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Tea mountains in South China come into bloom in early April. Give or take the rains these vibrant buds sprout into the morning fog. I recently had a chance to visit Fu Shan Mountain to pick the first flush of tea leafs. Daily these high mountains wrap in fog. This environment gives the leaf time to develop delicate aromas. Without the damaging effects of the sun.
Tea bushes, uniform in height, display their new buds like stubble on skin. The best buds are “three leafed.” You must be careful not to damage the leaf when picking. Any bruises or tears will cause bitterness in the brew.
The women picking are bend perpetually to the bush. Using their thumb and index finger the pinch the base of the leaf where it meets the stem. The faster they work the bigger the paycheck. Back at the factory the picking finishes before noon. This is about the time when the fog dissipates, and sunshine is undesirable for picking. Their baskets weighted and noted for quality. This is a first picking, no stems or mature leafs wanted. The buds lay on giant bamboo trays to dry for another eight hours. Once dried the package ships to markets. You can see an example of a panning method in the above picture. This requires tough, steady hands to manipulate the moisture out from the tender leafs.
The leafs I picked are aglow with a yellow green hue. Referred to as “Golden Leafs” they bring prizes for their aroma. This first flush is short and connoisseurs will pay thousands for the best quality. Aroma ranks above all other elements. From mountain to mountain the aroma is never the same.
After wilting my humble pile of golden leafs I enlisted the help of my father in law to try drying the leafs. We decided upon a small pan drying using a wok. Using low heat and short time we stirred the leafs so as to not create scorch marks. Even though the wok was clean the leafs absorbed a faint oil smell from the wok residue. A beginners error. After some patience the golden leafs are dry. A process like many factory-made white tea.
The leafs are wonderful. They are brimming with “white fur” the little white hairs that are a hallmark of high quality tea. These hairs are usually lost during long processing. While they are suppose to have many health benefits; above all they are a sign of minimal processing. The taste is close to a true white tea the aroma is astounding. It’s nuanced and varied from sip to sip. Notes of grass, spring water, moss, earth dance in the smallest amount. The tea leaf smell is immature and secondary to these nature notes. A tea for inhaling.
Mid-Level Red Tea great for blending.
This black tea comes in the distance square Twining tin. The tin was previously reviewed in detail. (Read about it in “Twining English Breakfast Tea”) The orange color of the box is enticing. It transitions from a citrus oil hue at the top of the box to a “Creamscicle” milk and orange color in the middle. There are faint pictures of jungle strewn mountains and palm trees swaying in the breeze. Clear imagery this tea comes from Sri Lanka and not China. The lettering is easy to read and tastefully arranged. The package date and import stickers are well placed.
An orange pekoe tea has no connection to orange flavor or even Chinese origin. It was a western nomenclature referring to the different grades of black tea. New leafs are named “Pekoe.” The youngest full leaf would be “Orange Pekoe” and the buds would be “Flowery Orange Pekoe.” This type of naming is greatly unknown within China. It's utilized as part of the marketing on western tea packages.
Among the four Twining teas offered in China these leafs are the most intact. Well over half show no cuts or tears. There is quite a lot of tea dust inside the tin. Perhaps a way to pad the contents of the tin while boosting the flavor of an otherwise subtle tea. Higher quality leafs mixed with the lowest quality as a way to meet in the middle.
The first brew gives off a bright orange color. Using a quick brew method (5g leaf, brew 30 seconds in 100C water) the taste is full of leaf with a hint of bitterness. The mouthfeel is not clear yet and I think a second or third brew would wake the tea. I suspect the bitterness stems from there being so much tea dust mixed with whole leafs. Cut or damaged leafs can produce bitterness. There is so much dust I had to use two strainers to prevent my cup filled with tea particles. There are no visible “white fur” in the cup. These white hairs live on fresh or high-quality leafs. While I did note there is a good amount of intact leafs I think they’re of lower-quality. More evidence to my thinking this is a medium quality offering from Twining.
With the second brew the color deepens to a low amber hue. Almost reddish in some light. The vivid nature are so unnatural it’s not hard to suspect artificial dye or colorants. The brew gives a more focused tea flavor but the bitterness has increased. The mouthfeel is low to medium with no astringent properties yet. It’s a subtle but pronounced black tea taste.
