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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)

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