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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Finding Favorite Shops

I often feel tea drinkers go through a multitude of phases, though not everyone goes through the same phases.  In my personal experience; I have had two main stages in my tea drinking career, the first being the try every single place I can find once, and the second being I'd rather order from as few different shops as possible but have them be quality.  I have not fully merged into the second stage yet but I am getting there slowly but surely.

While I am still exploring Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean Teas, I have a few key vendors for those, but most are not set in stone yet.  Though my Japanese tea vendors are slowly but surely getting locked into place, the only question is will I be able to afford it?

What makes me say that, tonight I had a sample from the Maiko Yamashita sample pack of the Yamashita-Jirushi ( of which I also bought an entire bag which is waiting to be opened).  This being their most "budget friendly" option was really good, and gives me great hopes for the other samples.  But I would gladly make the Jirushi a staple gyokuro in my place. For matcha it is Ippodo all the way.

I guess I am not completely set on a Sencha specific place, but maybe thats because I mostly look for enjoyable easy drinking sencha that can be found at a budget price, as it is my work horse tea, i.e. it is the tea that is my staple.

So now its your turn:  If you have a favorite vendor for a specific type of tea be sure to post a comment letting us know what it is!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A video of me brewing with a Gaiwan

I oddly don't get as many questions as I used to involving how to actually use a gaiwan, so I am not eager to actually make such a vide.  Either way I figure you can get  a hint of how I personally like to use a gaiwan in the following video of me brewing up some delicious Alishan.

I am sure I will get a few questions the Gaiwan is the small 60ml or so Gaiwan from Stephane over at Teamasters.  It is a Gaiwan I find very nice to use and looks incredible when it is clean as it has a slightly pale blueish/green celadon note to its coloring.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tea the Mental Reset Button

Tea is a wonderful escape, and I am quite glad I rediscovered this little fact.  For a while in the past few years, I was quite confused about why I enjoyed tea so much.  Tea was still very nice, a very enjoyable drink, and something I turned to incredibly often.  But lately I have started to really see the tea light (sorry for the bad pun).

I've learned when you are wound up like a wind up music box, two things will either happen the spring will come unhinged and it will be incredibly broken, or there will be a decent bit of noise, maybe a bit hectic and out of tune at first, but eventually it might be a nice melody, and then it will eventually come to a rest.  Well the problem was for quite some time I kept winding the spring, and my tea sessions were rushed, full of distractions, or honestly just part of the motions paying them next to no mind.  So after a few days of frantically having things unwind off in both key and tempo, I think I finally got to the nice melody of my days and stress levels.  That melody has never seemed better than just sitting and going through at least 1.5 liters of 80's Puerh on a Friday night over the course of several hours.

This escape through tea, is probably a bad word for it, its more of a escape into yourself in a meditative sense, while digesting your life with tea.  When you make the time available to quiet the mind, and just do the tea it really is the soft melody of the music box.

I am reminded of a story told in Novice to Master: [An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity] by Soko MorinagaWhich in all honestly is possibly the best thing to keep in mind when approaching your own life, just remember we are all inherently stupid, and the question is in how many ways can we stop being stupid.   But I digress, the story involves his very early days in the monastery in which the focus of the lesson is that their is no waste.  Well I have many fellow graduate students that can not comprehend "wasting" as much time as I do drinking tea, I gave into their pressures and tried to turn tea time into productive time. In retrospect, that wasted time was possibly my most productive time so far in my studies, it is my sanity check, my mental reset button, and by extension my productivity boost.

Just as there is no sense beating a dead horse, an overly taxed mind, a stressed out mind, or a frustrated mind can each only become more so, often leading to desperate and stupid attempts to find a solution.  A fresh mind is often best for any problem, and for me tea is that mental reset to let me get back to work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One of those teas...

Ikuyo-no-mukashi in Seong Il Teabowl

I wonder if other people have "one of those teas" which they absolutely love it when they just recently got it on hand, but once you get towards the end of the supply you are left being glad its finished.  On top of just being glad its finished, you think to yourself "I have no need to replace that any time soon."

If you can tell by the picture Matcha is "one of those teas" for me.  Every time I get an order in with matcha, I find it incredibly delicious, but by the time I finish one 40 gram tin, I feel no real need to replace it.  In fact contrary to others I know that love matcha and drink it as a daily item.  I'd rather have Sencha or Gyokuro on hand than matcha.

