Friday, February 1, 2008

Roy Fong Tea Class

Did you miss me? It feels good to be back at it again.

On January 30th, The Republic of Tea brought Roy Fong to our store to teach a tea class for employees. He sources their higher quality teas, including the ones that were offered exclusively to us.

I was like a kid before Christmas all day, waiting for the class to start.

Roy Fong was great. He was friendly, funny, and humble, quiet; he kept to himself before the class started. But mostly he was a Tea Guy, not unlike my fellow tea bloggers and tea chatters and myself. Throughout the class he was asked the same questions we are all asked, "What do you think about tea bags?" and "How do you feel about sweeteners?" and what not. He answered how most of us do: However you like your tea is great; there is no "right" way. But how 'bout you keep that nonsense away from my tea.

The class was only an hour and a half. He talked at first about the history of tea, its evolution from the Tang to Song to the Ming Dynasties. In the Song Dynasty, tea in China was not at all unlike Matcha, a carefully produced tea powder that was whisked in a bowl. It was the Ming Dynasty that brought us the full leaf tea we enjoy now. What I didn't know was that this change was brought about by the first Ming emperor, who was a peasant. He felt China had had enough of this pretentious, powdered poppycock, and it was time to move on to something else, something less wasteful.

Other tid bits I learned were from listening to how he pronounced certain words. He said yixing with a y instead of ee-shing, and long jing was long ching.

He also talked about different ways of tasting tea, holding the tea in your mout and dipping the tip of your tounge in it, or touching the tip of your tounge to the roof of your mouth then sipping tea. The idea being to expose different taste buds in different ways.

It was such a blast to just watch him. This was the first time I was able to have tea with another Tea Guy. I tried to absorb as much as I could. He was so casual, reaching into tins and picking out handfuls of tea.

We only had time for four of the six teas he brought.

The leaves smelled more fruity than nutty. He brewed it gong fu style and mixed the first and second infusions into a sharing pitcher. The tea itself was light, fruity then vegetal, had ubiquitous elements I seem to taste in almost every Chinese green tea I try.

This one suprised me. The leaves had notes of sugar of all things. He used hotter water than I do, 200 degrees. The tea was grasy, and there was something different, something I couldn't place; I only had a little tasting cup. My last sip I thought "milk."

It smelled like Jasmine. It tasted like Jasmine.

Moving on.

Sheng Puerh (Menghai?)

This was the last tea he did, and I'm glad he got to it. It was one of the teas that started it all. Roy must brew this better than I do, better than Bill did, and better than Curtis, the TRoT rep who sold it to us, because it didn't suck. That or its a different sheng pu.

There was a hint of camphor in the dry leaves. The tea was cooling, mild, pleasant, light; he purposely brewed it light, and I couldn't tell if further steepings would reveal the thoroughly harsh pu that I had previously encountered.

I did get to snag a picture of the wraping. Unfortunately I don't speak puerh wrapper. Can someone finally tell me what this tea is?

As I said, Roy was great. Republic of Tea on the other hand hasn't changed. After the class I spoke with the Minister of Education, and asked her why they were packaging a Formosan oolong as Wuyi. She said that was "interesting" and that she "would get back to me on that." Then she walked away to find someone else to talk to.

I will leave you with a short video of Roy talking about rinsing and gong fu.


Salsero said...

Well, we certainly did miss you! as well as on TeaChat. But you sure came back with a bang. Very interesting to get your impressions of Roy Fong and really a luxury to actually see a video of him at work. He seems just as you describe him.

Wes Crosswhite said...

Words are priceless. A picture is worth a 1000 words. A video is worth a million.

Thanks for bringing that to our eyes, Alex.

About the powdered tea the Chinese used to drink, I believe it was essentially powdered pu-erh. You can imagine how that might taste. mmmMMmm.

Bret said...

I might be wrong but to me its pretty obvious, the puerh in question looks to be CNNP Yellow Label. It says so right there on the wrapper. No translator is necessary.

Bret said...

P.S., has this tea in a couple of different vintages. The 2004 357 gm. cake sells for $19.80. As a matter of fact I'm expecting an order from any day and that's one of the cakes that I ordered.

Space Samurai said...

Thank you, but what's a China National Native Product? I've heard the term before, but I'm not sure what it applies to. And yellow label?

Well, there's google...

Bret said...

