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Saturday, December 31, 2011

No break is complete without tea

Deishi Guinomi

I have a confession to make.  My readers are well aware that in late October, all of November, and early December, posts and photos were nearly nonexistent on my part.  I have written a few posts alluding to reasons why, and in part it was just that I was not drinking that much tea, and when I did drink tea it was more going through the motions than anything else.  In fact I had cut back on drinking tea so much, that for break between semesters, which I am spending at my parents house, I had honestly contemplated not bringing home any tea or teaware.

Thankfully, I came to my senses enough when I had to really make those decisions and go about packing, and I actually brought a decent variety to my parents house.  That being said, in these past few days I have started to fully realize what I have been missing.  It has me hopeful for the spring, (along with a new more tea conducive schedule).

I hate to say it but I didn't even realize how beaten down and deflated I was at the end of the semester, it took a break, and the wonderful effects of tea to revive me, and honestly now as I am writing this I am under the weather but still feel worlds better than I did only a couple of weeks ago, in which it seemed like everything I was doing was just trying to stop or slow the bleeding.

Alright so this all loosely has to do with tea, but I honestly feel for us tea lovers, no break would be complete without tea.  Even more so, I am starting to think when our mood improves so does our tea brewing / our enjoyment of tea.  Of nearly all the teas I have brewed in the past 2 months, the ones in the past week or so have knocked just about all of them out of the ballpark, not because I am suddenly using new tea (which I am not), water might have a slight effect, but typically I've found the water at my parents house worse than at my apartment.  The only real difference I have found is I am in a better mood, and somehow that is making me enjoy my tea better.

So here is to wishing all my readers a good mood, and therefore more enjoyable tea.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Small and Simple

While I am not one of the tea drinkers that usually spends an excessive length of time with tea setups, adding coasters, flowers, and mats to create a serene effect, I usually do have some what noisy set ups.  By noisy I mean I could easily have 4 or more items on my tea table at a single time for use when brewing.  For example check the not so unusal set up below.

Jukro oojeon

With some christmas gifts I found this year, I realized there is something to be said for an incredibly simple set up.  I received a mini tea tray, one possibly a third of the size above ( so that set up pictured above is completely out of the question).  Along with a new set of Celadon cups, but I quickly discovered that there is an amazing tea set up to be had with a simple 60 ml gaiwan, that small tray, and a single cup.   No need for Fair cups, with the right teas, no need for water coolers.  It's just simple.

The new set up is pictured below (ignore the other celadon pieces off the tea table). It is one of those things I am not sure I could have caused to be more perfect if I tried.  The level which you see the cup filled to in that picture is the amount that came out of the gaiwan stuffed with leaves, possibly slightly high, but certainly not over flowing, or so high that its impossible to pick up the cup.

Mini Tea Time

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

Wishing all my readers a happy holiday season, and hoping they have a chance to enjoy several great cups of tea. So I will give a little update on some recent thoughts I have had pertaining to tea.

  1. Tastes in tea have long since been documented as seasonal.   Though it seem there is seasonal as in the seasons of the year, but there also seems to be seasonal as in personal mood shifts, and just general changes in moods.  By this I mean last year around this time barely a day went by that I did not drink a Japanese tea.  this year I am so much more willing to have Hong cha, or some sort of other oolong tea.  This mood is a lot similar to how I was 2-3 years ago (before I had really discovered how to properly brew Japanese Greens).
  2. Gongfu cups are over rated.  People told me when I started drinking tea, that I would tend towards smaller and smaller pieces of teaware, and soon those 1 or 1/2 ounce cups would be incredibly typical when drinking Chinese teas.  Well that happened, but what I did not expect was a bit of a backlash, after pouring from fairness cups into those small cups probably some thousand times or more over the past two years, its a bit annoying.  I am now a fan of larger cups that better accommodate the size of my brewing vessels. While my brewing vessels are still small, I would rather have things that are 50-80 ml in size fit into a single cup, and pour two cups for brews that are over that size.
Again I would like to extend holiday wishes to all my readers, and hope everyone stays safe, warm, and comfortable through the remainder of winter.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Caffeination Station

My regular readers of my blog may have noticed a sever drop off in frequency of posts lately.  This is due to both a bad schedule for tea, and just in general being busy with school.  While I could go on about that, the most shocking part is, it now makes it harder for me to enjoy tea when I do get a chance.  To have this story make sense I'll give a little bit of background information on my old tea habits vs my new tea habits.

I used to have at least one solid session of tea each day.  These are gongfu or similar type sessions of tea, and on weekends that would often turn into 2-3 different teas or more.  It was great, the only downside is I flew through tea incredibly quickly.

Now, Monday through Thursday I am lucky to enjoy tea one time, and on very rare weeks I get to enjoy it twice during those days.  Then I almost seem to try and make up for it on Friday Saturday and Sunday.  On those days it would be 2-3 teas each day.  

Alright so, where is the problem?   Well I had actually gotten used to being able to make it through most days with little to no caffeine, and as a result my caffeine tolerance dropped off a cliff.  Whereas two teas in a day would often leave me feeling nice, awake, content, with no real signs of ill effects.  These days if I have two teas, even when one of them is a relatively low leaf to water ratio, I often find myself wired well into the night.

I hope to be able to remedy this issue over the next semester and winter break.  No more night classes, and a great chance to enjoy tea on a daily basis.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Missing Tea

Rock and Karatsu Lately I have been missing tea, I still drink it but no where as much as usual.  It is almost as though tea has been set aside for the weekends.  My schedule this semester is really bringing me down especially now that daylight savings has gone into effect.

While I would not say I am caffeine sensitive, it does interrupt my sleep if I consume it to late in the day, and as a rule of thumb I go by if the sun is up then I can have tea.  This is trouble some as now the sun sets before I even have my last class of the day 4 days of the week. So Mondays through Thursdays, are almost always days without tea, unless I decide to have a little bit of sencha or something lighter and start it as soon as I get home.

Thankfully we are getting close to winter break, which will lead to many days off which I can enjoy tea.  I almost wish I had some sort of Holiday tea tradition, but really just enjoying lots of good tea is a good enough tradition for me.

Do any of you have any holiday tea traditions?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thank goodness for my... corkscrew?

Of all the tools I ever thought I would use in making tea, one I never thought I would use, or be so eager to use given the situation as a corkscrew.  A little bit of background, I have already talked about this tea, but it was frustrating to get at it at that time, and when I picked it up again, it frustrated me even further.  The Tea I am referring to is none other than a Balhyocha Uricha.

As pictured this tea comes with a bunch of tiny twisted leaves grouped together into a ball.  Its the shape that makes this interesting, as I do not have a tuo pick (which may be ideal). and only a letter opener that I use as my Puerh knife as the only "picking tool" for undoing compressed tea.  This ball has no edges like Tuo chas which you can use to dig the knife into to remove the proper amount.  If I were to use my puerh knife for this, I would basically be splitting the ball in two, leading me to completely break the tea into pieces.

Bring in the cork screw, when frustrated with this tea, I was looking at items I had on hand, and I realized the leaves are not that tightly compressed but still enough to not be able to wiggle them loose, and the small point on the cork screw combined with the lever like aspect of twisting the cork screw works wonderfully for digging into the Uricha in small clusters, without mangling the leaves, and without completely dismantling the ball of Uricha.

I wish I had a tuo cha to test this on too.  Although I am slightly worried that the extra tight compression of a tuo cha, with the leaves not as thin and wiry might cause the leaves to break apart so much more than what happens with the Uricha.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Brewing a Bike is just like Riding a Tea...

I mean brewing a tea is just like riding a bike.  A long standing and overly used phrase in the United states for a skill that you do not easily forget is said to be just like riding a bike.  So while I still brew regularly lately as the weather has started to greatly cool off recently its definitely time for gyokuro.   But it has been roughly 8 months since I last brewed gyokuro. 

Choun Yame

When I first started brewing it again this fall, I was a little shaky, and while my first session was not stellar, (sorry Seth), it was far from bad.  But after brewing it two more times I can now brew it confidently once more, and really make some great tasting tea.  