The third brew is tea and bitterness. There is a good amount of astringent to be noticeable. Many secondary flavors have disappeared. The flavor is gone by the end of the third brew.
With a total brewing time of only ninety seconds it makes me think this tea is best suited for a western style brew. (A longer brewing time with only one usable brew.) After a minute and a half all the flavors have developed. Other condiments can be added. Such as milk, sugar, lemon, orange, honey, etc… I think this is a good tea for blending flavors and not for drinking on its own.
The dry aroma is equal leaf and oxidization. There is a hint of tea oil between the foundational scents. During the first brew the aroma is light with notes of black tea, wheat and slight citrus. The second brew has more wheat and leaf but not much else. The third brew gives only tea and oxidization scents.
I found this tea to be a good cornerstone to blending red tea. It has enough flavor to brewed on its own. The distinctive notes work well with the palate when mixing other leafs. Mix orange pekoe and english breakfast for homemade hong kong milk tea. Combine with earl grey to make an orange powerhouse. Add in some darjeeling to bring zest to your afternoon. It has just enough bitterness to cover its imperfections. Just the right amount of character to be different.
A “better than bagged” Earl Grey offering.
This tea comes in the square Twinings tea mentioned in detail in the first review of Twinings brand. (You can read all about it in “Twining English Breakfast Tea” review.) Apart from the structure the tin’s primary color is a light yellow & cream. The middle of the tin is overlaid with a repeating pattern of western tea icons. A motif of cake plates, saucer, orange slices, tea leafs. The colors combine well with the gold speckle paint of the lid and base of the tin. The font face is easy to read in a mocha brown color. A nice tea tin.
A large portion of the leafs have breaks or tears. This tells me this tea is lower quality with not much attention paid to the nuances of the leaf. The good news there is little tea dust inside the tin. An attempt to maintain some quality. An abundance of tea dust will create bitterness which interfere with the desired bergamot flavor.
I am suspecting the tea to have a strong initial flavor and an even gibber drop off in taste after the first few brews. Using 5g of leaf in 100C water and brewing for 30 seconds the immediate sensation is bergamot. Bergamot. The color is a yellow/orange more natural than found in the other Twining tins. There is no sight of “white down” in the cup. Nor is there much tea dust. Both giving an sign this is a medium quality tea.
The second cup expands the flavors to include black tea leaf, tea oil, smoky wheat and a hint of mint. The bergamot is more controlled with no sign of bitterness. The mouthfeel is light at this point and it imparts a light astringent effect. Not at all unpleasant. The color is deep orange.
The third brew loses much of its intensity. The color turns to ripe orange and I get the impression the tea is out of energy. Bergamot is secondary to the leaf flavor. There is nothing new beyond those two flavors. Bitterness has crept into the cup but the mouthfeel remains light and pleasant. The way in which the flavors came strong and quick hints at the intended brew method. This tea is suited for a western style brew. (A long brew time, only one usable brew.) The first brew is discarded and new leafs prepared. This is unlike a Chinese brew. A method where a shorter brew time will produce nuanced increase the number of usable brews.
As mentioned in the “taste” section the first brew is intensely bergamot. So much that it is hard to detect any other aromas during the first brew. During the second brew bergamot transitions to a more mellow note. There are hints of mint on the high end, heavy leaf in the middle and dried wheat rounds out the profile. The third brew has no new offerings and the bergamot pervades each note.
Compared with most Earl Grey this is an improvement. Earl Grey in tea bags will be bitter and astringent with a smell of orange oil. But this tin is rich and complex in its tastes. Lemon or honey could add a perk but I think milk will mask most of the tea taste. Blending it with other red teas would only result in little more than bergamot introduced to the brew. It’s a nice tea for mid morning or afternoon but it lacks the character to be an everyday brew.
Fresh, Crisp, Balanced — Everything green tea should be.
The packing is plain compared to other brands. I found this tea packaged part of a gift box. Offering 8 individual boxes each with a seal foil bag of tea. The boxes are green with grey and black lettering. The large “cha” 茶 symbol is prominent yellow with a dark green diamond background. The box contains basic information about the leaf and where it's from. (宁海 Ninghai) The box is thin and not intended for long term storage. The foil bag inside is air-tight. This extends the freshness of the flavors. I see many “white hairs” clinging to the bag. A sign these leafs were in a room filled with fresh tea and these hairs must have been in the air. It gives a little glimpse of the teas journey from mountain to cup.
