Tuesday, May 20, 2014

E-Tea With a New Friend!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea - in a Google+ hangout room.  Before I jump into the tea event, I'll give some background.

I was snooping around Teachat and reading some blogs when I came across a few folks talking about floating leaves tea.  I looked a little further, and found the opportunity for a "live' tea chat, sampling and discussion on Google+.  I did some reading, decided it was for me, and signed myself up.  I'm always happy to meet others who practice Gongfu Cha, or as I call it, The Fu.

I received five samples - a 2013 Winter Dong Ding Charcoal Roast, 2012 Muzha Tie Guan Yin, 2013 Winter Lishan, 2013 Winter Dongfang Meiren(Oriental Beauty), and the 2013 Winter Baozhong Farmer's Choice.

The Google+ meetup started out quite well.  There were two other guests that were to appear as well, but only one other had shown up.

Shiuwen is amicable and a pure joy to converse with - she would initially talk about the next tea we would be brewing, describe it's origin, processing, and other facts and factoids regarding what we were brewing.  I might have asked a question now and then, or asked for clarification, but for the most part, I simply listened, took notes, and drank some tea.

Now, the tea itself!

2013 Winter Baozhong Farmer's Choice

This is the less expensive of the four Baozhong's that she offers (Edit: the 2nd place winter BZ has sold out!)  The leaves ranged from a light green to a dark green and were long and in a strip style, which is really the only kind I've seen, other than the roasted kind.
What struck me about this tea is despite it's light flavor and color, this tea felt full in the mouth - thick! Shengjin, (mouth watering) was moderate, and some se (Astringency) appeared in the later cups.  The huigan was long lasting, and most importantly, the tea made me feel good - Balanced, relaxed, and happy.  The spent leaves looked good and well made.

2013 Winter Dongfang Meiren (Oriental Beauty)

Oriental Beauty to me, is one of those unique local things that one wouldn't ordinarily come across unless they were in the area that produced.  In the region of the US that I come from, we have Vinegar-Pepper Pit cooked pig(Barbecue) and we also have groups of people who supposedly still eat white clay- I won't elaborate on that one.
The thing about Oriental Beauty that surprises me is how many online tea vendors seem to sell some version of it or the other.  I would venture a guess that it may be one of those Lao Banzhang situations, where the amount of LBZ supposedly purchased is x times greater than the tea made there over the course of the year.
Regardless of that fact, this was enjoyable OB - It was thick and full feeling, it didn't come across too strongly with hints of hong cha.  In fact, I was able to push the tea rather hard and not come across much kou gan or se, though I did notice it a little in later cups, which is understandable - I was brewing this very hard at that point.
Despite my attempts at brewing it hard, it didn't give much flavor. Hints of wood, a light malt flavor appearing and disappearing, and a general low, broad sweetness that was hard to associate with anything that I have tasted before.  This tea did make my hands and face feel warm at first - I was perspiring by the end of that session, and I felt very energetic.  I should note that I let this tea cool somewhat before I drink it to reduce the risk of me confusing the feeling I get from the tea and sweating because the tea was 190-odd degrees.  Pleasant for a cold, rainy day.

2013 Winter Lishan

Lishan is actually one of my preferred 'light' teas for everyday drinking.  I generally prefer light to medium roasted versions.  This version was very green and had ample stem, which is fine, as experience has taught me that stem can add to the flavor of the tea.
I brewed this tea even harder than the OB, and was greeted with a pleasant light sweetness and plenty of florals.  It lasted about 7 infusions before I gave up, but the tea at that point still had flavor and huigan.
There was plenty of thickness in the early infusions, and this one was also hard to overbrew - though on one cup I experienced a little bit of se, but it didn't necessarily detract from the experience.
This Lishan relaxed me and was enjoyable to drink.  I would enjoy tasting a lightly roasted version of this tea.

2012 Muzha Tie Guan Yin

I admit that I'm usually not a fan of tea from the Muzha area, but as someone who enjoys reading philosophy (but would never call themselves a philosopher, ever) I was quietly reminded that every new experience can lead to something new.  Basic stuff, you know - remembering to apply that lesson is how we get results, though.
These leaves were dark and loosely rolled in comparison to other Muzha TGY's that I've come across.  The dry leaf aroma was hard for me to place - It was unlike anything I've smelled before, though. A mixture of popcorn, cedar wood, and dried Camellia flowers.  That's the best I could do.
This tea presented itself differently than I had expected.  If I closed my eyes while someone made this for me, I might have thought it was some kind of Yencha that I hadn't tried.  Notes of roast, dried fruits, brown sugar and 'wood'.
There was plenty of se in this one, and I didn't brew this one as hard as a result. The se still resumed, which is fine. I experienced some kougan in the first two infusions, but it wasn't too much, and it didn't stay in my palate for very long, and was replaced by a pleasant sweetness.
There was plenty of thickness in this tea for the first two cups, at which point it thinned somewhat, but was still very enjoyable to drink.  Overall, I got a much deeper feeling from this tea than that of the previous three.  It was like being warmed from the inside and rocked to sleep, or the feeling of putting on warm clothes from the dryer on a cold morning.  It's difficult to describe, but it was a deep, intense feeling.  I like this one quite well.

