We all make tea-purchasing mistakes. Some are small, some are large, but for me, they all end up in the same place. I had been stubborn about this one, but Hobbes’ recent post referenced an earlier experience with a damaged cake that convinced me to send this 2007 Changtai 7538 to the compost pile. I purchased it about a year and a half ago from China Cha Dao for a measly $8. You get what you pay for, I guess. The two tastes of the tea gave a strong and vile burning rubber aroma and flavor. Being stubborn, I had hoped the character would blow off. Finally, Hobbes’ description of a similar aroma convinced me it needed go decompose for awhile. I left the wrapper on as I’m curious to see how it returns to earth.
I’m still here, drinking tea and moving web servers. If anyone is having trouble accessing content, please contact me.
I’m waiting for that feeling to come back, that urge, that compulsion, that desire, to think about tea, to write about tea. About a month ago, I took a trip back to Michigan and visited some old friends, went birding, and drank good beer. And in the process, forgot about my digital tea life. My interest in participating in online tea culture practically vanished overnight. Sure, I’m still drinking tea, but I’m not obsessing about tea. I don’t entirely know what happened, but I think experiencing a connection to physical community and friends reminded me of how thin and vanishing the feeling of participating in an entirely online community can be.
At the moment, I have no plans of abandoning my tea practice or this blog. I just want to wait and see if my past interest in tea rekindles itself naturally. Alternatively, I could press on, force myself to sit and write and think, but as far as the Tao of Tea goes, that feels rather wrong. Until a new fire is lit, keep pouring, my tea friends, and I’ll see you on the other side.
Occasionally, I can cajole my phone into taking half-decent photos. I did so for the purpose of documenting these dimpled cups I made. I had hoped they would make good tea cups, but I’ve found them more suitable for sake, since they seem to stunt the aroma of tea. One thing this set reminds me of is the need to improve my consistency in thinness within a collection. I seem to have trouble doing that in groups of three and four.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I gifted a friend green tea samples from Life in Teacup. No tea order is complete, however, without some samples for myself (as well as some bonus samples from Gingko – I can’t remember which were which). Gingko has quite a selection of Long Jing and I thought it time to give some a try and get to know this famous variety a little better.
To explore, I began by brewing each sample in small quantities, side-by-side, using two methods, to see how each tea responded and to see what method I preferred. The methods were Gingko’s grandpa style and Brandon’s “Double Brew” style. After the first two teas, I decided the Double Brew was for me, upped the brewing vessel size and finished the last two in that manner. I really enjoyed the soft, very sweet, strong green flavors that develop with that gentler method. My taste in greens definitely leans Japanese, so those kinds of flavors were more apparent with the lower temperature brewing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the hotter and longer grandpa-style, it made good tea too, just different tea that didn’t quite fit my palate – more mineral, more water chestnut (I loathe water chestnuts), more firing expression.
Follows are my notes on the four teas as well as a few somehow-not-abomindable smartphone photos. My pick of the litter would have to be the 2011 pre-Qingming Da Fo, even though, as I note, I think the pre-Qingming Shi Feng is of a higher quality.
2011 Pre-Guyu Long Jing Village Shi Feng [9/12]
The two methods created very different results. The Double Brew was intensely sweet, subtle and airy. Delicate and fluffy. I really like this, it was akin to many Japanese greens and required concentration. The “grandpa” style also made a nice brew with this tea, a hearty, chunky thicker brew that released the dry chestnut edges of this tea. I think this leads me to a matter of preference. I generally don’t get that excited about those dryer, toasted, mineral-heavy notes in Chinese greens, so I’m interested in the method that produces a sweeter, softer brew.
2011 Pre-Qingming Da Fo – first day harvest [9/13]
My first Long Jing with puffballs! So excited! The constrast in flavors revealed by the two methods was very strong. While the warmer, Grandpa-style emitted artichoke and overcooked peas, with some lemon within, the Double Brew gave an intensely sweet brew, with soft, young Spinach and distant pine. What’s surprising to me is that the Grandpa-style method drained these leaves quickly, leaving them much less durable and more or less exhausted by the second steep. The Double Brew went on longer, continuing to yield a delightfully sweet, gentle beverage. Whatever method used, this is great Long Jing, in my estimation. I much preferred it to yesterday’s version and rank it as the best I’ve had. Very, very flavorful and nicely rich.