The leafs are well dried and they are intact from tip to stem. This gives me the impression this is high quality product. They are mid to smaller sized showing me they used fresh growth. Instead of last years larger (and more bitter) leafs.
The first brew is a transparent yellow green color. (4g of leaf in 90C water. Brew for 30 seconds.) Looking in the center of the cup it's hard to see any color. I notice many “white hairs” suspended in the cup. Another gauge of how fresh, high-quality leafs are in the bag. The taste is almost light enough to be white tea. I can detect no oxidation or processing beyond wilting and drying. The flavor is so light, it’s like drinking hot water with an aftertaste of tea. The mouthfeel is not present but I think it will develop once the leafs “wake up.”
Moving to the second cup I see the color is a golden green. A large flurry of white hairs float in the cup. The first sensation is leaf and water which blooms into full leafy flavor. It ends with a light mouthfeel. The taste has become balanced from start to finish. This trend continues with the third brew. I know many people who will brew this tea in the morning and continue brewing all day. This tea has a lot to give but it is always balanced. Never too bitter or astringent.
The first brew fills my nose with leaf flavor. The leafs are not yet unfolded. The scent is light. It has an enticing aroma that combines with the steam rising from the cup. The second brew has more leaf with the smallest hint of earth. The third brew loses much of the aroma.
I acquired this tea in the spring of 2015. It was fresh and filled with aroma. The scents have diminished in the past year but the taste has remained. I find myself returning to this tea whenever I seek high-quality green tea. Long lasting flavors give balance to the day. Perfect for sunny and light breezes. A refreshment to the senses.
A strawberry plucked before the crimson coat is woven.
This tea cake was part of a gift box. A large, bright box with two identical cakes inside. Apart from the box the cakes are identical to other Menghai cakes. Dated 2007 these cakes feature the older labeling and security stickers. The cakes are wound tight and show no sign of spoilage. The label bears the mark “7592.” Meaning they used the 1975 recipe in making the cake. The leafs are grade number 9. (Lower quality) The fourth number represents Menghai factory number 2 in Yunnan, China.
The compressed cakes show no sign of damage when packaged. This is an unfermented tea unlike other Menghai pu-er. Meaning these are whole leafs packed into a cake with the hope of aging in a container. The leafs appear fresh. I don't think they were exposed to much air.
After gentle pressure the cake unfolds and the leafs separate with ease. A fermented pu-er will have been aged artificially. Meaning the leafs created in hot, damp conditions. Called a “wet-piling” technique. This will cut the aging and increase the flavors. But this is an un-fermented pu-er. The leafs were not processed apart from drying and pressing. Unraveling the cake I find the tips were cut. It is a uniform cut and hints at machine processing. I think they took the best parts of the leaf, the tip, for a green tea and left the rest for this cake.
After washing the pu-er I started the first brew. (Washing means immersing the leafs with 100C water for 20 seconds then discarding the water.) The first brew gives a hint of sweetness with a bitter aftertaste. The tea has not awakened with this brew and the mouthfeel is not present.
The second brew gives a change in color. It goes from fresh green to a mellow yellow hue. The fresh taste has disappeared. There is a strong leaf taste with increased bitterness. The tea is reminiscent of old green tea. There is heavy mouthfeel, bitter and astringent, it has not developed a pu-er flavor. I get the sense this tea is still maturing. It makes you feel energized, and it’s not filling like a fermented pu-er.
The third brew is full of leaf flavor. Bitterness is omnipresent. I find this is not offensive but more astringent in feel. It does not combine well with sweet or savory snacks. This tea still has a lot of maturing to do. The flavors will mellow and an earthy taste will enter the leafs. Breaking the cake and storing the leafs in a purple sand container will speed aging. The purple sand is recommended for its porous nature. This helps control air flow and moisture. As an added benefit the jar will absorb the scent and become fragrant for many years.
The tea gives off a fresh smell like a green tea you find in markets. It seems like new leafs as compared with most pu-er. The second brew gives off a faint, musty smell. I think this is a hint at the earthy aromas developing in the cake. It reminds me of tea that has been sitting too long. Old tea, like a “house tea” you get at a Chinese restaurant.
