Thank you for coming onboard Parchmen & Co and travel with us to savour our world in a cup!
We aim to bring tea drinkers into the world of very fine and exclusive teas. These teas used to be inaccessible to commoners in time gone by, but today we are able to bring it to you via our network of sourcing direct from the farms and our friendship with the producers.
In the month of the Chinese New Year, we are featuring a green tea, wulong tea and ripe puer tea, namely:
- 2023 Pre-Qingming Anji Huang Jin Ya Grade 1 明前安吉黄金芽一级 10g
- 2023 Vietnam Hien Minh The Autumn Symphony wild wulong tea 10g
- 2008 Bingdao Ripe Pu'er 冰岛熟普洱 10g
Anji is a county in Huzhou, which is known for its silk industry and its history as one of the birthplace of silk production. Anji is famous for its production of Anji Bai Cha - literally translated to Anji White Tea - which we have carried on our list for a few years. Another tea that is gaining attention from Anji is its Huang Jin Ya - literally translated to Yellow Golden Tippy. As much as Anji White Tea is not a true white tea, neither is the Huang Jin Ya a yellow tea. In fact, both are green teas. They are so named because of the colours on their leaves during budding. Notably, Anji Bai Cha grows whitish looking tender leaf buds, while Huang Yin Ya grows yellowish buds. These visual characteristics follow the tea into the dried and brewed forms as well, teasing the tea drinker on what exactly they are. They are known for their higher levels of theanine as compared to other teas. An amino acid, theanine carried the tea identifier of 'thea' because it was only found in Camellia sinensis for a sustained period of time after its discovery. In the taxonomy of the tea plant, the tea family is named as theaceae, with the root word of 'thea' the Latin spelling of tea's Hokkein pronounciation of 'teh'. Usually tea cultivars develop theanine levels of 3-4%. The Anji Bai Cha has 5-7% theanine, while the Huang Jin Ya has up to 9% theanine. As theanine is sweet and umami, you can expect the Huang Jin Ya to be smooth without much astringency.
In Zhejiang province, there are two places producing Huang Jin Ya - Ningbo and Anji. It was generally agreed that the Anji teas are more superior in terms of fineness of flavour. Our tea today is grade 1 from Anji. Grade 1 means it is a later harvest, such that the tea leaves have grown longer. The theanine will be lower than Special Grade but still obvious as compared to other teas. It also indicates the less stringent standards in removing stems, oxidised leaves and leaves of non-standard sizes.
We are brewing this tea in our Parchmen glass gaiwan, at 3g to 120 ml of 70°C distilled water, for 30 sec. The brewed leaves turn a golden yellow, with chicken stock as overtone and aroma forward on marigold. The brew has crystalline sugar cane sweetness, and is smooth with medium light body from hot to cold. The vegetal character associated with green tea is not obvious. It can brew twice at the same parameters.
Our second tea today is a wild wulong tea from Ha Giang, north of Vietnam, where it is famous for its grandiose mountain landscape. Peppered with tea villages and tea homestay, it is a location of retreat and peace. Tea harvested from such a terrains are usually called Shan Tuyet. Shan means mountain and tuyet means snow. Not that there is snow in the mountains, it gets its name from the white color of the buds' hair when the leaves are getting dried.
Entirely made by hand by the husband-wife team of Hien Minh Tea House, this tea is one of their outstanding products in the autumn season of 2023. Bathed in a sunny summer when it was also windy and rainy, the tea buds that grew in autumn was exceptionally floral, with its time under long sunny hours revealed in pleasant astringency and bitterness. With such interesting features, Hien Minh has chosen medium oxidation for this tea to manage the flavour profile while highlighting the aromatic qualities. Specifically on withering, it was first withered for a short while in the sun on bamboo racks, followed by a longer time under shade. Closely monitored minute by minute, the oxidation is stopped when the desired aroma is detected.
