Monday, December 31, 2007

Full Leaf Tea

The other day I was drinking some da hong pao I received as part of a Christmas present. I was warned that it would be unremarkable, and rightly so; it was rather bland and uninteresting. At some point between admiring the dry leaves and being disappointed with the brew, a silly and obvious, silly because it is so obvious, thought came to me: loose leaf tea does not inherently equal quality.

This isn't news; had you and I had a conversation about it, I would have agreed wholeheartedly, but it was not until this moment I realised that this misconception had still been lingering in the back of my mind.

I presume this ill-formed idea has its roots in my early tea-drinking days, as I made the progression from teabags to loose tea. When trying to move away from BOP, searching for better tea, full, loose leaves become a convenient, visual indication, and in that context, not entirely misleading. Now that I continue advancing to better and better tea, this sort of prejudice is a handicap.

The art and science of making quality, artisan tea is clearly more involved than simply not having had it reduced to dust.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mao Feng

Do you know what mao feng is?

I didn't. When I received this tea, I assumed mao feng was fancy, pu-erh speak. Wikipedia's article wasn't much help, saying only that it was a green tea from Anhui. Further investigation revealed references to keemun mao feng and golden monkey mao feng. A bit confused I turned to Bablecarp for a literal definition, and it turns out mao feng is a grading term meaning downy tip, a step above mao jian.

The dry leaf aroma was nutty at times, melon-ish at others.

After brewing it in a gaiwan first, then a kyusu--both had similar results, fruity, light, though the tea in the gaiwan had a touch of astringency--I decided to finally get around to experimenting with glass brewing. The method is simple enough, take a glass, dumps some leaves into said glass, add water, and from what I understand, this is a fairly traditional way of drinking tea in China.

First let me say this whole using-your-teeth-as-a-filter takes practice. While this method was attractive, I did not much care for the tea. It was lighter, chewy and nondescript, though the dregs had more flavor, fruity and astringent, that made it similar to a decent young sheng that's not too harsh.

The wet leaves are comprised of full leaves and lots of bits.

I welcome some feedback on this style of brewing. I used 3 grams per 8 oz at 160 F. Did I do something wrong?

Tea Classes

January 26, my first professional tea class. I did not give myself the title of Tea Expert.

Then after that, on the 30th, Roy Fong is finally coming out to my store to teach us employees a thing or two about tea, an experience I've been looking forward to.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Zhen Qu

Its nice to be back and have the holidays behind me for another six or seven months. Over the last few weeks I've received so many new teas and teapots, it was hard to know where to start. The weather was brisk and gray this morning, foreboding, with the vultures outside my front yard and all--who the hell knew there're vultures in the city? So I found myself leaning towards something black.

The Zhen qu from Chado was part of a generous gift from Salsero of TeaChat. It is an interesting tea; small, fuzzy leaves that shed on everything, as you can see.

(Well I guess you can't see, because I can't get the damn pictures to open in a new window).

It is from Fujian (or Pan Yang, which I am told is simply and older name for Fujian), and the dry leaves smell like bai hao yinzhen. I brewed 3 grams for 3.5 minutes. It is a wonderful combination of two of my favorite teas, the yinzhen and pure-bud dian hong. Tastes tastes like Fujian bai cha with a touch of amber honey and a slightly dryer mouth feel.

Per Sal's instructions I experimented with 6 grams and 3 minutes. The honey becomes more pronounced, and an astringent bite creeps in. Overall the tea is gentle and flexible.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Help me save my teapot, please.

Update: Thanks everyone here and elsewhere for your help and advice. I contacted Rishi and their guy Sean, a fellow Shimizu enthusiast, figured out that the mineral deposits are most likely caused by letting water dry in the pot. Since that is exactly what I do--I always rinse my pots thoroughly after each use and let the inside air dry--I am inclined to agree with him.

Now that I know the cause of the problem and how to prevent it, I am willing to leave things as they are. The build-up is rather mild at the moment, and unless it gets worse, I see no reason to try anything potentially harmful.

Take a look:

I first noticed it a few months ago, and it has been getting worse. Is this just mineral deposits? If so, how do I get rid of it? I've heard white vinegar, but not only is this my favorite and most used pot, it is the most expensive. I want to be very sure that whatever I do will not harm it. If it isn't mineral deposits, any ideas? Your feedback would be appreciated.