This is a unusual cake. With a hallmark number “7592” it shows great promise for aging but it’s unappealing now. The flavors are bitter with little complexity. The best thing would be to store this cake in a purple sand container for a few years. The leafs will darken and the flavors will transform to a much deeper pu-er tea.
Entry level "Fu Tea” with a refreshing brew.
This tea comes from the Baishaxi tea company. A long-standing brand with a reputation quality and consistency. I’ve had good results from them in the past and this tea is no exception. The package is attractive in its color choices. Black with gold lettering gives a hint at whats inside. Inside they have an info pamphlet explaining the brand history.
The tea brick fits in the box snug and its wrapped in a parchment paper. Since you use a separate container to store the black tea these details are nice but not essential. The box is well made and shows the pride they have for their product.
This black tea is unusual to most western people. It will go through the process of full-oxidation, rolling, and drying. The last step will add a culture of europium cristatum. In other words it’s black tea with bacteria inside. Unlike pu-er where the bacteria is an agent for fermentation. This bacteria is consumed along with the tea. Much like probiotics inside yogurt.
Nicknamed “gold flower” it has allusions to all sorts of health benefits. The most common claim is a preventative for most cancers. Lacking any peer-reviewed studies these claims should stir skepticism.
The leafs are larger in size than green tea. They are well shaped and have little cutting or bruising. There is a fair amount of stems along with leaf but I think this adds to the flavor profile. This is an entry level fu tea and the grade of the leafs will be lower than offerings. Higher quality leafs will be smoother and more refined in taste.
The first step with Fu tea is to “wash” the tea and awaken the leafs. (Use 100C water and let it brew for 10-20 seconds.) Discard the water. You may wash the tea once but most people recommend two washings.
The first brew is light in taste and color. (100C water, brew for 30 seconds.) It gleams with a warm yellow appearance, much like rice wine. The initial brew gives smoky, earthy tastes with dominant black tea. There is no bitterness. I find the mouthfeel is medium in thickness but not obstructive. It is not tangy or long lasting like a pu-er.
The second brew increases in smokiness with a hint of bitter aftertaste. The earthiness has disappeared and there is a minor spice floating amongst tea flavor. There is a mingling of wheat amongst the major notes. Perhaps the bacterial influence.
The third tea maintains the smokiness with a bitter suggestion on the aftertaste. It is not overwhelming and it is due to the lower quality leafs. The earthiness has completely disappeared. The mouthfeel is pleasant and not obstructive. These flavors remained present from the fourth to the ninth brew. The taste was light and even. It reminds me of open spaces, large plains, prairie grasses, calming.
The raw leafs gives off heavy black tea smell. Oxidized and earthy. A little smokey and a little heavy in scent. But the first brew gives off dominate aromas of smoke. With little earthiness and light tea smell. The second brew increases the smokiness while ceasing the earthy aroma. The second brew becomes lighter and the later brews continue this trend. Black teas are not judged on the quality of their aroma but this tea was nice.
This is not meant to be a delicate high-quality tea. It’s an entry level black tea. Which gives an excellent introduction to Fu tea. It is reminisce of pu-er teas but it’s much lighter in taste. It leaves me refreshed, calmed, focused not warm and full like pu-er.
The perfect fit for a delicate afternoon tea.
The tin is part of the same 2015 series of loose leaf twining teas. You can read a full review of the tin in the “English Breakfast Loose Leaf” review found earlier. The tin is well made and gives a tight seal to prevent premature oxidation of the tea. This helps the tea stay fresh for much longer. The differences between this tin and the others will be the color and imagery of the label background. The color is an attractive purple which grows lighter as you move toward the middle of the tin. The top and bottom are saturated in color while the middle is a milky white color. This white runs the circumference of the tin. The label font is white with parchment color for the main heading. The color presents nice visual harmony and makes it easy to read.
The size of the leafs are small when compared against other twining tins. They are similar in size and shape which makes me think of heavy processing. The composition of leafs and twigs are majority black tea. With brown, caramel, green leafs intermixed. There is an occasional parchment colored leaf hinting at a sort of flavoring added to the mixture.