I have found that with any tea I have gained some sort of proficiency in brewing, I can put it down for an extended length of time, then with minimal effort regain that proficiency.  Of course there may be a few botched brews, but that is to be expected.  Heck, even when I brew a tea quite often, I still mess up the occasional infusion, especially when I am not completely focused on the tea at hand.

Yame Gyo white out three

So now that I can wake up and start to find thick layers of frost coating everything out side, and the sun starts to call it quits before I even get to leave campus, it is definitely time to bring out our favorite cool weather teas again.  For me that mostly means Gyokuro and a plethora of Roasted oolongs.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seeking Simplicity

I know many of my more intense tea drinker readers may object to this, but while I know there is no replacement to a solid session or two of tea, in which you really get all you can out of the tea in many steeps, sometimes simplicity is the answer.  I personally am not a morning person, so any time I do have tea in the mornings it is what can I do with minimal effort.  The answer is in just about every case "Grandpa Style".

So what exactly is the beauty of Grandpa style?  For one steep times are nearly optional, as it resorts to adding hot/ warm water to the cup/glass/bowl full of leaves and tea, and drinking.  Then repeat until the tea seems to be little more than colored water.  Even better is as its usually a lower leaf to water ratio, the temperature of the water you introduce to the leaves will either cool quickly enough to not extract the incredibly bitter components that can come from too hot of water exposed for too long of a time in a Gong Fu session.

In my personal opinion your feelings towards the vessel you use to brew "Grandpa style" will significantly alter your total enjoyment.  Such as if you love to watch the dance of the leaves, then perhaps a glass vessel is ideal. I do not care as much about the dance of the leaves, and I like to see how a piece is progressing, so my Celadon teabowl is ideal in my opinion, as while the inner cracks are quite stained, the cracks on the outside of the bowl are slowly staining.

When busy I find it is so much easier to stick to simple types of brewing than working about fitting in entire gong fu sessions with teas that require a lot more attention.  While certainly those gong fu sessions produce excellent tea, well worth the effort, when you really love tea, you want to enjoy tea in any way you can.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Making it work

MTR 1.2km Trad Fire DD

So recently I have had the chance to try a good quality Taiwanese tea, and for my regularly readers you may have noticed or remember me at one time mentioning that I just do not do Taiwanese teas.  Not because I do not like them, but rather I just have not put forth any effort in exploring them.  As such I perhaps have slight holes in my teaware (shocking I know).  

But in regards to this, I was told for this tea heat retention was key, so a thin gaiwan could not be used.  This had me rattling my head, as for all more delicate teas that are not heavily roasted or heavily oxidized my go to vessels are Gaiwans.  But determined to make it work, I realized I have a Seong-il pot which is bulbous in shape, holds heat quite well, and is glazed on the inside so I shouldn't have to worry about much interaction.

MTR 1.2km Trad Fire DD Setup

It was certainly an experience, while this was not a super green high mountain taiwanese oolong, it was actually labeled as being traditionally fired, which I learned upon opening the package that traditional fire in Taiwan means a whole different thing than traditional fired for Hong Kong.  The leaves were still decently green, but the taste was quite interesting, I would have almost guessed this was a midway aged tea, that was not in an "off stage."  There were some interesting flavors of darker fruits most notably plum, but also a lot of nice greener and fresher notes.

If Taiwan offers many more teas like that I might just have to give in and start placing some orders.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Seeing Triple

What else can I say other than when looking for decent quality on a budget, in a size that is rarely offered in stores that cater to English speakers, options get quite limited quite quickly.  While I honestly do not know how many of these little 50ml brown yixing's Zen8Tea has sold, but quite a few people I know that have bought one have not stopped at just one.  I recently purchased two more bringing myself up to 3 of these little guys.  They might not be the greatest quality but they seem to work wonderfully with stuffed pots of roasted oolongs.

My biggest problem was how would I keep these straight, as one was to be used with high Quality Yancha, the other to be used with High Fire TGY, and the 3rd a switch hitter who is to fill in the gaps if I ever want to do a side by side brew/comparison.  I realized a simple wrapping around certain parts of the handles could greatly help.  So while I currently do not have string available, I did mark one in an interesting fashion with some dental floss.

Having used them quite a bit,I will say they do not hide what they are, but for giving you the ability to brew in a teapot, and one that does pick up a little bit of patina, instead of a gaiwan.  I love gaiwans but the ones I have are absolutely horrible in terms of heat retention and even when having the gaiwans half submerged in hot water, I feel like I am fighting a loosing battle with heat. Not to mention fighting a loosing battle in terms of water.

I must say this is the first item of teaware I have ever bought multiple of that is not a cup to create a matching set.  I am still unsure how I feel about that.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My favorite time of year

There is little better than the cool crisp days that come with the oncoming fall season.  To me it is the ideal weather for warm tea, and lots of it.  I also relish the cool weather days, as the weather is ideal where I do not feel like having a kettle on is counter productive to my comfort, or to my air conditioner.  In fact I almost feel like it is an added bonus, I get to heat my apartment while getting the added benefit of preparing beverages I love.

It remains to be seen what my teas of this winter season will be, but due to my schedule I definitely feel the need for teas I can enjoy while doing other work.  As such I almost feel Hong Cha is a must, for its wonderful ability to be brewed Grandpa style with little effort but often delivering a very drinkable and warm broth.  But for some reason the desire to drink gallons of tea when it is cold out often has me turning to Japanese Sencha, which while not consumed at such a warm temp as say Hong Cha or most Oolongs, still on those very cold days is warm enough to make me happy.

I think it goes without saying that the roasted oolongs most notably High Fire TGY and Yancha are ideal cool weather teas, which if budget were no issue, would be my consistent go to tea.

Then of course there is the winter classic in Japan, which somehow is the tea often consumed the coolest of them all ( when making tea with hot water), is gyokuro.   I think it has to do with the strong umami presence, and the extra soup like characteristics of this tea that make it incredibly ideal for the winter months.

So my question to my readers is, what teas are your go to winter teas?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tea as an Art


Gong fu cha has been translated in the past as "tea with skill."  We can view tea as either a science or an art, but for those of us that have spent time dealing with sciences, know once you go beyond just the standard calculations, the distinction between science and art are quite obscured.  Just like trying to become proficient in any area, practice is key to mastering anything.   With that in mind I often hope to practice brewing each type of tea at least once a week, and when trying to become proficient in a type of tea much more than that.

I learned when I rarely touched Yancha for nearly a year, that even though I had once been able to almost absentmindedly brew a very drinkable series of infusions of Yancha, and when I really gave the tea my full attention it was often wonderful.  Since then I switched to Sencha, which for some reason seems slightly more like an enigma, possibly because patience comes much more into play when trying to get the right water temperature for each infusion, and not just keeping track of somewhat short steep times.  

While my tastes are shifting back towards Yancha, and other roasted oolongs these days, my goal is to try not to let any my sencha chops fade into the abyss.  While I honestly hope to stay on top of my brewing skills for the types of tea I brew regularly, I always want to keep on exploring new teas.  It honestly seems like walking a thin line trying to brew Sencha, Yancha, High fire TGY, and Hong Cha at least once a week, and that is when I do not have some Korean greens to fit into the fold too, or in the winter when I want to have Gyokuro regularly.  I am honestly trying to figure out how I could fit Taiwanese Gaoshan oolongs into my routine, or try to recover my ability to brew a cup of puerh that I honestly would rather dump. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Schedule Changes

Those of us who participate in Gong Fu cha or similar type methods of drinking tea, know we often need a solid hour or more close to our tea gear, with hopefully minimal distractions to drink our tea.  As such we tend to create a schedule where we insert those blocks into our day and stick to them.  The problem though is a changing schedule.  My regular tea drinking schedule has been thrown for a bit of a loop lately with the weekends being just about the only reliable time to enjoy drinking tea.

My schedule has always been to enjoy tea shortly after dinner or shortly before depending on the time I could get back to my place.  This would energize me for the evenings and allow me to tackle my work in the evening, but have the caffeine wear off enough by the time  I would need to go to bed.  Worse now is Monday through Thursday I have evening classes and often do not get home till 6:30 and its often at least an hour later or more by the time I finish dinner and could start to be ready for tea.  Even worse is on most nights I need to head to bed earlier than usual as I need to make sure I am awake an aware to teach morning classes.