(Edit) More information: Yes, the pot is porous. I use spring water to make tea, but I rinse my pots with tap water. Its this teapot right here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2007 Spring Oolong

This next sample from June, I'm not sure what it is, other then it is a lightly fermented, rolled oolong from the Wuyi mountains. She sent me two different (does oolong have flushes?) harvests, a 2006 Winter and a 2007 Spring.

My notes on the winter oolong met the same fate as the long jing, but I completely botched it anyway, so no loss; I'll just skip it. I simply can not gong fu lightly oxidized oolongs; it never ends well. Yet I keep trying.

But not this time. I used a larger pot and steeped 3 grams for 3 minutes.

Aroma: there is a sharp, vegtal scent buried in layers of honey and butter, reminds me of my father--he would mix honey with warm butter and spread it on slices of bread, and there is a pleasant pang of melancholic nostalgia.

The first thing I notice is that this time the tea does not taste like an astringent, over-steeped mess. Progress! The brew is light, light to the point that perhaps I should have used more leaf or less water. It is more similar to the wen shan bao zhong I've had than its Taiwanese counterparts such as dong ding. There is a green-gold tint to the liquor that didn't show up in the pictures. The second infusion was fuller, less nuanced, and sweeter.

The wet leaves are mostly single, whole leaves, but there are a few of the two or three leaf clusters I've always admired.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2007 Long Jing

Another sample from Just4tea.

I've only had long jing a few times before, and always from stores that sold it in bulk glass jars, not ideal storage conditions. When it comes to Chinese green tea, its any port in the storm for me. I prefer Japanese green tea by far, but there are times I appreciate the more mellow, soothing qualities of Chinese tea. When I do, I am none too picky about what's in my cup. So not only was it a challenge to try and talk intelligently about this tea and do a proper review, but I drank it last week, and my notes have largely been obliterated by a spilled cup of tea.

The leaves are what I expect, uniform and flat, sort of a yellow green. I used 3.5 grams/8 0z/175 F. for some random amount of time.

In my notes I wrote, "Damn. Sweet/floral. Surprisingly light," but I'm not sure if I was talking about the aroma or the tea. Further down there is, "sweet honey quality" followed by " two infusions" and a "Hangzhou" written in the margin, the last I safely presume to be the origin of the tea.

I know, that was all kinds of helpful. But at least the fukugata was dusted off and got some love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

2006 Tie Guan Yin

For information on the religious/spiritual and mythical background of Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess/Bodhisattva of Mercy), take a look here.

Before we get started, let me just say, oh my Bodhisattva this tea, the second sample from Just4Tea, was good. I have hitherto been disappointed with TGY; I have brewed samples some from various places and from various price ranges, but it always left me wanting.

The bouquet was complex, layered. The dry leaf aroma was of roasted sugar cane with a fruity presence. After I rinsed the leaves the smell of chocolate was so strong I could taste it, feel it on the sides of my tongue. And after the first infusion a charcoal tang emerged, confirming that this was indeed a high or higher roasted TGY.

I use 6 grams/150 ml, 5 s rinse, 35 s, 45 s, 70 s, 100 s.

The first infusions are as elaborate and effervescent as the bouquet. The first steeping has a familiar fruit I can't place at first. Lots of cacao a la shuixian, and I check the package and sure enough this tea is Fujian. There are also traces of a greener TGY present. On the last sip I place the fruit, peach, similar but not as strong as what you would find in a dan chong. The second infusion has more chocolate, but the peach is gone. I can taste a bit of the charcoal. A hint of the peachiness returns in the third and the fourth, while the charcoal and cacao diminish. I think there was enough life left in the leaves for a fifth and sixth steep, but this was my third tea session for the day, so I called it quits.

The wet leaves feel thick, coarse, not as supple as other rolled oolongs.

As I said in the beginning, I liked this tea a lot, the different flavors that would shift back and forth or come at you all at once, one after the other. Its similarities to other oolongs that I love while retaining its own TGY character, make this a sort of "best of..." tea. This is the first free sample I've received that I like well enough to buy more of.

