En Jie's Blog

Kung Fu tea vs English breakfast tea

Chinese tea setWe have been occasionally asked by surprised customers as why the Chinese teapots and accessories are much smaller in size in comparison to the traditional English teapots.

Tea in China is like wine in the west. The Chinese have had a love affair with their teas for more than two thousand years. After their discovery of this unique beverage, they invented all sorts tea ware and ways to explore and enjoy every aspect of it with all senses, to see, smell and taste.

A famous tea master from the Tang Dynasty, Lu Yi once put down this thumb of rule for tea brewing: Water – natural spring is the best; Fire – charcoal fire has the magic; Tea vessels – small ones are ideal.
Using a small Gong Fu tea set has the following benefits:

  1. Communal. A tea tasting section is often shared by a group, family or friends – great opportunity to chat, discuss or have a laughter. It is on opportunity to deliberately slow down (among the fast pace modern lifestyle) and appreciate some humanity like our ancestors did daily.
  2. Bring the best out of good teas. The Chinese believe the best teas are the ones freshly brewed and freshly served. A small teapot with frequent topping ups and serving minimises the chance of a tea being soaked and over steeped, where a bitter taste and rough texture is often introduced.
  3. Laying out the different layers and aspects of a tea. Premium teas have layers and angles that tea drinkers appreciate and enjoy. We often refer to them as tea tasting than tea drinking, for examples: shape, aroma and colour of dry leaves; aroma, colour, flavour, texture and aftertaste of a tea brew; the characteristics of the wet leaves after their brewing etc.
  4. Over and above, there is one distinctive character of a premium tea that is not talked a lot about, that is different infusions of a same tea have rather different natures in colour, taste and aftertaste. Only using a small teapot with frequent topping ups will allow these to be separated and appreciated individually.

A Gong Fu tea set therefore, apart from its authentic look and ceremonial significance, has also got its functional implications.


New Ban-Zhang vs Old Ban-Zhang

Ban-Zhang pu-erh cakeFor those who are used to drink Pu-erh teas, Ban-Zhang is probably the most familiar name around. Authentic and genuine old Ban-Zhang is considered as the king of Pu-erh with an astonishing price tag on the current market.

Some may have also come crossed these terms: Old Ban-Zhang and New Ban-Zhang.

Ban-Zhang was originally a name of a village

The name Ban-Zhang Pu-erh is named after the original Ban-Zhang village. The classic and traditional Chinese tea production style was as such: family based; the tea trees were planted around the villages, typically within walking distance; the tea trees were not marked, they somehow all knew which tea trees belonged to which families; tea leaves were harvested by family members, processed step by step in the family home under the supervision of the most senior and experienced ‘tea master’ of the family. 

The New Ban-Zhang is actually a split of the Old Ban-Zhang village

The earliest settlement of the New Ban-Zhang village was recorded as 1852. Some village families moved on and settled in this relatively new location which is about 7 kilometres from the Old Ban-Zhang village. The New Ban-Zhang is a village of the Ha-Ni minority group. It is believed that tea planation area (at the Old Ban-Zhang village site) that belongs to the New Ban-Zhang villagers is now free of human dwelling. To protect the area from any cross contamination from external sources (plants and tea leaves), the New Ban-Zhang villagers have set up road blocks to control the in and out traffics.  The tea trees around the current New Ban-Zhang village were however planted later, all about 40 plus years old.

The Old Ban-Zhang site tea trees are Bu-Lang species arbour tea trees. They have been growing under the super environmental conditions side-by-side along the ancient forest for hundreds, some over a thousand years. The tea leaves are big and strong and have stocked up plenty of the natural forest’s wild aroma and energy, felt through its dry leaves, tea brew and even the tea leaves after their brew. A main characteristic of Ban-Zhang is its ‘Cha Qi’ – the internal energy of the tea. The initial astringency turns into ‘Hui Gan’ shortly after the tea’s first ship and the ‘Cha Qi’ is felt throughout the body as a special warmth and sometimes light perspiration, although everyone reacts differently. 

The confusion between the name of a village and a Pu-erh tea

As indicated earlier, the New Ban-Zhang is referring to a restively new village settlement, but not the Pu-erh tea itself. Certain tea trees owned by these New Ban-Zhang villagers are those ancient tea trees around the old Ban-Zhang village, 1600m above the sea level. They are not different from the Old Ban-Zhang tea trees.

The New Ban-Zhang Pu-erh tea

The teas produced from the current New Ban-Zhang village site is known to have orchid style aroma, brightly yellow tea brew, light astringency which quickly turns into long lasting ‘Hui Gan’ (回甘) and capable of age and convert relatively quicker than some other teas.

With the word ‘new’ being part of its name, many tea drinkers misunderstand it as a new or young tea. Its market price has therefore always been behind the Old Ban-Zhang.

To me, maybe this is the ‘just right’, as I am always after value for money.


Questions and confusions associated with Pu-erh tea

There has been a recent resurgent interest in Pu-erh teas due to both its reported health benefits and some other factors such tradition and novelty.

Chinese Pu-erh TeaThere are however many confusions and questions among consumers. I have collected and listed some below:

  • What are the differences between raw and ripened Pu-erh?
  • Are all Pu-erh teas sold on the market aged as they are portraited?
  • Most of the pu-erh teas are labelled and named after the areas/mountains where the teas were harvested, what do they mean? And what are the differences?
  • Many fake products have been reported to have entered the market designed for undeserved financial gain. How to differentiate a genuine vs fake products? 
  • They are also new products (eg, Ya-Bao tea) merging designed to satisfy certain appetite for exotic and high end goods. Are they actually Pu-erh tea? Good or not so good?
  • Has Pu-erh tea aging process got no limit? What is the limit if there is one?
  • Have all Pu-erh teas got aging value?
  • What is the ultimate judge of the quality of a pu-erh tea? Price? Production place? Age?

The above list can grow by day. 

To facilitate to clarify some of the confusions, Valley Green Tea has recently created a Facebook chat group where consumers can post questions and answers, share experiences and opinions: https://www.facebook.com/groups/puerhtealovers

We would love you to join in for a chat.

I will also post some blog posts subsequently in the near future seeking to put my understanding and opinions on board.

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