Friends of Tea - Interview with Anna Friedel
Recently Friends of Tea invited our owner Anna Friedel for an interview. We decided to publish the english translation of said Interview in our Blog. Thanks to Chii for the translation!
[Photo above]: Anna presenting aged sheng Puerh on tea scoop
Friends of Tea: Hello dear Anna. What effects did the Corona situation have on your shop? I’ve seen that you recently started an online shop. How is that going so far?
Anna: Well, we felt the impact on our actual store very early on. As soon as the outbreak in China. You could notice that people started avoiding everything Asian, out of fear of the unknown.
We have to deal with a lot of uncertainty. People ask themselves: “Why is this tea so expensive?” and we explain a lot anyway. We already knew then that we had to establish the online shop as soon as possible, so that we could survive the situation. Fortunately, we managed pretty quickly and now it’s starting to go really well!
Friends of Tea: That sounds great. You’re not only a tea enthusiast, but also an artist. Do you only sell tea online, or art, too?
Anna: We won’t sell art online. But things like our fashion collection with Injury or other collaborations will pop up. We try to focus our online shop on teas and tea ware. Right now, it’s important that we concentrate on one thing and improve the structure there.
FoT: You studied art at the “Akademie der Bildenden Künste“ in Munich. How did your way lead you to tea?
Anna: I’ve always been drinking tea. I’ve always had an interest in natural medical treatment. At the age of 14 I developed an interest in herbs. Also, my mother started waking me up with Earl Grey with milk and sugar every morning before school since I was 12. Very typical start, you could say.
My interest in Kung Fu and my former Chinese doctor lead me to Pu Erh Tea. I started buying my first Pu Erh Tea in Hong Kong at Sunsing (a Cantonese teahouse). To this day this is the partner we work together with for our Chinese tea collection.
FoT: What makes Pu Erh so special to you? How did your passion for this very specific kind of tea develop?
Anna: Good question! In contrast to Oolong, Pu Erh is not a tea that you drink for the first time and think: “Wow, this aroma!”. It just doesn’t have this welcoming feeling. But it has a quality that catches your attention and curiosity in an instant.
This is a taste that only gets tangible with time. For me, the most fascinating thing is the aspect of time and storage. And also, as an artist, the appealing form of the pressed tea cakes.
Also, my first visit at Sunsing in Hong Kong was very fascinating. There, I drank my very first Sheng Pu Erh (young, raw Pu Erh). Before that, I only knew Shou Pu Erh (ripe, wilfully fermented Pu Erh) of not the best quality. Of course, I was aware that this tea tasted somehow earthy. And then I bought very, very young Sheng Pu Erh, which was more bitter and green. I wasn’t able to read anything about it, there was no information on these special kinds of teas to be found on the internet.
[Photo above]: loosening the chunks into the single leaves before putting it in the brewing vessel
FoT: Nowadays, there’s much easier access to this kind of information.
Anna: Indeed! But it was still fine, I had to learn through trying and tasting. Back then in Hong Kong, I was given a cup of Pu Erh from the 80s to try, because another customer just bought it. This experience stayed with me. If I hadn’t had that tea then, I probably wouldn’t have fallen into the topic so much. To know: this is how this tea can taste like. This was forever a motto for me.
Through Kung Fu seminars in China I also came in touch with tea, as many Kung Fu masters drink it. I learned from the very beginning that tea in Asia has a very social aspect and means an encounter with others.
FoT: Do you have tips for people who have never had Pu Erh? What is the best way to get into this tea?
Anna: I often have to realise that people assume that Sheng Pu Erh is better than Shou Pu Erh. Sheng is raw, while Shou is being ripened “artificially” (Note: Through special storage, the natural process of ripening of Shou Pu Erh is accelerated). This accelerated process of ripening exists since 1972. Sheng being better that Shou is only a half-truth.
Of course, you can also drink Sheng when it’s only a few years old. But they only get truly interesting after 20 or 30 years of storage. The prices of these teas are accordingly high. It’s a little like with wine. You can only learn about it when you drink it.
I would recommend starting with a good Shou Pu Erh. They are often more affordable and you get a good impression of where this tea can go and how a naturally ripened tea can taste over time.
In my experience, I learned that people who tend to like heavy red wine often incline towards Pu Erh, while drinkers of white wine enjoy higher taste notes and therefore prefer Gaoshan (High Mountain Oolong).
FoT: If you had to choose a tea that you could bring to an island, which tea would it be?
Anna: Does this mean I can’t simply say “Pu Erh?” and take various vintages? Or just one cake? laughs
FoT: Only one specific tea or cake if you can, please!
Anna: What surprised me the most lately is the 1999 Sunsing Autumn tea cake. This one is unfortunately not available anymore. I would take that one, because its taste and depth is really amazing. This tea even outdoes some other teas from the 80s or 90s for me! The material for this 99’s cake is just different, so I think I would take that one.
FoT: What makes this tea so special for you?
Anna: With Pu Erh, the material of the picked leaves is just the one. For most people, good means without harmful substances and preferably coming from an old, wild tea tree.
Next is the processing. Pu Erh has a lot of process units. Then it depends on storage. How is the tea stored? Where is it stored? Who stored it? If you store something for 20 to 30 years, there are a lot of factors to consider. For example, you should never store Shou and Sheng together or put very old tea in a room with very young tea.
If a tea in a teahouse that I trust has a very high price, then it doesn’t mean that the people there are simply impudent. It rather means that somebody has spent many years caring for this tea. You pay for the expertise and the science surrounding tea. The same product stored differently can make an immense difference in quality.
FoT: A truly fascinating topic. Dear Anna, thank you for this interview!