30 seconds (with no rinse), has a flavor that is surprisingly light, but sweet and creamy with no bitterness at all. There’s a hint of peat in the aroma that makes me think of autumn leaves. The taste is very refreshing.

That first infusion was light enough that I revised my initial assumption of a young sheng puer that might make a bitter brew. So for the second and third, I bumped it up to about 45 seconds to see what it would do. The result was still light and sweet, with only a hint of astringency on the tongue. The fourth I pushed a bit with an infusion of about 1:20, and still it was mellow and satisfying, with only an increased astringent character and less sweetness to show for the “long” infusion. I enjoyed it so much I wished I had tried a longer infusion right off the bat!

misty-mao-cha-setupAfter first misjudging the capacity of this tea, I felt that a second tasting was required. To that end I waited several weeks and brewed it again, this time with a freer hand and less care for the time!

Again with no rinse, this first infusion was about 1:20 and I was rewarded for my patience!

Now the color is a deep amber and the aroma is fragrant like spring flowers. Today is wet with glimpses of sun on the tree buds and perhaps as a result I feel like I taste the sweetness of spring rain. The first three infusions are soft and comforting. I love how the huge leaves just melt under the hot water as each infusion begins.

misty-mao-cha-wetContinuing with this relaxed brewing, I made several more infusions at around two minutes and each one is like eating a sweet flower petal: gentle and a little bit musky. I made a total of four infusions with little change in this tea’s magic.

It’s a wonderful experience to have such a forgiving and smooth tea from so recent a harvest. I will be ordering a cake of this tea for my collection and paying closer attention to Misty Peak’s offerings in the future. But for now I’ll be paying attention to my cup, the sigh of the wind, and the warm glow of fading sunlight on the grass. May your Spring be as comforting.

2015 Laos Ban Komen Maocha

Today I found a package in my box of Sheng Puer that I haven’t yet opened (let’s be honest, there’s two boxes of Sheng Puer and many unopened packages, but I digress). This beauty is from my last trip up to Camellia Sinensis in Montreal. I remember having it recommended to me by one of their tea crew, and being intoxicated by the smell of the leaves. Much like the aroma of roasting oolong in Pinglin, the crisp fruity sweetness of Máochá brings back memories of walking around tea factories in Southern Yunnan.

Máochá is so fun to brew: toss a pile of it into a gaiwan and pour on the boiling water. The result? A golden cup of thick liquor with the taste of freshly cut hay. There’s also a floral component, like the sweetness of honeysuckle, that I find very comforting. A mineral overtone is unmistakeable, but it doesn’t result in a overly dry mouth feel.

That honeysuckle sweetness is more prevalent in this Laos tea than in other Máochá that I remember. It’s not really a perfume, but more a gentle sweetness that just tickles the senses.

So, if you’ve read this far and have no idea what kind of tea I’m drinking, maybe I should explain a little about Máochá (毛茶 or sometimes Mao Cha).

Máochá isn’t technically Sheng Puer (生普洱茶), even though it is often placed in that category. Literally it is something close to “raw tea”; the fresh tea picked from the large leaf varieties of Camellia sinensis that grow in the south-western region of China, or in this case, Laos. (Aside: It is always important to remember what Global Tea Hut wrote in their October 2015 issue: “tea regards no borders”. While you can talk about tea practices, production techniques, and preparation, the tea itself, “belongs to Nature”. Our political and social delineations of territory don’t mean anything to the tea plant, which just grows where it finds itself, and produces leaves that are adapted to its climate and terroir.)

laosmaocha-wet-2Most Máochá is steamed and then pressed into cakes, producing Puer as it ages. Some, however, is left raw, and this is the tea that a lot of the locals in Puer-producing regions drink as their daily beverage. Made with minimal processing, Máochá has very little in common with the Puer that much of it becomes, evolving much more like a Green, or even a White tea.