So this major shift in my schedule has left me in a bit of a pickle when trying to decide how to fit tea into most of my days.  Now that I am a bit more used to my schedule I will try and resume posting regularly, the cold I have had for the last week certainly isn't helping either.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Miracle Cast Iron?

So a few months ago I was at a store, and they had a bunch of Cast Iron "Teapots."  Normally I would write these things off right away, but upon further inspection of some of them, I came to realize these were not the lined cast iron Teapots.  Even more confusing I imagine they would make horrible teapots even though they came with infuser baskets, as I can't help but think if moisture was left inside them for an extended length of time they would rust horribly.  These were such bargain priced I decided to grab one to experiment with it as a kettle.   It has started to rust ever so slightly on the inside, and is gathering a little bit of white frosty build up on the inside.

But what teas should I use the kettle for when brewing?  This is a quite hard choice, as even inside similar categories I have gotten wonderful and not so great results between similar teas.  For example I tried it with my last bunch of The Tea Galleries Iron Warrior Monk, and it was phenomenal, I tried it with Red Blossoms Tie Lou Han, and while it had a similar effect by making the body much more pronounced the flavors seemed quite off.  The same thing has happened with some Sencha sometimes it is wonderful, other times with different teas some of the major notes of the teas seem horribly off.  They also seem to be off in interesting ways, like sometimes the tea tastes almost hollow,  in the sense that if the taste of a tea is a large painting sometimes it almost is like a cannon ball had been fired through the painting.

In full disclosure, I hope to elaborate on this more in the future, and one thing to consider is I have been eating a lot more Indian food, and it is entirely possible that on certain days the spice pallate I am not entirely used to has altered how I taste teas on those evenings.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Relearning about tea's tastes

There are many different types of tastes associated with tea that are viewed as important. Even more amazing is some of them barely qualify as tastes in the western sense of the word. These tastes are often more sensations, or "feels" as opposed to actual tastes. While I am sure I have been feeling these all along, I never quite focused on them or fully realized some of them or even viewed them as a way to appreciate a tea that may have lacked in other aspects.

I feel I might have prefaced this in excess, but I opened up my 2011 Tea Gallery Iron Warrior Monk finally, and brewed up a batch, and it was a barely more than mediocre tea in the aspect I am used the viewing teas. While it had good flavor they were not remarkable, it was an incredibly well crafted tea, and not a bad Wuyi Rock Tea. But this tea was remarkable in one sense, I had such a great "Throat feel" from this tea.

Now I am not sure I could quite describe it exactly as I felt it, but upon drinking each sip, it was almost there was a mini explosion of warmth and comfort in the center of my chest which radiated up into my throat, in a warm mineral feel. I should emphasize that this is different than just the feeling of drinking a warm drink, this was a lingering effect that while I was plenty warm already seemed to travel in an interesting fashion, almost like a quite pleasant tasting heart burn.

This is something I will now look for in other teas I drink, and search for other types of throat feel. I have heard of throat feel before but I guess I have never quite had such a profound example that jumped out to me as "this is what they are talking about."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How I brew "Grandpa" Style

If you read enough tea blogs surely you have heard the term Grandpa style in regards to brewing tea. In my understanding it is named after the method you see many older people use to drink tea in China. This method basically consists of a bowl/cup/glass leaves and a supply of hot water. Its a great way to drink for an extended length of time with minimal effort, as you drink down to a certain level and refill with hot water, in a "never ending cup of tea" situation.

Honestly depending on the tea I brew grandpa style slightly differently. But the end goal the same is, to have as many leaves as possible on the bottom of the drinking vessel to allow for easy sipping, while establishing a strong root. The trick to getting the leaves to stay on the bottom of the cup/bowl is actually very hot or near boiling water, which depending on the type of tea sounds like it could be a bit scary. But I take this as a chance to establish a strong root, while also getting the leaves to be settled along the bottom.

Once the kettle is boiling and the leaves are in the bottom of the bowl, I pour the boiling water into the bowl, and how high depends on the tea. The more delicate the tea is, (read the greener the tea), the less I fill the bowl with the near boiling water.

If its a highly delicate and very green tea, I aim to just cover the leaves with the very hot water, and then let it sit for quite a while, and start cooling the water I would add to top it off. I do this because for some reason the hotter the water the leaves sit in the more likely they are to settle, but the greener the tea the more easily it tends to settle. I am also establishing a root, but the low amount of water allows it to cool before overly cooking the leaves. Once the water to add is cool enough I top off the bowl, and start drinking. I drink down to 1/3 the level or so and then top off with warmer water.

If the tea is darker i.e Hong Cha or Yancha, I follow roughly the same steps as above, except upon first filling the bowl instead of just covering the leaves, I fill the bowl half way or slightly more. This is because for some reason the darker the leaves, and more so with Yancha the less likely they are to settle from just this step. The water constantly used to top off the bowl is also always near boiling, but I still only drink down to roughly a third of total volume before refilling.

It is a great way to slowly enjoy a large cup of tea, but I should caution while similar flavor waves come through brewing grandpa style vs brewing in a teapot or gaiwan, the flavor when brewed Grandpa style tends to go quicker, providing the first few "infusions" with strong robust brews compared to when brewed with a teapot.

A bit more history on the term Grandpa style, I believe the term was coined by MarsalN of A Tea Addicts Journal. I have also arrived at this method through experimenting, and talking with those more experienced such as MarshalN about how to best carry out this method.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extended trips and Teaware Packing

Being a Grad student whose living situation at times is somewhat fluid. I am going into my second year of renting this apartment, but I often take lengthy trips to visit family when I have off time. Having just returned from one such trip, I have been thinking about how my teaware collection has vastly out grown what seems reasonable to pack up and bring on a month long trip or so. It is an interesting idea to think about what teaware you would bring on these trips to maximize your enjoyment of the tea and teaware, but minimize the space it takes up in the car.

I found my last trip rather ideal for the given situation, but there are a few key questions that should be asked first.
  • What teas am I bringing with me?
  • If I place any orders while gone, what types of tea will they likely be?
After answering those, move onto the teaware. Obviously if any of those teas requires a bit of more specialized equipment, i.e Fukamushi sencha can not be brewed in something without a high quality screen, be sure to pack at least one item to account for each. The rest is basically determined by personal desires, such as what cup size to go with the brewing vessels. I probably do not have to say this, but for most Chinese and Taiwanese teas, gaiwans are a travelers friend.

That being said I did miss some of my favorite pieces of teaware that I choose to leave behind over the course of a month, and I learned a thicker Korean cup of equal size is not quite the same as a standard thin porcelain cup in how quickly it cools. That last part would normally not be a problem, except that this was in the middle of summer, so items are already cooling especially slowly.

That being said, while I was actually proud with how much I cut down on the teaware I brought with me, I still think I need to cut it down even further.

Friday, August 12, 2011

GTC: 2011 Kim Shin Ho Oojeon

Another Korean candidate for the green tea challenge, and one for which I had high hopes. Sadly I did not take my camera out for either of the two sessions I had with this tea. As such this post is going to be lacking photos. If you are ever looking for Korean teas, and you want something special, I will always suggest an Oojeon. Supposedly they are higher grades of Korean green teas, but Oojeon is priced high enough in most instances, and quite nice.

So getting to this tea, Kim Shin Ho is one of the tea masters whose tea is sold at Dao Tea in Canada, and part of the reason I was really looking forward to this tea, is the fact that I have quite liked the Kim Shin Ho teas I have tried, and I think he is a credit to his profession. So when I had the chance to try 10 grams of his Oojeon I was ecstatic. Before you read too much into what I am saying let me say the tea was a good, well put together and well crafted tea, but after trying the Cho Yun Seok Oojeon, I was a little let down.

