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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.

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