The dry tea is broad and wiry, and smells like sour plum. We are brewing this tea in the Parchmen Glass Gaiwan, at 3g of tea to 120ml of 90°C distilled water, for 60 sec. The brewed leaves smell of lemon, peaches and honey, alongside the sour plum notes. With a golden shimmering color, a soft fluffy texture gradually spreads throughout the mouth, then a creamy flavor emerges with notes resembling Oriental Beauty tea - think honey, fruits and forest air. It ends with a mild and pleasant bitterness at the back of your throat and a soy milk aroma, inviting you to take another sip. As the taste keeps thickening, the mouth welcomes it by salivating. The long-lasting sweet finish is an indispensable feature of the ancient highland tea. The teamaker named this tea The Autumn Symphony because of the spectrum of flavours and colours culminating to a harmonious flavour, just like the works of an orchestra. You can brew this tea up to three times. We recommend drinking this tea with a wider teacup to experience the full spectrum of flavours.
The last tea is a ripe pu'er tea from Lincang (临沧) of Yunnan Province. In discussing pu'er tea, there are generally three board areas - Mengla (勐腊县), Menghai (勐海县) and Lincang (临沧). Tribute teas were produced at the six historical tea mountains (古六大茶山) on the east of Lancang River (澜沧江), also known as Inner Tea Mountains (of the Lancang River, 江内六大茶山). These mountains are generally in Mengla. Since 1980s, Hong Kong and Taiwan merchants returned to Yunnan and rediscover ancient villages from these six historical regions as well as villages on the west of Lancang River which have continued to produce teas in the historical manner. These newfound mountains on the west of Lancang River are adjacent to the Inner Tea Mountains, hence are known as New Tea Mountains (新六大茶山) or Outer Tea Mountains (江外六大茶山) and are generally in Menghai. Further north is Lincang, which is named for its proximity to Lancang River on its east, with 'lin' denoting proximity and 'cang' referring to Lancang River.
At 4,900 km, Lancang River flows out of Qinghai and empties into the South China Sea at Vietnam as the famous Mekong River. Northwest of Lincang City is another river – 3,300 km Nu River (怒江), which flows out of Tibet. West of Lincang City is Bangma region (邦马) where the Great Snow Mountain (邦马大雪山) is the watershed between Lancang River and Nu River.
The tea villages on the west of Lancang River are located along mountain ranges and villages that have gained international fame recently for producing teas of astronomical value - Bang Dong (邦东) which includes Xi Gui (昔归), and Bang Ma Da Xue Shan (邦马大雪山) which includes Bing Dao (冰岛/丙岛/扁岛), the darling of pu'er teas. As a case in point, in 2018, one kilogram of Bing Dao unsorted tea from young trees are selling at SGD 600, one kilogram of Bing Dao unsorted tea from older trees of at least 50 years old are selling at SGD 1,400 and one kilogram of Bing Dao unsorted tea from ancient trees (usually 100 years) are selling at SGD 8,000. Such prices would have matched the prices of royal tribute teas of all times, if not very much overmatch.
Not all hopes are lost that commoners do not have access to these good teas. It is interesting how the Bing Dao tea region expands for the purpose of riding on the bandwagon. The tea region extends radially outward from Bingdao village (冰岛老寨), it being authentic Bingdao or Bingdao 1st ring (冰岛一环). From here, Bingdao 2nd ring includes Di Jie (地界), Nan Po (南迫), Bai Wai (坝歪), Nuo Wu (糯伍); Bingdao 3rd ring includes Xiao Hu Village (小户赛) and Mo Lie (磨烈); Bingdao 4th ring includes Zheng Qi Tang (大忠山正气塘), Bao Mao Di (包麦地), etc. Today's tea is from Bingdao village itself, made before the explosion in prices.
The Bingdao region is generally 1,700 m with stable and cool temperature of 20°C throughout the year with high rainfall slightly lesser than Singapore. It has a good amount of ancient trees above 300 years old, thus producing a tea that has strength and energy, termed as Cha Qi (茶气).
We are brewing this tea in a Compass zisha teapot, at 5g to 100ml, at 95°C and we dispense immediately after filling up to 100ml. We realised that by avoiding the usual 100°C for brewing ripe pu'er and by immediate dispensing the tea, more sweetness and fruitiness can be coaxed out of the tea. First, the dry leaves are short, slightly curly, and with many orange tips such that it gives an overall orangey tone to the tea. It smells of dried mushrooms, with a hint of savouriness. After brewing, the tea leaves give an impression of dried fruits. The brewed flavour presents red dates, on a smooth and sweet base, with a hint of China root (茯苓) just like Golden Flowers. We brewed up to 8 times before flavours start to water out.
Thank you for coming onboard with us to travel and savour our world in a cup!