This very well could all boil down to taste preferences. So if I were to compare the two, Kim Shin Ho's Oojeon, was a little bit too ethereal for me. In the sense that there was stuff going on, but it always seemed impossible to identify, sort of like light wisps of fog/ smoke in the wind. You can tell they are there, but they never seem to make a shape. In my opinion all good Oojeons have that quality to it, but why I preferred Cho Yun Seok's is that in addition to that it had an incredibly strong and profound root taste, something that you knew was definitely there.

But then again this is something that boils down to taste. I like how green tea can have that almost shape shifting taste wave to it, but at the same time perhaps why I am more fond of Sencha that certain Chinese teas, is I also like there to be a dominant flavor wave. For example in my last post, I was talking about a tea that preformed so much better when it was brewed in a teabowl, as opposed to in a pot. Part of that might have been that in a teabowl I expose it to warmer water, and it steeps for extended lengths of time. That tea was actually a Korean Daejak, which when brewed in a teapot came off as to light and ethereal, but when brewed in the teabowl asserted its presence while still having that other amazing quality to it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

There is no right way...

A lot of us Westerners who drink tea in more traditional Asian styles (or at least attempt to get close), often put a lot of emphasis in brewing with a teapot and cups, going through almost a nonstop pouring sequence. I mean pour water into the kettle, pour water from the kettle to the teapot, pour from teapot to cups, "pour" cups into our mouths, and repeat until deemed finished. Depending on which tea I make I could guess I pour the same water up to half a dozen times. But we go through this because of some belief that it makes an outstanding cup of tea, and bar any mistakes in brewing it typically does. But is this really the best way for all teas?

I am trying to head off at least a few comments right now, about how brewing like that is meant to bring out all the leaves can offer, and demonstrate how it evolves over a session. I brewed one tea "grandpa" style the other day, and it opened my eyes. When brewing it more traditionally it was mediocre, or slightly better than mediocre, at best, and that is even when I was really careful with the brewing. Its not that the tea wasn't interesting, it seemed a bit standard for its type, and seemed to lack substance. But I brewed that tea in a teabowl, how I would normally glass brew, and the tea was hardly recognizable as that same run of the mill tea. The tea had so much body, an almost velvety texture, and flavors that made you pay attention. In short the tea was quite outstanding.

I almost feel like I need to sort all of my teas into categories, those that are great casually, and those that are really something when you give them your full attention and go through the sequence of pours. While I will usually go through the rigorous brewing procedure to first test the tea, but sometimes I think a tea just needs to be brewed a little differently so it can better meet your taste preferences.

Another such example is I have a hard time standing Shu Puerh, but if I brew it with a little bit of leaf to a large amount of water for an extensive length of time ( 10+ minutes), I get something that I find incredibly comforting like an almost earthy cup of coffee.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shincha, how do I always still have some in August?

Moon over El Capitain
So granted my tea drinking habits have been a bit random lately, in part because I am painting my room in my parents house, something which sorely needed to be done if the house is ever going to be resold. Lets just say I was exploring my artistic side when I last painted my room, and while I like it, its something a bit so personalized it sorely needed to be painted as its questionable as to whether anyone else would like that room. So as the room is being redone, I am left moving tea items around to set up shop where ever I wish to have tea, and no where is ever quite as peaceful as when I have a room all to myself.
The real surprise, is while it is the second year I have ever ordered Shincha, somehow once again it is August and my Shincha supply is only at half gone. Thankfully it does not seem so tragic this year, as I only ordered 3 bags of Shincha, and part of the delay in finishing it seems to come from the fact that I placed an order from O-Cha when they were doing their blow out sale of teas from the previous year. Combine that with a wonderful order of Korean greens, and a rekindling of my interest in Roasted oolongs, and the Shincha is not going anywhere near as fast as I would have thought.
At least this year I am well underway in making plans of how to use up Shincha faster, I am about to make some cold brew Shincha, and open my final unopened bag. Being as my tea sessions have been a bit hap-hazard I haven't had much opportunity to take photo's. So I give you pictures of Yosemite National Park.
Uper and Lower Yosemite Falls (1)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Uricha, a tea that baffles me

Uricha Wrapped

Again this is a time when my lack of language skills are horribly apparent. I really do not know what Uricha is, but from its description it sounds like a compressed Balhyocha, which is a Korean Yellow/oolong tea. Neat little package as you can see above and below its a little ball but surprisingly dense.

Uricha unwrapped

This just advances my belief that Korea is a great practically untapped resource for high quality, and incredibly unique teas. For instance, have you ever tasted "salted roasted peanuts" before in a tea? Well through the first two infusions of this tea I could think of little else. If the vendor I received this tea from lists it, I will be sure to let everyone know as it is certainly a peculiar tea.

Uricha brew

One thing I will say while it was quite highly compressed, breaking off pieces was not that challenging, and should I have had a tuo pick, it would have been almost childs play. (As close as working with a sizable and quite sharp "needle" can get to childs play.) I just happened to find a slightly looser spot and massaged it with my fingers and leaves started to flake off ever so slowly opening up a larger and larger patch of tea to get more leverage on prying off more leaves.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A visit to Red Blossom

Red Blossom (6)

While in San Fransico, I had the opportunity to visit Red Blossom Tea House, with my mother, who took the photos inside the shop. It was quite the experience as I really have only visited one high quality tea vendors "shop" prior to this, especially one where asking to try something brewed is somewhat common place. As part of my goal was to get back in touch with Wuyi Yancha, I asked to try some Tie Lo Han, which gave a chance for discussions to start. We were helped by Alice, who was wonderful.

Red Blossom (8)

I am not entirely sure what happened next but somehow we sat at the tea table for roughly an hour, as a few others stopped by and left, while several other teas were brewed, in total two Wuyi's and 2 Taiwan oolongs. I feel it was in part luck and in part because I think I demonstrated that I wasn't the typical tourist in China town visiting a teashop that lead to me trying all these different teas.

They seemed to be slightly pushing their High Mountain Formosa oolongs, which while good, were not quite what I was looking for, but I did leave with 6 Ounces of Yancha, and 4 ounces of their aged Tung Ting, along with a new Yixing pot, to hopefully use for yancha, (which seems to be preforming wonderfully so far).

I highly encourage anyone visiting the San Fransico area that is an avid tea drinker to try and stop by Red Blossom Tea. Especially if you like Celedon teaware, I am still mentally drooling over some of their pieces, most of which are not up online yet.

Golden Gate Bridge (13)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A gap in tea experiences

I will be the first to admit I have some major gaps in my tea experiences, for instance, I have never taken the time to get to know High Mountain Oolongs from Taiwan, I have almost completely ignored the Subcontinent of India, and Chinese teas offer so much variety that I could pick out half a dozen of small gaps there. In respect to China I feel it would take a life time of experience to try and make heads or tails of the entire gamut of Chinese teas. Granted I have had a decent number of Indian teas, and I have had a number of oolongs from Taiwan, a few of which might have been High Mountain.

People new to tea, can at times go wild buying a little bit of everything, and while I encourage this, I at times have to remind myself if I have only tried a small number of teas in a certain category, that I should not overly boast, or quickly dismiss that entire group. It could easily be that the vendors tastes in terms of that type of tea differ from what you would normally seek. For instance roasted teas have this happen a lot, everyone seems to have their favorite preference for the amount of roasting they want in a certain style of tea. More so one vendor may label a tea as High/ Heavy roast, that another vendor would label as Medium.

The real question is do we ever reach a certain point of comfort in the teas that we have tried that makes us complacent and unwilling to thoroughly explore any gaps that might remain, or any categories written off after trying a few teas not to our liking? I for one will say that so far this year I have not explored beyond my somewhat large comfort zone. and I seem to be in a bit of a process of revisiting old favorites. Part of me says that I have enough tea on hand that I am not that fond of, do I really need to explore and end up with more tea I will almost have to force myself to drink? The other part though is reminded of certain categories of tea that I decided to order almost on a whim, that caught my attention, and are now some of the ones I turn to most often?

Its an interesting puzzle, do you explore just to explore, or do you drink tea because you love it, and you want to drink the teas you love?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

GTC: 2011 Cho Yun Seok Oojeon

Jukro oojeon Leaves

This is the first contender, and inspiration for this "challange" of sorts. It is the first of hopefully many posts that start with "GTC" standing for Green Tea Challenge, in which I will be discussing a green tea I have either chosen to look into. I am also looking for suggestions in the previous post.