Characterized by large, wildly twisted leaves that glow with a green and gold energy, Máochá can harbor some delicious flavors that are not seen in any other tea category. In fact, I’d much prefer to think of Máochá as its own type of tea rather than trying to explain how it comes from a world of Puer, but acts like Green tea.

As I’ve written about before, most tea drinkers in the tea producing regions of China don’t drink tea gong-fu style, nor with western style strainers, but grampa style: just leaves in a jar with hot water. Máochá lends itself really well to this style of drinking. The massive leaves just melt as you pour in the water. It’s a beautiful thing. Máochá is great for every day drinking, and usually rather inexpensive compared to Sheng cakes from the same region.

Like other tea (outside the Hēi chá category), I’d say that Máochá is better within the first year after harvest. It can be aged, but in my experience the flavors can become overly dry and dull the older it becomes, unless aged very skillfully. I imagine that the process of pressing Máochá into Sheng Puer cakes offers the leaves some protection against the elements which the raw tea doesn’t have. Then again, I have tried fewer than six different Máochá in my time, so please conduct your own research and let me know!

1993 Blended Taiwanese Oolong

I wish I had a better name for this tea, but it’s a little bit of a mystery. A birthday present from my friend Ben, these leaves are a blend of various Taiwan-grown cultivars carefully aged since 1993.

This is such a fascinating tea! The flavors are very difficult to describe. Woody and earthy for certain, but not like a Shou Puer. This is more the woodiness that you get when munching on wild blueberries and a bit of stem or leaf ends up in your mouth. In fact, wild blueberries are a good metaphor for what I taste in my cup. Sweet and earthy with a light perfume.

93-blend-cupThe liquor is a golden orange in the cup, and has the aroma of a freshly toasted pie crust, hot out of the oven. Honestly, every time I smell the warm scents coming from this tea my brain is confused because they seem like a cross between the caramel roast of a Wuyi cliff tea (Yan Cha) and the fruitiness of lightly toasted Dong Ding.

The flavor reminds me a little of a 1982 Bao Zhong from Red Blossom (apparently I haven’t reviewed that one yet, but here’s a similar tea): sweet and fruity but also heavily roasted. I wasn’t able to find out exactly what leaves are in here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there’s a good quotient of tea from Pinglin, where Bao Zhong is made.

What a wonderful gift, and I bow humbly to Ben for his kindness, my cup of tea steaming in my hands.


Tea as Patience

I make a fair amount of tea during the average day. By the time some evenings roll around I’ve brewed three or four pots of different teas, each one usually three to six times. One thing that this practice has shown me is that not all tea preparation is equal. Many infusions end up being brewed while I’m working, reading something on the Internet, or having a deep conversation. The result? The tea becomes just another beverage.

That’s not my preference, of course. I’d much rather be aware of my tea making. Not only does a carefully, mindfully prepared cup of tea taste much better, the experience of making the tea itself becomes enjoyable. I’ve written about “tea as meditation” before, but today I was struck by one particular aspect: patience.

One of the most interesting and unique parts of making tea by hand is the steeping time. The way I see it, this single factor sets it apart from other artisan beverages like wine, beer, whiskey, etc. To make the best tea, we have to be very careful about how long the leaves sit in the water. Too long, and a bitter cup of tea results; too short, and a watery cup is what you get. While using a timer is almost essential when starting out, as familiarity develops the practitioner gains an intuitive sense of when to pour out the pot. Either way, we must wait, and wait, and wait, but not be distracted! Our awareness must remain on the tea as it sits there in silence. A vigil of the leaf.

While waiting for thirty seconds or two minutes can certainly be annoying at times, I see this as a wonderful part of the practice of tea! Annoyance, after all, only appears when we’d rather be doing something else. When it arises, I try to notice that it’s arisen by saying to myself, “well, now I am annoyed; how interesting! I want this tea to be complete so I can go do something. This is what restlessness feels like.” And then I wait, and wait, until the tea is ready.