In fact if someone poured over my tea orders, while I order Japanese teas anywhere from 2-5 times a year, and I am not sure I have ever ordered matcha more than twice in one year.  In fact most years I have a 8-10 month Matcha drought.

Do any of you have "one of those teas?"  If yes, what tea is it?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Tea Thoughts

I honestly feel that Saturdays were made for tea.  A whole day to be productive advancing what every you want to advance, but at the same time often at a relaxed pace, where sitting down and making several teas in one day does not seem luxurious but rather only natural.  It is just barely the other side of noon, and I have already had a delicious session of Matcha ( it sadly is not a staple in my tea stash), then possibly really wanting to give myself a good theanine kicking went on to Gyokuro.

Snow Day Gyokuro Setup

While for my health and safety the kettle is off, and the teaware is getting ready to be cleaned, I find myself wondering what tea I should make in a few hours for an afternoon session or two.  Such is how wonderful Saturdays can be.  While I had wanted to be a lot more productive, we are getting nailed with on and off lake effect snow bands which prohibit doing most of anything outside today.

While I have decided I want to try and film a tea video every Saturday for the near future, I find I filmed quite a few quite quickly, and I am starting to run out of ideas for videos.  Today I made a Matcha Video posted below. Do let me know if you have any suggestions for Videos you would like to see and I will do my best to accommodate them.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Favorite Tea Shots

Highfired TGY

I was just glancing over my flickr page, and I decided it might be nice to post some of my all time favorite tea shots.  So enjoy!

Jeong Jae Yeun Hwang Cha

Gao shan Hung Shui from Shan Lin Shi

Jukro oojeon Leaves

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chinese Yancha Video!

This is the video I am expecting the most negative feedback on, though actually I'll expect that with any Chinese/ Taiwanese tea video I do.  On youtube it seems there is a lot more people heavily denouncing other peoples brewing on Chinese/ Taiwanese tea videos, while Japanese tea videos are more about learning and enjoying.

In this video I brewed up a fairly stuffed ( not super stuffed), pot of Yancha.  I do apologize for how long it took for me to stuff that little pot, the biggest problem with small pots is small openings.  Well sit back, relax, and watch me brew up a very potent and incredibly mind opening session of tea.  ( Right after I finished this session, I near instantly solved the second half of a homework assignment that had been stumping me).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gyokuro Video!

When I first started doing these youtube video's the first request I got was a request to show off how I brew Gyokuro.  Well happy to always oblige any requests I feasibly can, yesterday I set up the camera again, turned on the kettle, and took out my favorite gyokuro set up. 

I think I may venture into Chinese teas soon, as the waiting game waiting for water to cool is getting a little tiresome.  But I have taken to trying to include some notes in the wait time about what exactly I am waiting for and how I would tell when it is the temperature I want.  I still haven't quite worked up the courage to attempt to narrate my own videos yet.  That may still be to come. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bowl Brewing aka Grandpa Style

I have written several times about bowl brewing my teas.  While it is just about as easy as it sounds, it is not quite that easy.  I have found some teas are more finicky than others.   As such I have refined my bowl brewing a little beyond just adding leaves and filling up the bowl with hot water, as depending on the tea that could work or it could end up a bitter mess.  I made a video of today's grandpa style brew to illustrate this.  There is more to my thought processes after the video.

The main difference is a do a "steeping" of sorts geared to establish the root.  My thought processes behind this is, if the tea is on the delicate side, suddenly sitting in a big bowl of fresh off boiling water could do horrible things to the brew.  While an initial 1/3rd fill then letting it sit cool off a bit and steep, shouldn't shock the leaves too much.  Plus the water is cooler so it helps mediate the temperature when you completely fill up the bowl.

Also I mentioned the root, this 1/3rd fill level is a great mental level to keep in your mind when drinking, as you should refill with fresh boiling water each time it hits this 1/3rd level until you want to finish.  A slight added bonus with this initial steeping is it helps resolve the issue of floating leaves.  (It is not fool proof but it helps.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Korean tea Brewing Video

Sometimes I get the impression people are scared when it comes to Korean teas.  While unlike some Japanese teas, I see little reason why you can't brew them in a gaiwan, or shiboridashi ( of which Korea has a wide variety of similar brewing devices), I think when you see a more traditional style Korean tea set it looks daunting.  Couple that with the fact that in a youtube search it is hard to find a Korean tea brewing video that is not a formal Korean Tea Ceremony.

