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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.

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