As the tea that inspired this challenge, it should give you some idea of how special this tea is. I recieved this tea along with an order from Dao Tea, and it is one of the teas Pedro (owner of Dao Tea) is looking at adding to his line up of teas, boosting his Korean Tea selection into an incredibly solid state, as these Jukro offerings from the tea master Cho Yun Seok, will hopefully include more than just the oojeon, Daejak, JungJak, and a Uricha .

Jukro Oojeon Color

From the very beginning I knew this tea was going to be special. First of all it is an Oojeon, which the only one I have tried previously was in contention for my favorite tea. The dry leaves had an aroma of dark chocolate and lavender, a theme which stuck around through the first few infusions. Even more amazing is the first infusion honestly reminded me of the best matcha I have ever had, but without the chalky mouth feel, and with so much more to it, with hints of a breath in the middle of a deep pine forest, and lavender.

This is the tea that gave me the absolutely incredible session outlined in the "Sessions that make you..." post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Mid Day Hong Cha

Starting today I will be away on a trip. I have lined up a few periodic posts while I am away, but I will likely be unable to moderate any comments which might be left until I get back. I am saying this to try an avoid ruffling any feathers, as I know I can be a bit slow moderating them sometimes, but I do not think I have ever gone more than a few days without at least publishing a comment left on the site that I felt contributed to the discussion.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Searching for Amazing Green teas

I am issuing a challenge to myself, to seek out amazing green teas. As it is already well into July I may need to wait almost an entire year to seek out some very high quality and fresh Chinese greens. I would like to solicit some recommendations as to where I can find and order (online) some of the best green teas from the following categories: Gyokuro, Sencha, Matcha, Long Jing, Bi Lo Chun, and a few other Chinese Green Teas.

I will say I am a bit clueless as where to find some very high quality Chinese greens. I do want to try a Japanese Temomicha (hand made tea). I will also be trying some Korean Green teas also, but there are very few places online that those are available and I have already started sourcing some.

In a couple of days I will post my first contender, for the title of the best green tea. I will say that this one is a doozy, and based on some of the great green teas I have tried already, this will be incredibly hard to beat.

Teas I feel should be on the list to try:

Wakamatsu-no-mukashi (ippodo)

Tenka-iichi (ippodo)
Yume no Ukihashi (O-Cha)

Ujibashi San no Ma (O-Cha)
Kaboku (Ippodo)

(Need suggestions for Fukamushi and Chumushi suggestions).

Long Jing: (Some or all of the following)
Lion Xi Hu Long Jing (Teaspring)
Emperor Long Jing (Teaspring)
Shi Feng Long Jing (Jing Tea Shop)
Wang Jia Shan Long Jing (Jing Tea Shop)

Again I am looking for suggestions, so if you have had an absolutely amazing green tea please let me know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sessions that make you...

Jukro oojeon

There are many different types of tea sessions, there are those when you are in a hurry, need a pick me up, and so on. I want to talk about to very specific types of tea sessions today. Those that make you want to stay, and those that make you want to run away.

I hate to say it but lately I have been having to many of the latter, even more troubling is even the better sessions were still not that good. It seemed that my best sessions now, would have been considered some of the worst prior to grad school. But mind you at that time I was so well practiced at brewing, even when incredibly distracted, my internal instincts were so good, I barely botched a brew. Now being a bit out of practice even when focusing entirely on the tea I seem to only be getting mediocre sessions. As such lately I had been feeling like walking away from tea for awhile. Taking a step back, and no longer pursue it with the emphasis I have been trying to give it for these past few years.

Today I had a session, that honestly reminded me of why I drink tea. Even more than that, it felt like it opened up so many more doors in relation to tea of things I want to look into. Challenges I want to undergo. It even made me consider cutting back on spending in so many other areas of my life so I can spend more on tea. While I have always liked tea, and it has been by my side many times over the past 10 or so years, I actually never had a story that I felt was a true answer to the question "What made you get into tea?"

This session-- ooooh-- this session is that answer alright. It might even be the answer to "What has kept you focused on tea?" It was one of those things that was so enjoyable, all you want to do is to try and recreate it.

In a future post I will tell you what tea this was.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thoughts on Highfire Tie Guan Yin


I have been trying quite a few different High Fire Tie Guan Yin's lately, and I can honestly say they can be quite surprising and wonderfully varied. Now my definition of Highfired is a bit loose, but in general if the leaves are the same color as you can see on some sort of chocolate bar, then its what I would consider High Fire. That rule is only for more recent teas from the past five years or so, as aged teas that have seen very little roasting can also appear dark once old enough.

It is quite interesting to see the difference between levels of roast on these different teas. I will say I think I am a bigger fan of the wonderfully fruity flavors that the slightly less roasted, teas can develop. Although the very, very heavy roast teas have their place also, as they remind me a bit of coffee, and are wonderfully warming and welcome in the cold winter months. But then again just about all warm drinks, especially ones with a fair bit of roast seem incredibly welcome in the middle of winter.

I wish I knew a little bit more about the production of these teas, as in part I wonder if some are more or less oxidized than others, and how that contributes to the tastes. I have a hunch, but I am not entirely sure that if the leaves are oxidized more prior to roasting, many more wonderful fruit flavors develop such as apples with certain spices, and plums.

All I can say is my little bargain 50 ml yixing has gotten lots of use these past few months and I still have quite a bit of Highfire Tie Guan Yin to work through, not to mention the fact that I will likely order much more.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shincha Vs. Sencha

Okitsugawa Miyabi

It is a common misconception that Shincha is "First flush" and sencha comes from later flushes. I am far a fluent Japanese speaker, so I will not even dare to quote direct translations, and what they mean. Shincha most certainly is unique, some view it as a celebration of the new harvest, and others view it as a bit of a gimmick. In that sense it is quite like the Beaujolais Nouveau of the Japanese tea world.

But Shincha and Sencha both come from the first pickings of tea in Japan. Though both are processed differently, which lead to their different tastes. I personally am a bit more fond of Sencha, as Shincha in my opinion has always been a bit of a kick in the mouth. I liken Sencha to eating lightly cooked vegetables, and raw baby carrots, sweet with lots of other nice flavors. Shincha to me is like eating raw broccoli (without any sort of dip). Some people enjoy it, for others its a bitter mess that must be enjoyed in moderation.

For me to reduce the strong flavor profile of Shincha to one I find more enjoyable I often brew cooler than I would for Sencha, and much shorter especially after the first infusion. Its something like this that makes me like tea so much, with most other beverages their taste profiles can not be customized to taste without actually putting in some sort of other ingredient, with tea you can just brew it slightly differently, to tune it to your tastes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bits and pieces

I had first heard about this idea from Hobbes in regard to puerh. I have since adopted it to Yancha with decent success. The original idea from puerh is upon breaking up the cake, brick, tuo, or what have you it is hard to break off exactly as much as you need, and even then there is always a bit left over in excess. But instead of wrapping those back up in the wrapper (usually a disaster waiting to happen), or just tossing the extra, its a good idea to make a grab bag of sorts. When I have a cold I always turn to my puerh bits and pieces for a quick pick me up and turn me around. That because I do not need to handle any cakes, and when my sinuses are blocked, and my head feeling like it weighs a hundred pounds, the last thing I want to do is put in as much effort as Puerh occasionally needs. But that being said it looses its special character as you are not drinking a cake that should you really like it you could easily go out and buy a few more, and even worse should you really enjoy it, it is quite impossible to exactly recreate that mixture as once enough scraps have been donated to the cause it is hard to guess exactly how much of what you actually took.

Its actually quite common with the teas we drink to often have a bag of tea that no longer has enough for an entire session, but still so many quality leaves that it shouldn't be thrown out. With some teas you have to get creative like blending leftover sencha's with other sencha's or Genmaicha just to use up those last bits. But certain teas (read higher oxidation/ higher roast teas) which can put up with a decent bit of air exposure, I realized could lend themselves to a bits and pieces jars. Now that I think about it I am not sure if the idea is completely my own, as I believe Jason said he had a jar of roasted oolongs that he mixed and matched just to use up at work. But that being said, to this jar I have been adding the ends of bags of Yancha, or adding some from bags of tea that do not seem that interesting themselves, or overly harsh themselves. There are upsides and downsides to this, but these mix and match jars once they get full enough, become a wonderful every day, or casual tea.

