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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hibiki-an Kuradashi Sencha

Kuradashi Sencha

This is not quite a tea review, it is just my thoughts on my experience with this particular sencha. Hibiki-an I believe each fall releases their Kuradashi line, which at least this year included Sencha, Gyokuro and Matcha.

What makes these special are the fact that they are aged for quite some time, sadly the Sencha has sold out, so I can not double check the length but I thought it was 18 months. Something that seems almost contradictory to most conventional wisdom on green teas that they are best when fresh as possible. But from this tea and several other things I have noticed lately, sometimes it seems green teas at least Japanese green teas can actually benefit from a slight bit of aging.

Though in terms of this tea it really seems like a hybrid between Sencha and Gyokuro, in which is is aged but not shade grown. The other hybrid being Kabusecha which is slightly shade grown but typically not aged. But this tea through my many sessions with it, has always offered up a lovely nutty and grain like characteristic, that is actually rather mellow.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Amazing Puerh

94 Menghai 8582

I will say that I am not entirely serious about the title of this post, although it is somewhat amazing. Today when I was searching for a tea I wanted to drink I came upon an amazing realization. I have 3 cloth boxes underneath my "tea table" which are separated into the following categories Korean and Japanese, Non-puerh Chinese, and Puerh. Which I think is a nice organization system, although opening the boxes tells an interesting story.

The Japanese and Korean box looks incredibly empty, as most of those teas are green teas which are mostly out of season.

The Non-Puerh Chinese box at least looks less empty, but over half the tea in the box are teas which I am running "aging" experiments on, although I am less enthused about these than when I started them and am considering no longer having them set aside for aging.

The Puerh box is what honestly concerns me the most. I rarely feel in the mood to drink puerh anywhere near as often as I wish to drink teas out of the other boxes, but the puerh box is completely stuffed. This is especially shocking considering I have placed far fewer puerh orders than orders for any other type of tea, and it all goes back to what I call the "puerh mindset." The "mindset" is seemingly the very convincing cartoon devil standing on your shoulder when you are placing a puerh order. It whispers sweet things in your ear such as "a lot of people likes these cakes, so you will to, so why sample first, when the cake is a little of double the price of the sample?" Along with the one that seems to really infect people new to puerh, and I know I was guilty of it: "Buy more than one, so you can see how it ages, and you know it will age into something great, as all aged puerh is great."

The thing is I know it is not just me that has become jaded towards the puerh mindset. I may change my mind about the puerh mindset later in life, should I ever get a spot that I feel would be suitable to store puerh for the long term, but even then certain things will probably still be true. As much as I enjoy puerh from time to time, I consider aged puerh, young puerh, and everything in between much the same way I view Green TGY. That is I can tell when I am drinking a good one or a bad one, but it is not a tea I want to drink often.

After realizing that at the rate at which I am drinking the puerh I currently have on hand it would likely last me at least half way to 2020 likely further, I am actually a bit concerned. So not that I have ever directly believed in new years resolutions but we are getting closer to Jan 1st, that I might think a tea related one might be to have at least one session of young puerh a week, just so I can reduce my supply at a much quicker pace.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chalk Dust and Tap Water

I do not know if it the inherent gritty feeling of seemingly everything in my office, and the fact that no matter how recently someone worked at the board that chalk dust seems to fill my nose, but I've learned delicate teas are to be avoided at just about all costs in an academic office setting.

That being said I thankfully never planed to drink a tea in my office that I felt would require undivided sensory perception. But the more and more I drink tea in the office, the more I realize that Big and Bold flavors and aromas in teas are often best, and as seemingly anything can happen to call your attention away, less expensive teas that you won't mind only doing a few steeps with are by far best.

Though I assume most corporate offices do not have to worry about chalk dust, and depending on the layout you may have large amounts of time which you typically have no interruptions. But somehow in an grad student office many of you are all in a rather small room, typically in many of the same classes, so even when the door is shut, it can be easy to start talking with someone about a problem or topic, and have half an hour pass at the board.

Big and bold I am learning is definitely best, as only when I'm drinking an over roasted oolong that is honestly not that great, do I actually get some of the effects I love the most about tea, that is the wafting aromas of the tea, and it was actually the first tea I made in the office that I felt had a substantial amount of taste, the previous Houjicha and Green TGY always seemed to be be colored hot water with only subtle hints of taste and aroma.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two years of The Sip Tip

Hou De Rou Gui

Today marks the two year anniversary of starting the Sip Tip, though anyone will have a hard time to find posts from the first few months, as I deleted most of them when I first refocused my blog. Though I am actually rather amazed as I thought some how in two years of enjoying tea I would have settled into a habit by now, though I seemingly continue to find new avenues to explore.

A change I definitely hope stays around is I plan to continue to explore Korean teas, which now seems like as good a time to start as any, as seemingly more and more vendors are now offering Korean Teas on websites that are easier to navigate by English Speakers. (Still working on learning more languages, but still far from bilingual).

I have made my decision to go without yixing teapots from here on until I have a change of heart. This is for many reasons some of which are outlined here. Though part of it has to do with the fact that I like the bit more skill that is required for working with a gaiwan, and it is easier to find gaiwans in the sizes I would rather use.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

To sample or not to sample?

