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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Green Tea Forum is No More

I was sad to learn today that my suspicions as of yesterday have been confirmed.  The O-Cha green tea forum has had its plug pulled.  This prompted quite a bit of thinking, and some worrying, as while it was my secondary tea forum compared to Tea Chat.  Tea Chat is also owned by a company, and anyone that has been to Tea Chat knows it is not a big driver of sales for Adagio, at least not as much as a percentage of users, as it appeared The Green Tea Forum was for O-Cha.

This launched me into action, not really knowing of a great all around tea forum with a friendly atmosphere outside of Tea Chat that everyone could run to should Tea Chat ever meet the same end as the Green Tea Forum ( simply having the plug pulled without any real sign of notification).

As such I am launching the Tea Drinkers Forum, and I encourage all of my readers to join.

Jukro oojeon Leaves Banner

I am asking everyone to please pardon the dust, it seems to be in a stable state currently, but I may continue to tweek a few things, and work on the appearance these next few days.... This should have little to no effect on the actual forum functionability.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Predicting Desires

Tenjo Gyokko and Mashiko

I realize now after having almost nothing but Sencha and Balhyocha for about 2 weeks now, that it is always hard to predict what you want ahead of time.  The sencha and Balhyocha are both very good, but they have lost what normally makes them special.

What I really want now is a nice and roast-y high fired Yancha, but I will need to stall for another week for such a treasure.  Heck and even if I did have some, I do not really have anything appropriate to brew it it.

Though packing is actually a big tea issue for me these days.  Every time you move teaware you are introducing so many possibilities for damage.  Moreover in my mind I have dedicated certain teas, while this can certainly be broken, with unglazed teapots it is always a point of concern, and gaiwans are so fragile and hard to pack.

So when I packed to visit my parents for break I decide the box of tea I will bring is my box of Korean and Japanese teas, meaning I could get by with a rather minimal amount of teaware.  A Teabowl for Grandpa style brewing.  A small kyusu, and a appropriately sized yunomi for Japanese teas, and my Park Il teapot set which I am still madly in love with for my Korean Teas.

It's easy enough to pack and move, but I think I have learned my mistake about not nearly enough variety.  We live and we learn.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tea for the Holidays

Yame Gyo white out three

I apologize for recycling photos, but I accidentally left the cord for my camera at my apartment so I have no way of getting photos onto my PC for now.  But the fact that it is break and I can breath deep and relax a little bit more now is finally sinking in.  Especially these past two days, as it was no longer the focus on getting ready for the holidays, now the big holidays are past and it is ride out break and [try to] enjoy time with the family.

The holidays are some of my favorite times to have tea, even though, I am away from my usual set up, and only brought home about 1/3rd of my tea, and a small, small fraction of my teaware. The holiday sessions are the tea sessions I can honestly really let my mind go blank and be 100% with the tea.  I know I should work more on meditation when I am in school to quite my mind more, but somehow in the day to day grind, there seems to always be a thousand things to do, and get done.

My holiday selection is a bunch of Japanese Teas ( mostly from the OTTI and NOTTI tasting initiatives put on over at teachat), and a good assortment of korean tea, nearly all of which is in the Balhyocha category, instead of the typical green tea.  I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season, no matter what they celebrate, or even if they celebrate.   I look forward to spending a lot more time with Tea this upcoming semester and will work on finding things, or coming up with experiments to write about.

If I do not write before then.  Everyone have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays.

Forgotten Balhyocha in Chawan

I have been enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation after the sprint of the end of the semester.  I wish everyone good health and good luck these next few weeks.  I hope to have more posts lined up soon, but for now enjoy some simple leaves in a well used bowl.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang-Cha

Park Jong Il Teapot Staining

This Hwang-Cha has a rather interesting story behind it.  While this could be a little bit of marketing, I really enjoy Hwang Cha, the price was good, and I like supporting small business.  This tea, and the teaset I am brewing it in came by way of Morning Crane Tea.

Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang Cha

The dry leaves look great, slender twisted leaves, that are oh so dark. They also have a lovely soft scent of both pine, and chocolate. The taste of the brew is rather hard to explain, it is oddly satisfying, though not overly strong.  A hint of rice, and touches of some light and delicate fruits (though lacking the sweetness).

Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang Cha Brew

Excuse me while I go off and sip this tea in the relaxed focus it gives me. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Less is More

Before I get skinned alive by the high fire Yancha and TGY crowd that love to turn 60ml or smaller pots into veritable clown cars by packing in 10 or more grams of tea.  I am not talking about that.  I am actually talking about other teas, especially when brewing them Grandpa style.

For some reason in the tea world, and perhaps even the coffee world, its not uncommon to want to push the limits when brewing.  As such, more and more leaf/ bean gets added trying to get something so incredibly flavor packed and delicious.  Well I have found that when brewing Grandpa style, that I have been adding more and more and more leaves.  On a few bad occasions ( often with more dense dry leaves), after they got wet the would be nearly up to the top of the bowl when swimming in water.  Not only when brewing Grandpa style can that produce something akin to battery acid, but you actually get more of the battery acid effect because it is rather hard to sip effectively when there are that many leaves.

So I am making a very conscious effort to use three-quarters, if not half the leaves I would normally use.  So far it has been working to great effect.  The flavor is more subtle, but it is often far more enjoyable.  It may lead me to re-evaluate certain other brewing procedures I have for various teas to find out where I can actually improve by cutting back.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Non-Green Korean Teas

I have written quite a few posts about enjoying Korean Tea, though its quite hard to find, even harder to find without paying an arm and a leg for the tea.  While their greens are good, the Korean teas that haunt me are the Hwang cha/ Balhyocha, and their red/black teas.

For those of you who want a very detailed discussion on the many facets of Korean tea, I will point you to the following two blogs

Mattcha's Blog 
  • Namely for those who have never had Balhyocha or Korean Hwang Cha ( yellow tea) before, the posts in his series discussing what it actually is, and how its not well defined by any of the Chinese Tea Categories.   Here is a link to his first post. 

Morning Crane Tea

These darker oxidized ( sometimes slightly sometimes fully) Korean Teas, continually rank among my favourite teas. Namely for their incredible versatility, they can be great when brewed "gong fu" style, yet for a lazy day of drinking, simply throw them in a teabowl and sip and refill all day long.  Another reason I feel like I enjoy these Balhyocha so much, is the fact that they often improve with age, unlike their green counterparts.  So while they rarely last long in my place, there is less of an issue if it should find itself lingering for awhile.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Congratulations to my Brother

Today, finally feeling better from my cold, and finally with some down time that wasn't after 8 pm at night due to exam grading,  I decided to crack open a sample of 1960s Shui Xian, in celebration of my brother getting his Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering. 

*** Warning Science Zone ***

I do have to say even though I consider myself somewhat science savvy in the short conversations that always seemed to happen around holidays and dinner tables when we happened to be together, it was quite hard to get the big picture idea of what he really did.  I will say it is quite exciting stuff, with the wonderful opportunity to potentially improve on his already substantial achievements to enable every person to have their proteins mapped, and with the development of a large number of bio-markers for various diseases to enable quick and accurate diagnoses.

*** Regularly scheduled tea talk will resume now ***

I find it incredible how aged teas develop certain flavours, while I come to call them aged sheng flavours, honestly I feel it is mostly due to flavours generated while the leaves break down slowly.  But while the 60s Shui Xian had some of those musty, and earthy almost compost like flavours, it was still distinctively a Wuyi Yancha. 