I am potentially considering using another Jar for Highfire Tie Guan Yin, although now that I have my 40ml Yixing, I brew incredibly small quantities at a time, meaning it would take a very long time to build up a critical mass of Roasted Tie Guan Yin. In terms of all the other teas I drink, the only other one I could consider putting together a jar of bits and pieces would be Hong Cha, as I do not think greener teas would stay fresh long enough to build up a critical mass.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Down Side of Repetition


We all have our favorite teas which we brew more often than any other type of tea. One of my personal favorites is Sencha, a tea I have been brewing almost daily. But I have realized recently that too much practice at brewing a certain tea can build a certain confidence, or lax in attention when brewing that tea compared to a brand new tea.

I have paid for my inattentiveness quite dearly as the last two times I have brewed sencha, thinking of it as just brewing sencha once more, I seem to get the first infusion down pat, but subsequent infusions are often so bitter it might as well be stripping away my tooth enamel. The hardest part about messing up a tea, is getting back on track to great tasting infusions, as the normal rhythm of brewing that tea is thrown off, and I often have a hard time accurately judging what my next brew length should be compared to how long I would normally spend on that infusion number.

I almost feel this is the reason why trying an unusual tea, or a tea for the very first time often leads to better results. It is the focus being strictly on the tea, and not so much on the homework or research, that leads to consistent and good results.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two Tea Perspectives

It is amazing how depending on who you talk to, tea can have drastically different interpretations. Culture may sway someone more towards one direction or another, but I highly suspect no matter the culture both these images of tea exist. Now I do not fault anyone for having one view or another, or some sort of hybrid of the two.

First view, tea is a beverage served hot or iced used as a caffeine boost. I highly suspect that a lot of people that are in this group also often drink coffee just for the caffeine boost. They could also be a bit more health conscious, and choose to drink tea over soda because it offers less calories, and possible benefits.

Second view is much more elaborate, and almost borders on religion. Tea is consumed for relaxation, boost in awareness, and as a method of practice towards self improvement. Bringing to mind the phrase "Zen and Tea, one taste". I often view making and drinking tea as my favorite type of meditation. It being a moment when I can focus my thoughts, slow down, and just focus on what is going on around me. I personally feel people in the second view are almost as addicted to the practice of brewing tea, as they are to the actual tea itself.

Possibly the biggest difference between the two involves the concept of Cha Qi (Cha Chi, etc..) or basically the energy of the tea. I do not want to be stereotypical, but when was the last time you heard of someone that drinks predominantly the gamut of English Brand teas, ever muse on what sort of energy the tea, and how it makes them feel besides energized and awake?

A major similarity between the two tends to be their appreciation for flavors, and different flavors. I honestly feel someone from either category has no problem buying high end teas, or many different types of teas in search for flavor variety. In my opinion people who view tea closer to the second view, are more traditional. By that I mean their tea's flavor only comes from the leaf, and its processing, and possible natural scenting or very slight blending with other herbs or flowers. I say that because I do not know many people that would fall close to the second view point, that are constantly drinking teas with bits of dried fruits and candies mixed in.

Now I do not claim one view is better than the other, and the fact that tea so easily accommodates these two vastly different views, is what makes it such a universal beverage. That, and regardless of your view point tea drinkers seem to be united by the fact that they drink tea, and the like what they drink, and will drink what they like.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Celebration Tea

Celebration Tea

After receiving word that I passed my Graph Theory Prelim on Friday, I have been in a bit of a celebratory mood, and it brought up the question in my mind. What teas do you like to drink when you are celebrating?

I personally tend to go for stuff whose prices or uniqueness put them well out of the every day situation. Yesterday I had the remainder of my 3 Stamp Shui Xian from The Tea Gallery, and today I am making a day of it by trying to tackle the remainder of an Aged Puerh sample from Hou De.

97 7542 blue and white

Part of why I am asking this question I want to see if among us tea drinkers there is a Champagne of tea, in the sense that there is one go to category of tea that tea drinkers wish to drink upon happy and joyous occasions. Such as what tea would you brew up on New Years Eve? What tea to celebrate the birth of a child?

I honestly do not have it nailed down for the longest time it has been aged puerh, but the more and more I drift to the green sides of things the more extreme aged puerh tastes to me. Now I am thinking my Celebration teas should be high Quality Yancha, possibly aged 3 or more years. But that is not to say that Gyokuro or Matcha's do not make excellent celebration teas themselves. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2 or 3 stamps an experiment in Cupping

2 and 3 stamp cupping

The Tea Gallery carries two different Shui Xian Yancha's labeled as 2 stamp and 3 stamp. Now the difference between these two is subtle, I first heard it described as a slightly different level of roasting. But I have since learned that it is more a system of grading. The 2 stamp being a slightly lower grade than the 3 stamp. I had tried these teas a few days apart and they were similar enough that I felt it would be an excellent time to view these two in a side by side tasting.

The idea is simple a somewhat standard tea cupping type setup. I happen to have two porcelain rice bowls that work wonderfully for this job pictured above. I put roughly 4 grams into each (4.1 into 1 and 4.0) into the other. First thing is it is automatically appearant between the two that the 2 stamp definitely contained more broken leaf bits, than the 3 stamp. Perhaps it was because the 3 stamp was being warmed slightly more in the sunlight that I felt the 3 stamp also had a much more pronounced aroma.

These two were definitely quite similar, the most noteworthy thing would be I felt the 2 stamp had a much more apparent roast. By that I mean the 2 stamp tasted more like charcoal and smoke, than the 3 stamp. But both stood up to this test quite wonderfully and I honestly would love to get more of either or both.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tea Collection


In the wine world, you often hear about people referencing their cellars, or their collection. In this post I am going to address in part one tea's that have no problem being stored for awhile, upwards of many years which are good to try and keep a few on hand in a "cellar" of sorts. I will also touch upon freshness issues, and for the most part I recommend keeping unopened teas out of direct light in their original packaging.

Greener teas (lower levels of Oxidation and minimal roasts)

This includes Green Ooolongs, green teas, white teas, and yellow teas. For these I recommend considering your average monthly consumption, and depending on your preference have 2-4 months worth of average consumption on hand.

One notable exception to this is Gyokuro which due to its interesting ability to age, this could easily be bumped up to 6 or even 8 months for gyokuro.

Darker Teas (Higher Roast, Higher Oxidation)

These due to their wonderful ability to age well, especially when kept in the packaging vendors usually put them in, can be kept for a much longer length of time without worrying about deterioration in freshness/ quality. In fact some of these teas often benefit from a bit of extra storage. As such When considering monthly consumption depending on your budget, I see no problem in keeping up to a years worth of consumption in storage. Though if you drink excessive amounts this may not be practical from the sense of space, and initial capital.


If you do not subscribe to the fact that puerh will always get better with age regardless of storage. Then I feel up to a few years of average consumption is okay for raw and shu, and personal preference for aged. This is a hard one to consider, as for young Raw I would like to say anywhere up too a year, but if you do not consume Young raw often, that could limit you to only a couple of standard bingcha's. That might be a bit of a death warrant to your consumption itself, as I often find when there is not a large variety of options, and no real end to a particular option is in sight, it can slow any progress you were making on working through teas to snails pace.

A wonderful part of having a storage situation like this set up, is while it might be a large amount of ordering initially to slowly get stocks up to your preferred levels, but it will be unlikely that you deplete multiple large categories of teas that will force you to place multiple orders in a single month.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Surprising Sencha (7132)

7132 in Karatsu Yunomi

A sencha that gets better with age. Yes I did write that, and I am not taking it back, sadly it is off the market and I just opened my last bag so I can not age it much longer. This is a 7132 Asamushi that was offered by O-cha earlier. Kevin the owner of O-cha mentioned that it was only put out on the market later on in the year because its producers believed it got better with age. This lead me to put it to a little bit of a test, I bought a few bags, and opened them up periodically.

