Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An idle mind...

Blowtorch...is the devil's workshop. Ever since Adrian and I had a conversation about making the gong fu tea ceremony more reflective of our own culture and less of an imitation of Chinese culture, I've been trying to come up with something, nay, *anything* that could be incorporated from our traditions. Then I found my propane torch (originally purchased for making crème brulée), and thought "Hmm... now what's more American than setting fires and blowing sh*t up?"

Firstly: No, I am not seriously considering incorporating a propane plumbing torch into my everyday tea making routine. It might be entertaining every now and then, though. Of course, coming up with the idea of using a blowtorch is significantly easier than devising a task for it to perform. I don't think it is well-suited for delicately roasting tea leaves, and frankly there just isn't very much else that I could light on fire except for my bamboo tea tray, which I would prefer to keep un-charred, if possible. The best I could come up with is using it to prewarm a gaiwan or teapot (which it could do beautifully, with quite a bit of gusto to boot), but I'm a bit nervous about what would happen if I did. Unfortunately I have already thrown away my broken teapot, so I can't use it as experimental blowtorch fodder.

So, I plead to you, my readers. Get those gears turning and come up with ideas for how to use this thing. Who knows, maybe I'll even do a video montage of all the suggestions. :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Operation: Teapot | Glass Brewing | Lochan Teas

Luni TeapotOperation: Teapot

This is a "before" picture of my Yixing pot that is currently undergoing an intense artificial seasoning. It seemed to work very well for one of Salsero's teapots (actually, it was the same as the one I just broke), so I figured I'd give it a try. Basically, I'm letting this teapot sit submerged overnight in a combination of Wuyi yancha rinses, leaves, and water; then I dump the soak, and add fresh used leaf and water. I'll post a new picture for comparison when I'm satisfied.

Glass BrewingGlass Brewing

I tried glass brewing for the first time today. I don't know how I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I suppose it's always better late than never. I used 3 or 4 grams of a free sample of "Pre-Ming Zhe Jiang Mao Jian" green tea I received along with a recent Jing Tea Shop order, and warm (about 140°F, I would guess) water, refilling when necessary. It was actually pretty refreshing, and quite a bit more convenient than using a gaiwan. I'll definitely try it with some other teas.

Lochan Teas

Ankit Lochan from Lochan Tea has generously offered me 15 oz. of assorted Indian teas for free. Stay tuned for some reviews!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back to School

Broken TeapotI just moved back into my dorm today, and while unpacking I found that one of my Yixing pots had been broken. Luckily it was one of the relatively inexpensive ones, but it was still a disappointment. It was also the only thing broken in the move (so far), so I suppose things could be worse.

Though my teawares are all set up neatly on my desk and shelf, I am currently without any tea. Everything is stuck in the painfully inefficient and bureaucratic Vanderbilt post office. Anyway, I still have a few days before class starts, so I should have time to write one or two posts. After that... only time will tell.

(In case you are wondering, the top picture is my attempt to put Humpty Dumpty back together. If only I had all the king's men to help me, maybe I would have been successful. The horses would be nice to have as company, but I doubt hooves would be of much assistance.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wuyi Da Hong Pao from Harney & Sons

Da Hong Pao PicturesClass: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006 (?)
Vendor: Harney & Sons
Price: $18.00 (2 oz) / $128.00 (1 lb)
Verdict: 8/10

As you may have noticed, I have a good deal of Wuyi yancha (yancha means "cliff tea," referring to the landscape where these teas are grown) lying around. I guess I can't hide it anymore— I love this stuff. This Da Hong Pao from Harney & Sons was purchased after a recommendation from Salsero.

According to the product description, this tea is about 40% oxidized. To be honest I haven't paid all that much attention to oxidation percentages so I have no idea what this number means in terms of taste/wet leaf color/etc, but it's good to know I guess.