I have had a few aged teas, though I do not have experience ageing them personally much beyond a few short run experiments, but I honestly think a surprising amount of the original tea works its way into the finished product.  (Especially when you are not considered the near open environment ageing of puerh.)  With oolongs and other teas aged with minimal exposure to air, I get the impression their essence stays preserved in the tea much longer.  For instance I have some aged Miao Li  oolong, which I swear is almost like candy, and I imagine the initial tea was rather sweet and light tasting, as such while more flavours developed with age, while others are lost, but it stayed rather light an sweet.

Does anyone have similar experiences?  Or better yet, a completely contradictory experience?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

300 posts, over 100k views, and nearly 4 years


Its getting cold again, that means its been about another year since I first stumbled down the rabbit hole.  While I have fond memories of drinking tea going back at least 10 years if not more, and I started to wise up to how amazing tea could be 6 years ago with my first regular purchases of loose leaf tea, I did not really hit the rabbit hole until I started this blog.

So thinking back the last 4 years, I have amassed a large collection of teaware, which I am very fond of, and is often a talking point with visitors to my place.  More amazingly is I still have at least 60% if not 75% of all the puerh I have ever bought,  even though I have not bought puerh in the past 2 years ( besides a few small aged puerh samples), despite a few regular pushes to try and work on my puerh collection.  The falling down the rabbit hole even lead me to  start pottery classes, in hopes that I could eventually make some useful pieces to use with guests.

What I still can not believe is how popular this blog has become, and for that I owe my thanks to all of you, who are regular viewers of this blog. It has been a little rough at times, more so in these past 2 years, when Graduate studies and teaching can kill just about all free time, and push tea time to the fringes of the day, often enjoyed while working on some other task that needs to get done.

I almost wish I kept very detailed notes, on how many different teas that I have tried in these past 4 years even.  I am willing to bet it far exceeds the 300 posts.   What I can not possibly fathom would be how many tea sessions I have had these past 4 years.  I would be willing to bet it is rather close to if not over 1,500 sessions, as I have no problem believing I averaged a little over 1 tea session a day since I started this blog.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Allergies Ughhh....

Remembering Ian

I have been wanting to celebrate quite a bit of good news lately.  A paper I am a co-author on has been published in a well known [to graph theorists] journal, and my brother asked me to be the Best Man at his wedding coming up next year.  Instead I don't trust my senses completely, especially when it comes to the incredibly delicate creature tea can be.

So instead I have settled for a lot of sencha, and strong hong cha when I do find time to work in tea in what is turning out to be a rather hectic schedule.  Hopefully things settle down now that the first 4 weeks of class are over in which with our new schedule included 2 half exams that needed to be graded eating up prime tea time of a long Friday afternoon I would have otherwise had off to start the weekend.

They say green teas, especially the more broken up ones like Sencha (especially the heavily steamed ones) are great for Allergies, I remain unconvinced. Though something in the air this fall seems to be really getting to me, so while I love the weather we have been having in Michigan lately, I am almost secretly hoping for a week straight of frosts to hopefully kill what ever it is that is getting to me.

Also with the sudden shift to almost consistently sub 70F degree temps, I find myself much more eager to reach for my Chawans that I use for Grandpa style brewing. Or Bowl Tea similar to that featured in this Global Tea Hut Video.

I have been going back and forth with mentioning this on my blog, but as I chose this photo I should really share why this photo is extra special to me, and the purpose behind me taking the photo.  The photo is a dedication to the memory of a kind, and wonderful person I knew through the Teachat Forum.  He was known on there as Iannon, and I along with many others got to know him incredibly well.  He had a wonderful talent for finding good quality teaware for almost a steal on Goodwill and similar sites. For those that knew Ian on Teachat this photo has a bit of extra meaning, as the Kyusu is one of a triplet of identical kyusu's he got from a goodwill purchase, this one he kindly gifted to me.  While the Yunomi I am using, is nearly identical to the cup he chose to use in his Avatar/ profile pic on the forum.  My condolences go to his family, may he rest in peace.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Breaking my own rules


I have been breaking my own rules in so many ways lately, and yet for some reason I am loving it.  Now what do I mean by my own rules?  Well for the most part I have tried to keep pieces of pottery reserved almost exclusively ( there were a few I allowed to cross over previously) for teas from their own country.  The odd ones out were always the American artists wares, which I then fit in for their intended purpose based on their size and shape.  Yes that means a vast majority of my teaware was used exclusively for Japanese teas, and for Korean tea I was basically down to two items.

But lately I have really been breaking out of my mold, because the main purpose of tea is to be able to enjoy tea.  I've suddenly started to do things like use a Japanese Yunomi, and a Korean tea pot to drink a Taiwanese tea.   Or use a "yixing" ( not exactly sure of its provenance) to brew Hong Cha then pouring it into Yunomi from Okinawa.

Part of also breaking those own rules, are now teas that I usually enjoy almost exclusively in more of a gong fu setting, if I am not in the mood to fuss with all that repeated pouring, or careful pouring between cups, I sometimes brew several in a row and pour straight into a larger vessel.   Or simply just using a larger vessel to brew the tea.

I'm having a lot of fun breaking my self imposed rules, and I am currently feeling that I was far too strict with my rules, aiming for a set of cohesion.  I am glad though that with all my teaware I can easily make a nice cohesive set up if I need to. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Encouraging Original Thought

Of all the things I have learned in my life so far, none I enjoy nearly as much as knowing nothing is more important that being able to have your own thoughts, and be willing to defend them, discuss them, and be open to change them.  Now this knowledge has been wonderfully able to be applied to all aspects of life, including tea.  Below I discuss a few of those such area's.

Understanding tea classifications, is  a step everyone takes when they enter the tea world, and for those most part those are straight forward. (But I still have no clue what the heck Balhyocha is!)  But often there are huge varieties of sub categories in even a single category of tea, the most easily recognizable of which are the steaming levels in Japanese tea.  But there are times where from taste, examining leaves, and using any other knowledge you can gather about a tea, you can often argue one way or another about a certain tea. 

In a similar vein to this I have three types of High Fired Tie Guan Yin currently on hand, I could brew all three of them side by side or one after another, and I bet even all novice tea drinkers can tell that they are completely different styles.  Not really apparent what so ever from the looks of the dry leaves.  But being able to attempt to describe what difference you are experiencing between the teas in terms of taste, and mouth feel, even when very new to tea is the first step in trying to be able to identify what you look for in that specific category of tea.  For instance I have learned that I am incredibly fond of High Fire TGY that is slightly more oxidized before the roasting, and not roasted to nearly ash, but still quite roasted.  Sadly this type seems to be rather hard to find in the world of Highfire TGY.

What original thought is not, is sitting down and reading many many things, and taking those things at face value no matter how reputable the source is.  This is coming from a teacher, and its often the policy many of my teachers have also had.  People that love thought and love knowledge, know memorized knowledge has little value, because being able to say its true because the textbook said its true while it might get a few points on a test, is nearly useless when eventually someone asks you to justify why it should be true. 

To any students that happen to be reading this, this does not mean that you should question your teacher throughout the entire lesson, but rather absorb the lesson, and then go over your notes in detail and any part that is fuzzy, you should try and figure out why it is true. Usually if you approach the teacher during office hours, or during a time for questions we would love to explain it to you even more.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Different Types of Tea sessions

So the more and more I drink tea, and talk with others about drinking tea, you tend to find that the types of brewing methods/ procedures change depending on the situation.  I have already written quite a bit on Gong Fu, and Grandpa Style brewing, but currently I am doing a method I can only describe as the Office gong fu.

Its actually quite simple, pick any brewing vessel you have around that you would brew gong fu style with.  A gaiwan or teapot works great.  Now here is the trick, pick a huge cup, something that can hold 2-4 brews from the gong fu brewing vessel.  Then simply brew several infusions in a row and fill the cup.  Brew them how you normally would for that tea, and this method requires a bit of familiarity with the tea you are brewing.