I cant really answer your questions. I think CNNP is kinda like the Starbucks of Puerh. Its one of the most common readily available Puerhs out there. I know lots of people are into finding really hard to find obscure teas from some very specific vintage, but for me all that's not worth the trouble. CNNP, Menghai and Haiwan are all very good tea company's that offer just about any flavor profile you could be looking for. I really like Haiwans Tribute cooked cake. Very full bodied, slightly woodsy and sweet. Not meaning to be offensive or anything but asking if anybody knows what this is? Is kinda like asking if anyone recognizes a can of Folgers coffee.

Space Samurai said...

Well thanks, Bret, I was just kind of curious.

I know the basics of puerh, and I have had just enough experience with puerh that has found its way to me to have an idea of the difference between good and bad pu, but other than that, I don't know mucha about it at all. People like Marshal or Hobbes or Bill are light years beyond me

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Salsero said...

"irregardless" is not a word. :-) You meant to say "regardless".

Aren't wives helpful?

Bret said...

As I said, I'm really not trying to be offensive. I don't know why but it kinda irks me to read tea blogs of people going to so much trouble to acquire some tea from some really remote, obscure tea maker who only employs one eyed guatemalan lesbians or something to pick there tea. Very high quality tea is readily available. Its not hard to find. Buy from reputable dealers and everything usually is fine. As for good pu/ bad pu, its all subjective. I'm not saying there isn't "bad" tea out there but just because I don't like something doesn't necessarily mean its "bad". There, I'm never going to rant about this again. I'm also glad to see you've discovered Ive been buying tea and tea ware from them for a long time and am always very pleased w/ my purchase.

Space Samurai said...

Hi Bret,

Well, thanks for your feedback. You comment frequently on the blog,and comments are great.

I don't know if this post touched on the subject that irks you, or if you just missunderstand.

I only ever wanted to know what this puerh is because of my job.

Perhaps I was too vague, so I will repeat the story here.

Last year Rep of Tea approached our stores with a line of exclusive and very expensive tea (200 lb.) that Roy Fong sourced for them. At the time I knew much, much less about tea, or I would have declined from the beginning.

Later, I started asking questions about their puerh. They were very close-mouthed about it and treated us at the store with a certain amount of disdain. At the same time I learned that their $200/lb "Kings Jewel" was just a basic lan gui ren. Because of this, their attitude, and that the sample of the pu I sent out were receiving a negative review, we stopped carrying it. So they brought Roy Fong out.

I don't give an honest rat's ass about puerh. It's fun to play around with, nice to have on the menu, and a good change of pace, but I am not this type of person or blogger you are ranting about.

My interest was piqued in this tea because they were so secretive about it, and now that I had a label, I was excited for a chance to find out.

So, all that being said, I don't see how what you are saying applies to what I am saying. No offense, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't use my blog as a place to rant.

Personally, if procuring an uber rare vintage picked by one-eyed lesbians does it for someone, more power to them. At this point, I have encountered far too many tea, wine, and food snobs to give a shit how people drink their tea, or what aspects of that tea gets them off.

Unknown said...

I like Salsero. He receives my seal of approval. :-)

Salsero said...

Oh, boy, now I am really in trouble!

MarshalN said...

Nice to see you back!

To answer the question:

CNNP was the national monopoly that traded in all forms of produce (China was communist, remember). Up until about 10 years ago, every puerh cake was produced under the CNNP label (minor exceptions exist -- we won't get into that). The label is still being used today, although since the monopoly was broken, anybody with a printing press can basically use it, trademark copyright being what they are in China. It doesn't mean much of anything in terms of quality for anything produced after 1995, as large variations exist in their production, etc

This particular cake ... sure, it's got a yellow word for tea in the middle, but it definitely is not a Yellow Label, which is really only referring to the 1970s ones. There are others that have since used the yellow mark, but again... they don't mean much of anything. My guess is that this is a cake from the mid 90s, when a bunch of them were produced with a yellow word in the center (as opposed to the more common green), but this is pretty much a wild guess since there's no other piece of info to rely on. You can get into some really minute detail to try to date the thing, mostly focusing on subtle differences in the font, typeset, etc, but that's really not my thing to bother about...

Space Samurai said...

Awesome, thanks for your help. :)

jfeng702 said...

He probably said long ching because of his dialect, which i suspect is cantonese judging from his american accent. but the hanzhou people speak mandarin and pronounce it longjing