2013 Winter Dong Ding Charcoal Roast

Some people might say I have an irrational fear of Dong Ding Wulong, and they are absolutely right.
I call it Dong Ding Traumatic Stress Disorder (I'm not poking fun at anyone with PTSD, please understand).  In my earlier years of knowing nothing about tea, I had many a bad session with all sorts of Dong Ding.  In my current years of knowing nothing about tea, those events occur once every  few months or so, but my formative years in oolong are still scarred by horrid, bitter Dong Ding.
Ring the Bells, folks....Ding, Dong...I've found me a nice one!
The roast aroma was still prominent to me, along with an aroma of dried herbs.  So far, so good.
This tea had light notes of char - nothing overwhelming or distracting. It blended with the woody, stemmy, dried fruit, earth, and mellow sweetness, and overall was very balanced.  It was able to handle harder brewing without issue, which tells me the tea is worth it's salt in at least that part of the experience.  This tea, as with all the others, made me feel good (and also very energized for some reason), but it didn't have the depth of some of the others, feeling wise.  Flavor wise, there was plenty there to observe - this a tea that one should pay plenty of attention to.
I would like to see how this tea ages, as it seems to have enough roast in order to keep, given that it is stored properly.

With all of that said, give these teas a try.  They are worth it, and there are a wide variety of flavors and feelings present; at least one of them should suit your tastes, or if you're new to this world, perhaps it will bring you closer to knowing what you like.  Experience is experience as long as we listen and apply what we've learned, and perfect practice...is just an idea.  Do your best when you brew these(Edit: Do your best, no matter what you do!), and pay attention to how they respond to different tea ware,  water, and brewing parameters, if you're into that sort of thing.  If you're a lets-drink-this-because-zen person...well, enjoy!

See you next time!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Odd (Tea)Pot Out

As much as I've learned over the past five years or so, the only thing that's really stuck with me is the 'beginner's mind' concept that is tossed around by various tea people.  It's also known as Shoshin, and as much as I don't like referring to religion on my blog, I'll have to mention it here.  Wikipedia states Shoshin as:
 "...having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts."

Though I do not practice Buddhism or any Martial Art, I believe that the concept of Shoshin is aptly suited when practicing our craft/art, as well as other related topics, such as shopping for teaware.  I've heard and read some statements such as "Good teapots have a minimum price tag of 100 Dollars, if not more." and "Cheap/Inexpensive teapots are almost always a waste of time."

Ok, so I listened to arguments that are for and against different ways of thinking.  I've purchased expensive teapots, and I've bought inexpensive teapots as well.  Here's the latest inexpensive pot:

Jiang Po Ni - Gao Deng Shape

I acquired this teapot from Chawangshop.com, where they have a multitude of teas that are a little different than what you would find at a more mainstream website.  They sell some interesting hei cha from all over the place, and they have been nice to me when I've had to contact them via email.  This little pot was under 40 bucks, and having the Shoshin ideal flying around in my head, I decided to remove all preconceived notions about price and quality and gave it a shot. 

A few weeks later, it was at my doorstep, and I set out to clean it with warm/hot water and a toothbrush that's only used for the inside of new pots.  There was no heavy clay smell and it didn't seem to be underfired - in fact the body rang very clearly when i tapped it with the edge of my fingernail. It's obviously not handmade - that isn't a big deal to me, given how inexpensive it is.

Since then I've tried it with every type and subtype of tea that I have, only to have it completely rob the flavour, mouthfeel, everything, from the tea.  

I've thought about giving it a seasoning not terribly dissimilar to what I wrote about last time, but the clay is very thin and theres no reason to risk chipping or breaking it.  Until then, while I'm glad that I was able to use the Shoshin idea, I regret to say that it didn't pan out too well in the end.  Until I figure out what to do with this pretty, but somewhat useless pot, I'm going to have to just let it look pretty off to the side somewhere.

See ya soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An Experiment

I was shopping for tea online recently, and decided to visit Yunnan Sourcing.  Once there I noticed the video player that was now on the front page.  For those of you who haven't yet seen it, it's about seasoning a teapot before use.  I watched it, then went over to Origin to try out some new Gaoshan, since Tony's Gaoshan is fantastic, in my opinion.

An impromptu setup that sits next to my guitar repair area.