The result a nice big cup of tea, which while not completely as nuanced as each individual brew is a nice large cup of gong fu style tea.  Even better is once the cup is finished go back and repeat the process again until the leaves are dead.

I call it the office gong fu, because it is great for being able to have a big cup of tea while working diligently on a project or assignment.  I think I like it so much I might start doing this quite often.

Currently I am doing it with a 100 ml gaiwan, a Yunomi from Julie Devers, and some Ali shan from Pheonix tea shop.  Just curious if any of my readers might have some notes on brewing tea this way?  I did note with the gaiwan I did have to pause a bit between infusions to allow the gaiwan to cool enough to ensure I didn't get burnt fingers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Other Side of Tea

The picture shows how tea has been helping me most lately. A stack of papers of me working on problems, and writing down notes on theorem proofs or theorem conditions in preparation for a qualifying exam I have on the 28th. I don't often talk about this side of tea drinking, though it sure helps me get through the days and helps me find more time to drink tea.  But seeing as how most students, and especially most graduate students tend to be fuelled almost exclusively by caffeine.

It is the caffeine provided by the tea, that is likely why afternoon tea caught on as such a big deal in the west.  That controlled energy release that does not seem overly sudden like coffee, but with additional chemicals that help do things like regulate blood sugar levels, and with the right tea and the right mood can often help calm the person helping them collect their thoughts.  It's these properties that I actually owe some of my scholastic success to.

I attended a workshop about meta-cognition and how thinking about thinking can both help us learn better and more effectively, but also help us help our students learn better and study more effectively.  What struck me as odd is when they were outlining the processes needed to be able to effectively absorb information, in the back of my head I realized how this sort of naturally helps fit in with my tea habits.  The big emphasis is despite what the common belief is cramming and marathon study sessions often do far more harm than good.

The trick is concentrated study bursts, often less than an hour in length, and sometimes even as short as 15-20 minutes in length.  But that is dedicated time where you are actively trying to absorb a large amount of information from the textbook, or trying to work creatively and effectively on a problem that is challenging you.  (Though if you are making progress on the problem, there is no harm to keep working till it is finished.)  But the key to actually processing the information effectively is after that burst of intense studying or work, is to then do something else that you can do without using all of your mental efforts.

For me this is brewing tea, or drinking tea.  While this may seem inefficient from a time stand point, the fact that you are thinking very little about what you are actively doing, it leaves your brain time to process and think about what you just spent learning, or solving.  But then after that break, go back to studying and repeat the process.  I can not tell you how many times I was halfway through a cup of tea, when I suddenly had a new idea of how to approach a problem ( not always correct, but certainly something to try).  

This does not just apply to academics, it really could help in almost every single job, in part because the break for tea not only helps with your energy, but also gives your mind that little bit of rest, to cool down and collect itself and its thoughts, while still thinking about how to better do what you are currently doing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Favorite Tea

While it appears that the blog carnival that was being held by the Association of Tea Bloggers' has lost a bit of steam, but we are doing a carnival of sorts to promote the Tea Bloggers' Choice Awards.  The theme for this carnival is favorite tea, but it was left quite loose in terms of where to go from there.  In fact, upon hearing it, I thought about writing about my favorite tea country, my favorite tea type, my favorite way to enjoy tea, or my all time favorite tea session.  The host for this carnival is Jason Walker at Walker Tea Review.

The first two, regular readers can likely guess, and even if they are not correct, they can get pretty darn close to my favorite country or tea type.  While I can not say I have an all time favorite way to enjoy tea, that mostly relies solely on just giving the tea the respect it deserves.  So I think the best thing to write about would be my favorite tea session of all time.

I thought this would be a lot easier, but I've been wrestling back and forth between a few of them over and over and over, with no one session really leading above the others.  But a general trend emerged. They are almost always the Friday afternoon/evening tea sessions.

I have a general trend to make my Friday afternoon/ evening tea's extra special.  I often go for a tea that is a lot more durable, i.e can go through a lot of infusions, as such its usually a tea I consider more special than the stuff I drink from day to day. Oddly enough these teas tend to be aged, thought not always.

Its an odd mix of interplay between mood and enjoyment of tea.  I think the more at ease and glad that it is the weekend, the better I am at being able to enjoy the tea.  As such these special teas seem extra special, because I am completely at ease.  So the enjoyment of being at ease, and drinking good tea is what makes my Friday night tea sessions seem so special.

Other carnival posts can be found below:  ( I will try and update this as I find more links tomorrow).

Black Dragon Tea Bar

The Cup that Cheers

The Devotea

Joys Teaspoon

Notes on Tea

Scandalous Tea

Tea Happiness

Tea For Me Please

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Realizations this Summer

Mountain tea LiShan

I believe I have mentioned a few times before how it is natural for tea tastes to change with the seasons. While most people agree, I oddly have been craving hong cha somewhat regularly this summer, even on some of the hottest days.   Though I still find just about all yancha exceedingly heavy and oppressive in this heat.

Oddly it's August, and I have yet to finish a full bag of shincha.  In part because I spent a good part of early summer even after my shincha has arrived I was working on finishing off sencha from the previous year. ( I still have 100g from 2011, but am working on shincha almost exclusively now).  But in addition to this, through the wonderful Teachat and the Official Teachat Tasting Initiatives (OTTIs) organized by Chip, I have been able to sample more shincha than I other wise would have.

Speaking of samples, I am becoming more and more and more in favor of samples.  Its amazing how getting 6 or so teas with only 7-10 grams each, can just add that much more variety to the list of available teas. These samples by adding variety also slow down the rate at which the other teas get consumed, making your favorite teas last longer.

I would say my tastes have strayed from sencha somewhat based on my consumption, but then I recall that earlier this summer I got a teeny tiny 140ml kyusu, so while I am having the same amount or slightly less sencha sessions, quite a few of them that I do have are now about 1/4th the size of my next smallest kyusu.  While everyone always says small teapots make your teas last through more sessions, because they use less leaf, but I have never noticed it so obviously until I got this teapot.  Though that could be because with my other small teapots, I mostly went with smaller teapots so I could stuff them more, without feeling bad about how much leaf I was using.

Has anyone else had interesting summer realizations?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tea is what you make it

Mountain Tea Imperial Pearl

A few days ago due to quite a few things that I read, I wanted to write a post on the spirit of tea.  Which I got halfway through writing when I realized it was basically a bunch of hot air. Yes, even more so than my usual posts.  While some people might share a similar viewpoint as me to tea, which boils down into it's something to be enjoyed, shared, and savored ( in fewer words than it deserves). I realized the great thing about tea is it can be to anyone what ever they want it to be.

From people mixing tea with alcohol to create new cocktails or beers in order to create new flavor combinations.  Tea could just be like any other beverage, which is just something to drink when thirsty.  To people in the United Kingdom, a tradition that almost everyone enjoys, even if they are not really sure why.  To someone in a Daoist, Buddhist, or any other East Asian religion that views tea as almost a religious tool, and certainly something to be revered.

The great thing I have found out about tea, and tea drinkers, is as a whole while we each have our own personal tea styles, and our own personal tea preferences, very few tea drinkers ever feel compelled to tell someone they are enjoying tea wrong.  If people do not enjoy their tea, tea drinkers are always willing to offer a suggestion to help them enjoy it.  But by all means if you like boiling your tea for 10 minutes, then mixing it with root beer, more power to you.  While most tea drinkers secretly wish you wouldn't to that to all but the absolute worst of teas, possibly not even then.

No matter how you enjoy your tea, as long as you enjoy it, you are doing it right.  Perhaps that is the spirit of tea. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Old and Not so Great Tea

While I have said quite a few bad things about the heat and the lack of rain we have had here in southwest Michigan all summer long.  There is one good thing that is coming from it, the 300 gram tin of Dong Ding tea I got at a Chinese grocery store about 3 years ago is finally starting to get worked through on a consistent basis.