I encourage everyone to try this practice! Being present with the emotions when we resist an experience can be very interesting indeed! And what a short meditation it is: the time it takes to steep a pot of tea. In many cases less than a minute! Better still, the result is not just learning about our own mind or cultivating patience, but we get a delicious cup of tea as the icing on the cake. If only all practices of meditation could have such a tangible reward.

Kabusecha and the Warm Teapot

The super rich, spinach-and-seaweed aroma of a Japanese green tea is the result of many different factors. One technique pioneered by Japanese tea farmers is the practice of covering some of their plants for a few weeks just before harvest. The covers are permeable mesh or bamboo, allowing only a little sunlight to reach the tea during this period. The result of this practice darkens the leaf as the plant tries to produce more chlorophyll in its attempts to reach the sun.

When these covered teas are harvested, they become either Gyokuro, the most savory of green teas; Tencha, used to make powdered Matcha; or Kabusecha, a unique form of Sencha that is a real treat for the senses.

A recent excursion allowed the purchase of some Kabusecha Saemidori from Camellia Sinensis tea house. I’m quite familiar with the covered Sencha served at Dobra tea room, and it’s always been one of my favorite green teas, but at most other tea shops I usually lean toward earthy Puer and heavenly Oolongs. I’m very glad that I made an exception here, and honestly I have to thank my wife and my good friends for picking this tea in the first place.

The dark green leaves are finely cut into medium-size pieces, as is typical for all but the most rare tea made in Japan. Gently infused with relatively very cool water (approximately 50-70 degrees Celsius) they produce a light pea-green liquor that just radiates happiness.

It’s not just the flavor, though.


Let me share with you my favorite part of this ritual. I’ve mentioned it before, but one of the great joys of brewing loose leaf tea is getting to experience the aroma of the warmed leaves, and this is doubly true for Sencha.

First, warm your tea pot. It doesn’t matter what kind of pot, although something with a mesh strainer is going to resulting infusion much more tasty. All you have to do here is pour hot water into the empty pot, let it sit for twenty seconds or so, then pour it out (you may as well warm your cups with the water when you’re done).

Next, pour in some tea leaves. If you want to measure, I’d say around six grams of leaf per 200ml of water, but I usually don’t bother. Roughly two tablespoons is a good rule of thumb. Also – and this is a point that ruined many pots of Sencha for me in the past – don’t use a teapot that holds more than 400ml of water. For Japanese tea especially, the infusion will need to be very careful, and large pots make this nearly impossible.

Now for the magic.


Just after adding the leaves, cover your tea pot with the lid, trapping the leaves in with the warm, moist air.

Then comes the reward! After letting the leaves sit in the warm pot for around a minute, carefully lift the lid and stick your nose in. (Fair warning: if you heated the pot with boiling water, there may be steam escaping and you definitely don’t want to stick your nose in that! So it’s best to lift the lid, let any steam escape, and then inhale.) The resulting aroma is a life experience in itself.

What if I don’t smell anything?

It’s worth mentioning that if your tea is getting old (more than a year since harvest) or if it has been stored with too much exposure to air or light (often the case for tea purchased from jars or in clear containers), you may not get much aroma. Fresh and vacuum sealed tea will provide the best experience, but you can always try to warm the pot with hotter water and leave the tea inside for a longer period if you don’t smell anything. Chances are that if you don’t get a blast of deliciously savory aroma from the damp leaves, the taste of the infusion may be dull and flat.

Assuming all goes well, steep your Sencha with warm (about 70°C) water for between 60 – 90 seconds. The exact count varies but you can solve this riddle by pouring out a small quantity of tea during the steep and tasting it to see if it’s ready. Be quick, though; a few seconds can make or break a Japanese tea!

Even though it’s a tricky style of tea to get perfect, I really encourage everyone to try their hand at Sencha. The resulting incredible flavor and aroma you just can’t find in any other tea. Be patient with yourself, and when you smell the tea, really let it pervade your senses. This is the communion with nature that tea brings to us. It is a gift of the leaf, and more than worth the effort needed to find it.