10 March 2010

A Visit to Hong Kong’s Tea Museum; Sharing a Cup of Old Pu’er

I like to visit Hong Kong, but only for brief periods of times.  The city is vibrant and fast-paced, but the sheer density of the urban areas makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable with the limited amount of personal space.  The city’s frenetic energy tends to stifle my thoughts until I can escape into the vastness of the New Territories on the weekends

Tea culture is decidedly different on the island.  The British influences of black tea and coffee, and mainland imports of oolong, green, pu’er teas etc., have crossed paths and produced interesting results.  HK-style milk tea (港式奶茶: black tea with evaporated milk and sugar), Yuen-Yang milk tea (鴛鴦奶茶: coffee, black tea, milk), and Taiwanese pearl milk tea (真珠奶茶: tea, various flavor additives, milk and tapioca pearls/”boba”) are some of the popular non-traditional tea drinks.  My favorite non-traditional tea concoction is cold lemon black tea with sweetener (凍檸茶).  Of course at dim sum, you will still have your choice of the traditional Chinese goods, staples like Tieguanyin, cooked pu’er, and Jasmine green tea. 

Although I’ve been to HK many times, it was only on my last trip that I made it out to the Flagstaff Museum of Tea Ware that’s located in Hong Kong Park.  It really is super convenient to get to, shame on me for not visiting sooner.  There are many displays at the museum that are on permanent loan to the museum from a private collection, one that includes very rare and old yixing pots and period tea wares.  I found two of the exhibits particularly interesting:  one was a step-by-step pictorial intro of the Song-dynasty style of whipped tea that was popular during that time.


The other exhibit was a pictorial intro of powdered tea consumption, one of the popular and predominant ways to consume tea during the Tang dynasty, which, as the exhibit mentioned, found its most famous supporter in the great tea connoisseur Lu Yu.


I regret that my pictures have still not been sorted from this trip that happened over a year ago.  I’m working on it!  The Tang dynasty powered tea preparation set of pictorials I have in its entirety; the Song dynasty one is MIA.

I was having tea with Daniel at Arts de Chine last week.  I told him that especially from western pu’er collectors and lovers, there is no small amount of opposition to the wet storage style of pu’er that is predominant in HK.  Daniel mentioned that of course the weather in HK affects storage of teas, but also that perhaps surprisingly, many HK people actually prefer the taste of wet-stored cakes.  Among his clientele, the preference is based on a desire to taste the unique tastes of older, wet-stored tea; a depth of taste characteristics that – for better or worse – dry-stored cakes don’t have.  Undoubtedly so, most old cakes have had some wet-storage (many of the remaining label cakes from the 50s and 60s have passed through wet-storage in HK or Taiwan before being resold elsewhere – many times back to mainland Chinese collectors). 

We broke a small corner off of my 73 brick, not an ancient pu’er, but one that has had no small amount of age for its leaves to soften.  By feel and sight alone, we knew that the cake had gone through a period of wet storage.  Boiling water was poured onto it as it sat in an antique gaiwan (a glazed thick-walled porcelain with blue highlights from the mid Qing era – a future birthday present to myself).  Clearly distinguishable camphor aromas, with some hints of various other herbs, were carried upwards by the rising steam.  Pour after pour yielded a medium-brown colored brew that was clean and not overly rich; one could still see the bottom of the pitcher through the brew.  The mouth-feel was near-complete and soft.  Its flavor was lingering; a part of its taste reminded me of clay.  The wet-storage imparted a unique depth to the tea, as well as some minor off-flavors that were apparent upon sniffing the gaiwan’s lid.  The tea has had more than 20 years of dry storage, though, so by the 3rd infusion, the true nature of the tea was quite brilliant and clear.

Daniel and I smiled at each after the 3rd infusion.  He said that there is affinity between tea, experiences and people.  I had the good fortune to come across this tea, and he had the good fortune to consume some of it with me.  I told him that earlier this year, my Dong Ding teacher told me that good tea will make itself available to a person when one is ready for it.  With that line, Daniel said perhaps it’s not his time to own a collection of pricey and old label cakes.  I’m sure his wife will be happy to know that their money may now be spent elsewhere!

20 minutes later, we were back at it, scheming over how to convince an old friend of his to sell us just a slice of his blue label cake.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.


  1. welcome to HK, nice article/experience

  2. Thanks sp1key, are you based in HK? I won't be back until late this year/early next year.

    Looks like you're quite fortunate to be able to discover some pretty old tongs of pu'er. I grew up drinking mostly wet-stored and cooked pu'er, so I find a certain quality of HK-style pu'er to be comforting and familiar.

  3. Hi there,
    I'm interested in learning more about tea, specifically Taiwanese tea, and wanted to email you some questions, but for the life of me couldn't find a way to email you on the blog. Is there a good way to contact you directly? Thanks.

  4. Hi there,
    I'm interested in learning more about tea, particularly Taiwanese tea, and I'd like to email you some questions, but for the life of me, I couldn't find an email option on the blog. Is there a good way to contact you directly? Thanks. (Apologies if this double posts. The first one didn't seem to go through.)

  5. Hi Huan, I'm no expert, but I'll do my best to help answer your questions or to direct you to other resources. superrich8(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. Rich, nice post, I've linked & bookmarked it. & am I wrong in thinking the Song/Tang powdered tea migrated to Japan and eventually turned into matcha? I think I read that somewhere...

  7. Thanks TeaHawk. Yes, it's my understanding too that Japanese Matcha originated with Chinese powdered tea. The fundamental powdered tea ceremonies also share similarities.