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Wednesday, 12 December 2012


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Dear Ctein,

As you're a regular fan of Canada (evidenced by the above bill and your occasional visits to Montreal) I can only recommend a visit to the Camellia Sinensis tea house and shop in Montreal: http://camellia-sinensis.com, 351 Émery St.

There has been a huge increase in the number of tea shops in urban centres over the last years. In Montréal, big names like Davids Tea or Kusmi Tea have popped up, more evidence of the general besottment for flavoured teas. The majority of these places are crap, selling average stuff at expensive price.

CS is an exception for taking the connoisseur route instead: source directly from the producer, and go for the product, not just the lifestyle. They have excellent Ti kuan yin and other green Oolongs, as well as a great selection of rare (and expensive! pu-erhs).

Your last column inspired me to revisit green pu erhs. I've been a longtime black pu erh drinker, but my first experience with green was very disappointing--it was a very weak, slightly putrid-sweet green tea without any of the earthiness I look for in a black pu erh.

I've been very pleasantly surprised second time around. The mild smokiness and understated leaf flavors of a good green pu erh is sublime, like a lapsang souchong that gave up kickboxing to write poetry. Still haven't scraped up enough dough to try any of the really expensive stuff, but the moderately priced green (~$.40/g) I'm on right now is very good.

I second the recommendation on trying the dark teas - they look like coffee but have a really nice range of flavors. Once chunk gives a whole day of multiple steepings. The Tea Source is a great shop, and local to me in St. Paul, i'm overdue for a restocking.

Great post, Ctein. Recently attended a pu erh tasting/class at a local loose tea shop and learned a thing or two about this history of this tea (a long story involving the long Tea Horse Road and the changes to the leaf during the journey). The person giving the class recommended giving pu erh a quick rinse in clean water before brewing. This might cut down brewing time, but just a guess since I haven't tried it yet.

One of these days I'll pop for a bing, Yunnan Haixintang looks like a good source at the moment.

I'll have to try the dark tea, but I'll skip the spendy Iron Goddess for now. I used to enjoy trying out new teas in the Tea Source store when I lived in St. Paul. For some reason the teas always tasted best brewed right there with the little hourglass timers.

I've heard it said that tea is the most affordable luxury item in the world. I'd agree if I didn't consider good tea a necessity, not a luxury.

The perception of high quality teas as being expensive is, I believe, largely a misconception. Sure, they can be expensive per gram of dried leaf, but work out the price per cup (particularly given most teas will stand — or need — multiple steepings), and most tea works out far cheaper than coffee.

Here in New Zealand I'm lucky to have an excellent supplier (Ya-Ya House of Excellent Teas). My most recent tea order arrived with (as usual) some free samples, one of which was a fu cha. Your description, "the floral quality of oolongs, but ... deeper and richer" fits it perfectly.

Looks like hash to me.

Do they sell a tea caddy I can make into a pinhole camera?

Hi Ctein,

I'm Indian, and thus come from a long line of tea drinkers. We drink it the wrong way though, killing the delicacy with a heavy handed approach at brewing: the default method of preparing tea being boiling tea leave, water, milk and sugar at one go and straining the leaves out and quaffing the rest. Tastes fine, but all the subtlety is lost.

I wanted to ask, did you try any Indian tea leaves too (I know... tea came from China. But.)- like the Darjeelings, or any of the spiced teas with cardamom or ginger or a stiffer set of spices? If not, I would recommend you try them... very different from the Chinese teas you describe. And which I am off to sample :-) Thank you- this should be fun.

I will buy the infuser too. Thanks for the review.

I see that The Camellia Sinensis Tea House was mentioned here. I have their book on tea and highly recommend it - though there are now many good books on the subject.
"Tea History Terroirs Varieties", translated from French in 2011. Firefly Books. Available on Amazon.

I used to have an office mate who was from China. On his trips back to Beijing he'd buy tea from a shop that has been in business for 600 years. He gave me a few ounces of green tea that was outstanding.

A column on tea, just in time as the frigid weather has finally descended on New Mexico. So, thanks for the reminder; now to break out my stash here at work...

Hi, Ctein,

Now you've gone and done it; I just added the tea shop to my bookmarks and I'll be ordering from them in the new year. (My "discretionary funds" such as they are, are encumbered for the season.) Do you have any experience with YiXing teapots?

With best regards,


Thanks Ctein.

I was looking for something a little different to buy my wife for Christmas and a introductory collection of fine teas from raretea.m6.artlogic.net in the UK seems to fit the bill nicely. I'll have to help her decide which is the nicest of course...

When I saw the photo at the top I thought this was going to be a column on drug dealing. Kindof is, in a way, I guess? :)

Iron Goddess! Wow, my worlds collide:



A very welcome topic which brings us out of our daily chase for photo related subject. Off subject is sometimes more than welcome by the readers.

Arun, maybe you are right. As a Britsih ex-pat, from where the whole nation has been drinking tea for centuries, this all sounds like learning photography with a large format camera or starting one's driving experience in a Bugatti Veyron.

Dear Michel,

Indeed, a serious fan; I have contemplated emigrating there on and off for the past decade. Either Toronto or Montréal. I expect to be visiting both the cities in the next year.