I never thought the tea was that great any time I tried brewing it how  I would brew any other dong ding tea. not to mention just about all my teaware for brewing items warm would only use a few grams of the tea at a time.  I don't have to tell any of you how hard it is to get through 300 grams of a tea you do not like only 4-6 grams of tea at a time.

The solution, hot summer days, a french press that has never been used for coffee, water, the tea and a refrigerator. Simply layer the bottom of the french press a few layers deep with the old and not so great oolong, add water, then stick it into the fridge, wait over night or 7 or so hours, then stick the plunger in, push down and its actually a surprisingly nice iced tea.  Better yet, while I haven't tried my hand at doing 3 infusions with a given set of leaves ( worried a bit to much about the threat of bad bacteria), but after drinking the tea down to the plunger level, pulling out the plunger and waiting another 7 hours or so, produces a second great brew from the same leaves.

Not to mention, at the grocery store I also picked up a box of loose leaf Lipton black tea, which is another not so great tea that makes a tasty iced tea.  In fact my believe is a tea that comes across as overly bitter or astringent would make a nice cold brewed iced tea.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The staining of the Yixing

Use Comparison

These are 3 nearly identical little yixing, 2 of which are used extensively, (one for High Fire Tie Guan yin, the other for Yancha), while the other has been let practically unused.  Can you tell from the above photo which one is which? 

What if I post close ups of them in pairs:

Highfire TGY and Unused
Yancha and Unused
Highfire TGY and Yancha

The first two pictures have the unused pot, and it would have been a bit more of a challenge if I rubbed out the very apparent tea stains on the ones that I use often.  But looking at those first two pictures again, its amazing how with use in with roasted teas, the yixings not only get a nice shine to them, they also turn a bit more red with use.  In the last photo the pot on the right I have had the longest, and its almost developing a slightly rusty character to it with all the use of tea.  The real question will be is that just due to being used longer, or is there something special in the Highfire TGY that causes that that the Yancha does not have?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kzoo June Tea Meetup

I am sure you have heard other people say/ write this, but it is always a good thing to see how other people brew tea.   Granted Kalamazoo Michigan is a rather small town, in an area that is not known for its tea drinking, let alone the style of tea drinking I write about on this blog.  Through Teachat I found another avid tea drinker in the Kalamazoo area, and we are trying to put together a somewhat regular meeting.

This was our second meeting, though first in quite some time, and due to the season, we figured it was a very good idea to go with Shincha, and the odd one out a Winter Taiwanese Gaoshan. All teas came out quite good, the line up included Hokoniwando 88 nights, Maiko Kinari, O-Cha Miyabi, and Tea masters Gaoshan Luanze (Winter 2011) from Shan Lin Shi.

Seth brewed the 88 nights and Miyabi, and it was certainly an experience, while I do not mind strong flavors, I often drink sencha in larger quantities, as such several 5 oz ( or more) yunomi full of Shincha with the flavors Seth got out of the teas might have had me on the floor convulsing ( not really but it was quite a shock  to the system).  I treated the kinari with my usual lighter hand when it comes to Shincha and Sencha, though it was oddly marine like, both Seth and I got interesting seaweed and seawater notes.  Ending the day on the Gaoshan was both a good idea and a mistake.  While it definitely offered a wonderful change of pace, after some stronger Shincha  I worry that the full effect of the gaoshan was lost on out already juiced up bodies.

We hope to have another meeting in mid to late July, and please do not hesitate to contact me through a blog comment if you are a reader that is also in the Kalamazoo area.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thoughts on Gaiwans

small cup, small gaiwan, gaiwan

For some reason the topic of gaiwans have been coming up often lately in the tea circles I frequent.  Pictured above are my first two gaiwans, but the blue and white one I acquired quite a few months before I got the pure white one ( a Tea Gallery small gaiwan).  Since then I managed to buy the other two Tea Gallery gaiwans in the set ( getting this in before they closed up shop).  I have also purchased the Gaiwan from Teamasters blog.  I do have one other gaiwan but its not often talked about because it was damaged during shipment, with the vendor unresponsive to any email I sent, but it is borderline usable ( if you do not mind a huge triangular chip out of the rim of the piece.

While I have not tried hundreds of gaiwans, I have started to realize what makes a good gaiwan "good."   It is mostly how it handles heat.  As such people usually consider things such as the flair of the rim, and the thickness of the porcelain.  I feel there is one more thing to keep in mind but it is near impossible to tell without actually using it, and that is the thermal properties of the particular clay and glaze used in the piece.  I know that sounds odd but I have used a gaiwan that seems medium thick, but is worlds hotter to use, than a gaiwan that's incredibly thick, where both have somewhat similar flair.  The only real explanation I had for the difference is the clay/ glaze between the two had vastly different thermal properties.

Of course with gaiwans you want a wide flair, keeping the part of the gaiwan your fingers will touch away from the boiling water inside.  Thinner is almost always better, as the thinner the wall, the easier the heat dissipates from the rim of the gaiwan.  Some people spend a lot of time worrying about the heat retention properties of their Gaiwan, worrying if it is too thin the water won't stay hot enough to allow the tea to infuse properly.  While this is a concern there are far more workable, and less painful ways around this than dealing with burnt fingers.  Most common of which would be to use a teaboat or other dish/ bowl with raised walls, and a flat bottom, to add boiling water in the dish to sort of create a hot bath for the bottom part of your gaiwan, while the tea infuses.  The hot bath should not extend more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the gaiwan, as we really do not want their to be so much heat that the whole gaiwan becomes too hot to handle. The Teaboat trick, I learned on my only visit to the Tea Gallery.

What I realized yesterday, when I pulled my very first gaiwan off the shelf to pull it out of "retirement," knowing full well it's not as good as the gaiwans I have since become used to using. Though I used that gaiwan almost exclusively for many months, and used it regularly for at least a year if not two.  But pulling it off the shelf, and putting it through its paces on some puerh, I swore I was handling a pan pulled from a hot oven.  Granted I do exaggerate because I could still handle the gaiwan, but the calluses and damaged nerves I used to have, are long since healed so a few times mid pour, I did have to set it down and get a new grip on the piece to give my fingers just those few seconds to cool off.

A major question people ask, who missed out on the widely acclaimed Tea Gallery Gaiwans, is "Where can I get a high quality gaiwan?"  The truth is they do seem to be few and far between, as most vendors seem to think a gaiwan is a gaiwan, and therefore aim for a good price over quality.  I mean who is to blame them, most plain white gaiwans look nearly identical in vendor pictures, and online shoppers are notorious for looking for deals.  While I can not help people with this question for all sizes of Gaiwans, but my favorite gaiwan size ( for 1-2 person drinking) ~60ml, I am quite fond of the mini Gaiwan sold by Teamasters.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reflecting on tea and paying it respect

I have been having a heck of a lot of tea lately, and while I have been incredibly enjoying it, the other day I had a flash back to some of my very favorite cups of tea very early on in my tea years.  These are the cups of tea that made me realize how much I enjoyed tea.

One that sticks out the most, was my freshman year of college, and considering someone who love teaware as much as I do now, it actually quite amazes me, but this was an Assam black (red) tea brewed in a fill your own teabag, brewed with water heated in a microwave, in a paper coffee cup. But when you can make tea in a humble fashion, and years later when you have had countless sessions of tea and spent small fortunes on teaware and tea, and in retrospect a simple one is one of your favorites, it shows a true love of the leaf.