Monday, December 10, 2007

2004 Puerh Tuo Cha

Just4Tea is a new and small tea company operated by June Lao, a very nice person who sent me her tea. Her family opened a tea shop in Chaozhou, China during the 1930's. She grew up in her parent's shop, but has now settled in San Francisco, importing her family's teas and selling them here. Each day this week I will post a different review of one of the seven teas she sent me.

The thing I like most about pu erh is that I feel completely neutral about it. I enjoy it well enough, but I have no expectations. I am completely detached from the experience and free to fully enjoy even the humblest cup of pu. Because of this I have better luck with tasting notes, identifying different nuances. Its good practice.

Its a mini tuo cha of some shu pu, and my experience tells me that no one seems to waste quality tea on these things. When I first opened the package there was a stronger aroma that's gone now, but I can't remember it.

Each piece is about 4 grams. I use one in a 150 ml pot, rinse twice for 20 seconds each, and steep for a minute. Its a thin brew, a faint hint of camphor, and the finish has a whisper of astringency that threatens to turn harsh. As it cools I can pick up a smidgen of cacao.

In the second infusion I can taste the chocolate now that I know its there. One piece was only good for two infusions. I doubled the steep time for the third and doubled it again for the fourth, up to 6 minutes, but the liquor was fainter, and the tea a bit watery.

The wet leaves are standard bits and pieces.

My over all impressions are for an average tuo cha, this was an enjoyable tea while it lasted.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Uji Matcha Manten

The Manten comes from O-cha via Tsuen, Japan's oldest tea shop, and at $60 for 30 grams, this is the most expensive tea I've purchased. Manten is a koicha (thick tea), and it comes from bushes at least 30 years old, grown in Uji by a distinguished gentleman who has won awards for his Tencha.

The Manten comes in an elegant and simple tin with an inner plastic lid that keeps it air tight.

Making it for the first time was an experience. The timelessness of tea, the fusion of history and culture, has always been the primary appeal for me, but never before had it been this poignant, preparing tea from a family that has been growing and selling tea for 23 generations and using a chasen that was crafted by another family that has been making them for 35o years. I got kind of tingly.

Properly preparing matcha can be problematic and requires a little practice, mainly because with a chashoku and a samashi you have to eyeball the corect amounts to use. I have found that if you use too little water or too much matcha, the tea will become thicker and sour.

I've had more experience now, and I must stress the importance of sifting the matcha first; it will clump much less and always seems to taste better when you do. Unsifted matcha has the consistency of talcum powder, while sifted matcha will have a homogeneous, sandy texture.

Again, for koicha use 3-4 scoops and 3-4 oz of water.

The Manten tastes very green. I made same for Molly's friend, and she said the same thing. It is flavorful, bold, not quite sweet, but definitely not brassy or astringent. Quite smooth, but I didn't notice that at first, only later, after I drank some lower quality matcha that was rather harsh, then went back to the Manten.

Other than that the Manten was too much for my palate. In the same way it was difficult for me to discern or describe the differences between the Kiri no Mori and the Kiku Mukashi, I can not adequately distinguish the Manten from the Kiku Mukashi. I am not experienced enough yet, as this was only my third matcha.

Honestly this is a relief; I can not afford a regular supply of the Manten at this time, and I am pleased that it hasn't ruined me for all lesser matcha.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Free Stuff Makes me Smile Like a Dumb Ass

Update: So far the samples from Just4Tea have been quite good. I'll post the reviews next week, one for each day:

The Tea Fairy visited me today and left lots of free goodies for me to experiment with.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Cha Dao Revisited

Click here for the original post.

They were demoing the Cha Dao RTD teas this weekend, and I sampled the two flavors that I had not previously tried, the Jasmine Green Tea with Lemon and the Chrysanthemum. I was intrigued, so I picked up a bottle of each.

Initially the Jasmine and lemon seemed a pleasant combination, but soon the lemon became cloying, overpowering instead of blending with what would have been an unassuming jasmine green.

The Chrysanthemum was more successful and enjoyable, crisp and clear. RTD teas rarely taste like they "should," often only an imitation of whatever tea it claims to be, but this tastes and smells exactly like ju hua. My first thought was that they did a better job of making it then I did. It was refreshing and an agreeable change of pace.