After several years absence, Xi Zi Hao new offerings are back on Hou De! Yes the prices are still high, the quantity is still rare, but we simply cannot resist the opportunity to acquire the crème de la crèmeof pu-erhs.Please click the album below to see the selected 6 offerings that will be soon on Hou De:
You can find the complete list of XZH 2013 offerings (in Chinese) in the following links:
Aged oolongs are so precious. Thinking how unlikely for the teas to age "safely" for 30 or 40 years without being consumed, trashed, or damaged, you would know they deserve our utmost attention in brewing and serving.
I am here to share with you my brewing method that has suited me well.
There are some keys to bring out the best of your aged oolongs, to prevent failures or waste.
Key#1 : A Quality Time - You don't want to multitask here. The brewing time we are going to talk is measured in seconds. Any distraction will easily make you over-steeping your tea. So, don't start unless you are sure of being able to spend a quality time with your tea, like 10 minutes.
Key#2: Teaware - You can get good results with either teapot or gaiwan. Although smaller size (like < 150cc) will likely make more efficient steeping - less amount of teas required, easier to control, you can make good teas as long as you pre-warm the teapot/gaiwan like we did here. Aroma cup helps you to enjoy the aroma of the tea separately from enjoying the taste of the liquor - and you should try to smell the aroma cup at it gradually cools down to experience the layers of teas' fragrance.
Key#3: Water Temperature - Boiling water, especially for the first or second steeping. Sometimes you will find the aged oolongs (or, any aged teas) act quite stubborn - kind of refusing to open up. Boiling water really helps to open up the teas and brings out the aroma. You may use slightly cooler (like 200F) water in following steepings. But I like to use boiling water all the way. Suggested Brewing Method:- 6 gram dry leaves to 100cc boiling water
- (Optional) A quick rinse with the boiling water
- 1st and 2nd steeping: 45 seconds
- 3rd and 4th steeping: 50 seconds
Then add 5 seconds to each following steeping. I can usually go to 7th or 8th steeping easily.
You may find the best aroma/taste happen in the 2nd~5th steepings. With later steeping, you may get "sweeter" feeling in the liquor, especially with aged bao zhong.
Same brewing suggestion can be applied to aged pu-erhs as well, except I may use 5 gram to 100cc boiling water.
In the end, you should fine tune the suggested method to best suit your taste.
WAIT! Before you dump the used teas, I like to boil them in a kettle or saucepan to squeeze out the last bit of juice, then enjoy hot, cool or icy! You may be happily surprise how much it still left.
Last summer we planted some slips of sweet potato (Japanese kind, red on the outside and creamy white on the inside) in a raised bed in our backyard, mainly for its healthy edible leaves. We harvested many leaves, but in the end only a couple sweet potatoes.
The in the spring this year, without doing anything, many new shoots coming out of the same raised bed. We had a TONS of leaves, much more than we could ever swallow. So we shared with friends around. Into November in Houston, several cold days suddenly turned those leaves yellow.
We make compost from kitchen waste. Occasionally we get chicken manure from a friend to add to the compost.
Last weekend I decided to refresh the raised bed for next year by digging out whatever underneath. What a surprise! I had to ask help of my elder daughter Renee to join the digging team. I guess nothing can make a kid more happy if he/she is encouraged to get hands totally dirty : )
Love our sweet potatoes. How can it not be recognized as a Super Food especially the whole plant is edible and super tasty? Did I mention the super Digging Fun available for the whole family?
Edible leaves of sweet potatoes (Not potatoes!) seem not enjoy as a wide popularity in Western culture as it is in Asian communities. Some research have shown the leaves are one of the most detoxifying food, especially helpful for people with constipation problem. Give it a try, you may find you like it!
So here it was. A very aged bao zhong, fooled me enough to make me think it is an aged pu-erh. But only half jar left on Mr. Lu's shelf.
To solve my misery, Lu gave me phone# of a friend of his. Whom I was told survived a bad oral cancer and surgery, and since then became an avid collector of aged oolongs and, occasionally, aged pu-erhs.
Couple days later, I met Mr. Chen in his house. Another candyland for tealovers! Small jars lined up on shelves, with bigger jars stood wherever they can find an empty space. Mr. Chen told a story about how he survived the cancer surgery/treatment nearly 10 years ago, and since then has searched high and low for aged teas. Why?
"Because all other teas, newer teas, are too harsh and astringent for me."
He started with collecting aged pu-erhs. With the price of pu-erhs went sky-rocketing in later years, he found a paradise in Taiwan's own aged oolongs. He found initially he could only stand aged oolongs older than 30 years old. With health gradually improved, he can now enjoy oolongs of 20 something.
In the end, I selected one 70's bao zhong that totally rivaled the one from Mr. Lu, one 70's tie guan yin, a 90's Liu Bao, and a 90's oriental beauty that has only 1lb. We will soon offer the two 70's oolongs and Liu Bao on Hou De.
Our brewing suggestion for Taiwan’s high-mountain oolongs:
The dry leaves: The first step to a proper brewing experience is to understand the dry leaves as much as you can. Is it hand-harvested or machine-harvested? Is it roasted? What’s the roast degree? Is it aged? How old? Is it oxidized? What degree? How dry are the leaves? How tight are the leaf pellets, etc.
These are the information you should be provided when making purchases. At least in Hou De we do. You can generally tell by looking at the dry leaves to see if they are hand-harvested or machine-harvested. Sometimes “competition” oolongs may look like machine-harvested because of the additional de-steming step by hands.
