Saturday, April 26, 2008


Biscottea are "traditional" Scottish shortbreads baked with various teas and tissanes, Earl Grey with Darjeeling, Chai, Honey Bush, Blueberry White Tea, and Mint. Tea in food is nothing new, and I am often skeptical, having only a passing, professional interest in these items as they come into the store, often with propaganda concerning "health benefits." Blah blah blah.

But these were awesome.

The chai caught my intention first. It tastes like chai, more so than what passes for chai at places like Starbucks. You can taste the spice combined with the creamy, buttery goodness of the shortbread.

The Blueberry was my second favorite, with an intense blueberry flavor that's more vibrant and realistic than you would often find in a blueberry flavoured something-or-the-other.

The Mint is a bit...different, and the Earl Grey and Honeybush were both good, but the Chai and Blueberry impressed me the most.

My Own Masala Chai.

I have oft wanted to dabble in making my own chai, and these cookies inspired me to finally give it a shot.

I chose to use Teance Golden Yunnan as the base tea (this was a mistake, but I'll get to that in a bit). For 16 oz of chai, I used 4 g of tea, 1 g each of cloves, cardamom, and pepper and a cinnamon stick. I have no idea what I'm doing, so it seemed like a good start.

I expected the worst, but it didn't turn out all that bad, mostly just too mild. I think a pure/mostly bud dian hong isn't strong enough to stand out, and the Teance is more subdued than most. Next time I'll use Rishi's.

No one spice stood out. I'll definitely use more pepper and cinnamon next time, and I may leave the cardamom out and add ginger. I'll post periodic updates as I try new blends.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Aged Oolong

Courtesy of MarshalN.

When I mentioned that I was interested in aged oolong, he was very kind and sent me some samples, but he kept them a surprise:

"There are four teas in them, including two aged tieguanyin, one aged baozhong, and one aged Taiwan oolong. One of them is what is normally passed on in most teashops as "aged oolong", but is in reality probably just a tea that is a few years old with a lot of roasting. I won't tell you which is which (numbered 1-4) unless you want me to."

His instructions:

"I'd suggesting filling the vessel about 1/4-1/3 full of dry leaves, using the hottest water you can find, and infusing them as quickly as your hands allow, at least for the first few infusions."

Aged Oolong 1

It has a dry cocoa aroma with thick, fruity hints of raisins, dates, or figs; I couldn't make up my mind.

The tea is fairly simple, tastes roasted, light, then after taste of raisins. Thin mouth feel, dry, not sweet at all.

Aged Oolong 2

Much richer aroma. Smells like chocolate, cookie chocolate, not milk chocolate. The aroma brings to mind the word "purple." Don't know why. Some teas smell or taste green; this smells purple.

Again this was a simple tea. Less up front taste but sweeter over all with a sugar cane finish.

Aged Oolong 3

If I didn't know better, I would have guessed this was a puerh. Strong, earthy aroma, deep red liquor, hints of camphor and a smidgen of celery. It had a thicker mouth feel than the others.

Aged Oolong 4

I can't place anything specific in the aroma.

The liquor is "cola" brown.

This tea lacked discernible characteristics or nuances. More astringent, and I tasted a note of celery again, but mostly it tasted hot.

My guesses as to which is which, based on over all feel, taste, and appearance of the leaves, are:

# 1 Taiguanyin. I think this was the "aged oolong" he spoke of.

# 2 Taiguanyin.

# 3 Baozhong.

# 4 Formosan.

Marshal, if you would be so kind to let us all know how completely wrong I am, that would be lovely. And thank you for the samples. I've often been envious of your experiences in China and Taiwan, having access to various tea shops, and it was great to get a chance to sample some these teas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

O-cha's Fukamushi Supreme

My last sencha 'till shincha.

Fukamushicha is deep-steamed sencha--asamushi = light-steamed, chumushi = mid, and so forth. The more steam used the greater the flavor and the smaller the leaves; fukamushi can look a lot like tea dust.

Personally, I find fukamushi to be the hardest tea to brew correctly, and I am still working on it. But the few times I got it just right, it was amazing, though more often than not I'll screw up at least one infusion from any given session.

Today I experimented with lower temperatures, hoping to create a sweeter tea. It worked the first time, but later I let the water get too cool (140-ish) and the tea became too weak.

The dry aroma is thick and rich and vegetal.

The much smaller leaves of fukamushi can prove to be too much for a sasame filter. My teapot gets rather clogged about a third of the time.

Taste. Honestly, I just don' like this one. There are many who disagree with me, but I think the Fukamushi Maki from Den's was much better. I have used about 90 grams so far, and I have yet to produce a cup of this stuff that I liked. Its strong and flavorful to be sure, but lacks the sweetness, complexity, and sass that I look for in a good fukamushicha.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rishi's Moonlight White vs White Peony

I have long been curious about the differences and similarities of these two teas, and though I have had them both frequently in the past, I thought a side by side comparison would be a fun learning experience.

The number one difference is price. The White Peony is only $4 an ounce vs the Moonlight White's ridiculously high, in my opinion, $22 an ounce. The Fair Trade Certification can account for some of the price difference, but I would be curious to know how much of the price increase makes it back to Yunnan.

The prices for the retail tins are more comparable, both about $7, but the Moonlight white is only .6 oz vs 1.1 oz of the other. While you may pay the same, you will get twice as much with the White Peony.

The next noticeable difference is the leaves. The Moonlight White is comprised of large, whole leaves:

While the White Peony is more bits and pieces.

After that, the only real difference is that the White Peony is Fujian and the Moonlight White is from Yunnan.

The Moonlight White has a cleaner, less complex aroma and yields a more delicate. lighter brew that will share many flavor nuances of other Yunnan teas. Quite simply it tastes like it comes from Yunnan. If you prefer dian hong as I do, I think it is likely you will enjoy this tea.