Using 5g of loose leaf tea I made three brews using 100C water for 30 seconds. The first brew is a light orange color almost yellow in hue. I don't think there is artificial coloring. But with a processed tea I wouldn't put it past them. The quick and bright color is unlike other teas I have tired. During the third brew the color become brighter. Unnatural in its appearance. It looks like a traffic cone. If I had followed the normal practice of a 3-5 min brew this would never come to my attention.
The taste is light with muscatel notes. There is a negligible earthy taste owing to the black teas in the blend. By the second brew it disappears. Looking inside the glass there is a great amount of leaf particles inside the tea. Since I used a fine strainer there must be lower quality leafs in this blend. There are few “white hairs,” even compared to other twining loose leafs. These hairs are synonymous in higher quality leafs. This reinforces my conclusion for low grade leafs.
The taste shifts to fruity notes during the second brew. The grape and tea taste becomes clear. It features a heavier mouthfeel than other twinning teas I have tried. I find no spice or bitterness as with most darjeeling teas. The mouthfeel becomes more pleasing as you sip.
The third brew lessens each taste with some citrus on the aftertaste. There is little change in the composition of taste through the three brews. Only minor variations among the four tastes mentioned before. Described as “A delicate Indian tea with a unique character” it painted an interesting picture. Mountains shrouded in fog as sunshine peaks through an opening. It maintained a light taste throughout the review. It is a pleasing tea perfect for the afternoon. It pairs well with snacks as the mouthfeel does not block other tastes.
The dry leafs are light in smell. They give off a faint earthiness which mixes with woody notes. I find the aroma is distinct but flat. During the first brew the scent is like the dry leafs but it begins to expand during the second brew. The aroma of black tea, muscatel, citrus and fruit are easier to sense.
A non-traditional Pu-er full of surprises.
Menghai is a recognizable brand of pu-er tea. They were one of the first companies to find success in creating post-fermented teas. Their brand recognition has fueled many counterfeits sold across China. The company has responded by including security features with each tea cake. Along with increasing security the company has released media about how to spot counterfeit product.
This tea cake bears the label “8592.” The first two digits represent the year this tea recipe was first used. “85” means 1985. The famous recipe dates from 1975 when Menghai first found success with commercial pu-er. The third digit represents the leaf grade. Lower numbers mean higher quality and higher numbers mean lower quality. The last digit stand for the factory where they produced the cake. Numbers 1 and 2 are the Menghai factory in Yunnan, China. As you can see this is a later generation recipe using lower quality leafs.
This cake has standard Menghai packaging. The tea is bundled in porous paper and sealed on the back using a security sticker. Once unwrapped the scent of pu-er fills the room. Pungent, earthy aroma. Between the wrapper and tea there is a page describing the Menghai brand. It's in English and Chinese, and there's a brief graphic on how to brew pu-er. Nice to have a little info but its a poor translation. The graphic is basic and it advocates using a long brew time. I think this would create a bad experience for those who have not tried pu-er before.
The cake is standard disc shape for Menghai. The cake is firm to the touch. There are no sign of spillage or mold. I find another paper molded into the outer layer of the cake. The paper has the same branding and security features as the sticker. Another confidence you’re buying authentic pu-er. After a light steaming the cake blossoms. Breaking the tea into small pieces allow for easier storage. Purple sand or earthenware pots are ideal. This is good for storing and long term preservation. A low price point suggests it’s for people who can differentiate between leaf quality. The plain packaging mean this isn’t a tea you would gift.
The cakes are well formed and no dust lies at the bottom of the package. The leafs show care and I find only whole leafs throughout the cake. These are lower quality leafs than other pu-er so I expect the flavor to be one dimensional. Not a bad thing if you want a pu-er for everyday. I see black leafs with some lighter leafs mixed in the cake. If I were to store this tea the leafs would darken. The pressed cake shows no damage and the leafs were folded instead of crushed. This will give a pure taste with little bitterness.
Make sure to wash your leafs before you begin brewing. This involves pouring 100C water over the tea. Once the leafs submerge let it sit at least 20 seconds. The color will be dull and this is normal. Discard the water. I started by using my standard method for pu-er (7g of tea, 100C water, brew for 30 seconds.) This pu-er should yield at least 7-8 brews if you choose.