The dry leaf is dark, either black or dark chocolate brown. The aroma is surprisingly strong, smelling strongly of rhubarb, as well as some chocolate and raspberry. Unlike most dark roasted teas though, there is almost no charcoal aroma whatsoever. I'm not really sure what this means— I guess it's indicative of a lighter roast, but I don't really know. If any of you have any thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them.

The liquor is nice, with flavor echoing the tart rhubarb from the dry leaf fragrance. There is also a pleasant caramel sweetness, a mild dry spiciness, a light but long-lasting chocolate aftertaste, and a decent amount of body. While this tea has a lovely, round flavor profile, it seems a bit adolescent and awkward in that it is conflicted about whether its roundness should be centered around younger, brighter flavors or deeper aged ones. Still, it's good stuff, and certainly interesting despite its bold flavor. Overall, I'd give this tea an 8/10. With a bit more age (and maybe a re-roasting to give it more of a fired flavor), this tea could develop quite spectacularly.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

2007 Wuyi Bai Ji Guan

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2007
Vendor: Teaspring.com
Price: $13.60 (25g) / $47.30 (100g)
Verdict: 6/10

Bai Ji Guan PicturesThis tea is unlike any Wuyi yancha I have tried. As this tea wasn't subject to nearly as much roasting as most of its cousins on Wuyi mountain, its leaves are lighter in color, ranging from light brown/orange to green (you can see a better picture of the leaves here), and they are long and wiry. The aroma is floral and perfumey, and smells like a combination of a first flush Darjeeling and a dancong.

The liquor is very light in color. It tastes of flowers (orchids, I suppose, but I don't eat a lot of flowers so it's hard to say) and light honey, and has a hint of woodiness. Balsa wood comes to mind, but I don't know why. This woodiness is much more pleasant than the kind I found in the Meghma oolong, and tends to increase in intensity as the brewing time is extended.

Almost everything about this tea reminds me of dancong. It even has the same sort of astringency as a dancong, which I can best describe as the taste one gets from walking through a spritz of perfume/cologne with one's mouth open. Sounds weird, I know, but it's the best I can come up with. The tea seems patient, releasing flavor for a good number of infusions, but the lack of body leaves me feeling... underwhelmed.

The wet leaves are quite impressive in constitution, I assume because they haven't been fired as much as most Wuyi oolongs. Most of the leaves are intact, and there are very few small pieces. There are also some two leaf + a bud complexes, which are always fun to find.

Overall, I think if you like dancong you will like this Bai Ji Guan. I'm not a huge dancong fan, so I didn't care much for it, especially considering its price. 6/10.

Also see Adrian's notes on this tea.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

2006 Wuyi Cha Wang Da Hong Pao

Dry leafClass: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: TeaSpring.com
Price: $5.90 (15g)
Verdict: 7/10

In an effort to post more often, from now on most of my reviews will be a bit shorter. I may pull out all the stops from time to time, but I'm guessing most of you would rather have more recommendations than details about the particulars of a certain tea's wet leaf composition or infusion times. On to the review:

Dry Leaf:

These leaves are very dark, and definitely look high-fired, as is indicated in this tea's description. The aroma is nice and strong, though not mind-blowing, and it somehow seems to sit in the nose for much longer than one would expect. Though it has nothing to do with the tea itself, the box the packet came in is pretty cool. It features an illustration of the original Da Hong Pao tea bushes, and has a guy wearing—that's right—a big red robe.


4.5g leaf; 100mL gaiwan; boiling tap water; 30+ seconds


The smell cup aroma is amazingly strong— sweet, fruity, and chocolately. As Adrian pointed out, this tea seems young. The liquor has bright but somewhat underwhelming flavors (chocolate/charcoal and light, sweet tropical fruit) and almost no body. Some age might just mellow this tea's charcoal and give it a richer, fuller mouth-feel. Interestingly, this tea is quite easy to brew. I couldn't get that full, velvety body I crave in wuyi yancha, but it was almost impossible to brew an unpalatable infusion.