2011 Pre-Qingming 800m High Mountain – first day harvest [9/14]
A few fuzzies attached to the leaves, but not many. This particular tea has a lot going on for it, but, in my opinion, it isn’t quite as good as the Da Fo. There’s a lot of breadth here, but not as much depth. Some solid sweet corn, a bit of sweetgrass, and some light grain sugars. Nearly spicy notes kick up in the backend. A good tea, but not stunning.
2011 Pre-Qingming Long Jing Village Shi Feng [9/15]
I can sense that of the four Long Jings I drank, this one is probably regarded as being the best and having the highest quality. I’m not sure it’s my favorite, I think I preferred the Da Fo, but I would need to do a side-by-side of the two to be entirely conclusive. Again, a taste preference for the green, thicker, heartier qualities.This tea exuded delicate finesse, a bit of finicky resistance, and a balance of bittersweet and tropical fruit. Lots of lychee, pineapple, and pear came through and then was counterbalanced with an herbal, almost minty bittersweetness that cleaned the palate nicely. Not as sweet, not as supple, and definitely requiring more attention, as there was a tendency for bitter, even with the gentle double brewing.
This blog is going to be a lot less photographic for awhile, unfortunately. I am grateful that myself and my family made it through Irene safely, without any bodily harm, unlike others who sadly lost lives and property. However, during the hurricane, I frothed myself into a rare bird chasing frenzy, tripped over a parking lot cable and tumbled onto the pavement, with my camera in my pocket. The next day, I discovered the screen was cracked to the point it could not display an image. Fortunately, the camera is insured, but I now enter a lengthy period of beaucratic entanglement involving repair estimates, insurance claims, and some sort eventual settlement. In the meantime, my HTC Inspire will be standing in. Some people think these new smartphones take nice pictures. I think they take color-nightmare, cheap glass, pixelated garbage. My apologies for what gruesome images do appear here in the mean time.
My motivation for reviewing Essence of Tea’s 2011 Mannuo should be obvious. Essence of Tea is offering cakes of their Mannuo as prizes for posting reviews of their teas. I had been sitting on this recent purchase, waiting for a special moment. I’m glad some external motivation came along, because this is good tea that I enjoy drinking now. Following my now-regular two session run, this morning I cranked up the leaf ratio to 7g in 80mL from the 5g I use when I try a new tea. What’s interesting about this is that from a potency perspective, there’s absolutely no reason to use more leaf with this tea. I spent yesterday afternoon in a jittery, over-caffeinated tizzy. Somehow, though, the flavors and textures significantly benefit from the extra leaf, amplifying the intense honey, apricot, and hazlenut flavors and deepening the balance between supple sweetness and gripping back-palate bite.
Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of bud-heavy, super-tippy tea, preferring the complexity, roundedness, and vigor of large-leaf pu’er. The Mannuo is incredible bud-heavy and I love it. For me, this tea combines the fleeting, ephemeral lightness of say the ’11 Nannuo with the intense, alkaline power of the ’11 Bulang in a harmony that makes it both eminently drinkable and completely intriguing. And unlike my experience with the other ’11 EoTs, the qi on the Mannuo is upfront, quick, and deep in a way that’s pleasing, enveloping and enjoyable. I believe this tea lives up to both the cost and the early-sell-out hype that it garnered. And, I’m not just trying to suck up in hopes of snagging another cake.
The Half-Dipper – 2011 Essence of Tea “Mannuo”
The pieces of pottery which I come to love making the most are small cups. They’re immediately useful on the tea table, are surprisingly easy for me to craft, and have been fun fodder for experimenting with pattern and color. During my last session, I really got into one particular matte green glaze and ran with it on a number of pieces. The four cups below are now some of my favorites. Unfortunately, my absolute favorite, the large thin straight-walled piece with heavier glaze, suffered a fall and is now significantly chipped and broken. A good reminder of impermanance. I always neglect to provide a size comparison in my photos, something I need to remember to do in the future. The small cups hold about an ounce and the large ones four ounces.
After another family hurricane, this time my own, I can return to the tea table. Recovering from the storm surge on Friday, I was eager for something clean, potent, and fresh. Essence of Tea’s recent productions are a safe bet for these characters. Little did I know how potent the Bulang would be, despite warnings from Hobbes.