At the same time, that love of the leaf is what has pushed me to keep on learning about tea, keep on trying new teas, and keep exploring ways I could improve the brews, either through specialized teaware, or through trying make the tea sessions more aesthetically pleasing.  It's something nearly all tea drinkers do eventually, try and spice up their sessions with new or more interesting teaware, or seek out that perfect teapot, perfect kettle, or ideal water to make just that much of a difference.

Some like to say its a bunch of diminishing returns, and in certain respects it is, because for those of us that love  tea know all you really need is leaves, water, and a simple bowl.  Even though I love ceramics, when I use them with tea, I do it to honor the tea. Just like someone wouldn't buy an original van Gogh then display it in a basement crawlspace with no supply of light, sometimes when you have something you respect, you want to showcase it out of respect for its creator, its history, and its merits.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thoughts on my Puerh Storage

In terms of fancy storage, I basically have none, I use rigid boxes ( I think a type of plastic covered in cloth), stored underneath my tea set up to store all of my tea, and one of the three boxes is used to store only Puerh tea.  My thoughts are that the box will help keep out any smells from cooking ( basically no where in my place is incredibly safe with it being a studio and all), but the proximity to the tea set up will provide as slight boost in humidity ( possibly not even measurable).  But at the same time the box I feel helps prevent excessive air flow which can dry out cakes too quickly.

So today I cracked open one of the few cakes I have that has been in my care almost its entire life, a Dayi 8582 batch 801.  While I may be imagining this but the cake did appear slightly darker, and while there definitely was no very golden/ copper tips, a few of the buds did appear to be progressing in that direction.

In terms of taste I actually appreciated the tea more this time than I remember ever doing in the past.  While it still is not great, and is definitely quite far from being close to what I consider an Aged puerh should taste like.  Throughout just about all of the brews they tasted like dried leather, and hints of tobacco, and almonds.

I do not know if I am happy or sad that it lost all of the lighter but sometimes harsh tropical fruits, but maybe it will gain some heavier fruits, or a wider variety of flavors as it ages a bit more.  Although next time it rains I think I need to open up all my puerh and have a window open so it can breath in a bit more humidity. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tea How I Missed Thee

Orichids and Sencha

Surprising as it may be, today was the first time I have had tea in about a week and a half.  This tragedy occurred due to pure exhaustion, and in slight part laziness. Let me just say that as a grad student the end of the semester is looked upon almost with disdain especially when you have a thousand finals or so to help grade in only a couple of days.  Once the finals were graded, I had decided I would take a break by going to visit my family for a week, and while packing, I was so tired I dreaded the decision practice which is actually quite laborious for us tea addicts.  

"What teas will I want to drink in the next week?  Believing those choices are true what is the least amount of teaware I can pack up to make that as enjoyable as drinking it at my own place? "

The shear thought of trying to decide and the extra trips out to the car were actually too exhausting in my already incredibly fatigued state, I decided that I could make do for a week of coffee for my caffeine fix. I quite missed my tea, and my teaware.  

The photo above is part of me trying to bring a little more life into my tea sessions, this lovely orchid made my two tea sessions today quite enjoyable.  There is something to be said for the Japanese practice of Ikebana, and while this was not a true set up as this was not a flower arrangement but rather a live blooming flower the added color, and additional life in the set up was great.  Sadly the Baozhong I had after the Sencha did not live up to the setting.

Do any of my readers try to incorporate flowers into their tea set ups/ ceremonies?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Practice makes Perfect

Todays Matcha

Earlier this month I wrote a post comparing the two chasen I currently have, an 80 prong vs a 100 prong chasen.  I would like to announce that after practicing at least once a week with the 80 prong chasen I can now produce matcha nearly as well as I could with the 100 prong.  Sadly the photo above is focused mostly on the bowl, but you can see that the mint green sheen in the depths of the bowl has next to no color variation, a sing of a nice thick froth on top of the matcha.

While it is much more improved, it is still not perfect, it still has some bubbles that are larger than I would like.  Though this is definitely minor compared to the issues I have been having previously.

So just like with all things, spend some time doing it each week, whether its working with a gaiwan, or getting down brewing techniques for a certain tea.  One thing that often daunts new tea drinkers, and leads them down a path I feel is far too distracting from the tea itself.  That is so many people stick to thermometers and timers, which while you will get the same results time after time, you loose the life a tea can have by spontaneously altering results ever so slightly.  Not to mention, when you do screw up a tea on one infusion, its a true brewing test to try and figure out how to make the rest of the infusions taste right.

It takes some time to get it at first, but now when brewing Japanese greens I know when its at the temperature I want by feeling the outside of the cup, or if its a cup whose thermal properties I do not know yet, touch the water itself.  Then I use my built in senses to judge how long it has been brewing.  Its common to make quite a few mistakes at first, but again practice makes perfect.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fun with Cast Iron

World Market Kettle Find I got this kettle nearly a year ago, and have used it on and off, in part because I was not completely convinced as to whether or not it had some sort of protective lining on the inside. There definitely was no sort of ceramic lining like a lot of iron teapots had.  What really scared me though is that this did come with an infuser basket and a little trivit/ base to use with a tea candle to keep it warm.  Why this scares me is after some use the inside has started to rust ever so slightly, making me firmly believe that this is indeed unlined.

So deciding to pull it out for a day of use to compare it with my typical Kettle a Lins Ceramic kettle, the first thing I notice is how unbelievably fast this gets to a boil in comparison. Granted that even half full my Lins kettle holds likely 4 times as much water, and the clay does not transfer heat as well as the iron.

The real test though is the taste test comparison with the tea.  Fist item up for a test is a matcha, and I am quite liking the effects.  Either I finally hit the sweet spot with this matcha today, or the added iron really made an effect. I am finally getting that bitter dark chocolate and cream note that I have come to like so much in Matcha. Ikuyo-no-mukashi Matcha

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thoughts on Chasen 80 vs 100 prongs

I must admit to a bit of a bloated ego when I placed my last order for Japanese tea.  I was ordering matcha, and having just gotten some new teabowls, I decided it was time to replace my more worn, and cracking chasen. I had a decision to make, 100 prong or 80 prong.  My previous chasen was 100 prong, and while quite big it was very easy to use.  The 80 prong chasen was labeled for those who have more expeience making matcha.

Thinking to myself, I have had no problems whisking thoroughly, effectively, and producing a nice thick layer of froth with my 100 prong chasen, I should be able to easily adapt to an 80 prong chasen.  I was quite wrong.

Somehow the more compact 80 prong chasen behaves a lot more like a spoon than a whisk, while it definitely is whisking, you get a lot more liquid motion similar to what you would expect if you were vigorously shaking around a spoon or something else with limited holes.  With 100 prongs I always felt it was more like slicing up the liquid to generate turbulence and hence get the nice froth.

With the less turbulent motion you do get a froth, but having had wrist problems having problems with tendinitis and carpel tunnel, and all the fencing I did for a few years with the heaviest weapon did not help the condition of my wrist either, I feel I can not sustain the intense whisking long enough to get the desired foam on top of the matcha.  I have been working on it, part of it is just building up the stamina, I am honestly not used to moving my wrist in that motion for that length of time.   Where as the larger 100 prong is easier to hold, it often whisks quite completely in 30-45 seconds.  I have a hunch that the 80 prong chasen would need at least a full minute.

But the 80 prong chasen is not horrible, in fact I prefer it to the 100 prong chasen which I feel is huge and bloated, the 80 prong is a much more manageable size, and despite being exposed to some rather dry air for about a month now has yet to crack. (My 100 prong chasen had started to crack within a week of purchase).  Although I have no proof that the smaller bamboo handle is directly related to that last fact, it could just have been the actual bamboo selected.

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's march right?