I look forward to trying this tea after it has had some time to mature. There definitely seems to be potential here— a bright, strong aroma and a strong charcoal note from high-firing. Still, despite it's potential, this tea isn't the best to drink right now. So, it gets a 7/10. The jury is still out on whether it's worthy of the "Cha Wang" ("Tea King") title, not that it really means anything anyway.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kashanganj Snow Bud and Meghma Nepalese Oolong

These reviews are part of a T Ching Online Tea Tasting, much like the one I participated in previously. Thank you to T Ching for these teas. For a minimal $3 shipping charge, I received around 20-25g of each tea, which is quite a gift. It was also quite fortunate since it took quite a few tries to figure out the Meghma oolong (though I still haven't really gotten the hang of it). The focus of this tasting seems to be on unconventional teas from the Indian subcontinent, which seems to be an underrecognized genre in the tea blogging community. Anyway, without further ado, I present the Kashanganj Snow Bud and Meghma Nepalese Oolong.

Kashanganj Snow Bud Dry LeafClass: White
Origin: Doke Organic Farm, Kashanganj, India
Year: ?
Vendor: Lochan Tea Ltd.
Price: $9.30 (100g)
Verdict: 6.5/10

Dry Leaf:

I don't know a lot about the different styles of snowbud, but to my untrained eye these leaves are quite pretty and reminiscent of silver needle (bai hao yin zhen). Unfortunately I have a head cold right now, so my olfactory senses are limited and I can't really pick up on any dry leaf aroma. Nevertheless, this tea is looking good so far.

Kashanganj LiquorParameters:
3.1g dry leaf; 170°F good tap water; 90s, 150s, 180s


Not surprisingly, the liquor was nice and light. It reminded me of a light, sweet first flush Darjeeling, with a bit of a dancong-like perfumey astringency in the second infusion. The aroma cup initially smells of white sugar and vanilla, which develops into a very strong vanilla cake frosting aroma in the second infusion. By the third infusion, the liquor tasted like little more than sweet water. I probably could have given a fourth infusion more time to extract more flavor, but I felt that I had already gotten a good impression of the flavor so I didn't bother. I'm not much of a white tea fan since discovering the vast range of oolongs out there, but I can still appreciate the good quality of teas like this.

Kashanganj Snow Bud Wet LeafWet Leaf:

I know nothing about how wet white tea leaves/buds should look, so I won't even bother trying to analyze them. :) Still, here's a picture if you'd like to take a gander for yourself.

Overall Impression:

White teas aren't my favorite, but I liked this one. It had good flavor, and there was nothing offensive about it. The dancong-like edge was just enough to make me think, "hmm... interesting," and earned this tea a solid 6.5/10.

Meghma Oolong Dry LeafClass: Oolong
Origin: Meghma Estate, Nepal
Year: 2007
Vendor: Lochan Tea or The Simple Leaf (sold as "Honeybee")
Price: $7.00 (100g)
Verdict: 4/10

Dry Leaf:

Looks almost exactly like an Autumnal Darjeeling, and smells similar too. The leaf color varies from near-white to dark brown, common in teas of this region (though I would think it has far more to do with processing than terroir). Pretty!


Oh boy. I've tried three different methods for brewing this tea: gongfu with long infusions (30+ seconds), European style with a big-honkin' cheap teapot, and gongfu with short infusions (10-15 seconds). Gongfu with long infusions was absolutely dreadful, and left me feeling a bit sick. Clearly, this tea is not meant to be brewed this way. I later tried brewing it European style (4g leaf; 8oz off-boiling water; 2:30, 1:00), and had more success. I tried gongfu one more time with shorter infusions, and got better results than the first attempt, but I couldn't seem to keep the infusion times short enough to enjoy the tea.