This tea is the darkest chocolate I’ve ever had. It’s also the most brutally potent tea I’ve ever had. The infusion timing for 5g in 85mL employed to prevent over-brewing was as follows: 3s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, 10s, 12s! I’ve never had a tea like this, although bulang bitterness is incredibly distinct, as it immediately reminds me of the nip of bitterness left in the 1997 Heng Li Chang Bulang. For me, the taste and texture experience on the front end of this tea is most akin to the finish on a 100% cacao super-dry, extra-dark alkaline heavy chocolate bar. Alkaline is really the absolute best word to describe this tea.
Once the potent alkalinity has been washed from the tea with almost a dozen infusions, it calms down a little and plays the role of sweet young, innocent sheng. There’s really nothing wrong with this tea, but the palate-crushing and immediate potency make it almost undrinkable at this age. Surprisingly, considering the mega-potency, this tea does not crush me with qi or caffeine.
The Half-Dipper – 2011 Essence of Tea “Bulang”
Essence of Tea – 2011 EoT Bulang
A quick session this morning, as I wrap up a two-day meeting with the Mengsong mini-bing. Seasonal bounty is upon us, as our garden yields a spectral array of tomatoes. In the next few weeks we’ll need to dig the potatoes. We’re off soon to forage in the rural Rhode Island landscape for ripe raspberries and peaches, two things I could not possibly eat enough of when they’re in season. Before then, some cooling, yellow tea.
This Mengsong is such a stark contrast to the Hekai, both in processing and origin character. This is a cleaner, less-orange tea, with much more potency and strength. So much so that I find myself dialing back the leaf a little this morning. Creaminess dominates this tea. A rich, fruit flesh with whipped cream comes to mind, balanced by bright, fresh minty bitterness. In the back of the throat, strong sweetness returns – I love this character. Enjoyable, but requiring a more delicate hand, as it can get rather bristly if pushed.
The Half-Dipper - 2009 Zhimingdu “Bada”, “Mengsong”, “Bulang”
A post over at TeaChat lead me to this article on “Exposure and risk assessment for aluminum and heavy metals in Puerh tea” from the journal Science of the Total Environment. It looks like a very reputable journal (an impact factor of 3.190 is very good) and the bottom line of the abstract says:
However, probabilistic estimation of carcinogenic risk shows that the 95th percentile carcinogenic rate of arsenic in Puerh tea approaches the accepted risk level of 10− 4 for the highest exposure group. Therefore, the arsenic in Puerh tea is of concern.
…which leads me to dig deeper, since I’m not too keen on gobbling arsenic. The question here is what is the “highest exposure group”? Before I get to that, I’ll go through some interesting details of the article to look at their methods, so we may be able to compare what they studied with our own drinking habits. I’m going to try and leave out most of the boring statistics and health threshold information.
Basically, the authors sought to assess the health risk and exposure to heavy metals through drinking both kinds (shu and sheng) of puerh. To do this, they examined the exposure to drinkers from two cities in the region where pu’er is produced: Puer City and Kunming. They collected 36 loose puerh tea samples (17 shu, 19 sheng), 8 fresh leaf samples, and 8 soil samples. Obviously, there’s a lot of information left out here on the tea samples themselves. What factory were they made by? How old were they? How had they been stored? Was it plantation or arbor tea? Was it even pressed pu’er or was this straight maocha? There’s a lot of potential variability here that reduces the usefulness of this study to some tea drinkers, but it’s worth continuing on, because I think the sample size is large enough and they collected fresh leaf and soil samples.
One interesting tidbit about the difference between shu and sheng in the study is that the authors found that:
Concentrations of all studied elements in Puerh
fermented tea are a little higher than those in Puerh raw tea,
except for Cd.
The authors later go on to suggest that additional heavy metals are likely introduced through the fermentation process, additional processing, and water used.
To get a sense of how much of a metal may be consumed, the authors quantified how much tea was being drunk. Surveying 109 participants from Kunming and 110 from Puer City to gathered information on: amount of dry leaves, water volume per time, and number of infusions. They then used this information to calculate daily intake of dry tea leaves, which could be used to calculate how much heavy metal was being consumed. The formula is:
daily intake of dry tea leaves = daily intake of tea infusion * (amount of dry tea leaves / (water volume per time * times of infusion))
As we all know, this is a highly variable process, dependent on temperature variation, estimated timed steeped, estimated amount of dry tea leaves, and how much of the infusions actually get consumed. I’ll come back to this at the end.