There are many good arguments both for and against sampling, in the tea world. No where does the debate seem more heated than when dealing with Young Puerh, which many people in the puerh forum on teachat used to say " A cake is a sample" which is understandable because with certain big factory productions a 1 ounce sample would in some instances cost nearly as much as half the price of a cake. But the down side to that is if you then buy an entire cake and then hate the tea, well now you have several hundred grams of that tea with no desire to drink it.

In short I will say I am pro sampling in general, and I feel MarshalN gave good reasons in this post. I almost feel like I should have a footnote anytime I say I am pro samples. The following exceptions a centered around familiarity of the type of tea in the samples. I mean if you know very little about the tea you are making, it is like driving to somewhere you have never been before in an area with which you are unfamiliar. Basically you have directions or guidelines on how to get to the end result, but you are so focused on the details such as turn left on Vine street, that you tend to overlook the scenery for blocks leading up to Vine street because you are so focused on doing the directions precisely.

If I could stretch my driving metaphor a bit more, it may be that the person who gave you directions is a bit unfamiliar with exactly where you are coming from so it could be that the directions were slightly inefficient, or that you had a way that is much better for you to get to the end result of good tea. Consider the problems with the other route things such as construction or excessive number of traffic lights, which would translate into tea as something like excessive worry over leaf/water ratio, and water temperature. Though I do know some people that like to worry about those details in excess, which brings up a Tea Brewing Art vs. Science discussion, but in reality everyone has to find their own way, and I personally when it comes to tea I like to feel at ease, and in a sense let the moment judge certain steps.
2009 KSH Balhyocha Color
The teas that are the main inspiration for this post are Dao Tea's Balhyochas. Which if you have been following along with some of the discussion associated with the tasting sponsored by Mattcha's blog. It honestly boils down to while trying the two Balhyochas were an eyeopener as a completely different type of tea than I have ever tried. Honestly it is a tea that is somewhat paradoxical the more and more I think about it, it is not quite a black tea, yet not quite an oolong. The most baffling part about this tea is the best sessions of it I have gotten the first infusion is a light amber color much like a mid to light roasted TGY. While that first infusion was good, the best infusions seem to come later where when given hotter water and longer steeps out comes a nice dark ruby color which is absolutely delicious. Though as with most teas the first infusion or two are often the best in a somewhat undebatable sense. So my first inclination was I have been messing up the first infusion or two of this tea, I should try and get the dark ruby color sooner, but as resistant and resilient as these Balhyochas are, if I should try and get more out in the first infusion it is always slightly too strong in certain senses, and then the whole tea fades to quickly.

2009 KJY Balhyocha

So while I am in favor of sampling many different teas especially when exploring a category, I have a hard time believing that until you are rather familiar with that category of tea it may be a bit of an effort in futility.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Good opinion once lost, is lost forever.

Yes the title of this post is a quote from Pride and prejudice, and honestly I have been pondering its implications slightly regarding tea. Most notably I recently received an order from Hibiki-an, and as Hibiki-an still lists its tea prices in terms of USD compared to most Japanese tea vendors located in Japan, who list their prices in Yen. So as the Yen is rather strong compared to the dollar right now, I decided to give them a try, that and the fact that compared to Ippodo who I was actually planning on ordering from saved me the price of EMS shipping required from Ippodo.

So I was hoping Hibiki's Sencha Superior could be an alternate to Ippodo's Nichi getsu which while it is not great I think it is a great price vs value ratio and when it was 11 dollars for 100 grams was a sencha I was content to drink nearly all the time.

But upon cracking into the Sencha Superior I had possible the worst sencha session I have had in quite some time, though it was something that I did not believe was the teas fault. As my stomach had been feeling slightly funny, and while tea usually settles it this time it did quite the opposite and my stomach was in serious pain after the first infusion, and stayed so throughout the session. Now it could be as I poured the bag out into the container then scooped directly from the container there may have been a large amount of smaller broken leaf bits which added a bit extra astringency causing the discomfort.

It does not change the fact in my mind that the worst session I have ever had with a sencha, happened on my first try with this tea. So now I am worried that I might always view this tea in a negative light, especially since today I had another session and the session was perfectly fine, no stomach problems, or really problems of any sort. It was a perfectly enjoyable session, but I still feel my view of this tea is still tainted. But I honestly feel I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I should have because constantly in the back of my mind is the reminder of the first session with this tea.

So here is to hoping my opinion of this tea improves through many more good sessions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tea Trekker Sejak

TeaTrekker Sejak
My last package of Korean Greens, and this is some beautiful looking Sejak it honestly looks like a cross between an Asamushi sencha and a twisted Chinese green. The Korean greens I have had have honestly had some of the best smells, and I want to say the Sejaks have been my personal favorites, so incredibly fresh and forest like at the same time.

My first impression of this tea was incredibly positive, maybe not the most complex, but its flavor profile is an incredible wave of Umami. But I hate to say as I brewed up more and more infusions, I am starting to like this tea less and less.

The tea started out rather wonderful but the strong Umami flavors faded into a rather powdery/chalky taste that permeates the whole mouth. I am trying to think of how that could be remedied, and I am thinking upon later tastings would be to keep the temp lower through all infusions. So basically I should not increase the temp as much between infusions.

I say this because I think the powdery flavor is a sort of hidden masked astringency. Astringency tends to be countered in two ways shorter infusions or cooler temps, and while this tea never seemed incredibly potent in terms of flavor it was not a problem with the steep times.

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