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, 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.