The first brew gives a light amber color. This is familiar with other pu-er’s from Menghai. There is a faint taste of fermentation. The tea flavor is not awakened at this point. There is light mouthfeel, not normal with pu-er. I suspect it will get heavier. There is a mellow aftertaste with hints of what’s to come.
The second brew gives a few surprises. The water is suddenly dyed by a deep red color. It’s bright and unlike other pu-er I’ve seen. The taste is fermentation, soil, and black tea. The earthiness is dominant over all other tastes. The mouthfeel increased drastically. There is a heavy sensation as it coats my mouth. It leaves little to no bitterness. I find it dampens other tastes like snacks or fruits you might eat with the tea.
The third brew is now fully red. Not like an artificial color. The hue is natural much like goji berries. This is such a surprising color for pu-er. I find the taste is now balanced between earth and black tea. The mouthfeel remains heavy but it leaves less residue. The taste and mouthfeel remain but decrease in intensity during the rest of the brews.
The first brew emanates earth. It is a heavy soil, mold smell. I can almost smell the wet piling technique. As if the leafs lie fermenting in warm, humid conditions. This is not an off-putting scent like it seems. It is like walking into a musty, old bookstore. Strolling a mountain path after a summer rainstorm. During the second brew scents become more grounded in black tea. But the third brew bring stronger notes of soil and earth. The aroma grows stronger and encompasses the whole nose. There is no smoke or soil. With the fourth brew my nose finds balance with earth and tea scents. This balance remains for the remaining brews.
A nice departure from traditional pu-er Menghai offers. Affordable and widely available makes it a superb choice if you don’t want to buy vintage pu-er. It’s a good choice when you want to look beyond popular pu-er. It left me warm and satiated. Perfect for cold days when you want a little coziness.
A mild breakfast tea best enjoyed on its own.
This Twinings tin features English labeling on three of its square sides. A Chinese language sticker on the fourth side. The bottom has international labeling denoting the global nature of the product. The tin is attractive and sturdy. There is no hint of aroma from the tin. Denoting the metal manufactured and sealed properly. Prevent the leafs from undue exposure to oxygen. A beneficial attribute for prolonging the freshness of the product.
The square nature of the package gives me a western impression. In Chinese symbolism circles denote sky whereas a square is earth. Many Chinese brand containers will be cylindrical, circular, or oval in shape. Seldom will they be as right angled as this twinings. I believe this is not a conscious choice on Twinings part. Merely a dependable design choice. Especially given the global vision for this product.
I have purchased other 2015 tins and I notice they stack allowing for easy storage. The name and label is in clear font. As well as a brief description of the tea characteristics. The tin is well made and does a good job as tea storage.
Most western consumers are familiar with tea sold in bags. They provide easy storage and quick brewing. But tea bags will generally contain the lowest quality teas. The remains from the loose leaf production and dust collected from the assembly line. Referred to as “junk tea.” The label on the tin reads “Loose Tea” but I would not call this a loose leaf tea.
Not all tea needs to be premium quality to get some enjoyment. But the packaging, branding, and price point suggest a high quality. The tin describes this as “A traditional blend of black teas, creating a rich and satisfying taste.” Placing the leafs over a fine screen I can see no sign of tears in the leaf. Additionally, I do not see any twigs. And I find no dust after sifting the leafs over a screen. The leafs are uniform in size and shape. This makes me think the tea was reprocessed after being sifted from a premium batch. Giving the impression of a mid-level tea.
Taste & Mouthfeel:
Using a quick brew method (30 seconds in 90C water) the first cup is mild and full. The color resembles an orange maple hue. The cup contains a moderate amount of white hair. (白毫, Sometimes called white down.) These small hairs are in whole leaf or fresh bud teas. A good sign this is not low quality tea.
The first brew is earthy with notes of orange and malt. The mouthfeel is energetic but not thick. It is not bitter in any way and provides a good first impression. The second brew is even with some hints of spice on the back end. The orange notes are lower than the first brew. There is a small bitterness at the finish but not off-putting. The mouthfeel is smilier to the first brew. Not thick nor opposing. I find it suitable for 3 or 4 brews without lose of flavor.
The dry leafs emit an earthy, oily aroma common in black teas. As a blend it’s difficult to discern specific leafs. The scent is pleasant and invigorating to the nose.