Varietal 7132 is an interesting tea varietal which supposedly has a strong sakura (cherry) note. It never quite really seems to surprise though. Abusing this tea to no end trying it all sorts of different ways, it releases a variety of different flavors, but it seems as long as you stay within the reasonable sencha parameters, it is a package full of sweetness, spice, and dried fruits, I do not think I have tasted a sencha anywhere close. But what is this about aging?

Well having just opened up my last bag as I was getting scared keeping a bag of sencha around for so long. In the first bag it was nice, flavorful, but quite mild. The second bag was similar, and I thought the differences had a bit more to do with me a bit more zoned into how to best brew this tea. Third bag opened up much much later than the second one, is now a flavor bomb unlike any sencha I know. I find in my experience asamushi sencha tends to be on the mild side (unless its brewed wrong), but if I had not opened the bag myself, and inspected the leaves, if someone just handed me a cup of this brewed, I would swear it was flavored.

The more and more I get to know different varieties of tea, the more I begin to suspect that every tea can be aged. Whether or not you think it is an improvement is a different question, but every tea can be aged, so that it changes in a controlled fashion, so controlled that the tea does not go bad, but changes into an almost entirely different tea. Now I am not saying go out and hoard sencha to age, but sometimes when people make a comment about how something ages you just need to run a little experiment for yourself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Closed Minded

Sencha 7132 O-Cha

As much as I hate to admit it, but my whole entire experience with tea has been one giant lesson in why you should be open minded. While I have always wanted to try as many teas as possible, to often do I find myself dismissing entire categories of tea as sub par, or just plain not for me, I am consistently having eye opening experiences which always make me reconsider my views.

In the past I had written off Japanese teas, red/black teas, exceptionally green oolongs, and shu puerh, as just not doing it for me. Amazingly enough I know likely drink more Japanese Tea than any other type, and have since sworn off not having at least some hong cha in stock. Now I am quite content in saying I have no problem giving any tea a try, as long as it is pure C. Sinensis.

Though this almost begs the question, am I being to narrow/closed minded by avoiding herbal tisanes, flavored teas, while I do not mind the occasional Earl Grey, I really am not interested in a Caramel Mocha black tea, or a peppermint patty green tea. (If any company actually produces those tea flavors I apologize). These "teas" offer an interesting conundrum, in the sense that am I seeking to have a good understanding of things people around her refer to as Tea. I mean I always feel like a bit of a snob when I tell a person I know I drink a lot of tea, and they go on to tell me about how they love some tea which I wouldn't want to touch any of my teaware, even the porcelain. I am unsure if I am closed minded regarding those "teas" because I refuse to acknowledge them as a category of "true tea".

Though flavored tea offers a bit more confusion. Do I through out Jasmine teas, Lapsang Souchong, and other very historic teas with long standing traditions which are technically flavored?

Teaware Display

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why I stopped reviewing teas

You may have noticed that I no longer write reviews of teas, that is for many reasons, but due to some recent comments on MarshalN's post about what is sour, I felt it would make a good post to elaborate here. I will copy a comment made to a certain person that felt strongly that we could generate a so to speak Color system of Flavors.

You are approaching this as if senses can not be flawed even when they appear to be working normally. While the eyes tend to adjust faster because they are always taking in Data and recalabrating, there are times when eyes do not perceive certain colors as they should. Its what I call the Ski Goggle effect, you put on the orange ski goggles and everything looks off in color for awhile, but then after you wear them long enough you do not really notice the change and you can easily identify almost specifically certain colors in the same family even though you are using colored lenses. Then you take them off after a day full of skiing and now the colors seem off again, partially because your eyes had adjusted to the way things look with the orange goggles on.

The problem with taste is, while the taste senses are always registering what is in your mouth, that is not always guaranteed to return to some stable state allowing you to recalibrate then go from there again. Have you ever noticed how certain things do not taste right after drinking or eating certain things. Like Orange Juice is disgusting after brushing your teeth. Well most people do something in their mouth eat or drink something, and assume because they are not realizing they are tasting it two hours later that their mouth has returned to the exact same state as it was before they did that. Not to mention so much of taste is smell the condition of your breath plays a huge role in how your tastes are working at that particular time.

I have learned when you describe the flavor of something, it at best describes the flavor based on the condition of your mouth at that particular time. Now I never used to quite believe this whole pairing idea of pairing certain foods with certain drinks, but when viewed from this light it makes so much more sense. It uniformly sets everyone’s palate so close to the same area by having chocolate or cheese or what have you, so they all experience the beverage in a similar fashion, and it is usually such a choice that it sets their palate up so they taste certain aspects of the drink that people in general seem to find more attractive.

So in short I am with Marshal on this, because while it is easier to decide on some basic tastes most of which are quite cutting and apparent, sweet, salty, bitter, when we start to describe more complex flavors it really comes into play what we had for our last meal, or if we stood in a room full of smoke, etc.

In case that comment was not clear enough, let me elaborate a bit on my findings. I found out through tasting many things that items that should taste nearly identical during two or three separate tastings, and things wound up tasting incredibly different. While with tea this can usually be explained away into how attentive to brewing you were, but this happened with other items things such as Wine and Beer, things that the user has minimal interaction with. I could only come down to conclude, and upon further thought it made perfect sense, but the mouth is not a perfect system.

Like I described those of us whether color blind or not have come to expect things to look a certain way, so when something skews our sight as long as it is not a blur, but rather just a minor color change, our eyes adapt to those colors and eventually we do not realize we have that color change going on. Think about wearing sunglasses or Ski goggles.

In terms of taste though, it seems an endless almost vicious cycle where anything you eat or drink will have an effect on the taste of the next thing you eat or drink. While a bit of taste deprivation, by fasting for an extended period of time can help remove the tastes to more neutral. The effect that has on the breath can then hinder your tastes. So much of taste is dependent on the aroma's present while doing the tasting.

Why I gave up on reviewing teas, is I often felt that even though I could often identify certain key flavors I said before but certain of them even to me seemed like I was at times reaching for things, at other times I could identify every flavor and think I tasted even more. So in short I lost a bit of confidence my ability to write reviews that would consistently be true. I firmly believe my sense of taste works just fine as I believe most others tastes do. But what I came to realize is we can rarely rely on our tastes to be perfect or ideal, no matter how we prep them.

Not to mention while reviewing teas was both helpful in the sense that it forced me to pay complete attention to the tea and give it deep thought, but at the same time I was focused on the tea, but not appreciating the tea. All these things put together lead me to desire to find a deeper appreciation of tea beyond that of just a drink.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A break in the race and Highfire TGY

Highfired TGY

Life is a race in which sometimes you sprint, other times jog or even walk. Lately for me it has been much more of a sprint, but I will say the thing I love about tea is the fact that it is a wonderful time out from the race so to speak. Granted if I had items A, B, and C to do before I started tea I still have to do them later, but I am refreshed and energized to tackle the net set of items. I have lately taken to having tea while sitting cross legged on a cushion, for as long as I possibly can, something about this is quite nice relaxing, in a way that I almost feel brings me closer to the tea that I am drinking.

Highfire TGY has been consistently in my cups recently, and one of which is pictured above. This is in part due to a purchase of some tea and the inclusion of many samples from another tea lover. The most interesting thing about this is the samples came from places that I really have no way to order from, but give an interesting perspective on some teas that can be found outside the western oriented vendors. Most notable are two picked up in Hong Kong, and it confirmed at least one suspicion I had about teas in Asia. That being while there is for the most part a wider variety of teas available they are in no way shape far superior or inferior to those that can be ordered online. Pricing may be another issue, and due to this I am considering possibly taking my chances with Taobao on a few items sometime in the future.