Hand-harvested oolongs usually tend to have their aroma and taste “wake up” slower than machines-harvested ones, because of the more complete leaf system and tighter structure. The later is usually a result of a more “juicy” leaves that bind together better. So when you face a hand-harvested oolong, especially high quality ones like Li-Shan, A-Li-Shan or Shan-Lin-Shi oolongs, be ready to have a less aromatic first brewing or increase the first steeping by 5 to 10 seconds. Machine-harvested oolongs are more straightforward, but have less brewing durability than hand-harvested ones.
If the oolong is roasted, oxidized or aged, it may need a longer steeping time, and better with a higher water temperature throughout the brewings. The more roasted degree / older / more oxidized, the longer the first steeping and water temperature should be.
Also, check the dryness of the leaf pellets. Hold one pellet between fingers and crush it. A properly dried and fresh high-mountain oolong leaves should be crushed easily. If not, either the drying step during processing was not done properly, or the leaves have absorbed moisture due to storage. In this case, we will need to refreshen the leaves by a roaster/mini dryer, or contact your vendor.
Amount of leaves/Steeping time: For the pellet-shaped Taiwan oolongs, putting in 1/4 of the total depth of your teapot is generally a good start. For more “gong-fu” purists, 1/3 usually works.
Water temperature for high-mountain oolongs, I usually use ~205 deg F (slightly less than boiling). First-steeping is 30 seconds, the 2nd , 3rd and the 4th steepings are all 20 seconds. After that, increase 10 seconds to every following steeping.
If you put in 1/3 of leaves, first-steeping is 25 second, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th steepings are all 15 seconds. After that, increase 10 seconds to every following steeping.
A colder water temperature should match with a slightly longer steeping time, and vice versa.
If you are not familiar with such tiny-teapot and quick-steeping way, I strongly encourage you to try it. Instead of getting one big mug of tea, you unveil the complexity and quality of the precious oolong, layer after layer, in each individual steeping. It’s exciting to see how the aroma and taste profile change from one cup to another, and to test how many steepings this oolong can last!
Air-tight lid by water-seal: Because of the quick-steeping nature, a small-sized (100~200cc) teapot becomes very convenient. One tip to achieve a better aroma is to create an air-tight condition around the rim of lid/top opening by water-seal. You can do this by slightly overflow the water when pouring. When you close the lid, the water seals the rim and makes sure the aroma stay inside the pot.
If you are like Mr. Lin Kean Siew who likes to use a bigger teapot (> 300cc), you can create the water seal by pouring hot water over the teapot after you close the lid. A key to use a larger teapot is to pre-warm the body by rinsing with hot water before putting in dry leaves.
End of brewing: At the end of brewing, you will see the tea leaves expand to fully occupy the content of the teapot. It’s common for a good quality High-Mountain oolong to give you more than 8 wonderful steepings, and maybe 10 or more. You can play with the unfurled leaves: putting them in you hand, and using your fingers to feel the softness, thickness and flexibility of the leaves. Look carefully to confirm the information you initially had: harvesting method, roasting / oxidation degree, freshness / age, etc. You will be able to fine tune your brewing parameters next time you enjoy the same oolong.
Especially if you use an yixing teapot, you should clean the teapot inside out thoroughly by rinsing with hot water and leave it on a shelf to dry naturally. Some people suggest not to clean the yixing teapot so as to get faster seasoning effect. I don’t like the idea. I prefer a clean, albeit a bit slower, and lasting seasoning effect.
Lastly, I want to emphasize that this suggestion is just a starting point to begin your adventure. You may find a 195deg F water with a slightly longer steeping time works better, or you may find plus/minus 5 seconds steeping from this suggestion produce better cups. You need to try and adventure yourself.
Please let us know if this format of brewing suggestion is effective. Any idea as what to change/how to improve. I will post brewing suggestion for other types of teas like Wuyi, dancong and pu-erhs shortly.
In October, I went back to Taiwan. To see my parent and friends, and also hunted for new tea or teaware treasures.
I visited the ceramic artist, Mr. Lu, who made those nice wood-fired Shino Glas teaware as we offered on Hou De. His workshop was like a candyhouse for tea lovers ... not only I got to see many of his artware and teaware, but also jar after jar of different teas! From aged pu-erhs to wuyi yen cha, you name it and he probably has one or a couple jars of it somewhere. And he used only spring water from Yang Ming Shan region.
Sometimes we chatted so loud, that I forgot to pay attention to what tea he was serving (we tried probably more than 10 different kinds of tea from his jars). Suddenly, I paused and sniffed, and sniffed and took a sip.
Guang: What kind of aged pu-erh are we trying (I thought I was drinking Hong Yin or some 60's pu-erh)? Lu: Ha ha ha ... you are so wrong. This is Taiwan's lao (aged) bao zhong lah. Guang: .......
I have had lao Taiwan oolongs before. Even offered several lao oolongs on Hou De. But this one totally fooled and mesmerized me! I got to have it. But Lu only have a half jar. He introduced me to a friend of his who have been collecting lao Taiwan oolongs for years.
Later I learned why this lao bao zhong was different from what I have had before: it is old enough (70's stuff) to be so different. And the storage of it amplifies the difference. But how lao bao zhong would converge to the grand feeling of aged pu-erh is still surprising, if not puzzling.