It's nice to know of a new excellent house in Montréal; I just received word from Jo Walton that Daniel Ng has closed Cha Guan: La Maison du The. Supposedly he will be establishing a mail-order business, but I don't think it's up and running yet.


Dear James,

“Green” (a.k.a. uncooked) are frequently as dirty and smoky as the cooked variety. They are actually preferred; the cooked pu erhs generally don't age well; the cooking process brings the leaves to ripeness quickly, but it also denatures them.

What you describe sounds like a bad batch of tea, not like any proper pu erh that I've tasted, even the really cheap grocery store stuff. It happens on occasion, even from the most reputable establishment. I've gotten undrinkable gyokuru and sencha from highly regarded sources. A quality supplier will replace the tea for you with no questions asked if you report a bad batch. You're also doing them a service; they like to be informed if a bad batch has gotten into the system.


Dear Arun,

I'm not much into Darjeeling's. I enjoy them, but I don't especially fancy them. Paula is a big Darjeeling drinker. The spiced or flavored teas are generally not to my liking, with the sole exceptions of black current blend, which makes a nice hearty brew and a great iced tea, and rose congou. But I don't indulge in them very often.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Builder's tea: take a large enamel jug (cement encrusted optional). Tip in enough Indian tea to your taste, pour on water just off the boil, stir and leave to stand for five minutes or so. Pour into mug, add milk and sugar to taste.

In the UK I would recommend Chris West's minrivertea.com

On a photography blog I would much rather hear about teas than Jesus!

I'm with Dodds, I thought it was the wildest hash ever!

I've been given various packets of tea but I'm just one of those peasants that uses a tea bag in a cup (contrary to popular belief, bikers run on tea, not beer) so I've not tried them out. I'm thinking about trying them after reading these.

Meanwhile, just to make you shudder, a friend always asks for NATO standard tea...

Hmm an historical photograph of tea, not so much the subject rather the Canadian $10.00
bill illustrated. As Canada goes to non-paper
money ($100, $50, $20 (the latter within the last two months) your paper $10 bill could become a rarity. The plastic (yes!) bills are easily stuck to gether and are just different. As much as the delightful dissertation on tea.

Oh and if you're returning to Canada especially Toronto perhaps we Canadians close by could have a heads-up with more advance notice. Your last visit caught me in a double booking bind, which does happen. Sadly missed your presentation.

Dear Roger,

You can buy little refillable/reusable teabags-- actually small silk pouches-- and fill them with anything you like. For on-the-road brewing, I'd recommend either the darks or pu erhs, seeing as all they need is boiling water and you can re-use the bag many times (unless you're just in it for the caffeine). They're also not fussy about brew times.

My second choice would be good oolongs, as they also take re-infusing well and they need 90C water-- easy to get by pulling the boiling water off the heat and let it sit for 30 seconds.

pax / Ctein

Ctein, my bad green pu erh experience was years ago, and it was a pack of small tuo cha I ordered from somewhere--probably Upton's, but I can't really remember.

I've had tinges of that same nasty putrid sweetness from Upton's Wang black pu erh (which is supposed to be sweet) and just assumed it was a varietal thing.

Can you recommend a really good and earthy green? I really like the composty quality of cheap black pu erhs, and I haven't really found that with the greens I've tried. There's a bit of mustiness to them, some hints of dead leaves, but none of the intense leaf-litter-ecosystem flavor I get from the cheap blacks.

I'm really enjoying the subtle smokiness of the greens. As a lapsang souchong drinker, barbecue fan, and pyromaniac, it hits all the right notes.

For those not in the know "NATO standard" is UK armed forces slang for; milk, two sugars.

Somehow, I was not surprised to note that Customers Who Bought This Item [the Piao I) Also Bought: photography books and OM-D's

your last column about led my partner and myself to the finest tea shop here in vancouver. she's an avid tea drinker, not so much myself, but i do indulge occasionally, especially in the winter.

our interest was piqued about the pu erh teas you described so we went out and smelled around and eventually bought some. i also bought some lapsang souchong because, as a whiskey drinker, it was very familiar and nice.

anyhow, thanks for all the recommendations and information, for both tea and photography, always a joy to read.

Dear Ault,

Well, I am, mildly, because I didn't buy my OM-D through Amazon, I bought it at Keeble and Schuchat.

So, apparently, there's more than one like us. Be afraid [g].

pax / Ctein

Impressed by last two tea posts I jumped on puerh bandwagon. I got Piao Tea Pot with some samples of tea. So far I tried one - Denon Wild'2010 and it smells fishy, literally. Looks like it is more or less common problem with loose leaves teas and smell should disappear after couple cups. I am on sixth and smell is still there and strong. It tastes nice though. I usually have to eat something with a regular tea to kill bitterness. This tea is not bitter at all, it has strange but acceptable taste. Other samples except one smell the same ever dry. I see a long road to understanding. I also ordered some tea from TeaSource. Hopefully I will have a better luck with them.

Quick follow up. Fishy smell is result of improper storage of tea. At least this is the most common opinion on Internet.
TeaSource package arrived. Teas from them smell and taste great!

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