Okitsugawa Miyabi

I understand weather is consistent in the only regard that it is incredibly inconsistent.  I also know that Weather drinking is seasonal, but the fact that in the midwest for the past week and for the foreseeable future in the Midwest it is on the border between tea being enjoyable, and "So hot, I am surprised the kettle isn't boiling before I turn on the heat."

The only upside is its now lots of wonderful sunlight, and light late enough in the day I can easily forget how late in the day it can be when I get around to have tea.  But that is good, as the high powered high roast oolongs can still be consumed later in the day as the weather starts to cool.

What amazes me the most is usually when the weather is like this I am overwhelmed with new harvest teas, and here we are over a month before Shincha usually gets released.  All I know is if Japan had the same weather as we are having in the Midwest,  they would likely already be picking shincha.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This may sound crazy...

Regular readers of this blog know that sometimes when getting work done I enjoy brewing tea "Grandpa style."  Having a decent bit of work to be done this spring break, I have been craving to brew Grandpa style, the problem though, the only leafy teas I have on hand are sencha.  Sencha by nature as usually slightly more delicate than Chinese and Korean greens, often even in the top/ middle of the bags includes a higher portion of small leaf bits, Sencha has long since been considered by me as a tea that should just not be used for Grandpa style.

Though I did have a friend in the past tell me he has successfully brewed sencha Grandpa style, although gave no detailed instructions as how to accomplish this task.  I have found a process that seems to work, and it breaks ever so slightly from normal Grandpa Style brewing.  First off, I still only think this should only be attempted with Asamushi Sencha, the lighter steamed the better.

Step one with water that has just boiled, and given a chance to go just off boil, fill the bowl just enough to cover the leaves, and let it sit for a while ( bowl should be at room temp and not preheated).  You should wait for that too cool slightly, which will usually happen once the sencha leaves  expand and soak up the water so it looks more like wet grass clippings on the very bottom of the bowl. (30seconds - 1 minute)

Grandpa Style Sencha step 1

Step Two as is more typical with Grandpa style, add water from the kettle to fill the bowl/ Chawan 1/3rd of the way.  This and the last step are to establish a solid root, but also to not stew the leaves but expose them to enough water and heat that when the chawan is filled to 2/3rds or 70% of the way the sencha leaves will settle to the bottom, allowing you to drink from the top with ease.  You will want to allow the leaves to sit in this 1/3rd bowl full of water till there is very little steam rising and the bowl is warm but not hot to the touch.

Grandpa Style Sencha Step 2

Step Three feel free to top off the bowl, and when it cools to drinking temperature drink, down to the 1/3rd full.  Repeat until you are tired of the tea, or you feel it has lost all flavor.

Grandpa Style Sencha Complete

A picture showing that I am enjoying Matcha Maddess this march, in a lovely new Chawan.

Ikuyo-no-mukashi in Seong Il Teabowl

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Matcha Madness

In honor of March Madness, I am going to be having fun with Matcha this march.  Granted this has no bracket, and I certainly hope no one places bets on the matcha I will be drinking.  In fact I will not even be doing head to heads so I won't really be comparing.  But as I caved and purchased two brand new tea bowls/ Chawan in the past week I felt the need to order some matcha and a new chasen to make sure I had something to use in the chawan.

This morning though was the first morning I have given a decent bit of thought to start a morning ritual involving a bowl of matcha.  It really is not a bad idea, and know quite a few people that fit Matcha into their morning routines.  If I could consistently be awake and functioning upon waking up, I think I would definitely fit matcha into my morning ritual.  Though sadly I am one of those people that gets up and fights tooth and nail to not fall back asleep, even when sitting up and trying to nibble on some breakfast.

Just in case any of my readers are having trouble with Matcha,  I have noticed a few key things that are absolutely critical when preparing matcha.  While you do not need to buy a special matcha sifter, it is incredibly important to sift your matcha.  What I actually use is a metal tea infuser that I think came with a enameled tetsubin I got early in my tea drinking days.  It is a basket that has a somewhat fine metal mesh everywhere except for its rim. To sift I use my Chashaku to scoop the required amount, then use it to push it through the mesh to sift it.  Speaking of Chashaku, they are not necessary but the basic ones are somewhat inexpensive and do not actually ware out like Chasen, the only time I have heard of a Chashaku being ruined is when someone left it sitting in water ( the bambo when wet unbent itself). The other key item, which doesn't need to be a special yazumashi, but rather just any cup/ item that is hot water safe that can be used as an effective cooling vessel.  While I have never actually tested out the kettles that heat water directly to preset temperatures, I personally feel that usually water below the oft quoted 180 is needed for Matcha ( though not much).

In fact, while the whisking may be somewhat unusual to begin with, the hardest thing to get right when preparing matcha is water temperature.  Keeping in mind that these are similar to gyokuro leaves, so if the water is too hot you can get that horrible taste you often find in gyokuro leaves.  If the water is too cool ( i. e gyokuro temperature)  it is incredibly hard to get the proper amount of froth when whisking the tea.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Morning Crane Tea Korean Dan Cha

Dancha Leaves
My regular blog readers know that a year and a half ago I found Korean tea, and I have nearly always had some in stock ever since.  Korea is known mostly for their Herbal and Green tea offerings, but some of my favorite Korean teas have been their less known Balhyocha (or Korean Style yellow tea). Which is why I am so excited to try this Korean style red tea.  Mattcha reviewed this tea lately and gives some wonderful possible reasons for the name   Dan-cha for this tea.

I am going to break from recent blog protocol and actually write up a review for this tea.

The dry leaf has a peculiar aroma which reminds me of the Balhyocha's I have tried, slight hints of cinnamon, tree bark, and a slight nutty aroma to it also.

First infusion:

Aroma is quite like the dry leaf,  a lot of notes of wood/ tree bark, with just a hint of dried fruit.  Its taste also has a strong prominent wood note, but also a nice hint of minerals, and a strong note of nutmeg.

Dancha 1st Infusion

Second Infusion:

A more mellow aroma, which is less woody and more towards fruit leather. The taste is also mellower, but still incredibly full, and round.  This infusion is rather throwing me for a loop, I incredibly enjoy it, though I am not sure how I can describe why I enjoy it.  It somehow has to do with how this tea tastes incredibly filling and hearty, although far from fatty.

It yielded several more very satisfying infusions, though as is the way with most teas got progressively weaker, even while bumping up the infusion times.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lazy Saturdays

HouDe DHP in Suzuki Sakazuki

I did not get nearly enough of these Saturdays this winter, and now the worst one happened to come when its nearly March.  I would say for the first time in the past 48 hours or so here in West Michigan the snow has stopped falling, but I have no reason to go out side.  I almost feel like there should be a saying "Have tea, will stay" to parody the famous Have _____ will travel idioms.

As I ponder the third tea to have today, I can't help but notice a general trend in how I seem to naturally line up teas to have in any given day, especially when I know I will be having multiple teas.  I somehow naturally pick them out to follow the well established trend in food/ drink tastings, you wish to go from lighter flavors to heavier/ overbearing flavors.  With tea this is almost most easily demonstrated in considering the color of the brewed tea, (with the exception of quite a few young sheng puerhs).  Green teas and white teas are great teas to start a day of tastings, as they tend to be by far the most delicate, I would also consider adding Gao shan ( High Mountain) oolongs into this list too.

Then to go darker think yellow teas, roasted teas and hong cha (Chinese style translates to red tea, known to westerners as black tea).  A little bit trickier on this level though, as its not unusual to try several teas from this category in one tasting, as rule of thumb go from less roasted/ less astringent, to more roasted/astringent.  As both roasted oolongs and hong cha can vary from actually being light  and delicate to extremely strong and almost overbearing.