The authors provided interesting statistics on how much tea was consuming in each city. Kunming drank averages of 369mL of shu and 270mL of sheng and Puer City drank averages 688mL of shu and 835 mL of sheng! However, they calculated leaf ratios per 1000mL of water and found that Kunming used 9.7g for shu and 6.8g for sheng and Puer city used 6.5g for shu and 5.6g for raw. 1000mL seems like a lot of water and some weak tea, but those are the numbers the authors provided.
Evaluating Exposure and Risk
The authors used two formulas to evaluate risk in a determinate way (using additive methods and existing data) as opposed to the second, probabilistic method they employed, which I don’t understand very well and which isn’t as useful for us, but will be mentioned below, as it was how they found supposedly alarming rates of Arsenic consumption.
The first formula was for Hazard Quotient (HQ), measured in mg/kg/day. If your HQ is less than 1, your unlikely to experience obvious adverse effects from exposure.
HQ = Average Daily Exposure / Daily Intake Reference Dose
The Average Daily Exposure (ADD) is the average daily intake of metals and can be calculated with the following formula. The Daily Intake Reference Dose comes from the EPA.
ADD = (Mean Concentration of Heavy Metals (mg/kg) * Consumption Rate (kg/day) ) / Body Weight (kg)
Theoretically, using the formula for HQ, you can calculate your own exposure risk with the following data from the study. Don’t forget to convert grams consumed into kilograms! Tables appear to be a challenge in WordPress, so please excuse the three long lists.
Reference Dose (mg/kg/day)
Study Findings: Fermented (mg/kg)
Study Findings: Raw (mg/kg)
For example, if I wanted to calculate my risk of exposure to Arsenic (As), based on the 7.5 g of sheng (converted to 0.0075 kg) I drank yesterday, I could do the math and find that my HQ for that metal is 0.00000006. Pretty safe. It helps that I’m not a small man.
They used a second equation, Hazard Index, which adds together the HQs for all the metals. The authors say:
In summary, even for the exposure group with the
largest HI value, the HI value was below 1, indicating that there is no significant non-carcinogenic health risk from metals due to drinking of Puerh tea.
You’ll probably note the usage of “non-carcinogenic.” Metals can also have a cancer-risk associated with them. This is where the concern for Arsenic comes in. Their more advanced probabilistic method indicated that Arsenic may have been above safe levels for men living in Puer City, who consumed 11.26 g/day. All research, however, uses assumptions that may not be correct.
Exceptions and Limitations
The authors note:
all aforementioned results in this paper are based on the
assumption that tea drinkers absorb all metals contained in the
tea leaves. In reality, most people drink the tea infusion and discard the tea leaves, and only some of the metal present dissolves in the water.
This assumption that 100% of the metal makes it into the drinker is completely false. They discuss transfer rates for infusion, with each metal having a different rate, most based on green tea studies and indicating high variability dependent on brewing time, temperature and pH. They suggest that Arsenic’s transfer rate may be around 23.8%-32.9%. With this in mind, they say that:
the risk of As in Puerh tea is thought to be less than one third
of that estimated above.
Looking at the other metals, they also note that rinsing the tea reduces the risk to some metals even more significantly:
In our survey, 89.6% of the inhabitants of Kunming and 93.3% of the inhabitants of Puer had the custom of washing tea by discarding the quickly brewed first infusion and drinking tea from the second infusion. This practice should further lower the risk of exposure to Al, Cu and Zn.
At this point, I’m not too worried anymore and think the the authors maybe shouldn’t even be making claims about potential carcinogenic Arsenic problems in pu’er without accounting for these variability in transfer rates and actual consumption of the heavy metals. An interesting bottom line, however, is that you should always rinse your pu’er and don’t eat the leaves if you’re worried about heavy metals!
Hongbin Cao, Li Qiao, Hui Zhang, Jianjiang Chen, Exposure and risk assessment for aluminium and heavy metals in Puerh tea, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 408, Issue 14, 15 June 2010, Pages 2777-2784.