The White Peony has a thicker bouquet and mouth feel and an over all stronger flavor, the latter I think can be attributed to the smaller, broken leaves. Smaller leaves equal more surface area equals a stronger cup. It shares similarities with other Fujian bai cha.

Both teas are equally sweet and better when consumed hot. I noticed that as the tea cooled, some of the flavor diminished.

Which of the two a person will prefer depends on two factors. 1) How much money does that person care to spend, and 2) which province do they prefer, Fujian or Yunnan.

I am partial to the Moonlight White as long as I can buy it in a retail tin and can avoid the online price. My preference for Fair Trade aside, I have always loved teas from Yunnan, and as little as I drink white tea, I don't mind paying a little more for it.

And after all, bai mu dan can become fairly common, so a white tea with refreshing characteristics is a nice change of pace. The only real question is, are you willing to pay the extra money for it?

A note on brewing: if you haven't tried gong fu-ing your white tea, I recommend giving it a try.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Buying Japanese Teaware

I had a conversation the other day with a new guy on TeaChat that inspired me to compile a bit of a guide to purchasing Japanese Teaware.

Short answer, buy from Japanese vendors--this is often true of their tea as well. The closer you get to the source, the better the price and sometimes quality. For example, look at prices for pots by my favorite artist, Shimizu Genji/Hokujo.

Artistic Nippon (Japan): 125 USD
Tamayura (France): 150 USD
Rishi-Tea (USA): 170 USD

For another, less dramatic example, though I hate to pick on Rishi, look at the "kikumaru."

Nishikien (Japan) 40 USD
Rishi-Tea (USA): 55 USD

However, to be fair, shipping must also be taken into consideration, and sometimes the higher cost of having your pot shipped from Japan can eat into the money you would be saving. Even so, the total cost of a Shimizu kyusu and samashi plus shipping from Rishi was 240 vs 195 from Artistic Nippon. And Zencha doesn't charge shipping on their pottery.

There are a few other concerns with purchasing directly from Japanese vendors. A language barrier, exchange rates, and poorly translated web sites, sometimes lacking a clear way to even order the item you want can be intimidating. In some cases there isn't a "shopping cart" or an easy check out; the transaction is handled with emails and international money orders. Not to mention if you don't know anyone who has had experience with a particular site, you could always be taking a risk. But, thus far my experiences have been nothing but positive, and I still think this is the way to go.

My Favorite Place for Tokoname yaki.

As I am about to show you, I simply can not say enough good things about Artistic Nippon and its owner, Yoshikawa Toru. He spent some time going to school in Wisconsin; his English is perfect, so communication is not a problem. He provides a personal touch that I don't see often. All of my correspondence with him has been a pleasure; he has helped me with my Japanese and answered all my questions. He even sent me maps of Kyoto and museum brochures when I mentioned I was planning a trip.

Twice now I have sent him a picture of an item that I was interested in that he was able to procure for me, and I know of a few other people who have done the same. If there is something I'm looking for, Toru san is the first person I go to.

My Favorite Place for Hagi yaki.

Every time I visit their site, I thank all merciful gods that every item I simply must have has already been sold. I live in mortal terror and nigh sexual anticipation of the day they re-stock. They have a phenomenal selection, biographies of their artists, a feature that I am particularly fond of, and free shipping.

Other well known places that I have used and can vouch for, though their selections are smaller:

Den's Tea

These vendors have extraordinary selections, but I have not yet purchased from them. I would ask around a bit or contact them before pulling out the credit card. Just to be safe.

Looking for wholesale, try these guys:

Since I picked on them...

They have the best selection of Tokoname I've seen from a domestic vendor. Whoever their buyer is, he has very good taste. I have purchased seven of their pots over the last two years, and all of them were excellent for the price paid. If you choose to go with a company closer to home, I highly recommend them.

The Fukugata in particular is the best tea pot for beginners, in my opinion. If only they could keep it in stock. If you get a chance, grab one; its worth it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Wabi Sabi

I want to show you something. It has nothing to do with tea, so if that's a problem, find something else to do on the internet; here, have some porn.

My back yard. We will be moving at the end of the year, and I am going to miss it. I love it, my wife not so much. She sees and old fence, weeds, and overgrown grass. I see something different.

That's what I want to show you.

You see, this is what I love about photography.

Its not about the whole.

Its about the details, stopping to see beyond the surface.

There are so many details, each beautiful and transitory.

So much to see.

So much life.

You just have to...


Before it goes away.

Rishi Sencha Superior

I was at Whole Foods the other day, doing a bit of work-related reconnaissance, and I saw that at some point since my last visit they started carrying this. My sencha stash is running low, and shincha is still a month away, so I purchased about 20g.

Sencha Superior is a light steamed, asamushi, sencha from Shizuoka.

The aroma is a bit under-stated, though it came from a bulk bin, so that is to be expected. The dry leaves smell fruity, a smell I tend to associate Chinese greens with. I put the leaves in a heated pot, and the more typical, herbaceous scent of sencha emerges.

I love the texture of this pot once its been preheated. I always fondle it before the tea goes in.

I played around with this a bit, a using a slightly lower temperature and 4 grams for a minute fifteen really hit the spot.

The tea is light and fruity like a Chinese green, but with a bit more umph to it. A good change of pace from the more aggressive fukamushicha. The leaves are good for at least three infusions.

I bought a tripod for my new camera--Salsero was right; a whole new world of gotta-haves.

This camera is helping me discover a whole new passion for photography. Like the difference between talking about sex, and having sex.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Another Tea Blog has a new toy.

On Monday I purchased a Nikon D40 Digital SLR to replace my Fujifilm Fine Pix A345. It is obscene how much I love this camera.