Then last would be aged teas, or hei cha ( the Chinese style translates to black tea), known for being quite heavy and having very strong flavors.  Hei cha are mostly known as post fermented teas in the English language, the most popular example of which is Shu Puerh.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Big Cup of Sencha

Eiichi Commisioni Grey Scar

Pictured above is a recent teaware acquisition, which has become my go to winter cup for a big cup of sencha. So much so a 70% full cup full pushes my little kyusu practically to the brim.  I have learned to like going back to some of these full mugs of tea.  While I completely understand the desire, and sometimes necessity to go small, the fact that I can drink for several minutes without needing to fuss with pouring or timing something.

As wonderful as it is to enjoy these giant steaming cups of sencha, when still doing those multiple steeps, after drinking 4-5 9oz steeps of sencha in an hour, you start to feel more like a water balloon than an actual person.  Also the larger the steeps the more tea you use, which has me glad that Sencha is one of my favorite teas in the sense that its easy to get good sencha at a much lower price per gram than you can usually find in Oolongs.  

So drink up, and remember you do not always need to be drinking your tea a half ounce cup at a time. Sometimes it is just great to have a nice big steaming cup of tea!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trying to "get" Puerh

Puerh is just one of those teas that it seems you either get it or you do not.  For awhile when I was starting out I  thought I understood puerh, only to find out I really really did not.  Since then I have drifted away from the cakes sold almost by the pound, in part because I like to consider myself practical, and in the while I had been drinking puerh, I had somehow amassed enough tea that under my typical consumption rates would last me at least a decade.  ( Honestly not that much as I do not view puerh as a go to tea).  

So about this time last year I sent out quite generous samples of some teas to a few friends, just to help make the "puerh box" a little lighter.  Lately feeling as though I might actually be missing out on something that has kept so many people enthralled, causing people to not only invest in thousands of dollars worth of tea, but go even further and spend thousands of dollars to try and create the correct storage conditions, has me baffeled.

A small note on puerh, as while certain people like the amazingly caustic new sheng cakes, puerh in my mind is meant to be consumed at an older age.  But even then having tried some dozen or so aged Puerh tea's I am not completely sold on all of the fuss. 

But rest assured I am trying, in the past 3 weeks I have dipped into the puerh chest 5-6 times, which is 4 more times than I did the previous 2 months.  Todays challenger is one of my favorite puerhs back when I was drinking, although it has been known for causing incredible palate fatigue after the first 5-6 infusions or so.  Its Changtai 2005 Yiwu. It definitely seems to have mellowed since I have gotten it, which I believe was summer 2010. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Korean Tea

Park Jong Il Teacup

I have grown incredibly fond of Korean tea ever since I first tried it.  Although looking back some of the very first Korean teas I had were quite bad, since then I have found a few quality vendors of Korean Tea, but I will not list them as Mattcha has an amazing list of Korean Tea Vendors. What amazes me the most is how absolutely versatile Korean teas are even though there are relatively few styles compared to thier Chinese counterparts.

When brewing tea we all imagine teapots, teacups, and you go through a series of steeps doing almost an endless dance transferring water from one vessel to the next trying to not let it get too cold, before you get a finished product.  While this has endless variations as to how you can brew it, it honestly does not hurt to experiment a bit. I have found Korean green teas, to be far more forgiving than their Japanese counterparts, and to a lesser extent their Chinese counterparts in terms of brewing temperatures.  So much so that with Korean teas you can often get good tasting, though incredibly different cups from the same tea, just by altering the parameters.  Getting away from the realm of green teas, going with Balhyocha, you can start out cooler at 190F or so for smooth medicinal cups, and ramp up the temperature bit by bit getting consistent cups of tea, or you could start out at full boil, far shorter steeps, and get less steeps of tea that are loaded with intense flavor.

As with most teas, you can ditch that whole concept of brewing entirely, and just put leaves on the bottom of a teabowl and add hot water and drink.  While being able to do this is not exclusive to Korean teas, it is one of my favorite methods to brew Korean teas.  I can only guess as to why, but with Korean greens, there never seems to be a problem of an abundance of  leaf not sinking after having hot water added.  There also are usually far fewer broken bits than one could find in other teas, so no more gagging on a mouth full of leaf flakes. 

Many people talk about eating used Gyokuro of Sencha leaves, and honestly I have never been too fond of doing such. Yet with Korean greens, I munch away like there is no tomorrow. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gaoshan and other Green Oolongs

Gao shan Hung Shui from Shan Lin Shi

I know I was late to the Taiwanese Gaoshan party, but let me just say I am glad I found my way there eventually.  While I have not fully explored Chinese Tie Guan Yin either, and the Gaoshan is different than the best Tie Guan Yin I have had, I feel these green oolongs have certain incredibly obvious traits which show if they are or are not high quality/ fresh.

For the longest time I stayed away from these greener oolongs as I felt they offered up a slight hint of bitterness, that was incredibly out of balance compared to their otherwise lighter honey, butter and floral flavors.  But when you find a green oolong that avoids that bitterness they can be absolutely sublime. 

Having delt with a decent bit of those slightly bitter green oolongs in the past, I realized they can often be pretty darn tasty when brewed almost western style.  I have consumed quite a bit of those bitter green oolongs with 6-7 grams (one packet if it comes in little individual serving packets) for 11-12 ounces of water, and get several nice steeps out of them.

For the good stuff though it is gaiwan all the way, I am toying with the idea of a Yixing but not entirely sure yet.  The hardest part for me with brewing these Gaoshans is not adding too much leaf. that thin layer on the bottom doesnt look like much until the 3rd or 4th brew when its packing your entire gaiwan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tea helps...

Tea helps people in so many ways it is ridiculous. I won't touch upon any of the health ones in which a new and sometimes conflicting study seems to be released every month or so.  I will talk about how with tea, its just that much easier to come up with the right word or concept, its that much easier to not get overly worked up about one thing or another, its just that much easier to function.  I've noticed all these things lately as I have been drinking tea more often compared to last semester and that when I do get to have tea it is a major relief.

I think the Zen Buddhists had the right idea when they made tea part of their day to day life.  Tea does many things that people consider Zen, in part because drinking tea is often done in a calm and controlled environment.  Honestly, just sitting in a calm and controlled environment for an hour or so a day would do many  of us good, but for the few who are overly worried their mind would run away down one or many different thought paths at once, the act of being given  a process to do helps quite and focus the mind.  Many people view sleep as necessary to give the mind rest, I find that in sleep you loose too many of your mental faculties, and  can not control your mind should a wild dream occur. So it also helps to have some time each day to work on quieting the mind, in which the problems that have been plaguing you are given more of your spare brain power to work out in the background without you being focused on them.

Tea is the most wonderful time to quiet the mind, and like I said earlier having to go through the process of making tea is enough to focus the mind just enough to not let it run wild.  My best tea sessions are when I am the most relaxed and collected, as I personally do not mess with timers, nor themometers, or most other technologies.  I like the phrase the Silence is deafening, because when I am overly focused on tasks, even if I am specifically waiting to pour out the freshly steeped tea, when I am not calm and collected I ask myself a series of weird questions while staring at the pot. "Has it been 30seconds or just 2?"

Possibly the best side effect I have noticed with tea, which can and can not be linked with a zen state of mind, is spontaneity.   While I honestly hope to meet a Zen master some day, from the stories I have heard, they can often be quite fun in unexpected ways.  They can realize when it truly is a good time to smile and be happy. I find that often with tea in my life, I have those days where I can't help but get all these good and happy thoughts flooding to me, I try and keep them controlled, but it would be ignoring the moment if I couldn't at least smile giddily like a fool.

