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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.

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