Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Shimizu Genji-san, Part 2 (a review)

The Kabuse Ushirode and Yakishime Tetsuki Samashi are easily two of my favorites. I purchased them both from Rishi-Tea. They were hand-crafted by Shimizu Genji-san in Tokoname, Japan. They are both yakishime, high-fired unglazed stoneware, which gives them a wonderful texture and light weight, allowing for smooth, easy pouring. They are elegant, beautiful and quite gratuitous.

As much as they may enhance the tea making/drinking experience, my $35 shudei kyusu makes tea just as well. While I would reccomend these items to anyone interested in collecting high quality Tokoname pottery, if you are just looking to make a cup of tea, save your money. Purchasing items such as these is half about tea and half about appreciating art.

Kabuse Ushirode
Diameter: 3.75"
Height: 3.25"
Volume: 350ml
Price: $170
Vendor: Rishi-Tea

My wife bought me this pot for Christmas last year, and I've dedicated it to dian hong. The quarter in the picture can help you visualize its actual size. Kabuse translates as wrapped, or in this case "covered lid," and Ushirode means back handle.

I did not get a great picture, but you can see the sasame, clay mesh screen, something that I prefer over stainless steel obi-ami or ita-ami. There was a discussion earlier on O-Cha's forum about the pros and cons of the different filter styles, and it was voiced by some that this style of filter would allow the tea leaves to clog the spout and inhibit the flow. So I ran a test timing how long it took to pour, first using just water, then brewing a pot of tea using a generous amount of leaves. I did this twice, and I am happy to say that each time took exactly 12 seconds. I am told that this filter is made by a machine, and that they spent years researching the different aspects, how many holes and what size, the curvature of the screen for optimal strength. They did their job well.

Yakishime Tetsuki Samashi
Diameter: 3.4 in.
Height: 3.875 in.
Volume: 350 ml.
Price: $60
Vendor: Rishi-Tea

Tetsuki Samashi translates to water cooler with side handle or something. When brewing whites, greens and some oolongs, a water cooler comes in handy. It can double as a sharing pitcher, but it is porous, so only if you dedicate it to a particular type of tea.

You can see in the middle picture one of the things I love about it. Most likely a coincidence, there is a dark ring that marks exactly 8oz. of water, my preferred amount. So measuring water is never a problem, at least with the one that I have.

Not sure what else to say about it. Functional? Yes, but a $2 measuring cup could do the same job. Nonetheless, if I just had to choose, I think this tetsuki samashi might be my favorite piece. Simple. Elegant. Ridiculously superfluous.

Kukimatcha (Rishi Tea)

Tea: Kukimatcha
Origin: Shizuoka, Japan
Year: 2007 (Presumably)
Price: $15 for 70g Tin
Vendor: Rishi Tea

Rishi's Kukimatcha is a blend of fukamushi (deep steamed) sencha and twigs grown from the Yabukita tea bush in Shizuoka, Japan. It is enhanced with matcha, giving the tea a creamy body, rich liquor, and a high concentration of the amino acid, L-theanine, which reduces stress.

First, this was some well packaged tea. It was nitrogen flushed and sealed in a Mylar bag, then packed into an air tight tin that you have to open with a pull tab. This is something new for Rishi. They are now packaging their other Japanese teas this way, but it is unclear if they will continue to offer it on their website, or if the new tins are meant strictly for retail distribution.

The leaves looked good and had a pleasant, rich, rather sweet aroma, that reminded me of the flavored sugar candy that came in straws, pixie-something-or-the-other.

I used a kyusu for the session and followed these instructions. I am new at green tea, so I will try my best to describe it adequitely.

First steep: 1tbsp per 7oz. spring water/165 F./1.5 minutes. It had a dark green almost jade liquor, that my camera completely failed to capture, so I tossed the pictures. The taste was smooth, naturally sweet yet bold, grassy. I didn't taste any bitterness or astrigency. It was honeslty just friggin' good. If you like kukicha, you will love the kukimatcha. Everything that a good kukicha is, but...more. Like the difference between chocolate and fudge.