Tea helps with all those things, it helps with your mind, the mind helps with the tea, and good tea helps you enjoy life.  I would honestly hate to meet someone who does not want to enjoy life.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Always Amazing

Happy little teapot

I had for the longest time thought that there were just some types of tea I was not that fond of, and I would never be able to like.  One by one they are not only being deemed drinkable, but they are suddenly being catapulted onto the list of types of tea to always try and have on hand.  The most recent of which is Taiwanese Gaoshan, I am half way through an order from Stephane at Tea Masters  and I am hooked.  I had a few Taiwanese Oolongs previously but for the most part I think I just brewed them poorly.

It has me reflecting on tea in general, it might just be that I have an incredible fondness for the C. Sinensis.  Moreover when  processing  it honestly doesn't matter if you are fully oxidizing it, pan frying it, steaming it, or roasting it, when it is done with care the end result will always be delicious.  Some people know I have bashed puerh quite a few times in the past, and while that is possibly the tea I am least likely to order more than samples of ever again in the future, there are still some puerh's that are phenomenal even for me.

So as I sit here this morning pondering what tea to have to celebrate my brothers engagement, I am mostly having such a hard time deciding because they are all good.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Get him on a Theanine Drip Pronto

Thursday night into Friday I did a bonehead move, I ordered Chinese food at 11pm, then felt so uncomfortable the rest of the night I didn't even consider going to bed until after 3 am.  So Friday was not a fun day at all, and in general I felt sluggish, and overly tired.  Friday night I went to bed around my usual time and slept in on Saturday morning, but things still were not right.  Thats when I decided to implement the Theanine drip.

Sansai With Matcha

In my mind no healthy session of Theanine is complete unless it involves matcha, usually as a starter just to make sure you are awake, and ready to go through the rest of the marathon tea drinking session.  But I needed theanine bad, so for my second tea, I turned to Gyokuro.  Matcha and gyokuro is such a wonderful combination to have back to back, and wow you feel calm, cool, and collected after drinking those, but ready to do anything you set your mind to.

Big revelation I had today, is that over time through lack of practice with matcha I had moved to brewing it with too high of a temperature.  Although matcha is a bit tricky, it is made with leaves shaded like gyokuro, so you think go cool, but the froth from whisking does not come out properly if it gets too cool.  Its a tougher act to carry off than brewing gyokuro, as matcha infuses completely near instantly, matcha can not be reconciled for too cool of a water temp by simply letting the bowl sit longer after whisking. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Current thoughts on Tea Freshness

There are some large name Tea vendors in the united states, which I would encourage people new to tea to check out for pretty standard teas (red/ black teas, and perhaps some oolongs, and if I can't convince them otherwise flavored teas).  I will not name those vendors here, because this is not exactly a favorable post for those vendors.  The biggest window into the tea world in my eyes comes when you start to realize its not just your (UK nationality) Breakfast, or Earl grey, at the same time you get into loose leaf teas.

Based on what some of these ultra large tea companies carry, I am slightly surprised that so many people stick with their transition to the wide world of tea.  With all the health promotions out there, most peoples step away from black/ red tea would be a green tea, which is a lot more "time sensitive" than most black/red teas. Green teas are one of those teas that when slightly out of date can absolutely ruin the whole tea experience, making it exceedingly bitter, and often causes it to lack the sweetness green tea can have (gyokuro, and certain other green teas when carefully aged excepted).

I thought it would be interesting to post my thoughts on how time sensitive certain teas are when being kept.

In decreasing time sensitive order ( lower means stays fresh longer under most conditions).

Japanese Greens*
Chinese Greens
Korean Greens
Green Oolongs
Med Roast/ oxidized oolongs
Heavier roast/ oxidized oolongs
Black/red Teas

Not listed: White Tea, or Yellow tea as I do not have enough experience with them.

(*) Japanese greens are an oddball, based on how most of them are packaged they can stay fresh for far longer than Chinese greens, or Korean greens if they remain sealed and stored away from extreme temperatures.  But once opened they tend to loose freshness the quickest.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cold days and hot kettles

Happy little teapot

My favorite part of winter, and least favorite part of summer, are the exact same thing.  The heat that is generated while brewing tea.  So as the weather really turns ugly outside, I am once again incredibly fond of turning on the kettle to do long marathon brewing sessions.  In terms of tea selection, I naturally seem to gravitate more towards the teas that require boiling water to prepare and drink, except for the really odd ball out multiple times a week cravings I get for gyokuro.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hope for 2012

Dreaming of a White Christmas

A bit late for a resolutions post, but some of these are already in action, so I am rigging the game slightly.  In 2012 I hope to continue on with the Green Tea Challenge, most notably trying to hit a lot of the Chinese greens when they are fresh.  I also hope to explore Taiwanese teas in a lot more depth and detail, to fill one of the large gaps in my tea knowledge and tea experience.

These are all well and fine, but its going to be a bit tougher to balance this with my rejuvenated interest in roasted oolongs, and my love of Japanese and Korean teas.  Though in terms of Yancha and Korean teas, it may be too early to completely know what is in store for them, as weather effects on the harvest quality and quantity can really mess things up.  Most notably with Korean teas whose year last year caused a few of the vendors that regularly carry Korean teas and sell it to the west, to carrry less teas, or not carry them at all.  If they did carry the teas the prices were substantially higher.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Celebrate 2012 like...


I'm celebrating 2012 like it's in the 1960's, with a tea from the Mandarin's Tea Room (their 1960's Shui Xian ) to be exact.  I love tasting these tea's, even though I can not do it often it is always a surprise. Most surprising about this tea, it seemed to have been getting better each subsequent day (finished day 3 earlier today).  During the first day I suffered a problem that occurs to me with certain strong teas, and aged/ semi aged puerh.  That problem is taste bud fatigue, when everything seems to taste the same or have next to no taste at all.  But through days two and three they lightened up and started becoming incredibly delicious.  I have already enjoyed 14 infusions, and hope to get at least 25-30 before I call it quits.


What else amazed me about this old tea, is its dry aroma reminded me more of an aged puerh than any sort of Wuyi yancha.  In fact there was next to no roast aroma, not incredibly surprising as the tea has had more than enough time to mellow out.

Now I am not sure I would repurchase this tea, while it is certainly a wonderful tea, its just one of those things that I am not sure I can justify the price for my enjoyment of it.  While I enjoy great tea, a good deal of my enjoyment in tea, is just taking the time to make tea, as a bit of a time out from the hustle and bustle of life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tea and Sickness

Every time I get sick, I somehow always have one person mention to me "I am surprised you get sick at all, you certainly drink enough tea."  I try not to let it get to me, but for some reason it does, everyone gets sick, its a fact of life.  I am sure even those with the healthiest diets imaginable get sick occasionally.  I am certainly not one of those people that are super healthy, in fact the healthiest thing I do regularly is walk to and from campus, and drink tea.

I will say one thing, without tea, I honestly feel I would have a hard time recovering as quickly as I do, and I would also have an incredibly hard time staying as alert and on top of it as I do when I am sick. I go as far as to recommend tea for anyone who is sick, because I truly believe it is a great way to go about recovering.  Tea in my mind does some huge things which help people recover from illnesses, especially colds.

  • Tea is mostly water, while there have been misguided claims that tea contributes to dehydration, most teas, especially those brewed at a lower leaf to water ratio, will help keep you hydrated.
  • It is well known for helping promote awareness, and has caffeine to help keep you awake.  So should you be sick and still need to get stuff done, tea may not make you 100% but it will help you be a little closer to 100%.
  • Its warm, and steamy, the warmth and steam can help clear up any clogs you might happen to have in your sinus passages.

Again I am not claiming tea is some sort of miracle drug, and I am a firm believer that tea can not stop you from ever getting sick, but when you are sick, I most certainly believe that tea will help you recover quickly, or if not, at least make you feel better on your way to recovery.

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