A bit of an aside on tea ceremony's while I would like to go see them, I am in the camp that you do not need to brew your tea in any particular ceremony every time you sit down to brew.  While I like to borrow ideas from the ceremony, things such as washing the cups in my mind can easily be done in the sink before you actually start brewing.

That being said, enjoy my casual Korean green tea brewing proceedures in my latest Youtube video.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Go Run, then Drink Tea!

Charaku Yame Gyokuro

This post is going to seem off for so many different reasons, first and foremost it is almost a complete about face from my usual post topics  ( But to be fair, while writing this post I am drinking some high powered Gyokuro, so it can't be that far off right?), while secondly I should note take all nutritional recommendations in this post with a grain of salt.  The second thing because while I understand how to be healthy, I do not know the ins and outs of nutrition.

So this past year I have been focusing on getting myself back into shape, its been a slow and steady process but has really taken off when I started to run, and motivate myself with races.  ( The big one on the horizon is I hope to do the Borgess Half Marathon on May 5th).   As such I have to start training now if I want any hope of finishing in a somewhat decent time.  That included today's work out a 3 mile run.

My findings this past year are that tea helps me both preform better and recover better form exercise.  While it does not replace water ( it does help hydrate you to some degree though). It wasn't until recently I really started putting two and two together. I thought it was the energy boost that was most helpful, but that contradicts the fact that, I often ran worse when I drank a lot of tea shortly before a run.

Then recently I decided to google nutritional facts for many foods I eat on a regular basis, and just for laughs I looked for facts on tea. 

The real surprises are tea contains:
  • Potassium -- Possibly one of the best things tea has in it to help someone recover, as I find after exercise I feel I most need to replenish my lost potassium levels. 
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • B1, B2, and B6 Vitamins -- (On a side note this might be part of the reason people claim tea is a hangover cure).
  • Folic Acid
  • Phenolic Acid

Looks like a rather nice set of nutrients.  Sadly I am sure they are not in abundant levels, and definitely do not replace eating healthy foods, but if you are looking for a way to help yourself hydrate, recover, and enjoy something you love, make tea!

Source on Nutrients:
I also had another site I double checked it against when I first was looking, but I can not find that site today, I will post it if I find it again.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Now On Youtube!

I have been tossing around an idea for a few weeks, and decided to finally act on it.  I will be creating a series of videos showing off the brewing of certain teas, along with showing off some of my teaware.  I will only mention the tea brewing videos on this blog.  

Here is my first tea brewing video, showing off my Sencha brewing Technique ( for the sake of time only through the first steep.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Support for a Small Teashop

It was nearly pure luck I stumbled upon the small Seattle based shop of Charaku-Tea. I only learned about Charaku because it is owned by the same person who runs Wasabi-dou a ceramics gallery featuring a variety of artists, both Japanese, and American Ceramics ( though those inspired by Japanese styles).

I apologize if this reads as an advertisement, but if there is one thing I like to do is support small businesses whenever possible. I do believe small businesses are the heart and soul of this country, and should be frequented when ever they do a quality job that sets them above the much larger operations.

Why do I like Charaku-tea?  Not only have I found their teas on the affordable side of things, I am incredibly impressed by the level of detail given on each tea they offer.  With every bag of tea comes  little card stock business card which gives a wealth of information that only true tea lovers would love.  It includes things such as harvesting location ( down to the city/ town), the cultivar of the tea, along with all the more typical details on  the tea.  It also includes recommended brewing procedures ( though experienced people should follow what they are accustomed to in my own opinion).

Not to mention it includes some of the nicest presented packaging I have seen from Japanese vendors.  But lets get onto the tea....

While I often find their steaming designations on the heavier side of things, as in the fukumushi I have from them is quite incredibly heavily steamed, while the asamushi is borderline chumushi.  Even the Gyokuro seemed slightly heavier steamed than most gyokuro I am used to.  But that honestly doesn't matter as I have found the tea incredibly enjoyable the whole way through.  Granted I have only had 3 of their teas, but two of them have been finished, one I am half way through.  The only one that seemed slightly off, was easily overlooked.  It was an Organic tea that while it was sencha was extra harsh on the stomach if you had not eaten prior to brewing.

So I encourage anyone looking into buying some Japanese teas into giving Charaku-tea a look.  Heck also check out their teaware offerings and Wasabi-dou at the same time!

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