Spring term is now over, making for a much lighter summer, as I am not teaching and only taking 1 class for half the summer. This is both wonderful and somewhat frightening at the same time, the former a bit more obvious, the later due to the fact that before one can begin working on a Doctoral dissertation in mathematics, they must first pass exams in certain areas of mathematics which test for a "basic" proficiency of the concepts in each of the exams fields. Basic is used in a bit of an awkward fashion, as it tests for understanding of the material in those fields that is needed to give one such a thorough grounding in those areas that they could potentially start to do research in those fields, and could have little problem teaching Undergraduate classes in those area's. So the end of the spring term is somewhat ominous due to the fact that I have my first such exam in less than a month.

This summer should bring much more tea, and more time to go about experimenting on ways I can improve and enjoy my tea even more.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coffee Shops and Tea

Mid Day Hong Cha

This past week I was getting a cup of coffee with a sandwich at a shop on campus, and while waiting in line I noticed they had quite a bit of tea on hand for sale. I frequent this shop somewhat often, and staring at this tea selection it occurred to me that I have never chose to try tea from this place, even though I consider myself predominantly a tea drinker and only frequent coffee shops when I need a caffeine pick me up in a hurry in a to go container.

The thing that struck me the most about their tea selection, was how I was practically repulsed by it. Perhaps I am slightly turning into a tea snob, but when I read the names of green teas, and black teas, that offer no real clue at what is in side, and many of the names hint at the blend likely containing some fruit, I do not really want to try it. Then I consider the fact that no matter which tea I order basically no care would put into brewing it. No attention paid to water temperature and likely the water would come from the same hot water reservoir that they use for the espresso machines which is potentially slightly altered by its proximity to coffee.

Now I have nothing against tea bags, or the fact that coffee shops want to sell tea, I just find it funny that I rarely see a tea shop that sells coffee, likely because they do not want to compromise their tea with the strong penetrating coffee aroma's, yet coffee shops just about always sell tea but rarely do it justice.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Choosing Teacups

Hakeme Daisen Yunomi with Sencha

It is often said that tea is best presented in a cup with a white Interior. Consider the picture above, in which the Yunomi holds green tea, but the color does not seem to stand out, and almost looks a bit of a repulsive brownish yellow color of stale green tea.

I would like to outline why I both accept and deny the concept that tea should only be presented in a cup with a white interior and talk about when it is okay to ignore that "rule."
The pro's of a White interior:
  1. You have a well defined base color of which you can use to reference the actual color of the tea.
  2. Using that base color you can see the density in the color of the tea, i.e. how the color changes close to the edge where the tea is thinner.
  3. Easy to know if it is clean or dirty.
But white is also boring, so while it should be viewed as a golden standard for a teacup for any sort of tea. Though different colored interiors can do wonders for different types of teas. For example consider how wonderful this tea looks simply because it is held in a cup with a blue interior:
A stuck drip of tea

So while blue interiors do wonders for green teas, making their slightly more natural yellow colors come across as bright vibrant green. It seems darker colored teas look good in a wider variety of cups with interior colors. That is because they tend to be much more opaque and less likely to have the interior color create an off appearance with the color of the tea.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What will this years harvests bring

This post might have fit better for a New years post, but the fact that the Spring Harvests season for many teas is just kicking off, it seems an appropriate time for this post anyway. But each year seems to bring all sorts of new surprises in my tea journey, most of which are quite unexpected. Such as last year I had no idea I would fall in love with Korean teas, and discover a love of Chinese Hong Cha late in the year.

But in terms of completely untouched territory I think I am running out of well known area's, I could take the plunge into Taiwanese Oolongs. But what is more likely, is this year will likely be full of me returning to old favorites, as I largely neglected Yancha last year. Either way I always look forward to trying teas I have yet to try, along with repurchasing old favorites.

A few things I made notes of for this year, is I do not want to get so caught up in the Shincha frenzy, and can honestly see myself getting very little Shincha compared to last year, as I do not want to have stock well into September again. I may or may not try a fresh Chinese Green. But I will definitely try and find a new harvest Korean Green to enjoy.

Doo Mool Korean Green

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Too many teas


I am starting to realize there are far to many teas to try, when I first started drinking tea, I thought this far into my journey I would have at least explored several types of most of the main categories of tea. Tea in general presents a challenge, juggling your stock and placing orders based on various considerations such as old favorites, new things to try, and desire to use a certain piece of teaware.

One thing I have come to realize is I have now found so many favorite teas, that I could almost be content ordering them over and over again, and simply drink them in a bit of a rotation. Though I like to explore a little bit so while I will enjoy drinking those teas, I always want to try new teas, one blaring gap in my tea journey is a lack of exploration of Taiwan Oolongs. While I have tried a few, I have yet to drink much more than a sample of any Taiwan oolong, and no where near enough to get a good understanding of what they can be.

What I find most interesting though is due to some of my favorite pieces of teaware, are only being used for a few specific teas, and while I may not care if those teas run dry, I tend to get a bit on edge if I do not use a piece of teaware in quite some time. For example I usually do not keep matcha on hand, but typically after going 2 or 3 months without it, I feel the urge to order a can.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Japanese Tea

Mukuhara Yunomi

This post is going to be some of my favorite photos involving Japanese tea, while I bring up the idea that I would like a lot of tea drinkers to get behind. Due to the devastated Japanese economy, if you are not skiddish about the possibility of radiation, of which until I see otherwise it is highly unlikely that any tea will hold severely elevated levels of radiation. And those radiation levels bar any horrible disaster yet to take place will be quite unlikely to even get close to levels that are unsafe for consumption.

Wakamastu Koicha

So I would like to call this the Year of Japanese Tea and Ceramics, i.e. if you wanted to give Japanese teas a try, do it. If you are running low on two different teas, and one of them is Japanese, place the order for the Japanese teas first. In short any tea related purchase of which you are deciding between two or more, and not partial to one over the other then err on the side of Japanese.

Nichi Getsu Sencha

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tea in the morning


For someone addicted to caffeine like me I find it rather funny that I rarely get around to having any caffeine shortly after waking up in the morning. Above is a picture of a set up I had for breakfast today which was quite nice, and one of the few times I have gotten around to making tea within an hour of waking up.

Perhaps it is because I wish to put my full effort into the tea, and keep relatively little amounts of tea on hand that I would like to risk horribly brewing in my waking hours. I hate to admit it but I am one of those people that getting up is a bit of a chore, and my head is usually in a bit of a cloud for quite some time after it leaves the pillow.

But I have a fair amount of hong cha on hand now, and I am thinking of making an effort to spend an hour or so drinking tea each morning to help me try and wake up. Part of me wants to try and become familiar with the habits of other tea drinkers, and while I know those of you that read this blog love tea, and look forward to drinking it at just about any time, I am wondering how many of you brew tea within the first hour or so of waking up?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tea always surprises

Seigan Ao SO 8

I am sure nearly all of us tea drinkers have these teas, teas that we always go back to and enjoy. Not only do we enjoy these teas, we keep finding new things about them, that surprise us and let us enjoy them even more. It is often times when I get surprised from a tea I thought I was already rather well acquainted with that I wonder if I should become a bit more scientific in my tea drinking.

By scientific, I mean keep track of temperature, humidity levels, both inside and outside, also including the weather outside that day. Things people talk about most notably is whether or not is it raining that day, when considering how certain tea tastes, and the consensus is most teas taste best on rainy days, especially roasted and aged teas.

Though the idea of keeping a tea notebook, in which those things were kept track of, comes from me witnessing it first hand when I visited the Tea Gallery a few years back. When we did a bit of a tea experiment between two identical Nannou Cakes stored in two different locations one graciously provided from the collection of The Mandarin, while the other I believe was stored in Vancouver. When they started the experiment they took out a notebook and read the temp, and humidity and I believe they even took notes regarding the weather.

While I feel I face too much "rigor" in my mathematical studies, I rather like tea because it gives me a chance to sort of wing it and deal exactly with how I feel in terms of my mood. I mean I do own a scale for measuring tea, and I used to have a thermometer to measure water temp. When I used those while I could get consistent results, I was rarely surprised. I learned that while being somewhat spontaneous with the tea we can learn new things about it that we did not quite expect.

I love it when I get completely surprised by a tea, so I am torn between trying to keep track of why the tea tastes different that day, or just taking it in step and rolling with the surprise to possibly try and recreate it later.

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