Second steep: 7oz. spring water/ 165 F./ .5 minutes. The color was just as good, but the over all taste was not as bold and a little less complex.

Third steep: 7oz. spring water/ 170 F./ 1 minute. This time the natural sweetness was standing out again. Still a very good cup.

Fourth steep: 7oz. spring water/ 175 F./ 2 minutes. Tasty enough, but unremarkable. Definitely time to call it quits, though in the future I will try higher temperature and longer steeping time to see if this tea will stretch a little farther.

Overall I rate this tea a 4.5. I refrain from giving it a 5 only because I am still largely inexpereinced when it comes to Japanese teas, and I do not want to declare something perfect, until I have had a chance to experience more of what Japan has to offer. This is a great tea, and I don't think any lover of Japanese tea would be dissapointed. If you are, tell me what you're drinking, 'cos that stuff has to be awesome.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Update: Tung Ting (Red Blossom Tea Co.)

So I emailed the company about the problems I had with the Tung Ting, and I can not say enough about their customer service. It took about a day, but they emailed me back, offering to send me a replacement. I decided I'd rather have a refund, so I called them. As soon as I gave them my name, the gentleman knew who I was and what I was calling about. He was more than happy to refund my money and asked only that I send what I have back, so that they could take a look at it and identify the problem. With that kind of consideration and resolution, I am happy to continue shopping from them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Luna Tea Cakes

Since I work at Central Market, I get to sample all the new trendy stuff, that I would otherwise not waste money on. This gives me a chance to do a public service. Wondering about that new tea you saw at the grocery store but hesitant to degrade yourself and buy it, now you can just come here, and I can either satiate your curiosity or convince you its worth trying after all.

We got the Luna tea cakes shortly after received the new TROT RTD (Ready to Drink) Luna Teas (and if you are wondering what those taste like, their complete crap. I can't sell them and had to send about 60 cases back to the vendor). They come in three flavors, Vanilla Macadamia, Berry Pomegranate, and Orange Blossom. You can go here to look at their website and browse the nutritional information if you are curious.

All in all they're not that bad, though they are more of a Cliff Bar than a tea cake. The Vanilla Macadamia was my favorite. They have a decent texture and are not too sweet, but personally I say go with a Lara Bar.

I give the Luna Tea Cakes a 3.3. (The Lara Bars get a 5).

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Shimizu Genji-san (Or possibly Hokujo?)

This is Shimizu Genji-san, quite possibly my favorite man in all of Japan. At the very least he is by far my favorite artist in Tokoname. I am positively mad about this guy.
Over the last year I purchased his Yakishime Tetsuki Samashi and Kabuse Ushirode. I spent several months Googleing him in my desperate attempts to find more his work, but I was s.o.l. I even emailed Rishi and had a conversation with Sean O'leary about it, but his works were no where to be found on the web.

Until now.

(edit: look at this, I used noticed three times in two sentences. Would someone please hit me upside the head with a thesaurus).

I was browsing through the link I left in my last post, when I noticed a kyusu that I really liked. I took a closer look, and noticed how familiar the style was, then I noticed Shimizu-san's chop and rejoiced.

Here is a link to a larger gallery of his work: Shimizu Hokujo

In celebration of the opportunity to throw away more money on superfluous tea pots, I will get off of my ass tomorrow and finally right a review.

Tokoname Kyusu

On another forum, someone provided a link to some fantastic Tokoname kyusu. I have not purchased one yet, so I can not attest to their actualy quality, but I am quite fond of how they look.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


As soon as I get readers, I stop posting. My apologies, but things are hectic right now. This week is our inventory at work, and my wife has been set to another store, so she's commuting and working fourteen hour day, so I am trying to take care of everything at home, and the in-laws have just left for Germany, so I have to swing by their house to take care of the pets.

Things have been busy. But I am getting several days off soon, and I'll crank out a few reviews.