A few days passed, and that video kept popping up in my memory.  Could seasoning a pot like that have any real effects?  I realized after a little while longer that we most often learn things by doing them, so my sort of newly acquired little yencha pot was the first victim volunteer.

Now don't get me wrong, this pot was purchased from a fellow teachatter, and I trusted him on his word, and it ended up being of great benefit to me.  I know that teapots can change the way a tea feels and tastes, but this humble pot improved both of those qualities a good deal, and my enjoyment of tea was at an all time high.  I could tell you the type of clay and the year/decade it was supposedly made, but I'd rather not - I'd rather have you, the reader of this blog, come over and taste the difference for yourself.  That's more important than any teapot stats could provide.

I initially was very apprehensive of this test and almost aborted the whole thing, but I stuck with it after reasoning with myself that it couldn't go that bad…right?
About 45 minutes later, I gently pulled the pot out of the tarry yencha 'soup' and proceeded to wash the leaves out of the pot. The pot wasn't in pieces or cracked, so I figured so far, so good. It was also neatly nestled in a swamp of tea leaves at the bottom of the pot when I retrieved it, so I figured that kept it from bouncing around too much.

Before I go any further, I had the good idea to drink some tea from this pot before seasoning and take quick notes about mouthfeel, flavours, aroma, huigan, se, ku and sheng jin.  I used a somewhat inexpensive tea that I was familiar with - The Da Hong Pao from 8 Xian tea.  Notes were taken and all went as expected.  After this seasoning, I decided to try the tea again, trying to make sure that all of the parameters that I could control were accounted for.

The tea was in fact better in regards to flavour, mouthfeel, and huigan.  The flavour was deeper and fuller, with a more complex mixture of wood/stone/caramel.  The mouthfeel was thicker and a little smoother, and that's great - but it didn't affect the way it felt on my throat, in which case it felt the same.  The huigan, with a mixture of minerals, a light hint of roast and some floral kind of flavour, lasted a minute or two longer afterwards. The shengjin was unaffected.

Too Shiny

Needless to say, the experiment was a success despite one minor complaint from me - the teapot is too shiny.  I wound up splashing it with hot water to try and reduce the shine, since I'm really not a huge fan of shiny teapots.  I think they should look more rustic with use,  and have spots with tea stains and spots without.  After understanding the difference, I've since seasoned the other pots that I use regularly, mostly my Gaoshan pot and my Sheng Puerh pot.  I have a new, bought-it-for-fun teapot that I'll be discussing in the future, one that's stumped me in a way.

Until next time..

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Strange News

I can't drink young pu-erh anymore.  Let me explain.

When I made my last post in January of this year, something was amiss.  I was getting sick a great deal.  This has been a trend for the large part of 2013, up until recently, since i'm being treated for all that ails me now.  Regardless of all that, I discovered my stomach can no longer tolerate any amount of young sheng.  It makes me violently ill, no matter what I do.  On the other hand, aged tea has no effect on me.  I have no idea why this is.

I've since come up with an idea. It's borrowed from the world of wine drinkers - Just taste the tea and spit it out.  So far, no problems!

A fun, adorable 70's/80's pot I use for Yencha

I think it's worthwhile to make a point here.  By not actually ingesting the tea, I may not be able to experience the Qi of said tea.  I see this as a valid point, but if we're assuming that Qi is a real thing, then I guess I will just have to miss out on that part of the experience.

Given that there is time in the future for me to write, I plan on resuming my writing in this blog.

Take Care :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

About Teaware

I spend an awful lot of time at my tea table and just observe.  I listen to the sounds of the kettle, the feel of various teaware, the way each sip of tea feels to my body, and how different approaches to brewing can change those things in very subtle ways.  This is life, and has been life for the past few months: sitting on the floor after work, understanding that no great epiphany will occur; that this might be it for a while.

Life at the moment, minus a few people and things. The cat
Chopin is a semi-permanent fixture here.

I'm sure many of us at one point have sat around and wondered what that pretty gaiwan or new celadon cups would do for our brewing setup.  For some of us, only vintage will do, or maybe a matching porcelain gongfu set, or that uproariously expensive late qing dynasty era yixing pot.

What I'm here to tell you about is the importance of trying teaware out before you buy it, if possible.  This is especially true for teapots or anything glazed on the inside without a clear glaze over it.

The object in question.

I went on a quick trip to Seagrove, North Carolina in November to find some potential new teaware.  I've found great things in past trips, especially from Old Gap Pottery as well as from Jeff Brown.  My newest acquisition that day was a 'make do' cha hai without the handle from Dirtworks pottery.  It had visual interest and was inexpensive, so I parted with my money and went home.

After breaking in this new item by boiling it, I couldn't help but notice how different my tea sessions were.  The liquor was different in almost every way.  D'oh!  I had forgotten the water test!