The packaging is superb for the price and the leafs are a solid blend. The taste is not overpowering like other breakfast blends. But I think this tea would become lost if mixed with milk or sugar. Which is why many breakfast blends will be from lower grade tea to produce a brash taste. It is a good “morning tea” with a reliable taste profile.
References: [Tea Grading]
Blue is a rare color in nature. Even with artificial pigments it’s still tricky to observe. The color blue is an excellent accent to natural greens and warm yellows. See how blue creates a stark appearance when compared with natural surroundings.
Southern China reflects different hues than other provinces. The first picture shows downtown buildings shimmer in dawn light. Their bluish tint form harmony with the clear sky. A pleasing cityscape unlike stone or brick.
The second picture shows ancient style doors. In guangzhou they have three openings. The first being an open door. This is an invitation but closing the wooden bars will keep intruders out. And still allow the fresh air to circulate in the home. The wooden doors feature the door gods Shen Lu and Yu Lei. Tasked with protecting the home they feature strong symbolism. Ancient armor and gestures denote their strength as warriors.
The fifth, sixth and seventh pictures shows the blue tiled roof behind Sun Yat-sen Memorial hall. This monument to a revolutionary man mixes traditional architecture with modern materials. The tiles, woodwork and furnishings follow this vision. A blending of ideas to create a beautiful building.
The eight picture is a small bluish piece of glass. It appears rather humble. Especially in a museum of wondrous artifacts. Come to learn its the earliest example of blue glass anywhere in all China. The ancients had a fascination with this unnatural color like we do today.
The final picture reflects the local peoples love of food. One block from the hospital there is a street market for the dinner crowd. Makeshift tables and chairs are setup to accommodate the neighborhood crowds. People finishing work or patients in gowns all survey the vendors. Fresh fish or BBQ chicken seem to favor the god of outdoor dining. The most natural blue sky is a calming canopy before dusk.
It’s easy to find yellow in a bright city. Often a city will neglect using vivid colors when the weather is sunny. Take a look at the different ways yellow appears in these everyday scenes. Observe how yellow provokes action. Find examples of how yellow can createe visual movement.
The first picture is looking down a street. You see a brick sidewalk against a white wall. One thin stripe of yellow etches the middle of the sidewalk. It continues unending to the vanishing point. The yellow divides brick from wall. It connects the sidewalk to the treetop. The next picture shows a sidewalk and a much larger yellow stripe. This time its outside an elementary school. The parents stand at the school fence. Watching as their child walks inside. Making sure their beloved makes it safe.
A picture outside a temple building. The gray temple adorned by gilt trim. The breeze flows between the window slits. The door painted with gold lace. The refined temple gold contrasts with the earthen bricks of the building. Those rough bricks served as warmth and protection. The gold gives assurances of a spiritual kind. A comfort for those in need. Inside the temple there is a pantheon of deities. Each gold statue gives a silent story of a buddha. The candlelight gives visitors a chance to meditate.
The next picture is taken on the mountain behind Sun Yat-sen memorial hall. On this peak there is an obelisk. Erected in the days of China’s rebirth. Its proud structure has yellowed. The stone has collected generations of sun. Absorbed decades of hot summers. Created during times of high emotion it has aged like the generation.
The next two pictures are walking along Shamien Island. There are many european style buildings on that small piece of land. A glance inside gives sights of stately rooms, restaurants, and shops. One window reveals a lantern shop. Its merchandise suspended on the ceiling giving a view of this traditional art. The warm glow offers an invitation to those outside looking in.
Red is often a compliment to yellow. The sausage shop reflects this well. The yellow lighting does not repel the sight of dried meats. Instead, it draws visitors like gold and red decorations.
The final picture shows three small alters for burning incense. Cantonese people are more observing of spiritual festivals. They make room for display. It becomes a small place for exercising spiritual health.
It can be hard to spot green in modern cities. But one a recent visit to Guangzhou I found it everywhere. Take a look at the different places you see green. You can see how people use this color to bring harmony to daily life.
The old downtown shows its elegance with many tree-lined streets. These trees have endured many rush hours and they show little age. The bright foliage gives a peaceful canopy to citizens. The stress of city life diffuses through the trees.