Meghma Oolong LiquorLiquor:

During my gongfu attempts, the liquor was extremely woodsy tasting, and not in a good way. If I had to describe the woodsy flavor, I would say it's like a very insipid and alkaline thyme, but I'm not sure if that really makes any sense. When I brewed it European style, the liquor was much more similar to an Autumnal or second flush Darjeeling black tea (though its status as a black tea is debatable). Though there is still some woodsy flavor, it is much more subdued and a bit interesting. Perhaps if I hadn't already tasted it in concentrated form, I would have found it enjoyable and intriguing. At any rate, I found the second infusion to be particularly nice— no woodsy flavor, and a sweet fruitiness characterized this brew.

Meghma Oolong Wet LeafWet Leaf:

I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by the wet leaves of this tea. As you can see in the picture, there are many whole leaves and some intact leaves/bud/stem complexes. This tea certainly appears to be hand-picked. The leaves are a dark brown color, indicating a near-black tea level of oxidation.

Overall Impression:

While I can certainly see that this tea has been picked and processed with care, I simply didn't like it. Frankly, I felt a bit sick after my last gongfu attempt, which definitely does not earn it high marks. Still, I can't help but think that it's the Indian and not the arrow (yes, I realize the irony of using the word Indian in this context, but you know what I mean). Even my best results tasted lackluster compared to a good second flush Darjeeling, and after reading outstandingly positive comments by Phyll, I get the feeling I'm just brewing this wrong, so I can't give it an awful grade. So, instead, this tea gets a 3/10. I'm sure it gets better than this, but if it's this hard to get right, I don't think it's worth it.


While I enjoyed the teas in the last T Ching Tea Tasting more, it's hard to whine about free tea. I had been curious about Indian/Nepalese oolong for some time now, and even though I may not have had the best experience, it was still worthwhile. The real dark horse winner in this tasting was the Doke white tea— I didn't expect much but I actually liked it quite a bit for a white tea. Once again, thanks to the great people at T Ching!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Unexpected Find at the Ferry Building

Recently, I met up with my girlfriend in San Francisco to meet our friend for lunch and then see a Giants game. We ended up going to "The Slanted Door," located in the Ferry Building. As we walked around to kill time before lunch, lo and behold, we stumbled across an Imperial Tea Court store!

Cups from Imperial Tea CourtI have heard plenty of good things about Imperial Tea Court, so we decided to come back after lunch. Looking around, I couldn't help but notice how nice the place was! The shop was tastefully designed, and though I am hardly the best judge of what is authentically Chinese, I at least didn't see anything that would remind me of Teavana. They had a nice selection of teas and teaware, though most of it looked overpriced. Nevertheless, I did end up buying two sets of tasting/smelling cups, and have since grown to love them. (As I would later discover, this was a very well timed purchase.)

We debated about whether we had time to sit down and have some tea, and I convinced her that we did (we didn't). I looked through their "Imperial" selection of teas and settled on their bao zhong, opting for gaiwan service. Recalling a suggestion from another SF Bay Area tea-head whose name escapes me, I asked for cups to decant into— if you don't ask, you have to sip from the gaiwan. Our server was very friendly, and was helpful but not overbearing. He had worked there for two years so he knew what he was doing, but didn't pester us with lessons on how to brew our tea (though I'm sure he would have, had we asked).

At Imperial Tea CourtThe bao zhong was actually quite good, exceeding my expectations (until I saw the price tag on the loose leaf... ouch). I didn't have full control over parameters so I might have gotten better results with more familiar equipment— I had a 6oz gaiwan and a preset amount of leaf— but the tea was still refreshing, calming, and had good flavor and body. After three or four infusions we were almost falling asleep, but luckily the tea was wearing out as well. So, we looked around a bit more and left.

Then, I made one of the dumber decisions of my life and took the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to AT&T park. It took us 45 minutes to go 1.5 miles, landing us in the ballpark right at the end of the 4th inning. Oops!

Anyway, it was a good time, and I'm glad I got to spend it with such a special person (cue "awwwww!"). I don't know if I would want to go to Imperial Tea Court every day, but it is certainly worth a visit, especially if you bring along good company.