The water test is a simple procedure where water is tasted with a constant (out of a kettle and into a gongfu cup) and a variable (putting the water in the new cha hai and then into an identical cup) and tasting the similarities and differences between the two.  What I found was surprising.

This little mutant cha hai that I had picked up removed most of the unique characteristics of the water's flavor and mouthfeel.  With tea, it did the same.  I would let stronger tea that I didn't intend on drinking sit in the cha hai for a few hours each day, hoping that the pottery would stop robbing the liquor of practically everything.  The flavor was gone, the mouthfeel was considerably worse, and the aroma was also largely absent.  Even with different water and different tea, the results were identical.

I'm an amateur potter, so I can only tell you a little about what I think is going on.  First, the clay is stoneware.  Second, the glaze is the standard white Amaco glaze, so it's fired around cone 5 or cone 6.  I doubt that it would be considered underfired in that instance.  I am open to the idea that the glaze is changing some aspect of the tea somehow, but beyond that, I'm unsure.  Regardless, I'm done using the newly acquired cha hai.

Okay, that last paragraph was rambling.
This isn't: Enjoy whatever new tea or teaware you acquire, and do your best to learn as much as you can from it.  See you next time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hey you guys.


Okay, it has been a very long time since I've last written.  Before I explain, let me say this:  Having a serious tea hobby, a job, and deciding to learn about pottery is enough to take up all hours of the day.

I don't need to explain. You're smart!

Okay, so the last major event with tea was the southeastern tea meetup with Bears.

I sent Bears the pics that Jess and I took. He also used this photo - it's the list I made of teas that we had, who brought the tea, and who brewed it. In the cup- some kinda XZH sheng from 2006.  Shah82 brought it and brewed it.
A personal fave was Jason's 2007 Jin fo Yancha - complex, rich, and long lasting.  I felt it's energy surging through my body.  While it isn't the best thing to say here - you would've had to be there to really know.  Then again, maybe you already do!

Here's a gaiwan and part of a teapot.  They are both Jason's.  After the first and second visit I realized there was no real reason for me to bring teaware unless I just wanted to show it to others.  My teapots suck and/or are underfired.  So for the time being, I'll bring the best tea I can and leave it at that.

The final pic - the small pot behind the gaiwan is the sheng pot, the darker pot is the Yancha pot, and the pot on the left, I believe, is the shu pot.  We had one shu that Day - the 2008 Dayi Hong.  Jess brought it, I brewed it.  There's a sheng and shu version, and both are okay given what they are.

A fantastic trip overall.  A kind soul named Jess drove me while I filmed the trip, and we had to ride through heavy rain on the way back, so I drove for a bit of the way.  I'm not tall, but those small cars can really feel cramped sometimes.  I'd post those videos, but they need to be snapped together and rendered before they are view worthy.  Take care, dudes and dude-ettes.  (TMNT reference, anyone?)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dao Tea's Jungjak

Things are changing all the time here.

It's finally gotten cool here, reaching the mid-thirties at night.  We have to wear hats and coats if we go out shopping during the evening, but otherwise it isn't too bad.
I took this sometime around October.

Korean green tea is completely new to me - and it is a gift from a dear friend who overheard me talking about getting around to trying it.  Here's a summary of it's description:  It's made in Hwagae Village in South Korea by a gentleman called Kim Shin Ho.  Dao tea, while I like the products they offer, I am not too fond of their descriptions of their teas.  It's a touch flowery and whimsical, where I think it would be better off more straightforward and solemn.  I also don't necessarily agree with the concept of "Tea Master".  My argument is simple: gradation in terms of simply doing one thing, such as making tea or playing guitar, cannot be measured in years or by how much tea one has made or how many years of practice one has had.  Therefore, mastery will not apply to all who practice the craft, because each one's experience is different.  The idea of mastery seems to imply a finite end to skill building, whereas in other places, one's skill will continually grow as long as they live.
One of the last roses of the year.

The Jungjak uses small grey-green leaves, with a good number of buds appearing after the first infusion.

The aromas present throughout the infusions was distinctively herbal, with vegetal and spice notes fading in and out through the four infusions.
Dao's Jungjak

The feeling of this tea was more or less what I would call a mixture between the Chinese and Japanese Styles.  Some umami in the first and second cups, with the light sweetness and mouthfeel of a Chinese green and the (sometimes) vegetal nature of a Japanese green.  In regards to qi, I felt very little.  Attempts to brew this tea with a heavier hand resulted in a rather potent bitterness, so I figured that I had this stuff dialed in better the first time around.

I like it, but I get the impression that there is better stuff out there.  I'll keep my radar out for Sejak and Ujeon grades this coming spring.  Once again, thank you for reading.