This temple is a haven for nature in the busy downtown. Trees, shrubs, bonsai are all thriving in this small courtyard. The visitors bring flowers as an offering to the various deities who inhabit the temple.
This street features many small jewelry shops. Apartment complexes encircle the shops. You notice the tile roofs are dark green. Perhaps an allusion to the jade jewelry sold inside.
At an old house there is a well connected to the river. The top of the well sits a small dragon statue. Dragons in Chinese culture are masters of water. This green tinted dragon is watching over this houses and its source of life. Across from the well there is a collection of chairs. These kiln fired chairs are in the old style. Placed in a courtyard they would serve as hardy furniture. Often you will see them depicted when having tea with guests. These simple chairs were once used for gazing at gardens. Now they become part of the adornment.
A picture hidden behind a campus wall. Painted with great care, precision and foresight. The contrast between the clean lines and moldy wall are fascinating. You can see the mold is still visible on the two lower squares.
Found behind a running track and tennis courts. I can imagine the artist at work. Taking time to create the outline. Using four different colors meant four different brushes. I can imagine them kneeling in front of the wall as they painted. Smelling the cold concrete as it mixed with the pigments. The furry mold on the wall crushed by the paint brush. Creating the outer square first and working towards the inner lines. Finishing with the white paint.
A bright white square hoping to reflect the sun for a few moments everyday. For no-one to see except the grass. The two white shapes are inverse mirrors of the light blue squares. Holding a relationship between the sun and the sky. The sun is high, as if to show noon day. While the sky descends to the same level of the ground. The light brown square is squarely enclosed by the dark brown outer circle. Perhaps representing human form. The human planted on earth, of the earth, but hands outreached towards the bright sun. In the opposite corner a dark brown square of earthy color. Rotating the picture the sun starts to descend, the human falls as in death. An instance where the dirt is on the topmost corner. Followed by the blue square, a rising sky. A rotation of the day, season, and life.
Every New Years day I make a point to visit a temple. A way to rebalance the spirit after holiday indulgences. This year I took an adventure to Xialing peak. I’ve returned to this place many times. It gives a certain calm not found in other mountains.
The mountain is easy to reach by bike from downtown. It’s situated next to an artificial reservoir. Looking at the lake you immediately get the sense they will build houses. The water is not clean, the ground is not significant but those things don’t matter to developers. The water is a tool for raising the price of houses.
Regardless of the motivation it gives the mountain a focal point for its Qi. The ancient rules of natural energy that govern all living things. Qi has “Mountain in back and water in front” are the most important precepts for temple Qi. Xialing peak is between the sea and major western mountains. This smaller mountain has good placement for the Qi of water and earth to interact.
The climb begins by ascending steps, past a gate and up a minor peak. It’s a nice warm-up and helps clear the mind from distractions you left in the city. Once you crest the first hill you gaze down into the southern valley. The sun blankets the slopes. You see four temples. Each connected by a trail that snakes upward to the peak. The temples are small and expressive. They still bear scars from having electricity installed a generation ago. The ornamentation conforms to the mountain. Not much gilt. Instead, the decoration is in concrete and carved in wood. The dragon and phoenix motif showing connection between earth and spirit. Dragons and phoenix are wedding symbols. The two animals considered to be a perfect match.
Reaching the peak there sits a temple rebuilt many times. Placed because of its “everlasting sweet spring.” The water rises from the center of the complex. The temple is active with daily ritual. It's cared for by monks and pilgrims. While I visited they were drying the vegetables for winter storage.
Behind the temple lies a tea farm. The peak is now a gentle slope to accommodate the bushes. The bushes are trimmed. New buds not yet emerged. In a few months they will bud and picked for the "first picking." A tea plants first pick is the freshest tea.
Descending the eastern slope I stop by Baoguo temple. The adjoining restaurant is drying pigeons for BBQ. I stop to have a meal. I watch the day through the door as it turns to night. A good start to the New Year.
The rice stalk shimmer yellow hues. A sesame plant outstretchs it's bloom. Soft mud nurtures plant and bug. The concrete comes alive with garbage. These foam scraps burst with color. Left out to dry for a sun's day they shine. Amongst the fields this would be fitting for a Van Gogh. The palette of natural and refuse are both given equal time in the sun.