Sunday, June 29, 2008

Samovar Tea Online Video Series

Passage to Peace ScreenI recently received an email from Jesse Jacobs of Samovar Tea in San Francisco, who informed me of a new online video series that he has produced. He writes,

"In an effort to elevate the perception of tea, making it approachable, and informative, and educational, and to show just what the tea experience is like and why it is so valuable, I just finished a Web Tea TV video series in which I interviewed the Bay Area's top luminary tea producers, buyers, sellers, and retailers. The name of the series is Passage to Peace: Exploring Tea Culture Today...

...This project is about propagating tea culture, because tea culture is about two people connecting, and creating peace, sip by sip. And what better way to create peace and make a difference in the world, than to have a cup of tea with a friend."

The series is available in two places: their website, and iTunes. The preview trailer is online now, and the 16 episode series will air once a week starting July 1st. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wakamatsu-no-Mukashi Matcha from Ippodo

Class: Green
Origin: Japan (prefecture unknown)
Year: 2008 (?)
Vendor: Ippodo (Product page)
Price: $14.14 / 1500 yen (20g can)

Matcha Packaging
Gotta love the Japanese.

I recently ordered some Wakamatsu-no-Mukashi matcha to accompany my new chawan. I know they say not to judge a book by it's cover, but seriously, take a look at how fantastically this can is packaged! I am very pleased with Ippodo's style; the two other items I purchased in this order, a matcha furui (sifter) and a chasen (whisk), were also elegantly wrapped.

Matcha Sifting
Sifting matcha.

Ugh, sifting is a pain. I'm not entirely sure it matters, either, but what the hell. Also, I've heard from certain people (Brandon, for one) that infuser baskets work better than the special sifters. Thanks for the late advice, Brandon! ;)

Matcha froth
Mmmmmm! Nice, frothy usucha.

This is a really nice matcha. It has an almost gummy mouth-feel; this is a really meaty (uh, not flavor-wise, don't worry) tea. It has a muted sweetness, in contrast with O-Cha's Kiri-no-Mori, and has a little kick of astringency. There isn't much to taste, really, but there is a lot to feel; between the mouth-feel and the buzz afterward (hmm, I wonder if this would fall under the qi umbrella?), drinking this tea is a somatic experience.

Chasen comparison
On the left, a new 100-tine chasen from Ippodo. On the right, my worn ~70 tine chasen from O-Cha.

Here you can see what violent whisking does to a chasen. It took me a long time to learn not to scrape it so hard against the bottom of the chawan! It's hard to see in the photo, but there are several broken tines.

Palm frond
A palm frond. Fairly self-explanatory.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Exquisite Da Hong Pao from Teacuppa (previously Mystery Wuyi Yancha B)

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi shan, China
Year: 2007
Vendor: Teacuppa (Product Page)
Price: $110 (100g) / $58 (50g) / $20 (12g)

Mystery Wuyi B dry leaf
Sample B in all its (unfortunately broken-up) glory

This is the second tea in the blind tasting I wrote about in my last post. As you can see in the above image, the dry leaf I had was pretty broken up. This has more to do with being the dregs of the bag than overall quality. I seem to remember that most of the leaf was decently whole. The leaf smells quite nice; it is not quite as rich as sample A, but it has some chocolate and caramel goin' on.

Mystery Wuyi B liquor
Sweet, sweet nectar.

Despite the state of the leaf, this tea tastes pretty good: caramel and chocolate. Thanks to the state of the leaf, the flavor is intense. [Tasters: This intensity is why I recommended brewing with short steeps, but if your dry leaf looks more whole than mine, feel free to disregard.] Unfortunately, a side-effect seems to be a loss of complexity. I didn't really notice any development over the rather prodigious number of steeps the tea survived. I'm interested to hear if that was similar/different from others' experiences.

Washing the teapot
So fresh and so clean.

I really like this tea, especially considering the condition of the leaves at the bottom of the bag. It has good, strong flavor, and even some nice qi (hell, even I could feel it). I'll most likely order another sample so I can get an impression of it at its best.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2002 Rou Gui from Teacuppa (Mystery Wuyi Yancha A)

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi shan, China
Year: 2002
Vendor: Teacuppa
Price: $18.50 (50g)

A note about the censors: Several fellow tea-fiends have received this (code-name "A") and another tea (code-named— wait for it— "B") as part of a blind tasting. I'll reveal this tea's true identity later. Muahahaha.

Also of note: I made my first trip to Daiso, a Japanese 100-yen-store chain that has recently made its way to the states. After all the hype, it was a bit disappointing, but I did find a few goodies: two cups, two little plates, and a reed mat. The damages: a whopping $8.12. One of the plates and the reed mat can be seen in the photographs below. Not bad for $1.50 each, eh?

Mystery Wuyi A dry leaf
Chocolate, in leaf form.

This tea has a fantastic chocolate aroma. In keeping with the size of the samples I sent out, I used 5g of tea in a 90mL pot. [To the tasters: you're welcome to use more, but this splits the sample in half.] I started with a ~20 second infusion, and got a lovely brew replete with caramel, blueberries, and a kiss of chocolate. It was smooth and oily, to boot.

Mystery Wuyi A liquor
Some of my Daiso booty: a plate, and a reed mat.

As it progressed it lost its oiliness and blueberries, and the flavor developed into a more ordinary spicy chocolate. This tea gave out on me fairly quickly, lasting about 5 infusions before it dropped off. Though I was disappointed by its short lifespan, I liked the round, mature flavor of the initial brews. I would definitely consider buying more. If only... [That's a hint!]

For the homies.
Pourin' one for my homies.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pu'erh in Berkeley

Yesterday, I drove up to the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, CA to attend a presentation titled "From Garden to Gaiwan: the Journey of Pu'er Tea." The event consisted of an hour long presentation by Brian Kirbis, followed by three hours (!) of pu'erh tasting.

Tea setup
One of several tea setups at the event.

The lecture was excellent; it was informative and academic, yet artful. The majority of the lecture was a discussion of the geopolitical, ecological, and social changes taking place in the wild pu'erh gardens of southwestern Yunnan, due to the growing demand for mao cha (the raw materials needed to make pu'erh). For the most part, Brian documented these changes as they took place in the Bulang village of Laoman'e, a small millennium-old community of wild tea farmers, and compared it to other nearby areas also experiencing the effects of modernization and development.

Near the end of his stay, Brian filmed a short ethnography of the people of Laoman'e, narrated by the charismatic (and quite talkative, according to Brian's account) village leader, Ai Wennan. In this film, one sees villagers hiking through the surrounding forests, picking tea leaves, wilting them, firing them over the same fires used for cooking their meals, and rolling them by hand.

It was a very informative lecture, especially if one already had some experience with puerh. I learned quite a few things about how mao cha farming and processing are carried out; particularly, the distinction between blending at the farm level and at the factory level. Just because one finds leaves of different colors and sizes in an "unblended" puerh does not mean that the factory is necessarily being dishonest. As shown in Brian's presentation, farming communities often blend the pickings from each household into one large pile; as each household typically picks and processes their tea separately, this may result in a blend, of sorts.

Brian and David
David, Brian, and Jason, examining a mid-1980s tuo cha.

After the lecture, we drank tea. :) It was great talking and drinking with several people I've only had contact with online! I sat at Jason's (a.k.a. bearsbearsbears of the Puerh LJ, TeaChat, and Bearsblog) table, where I was able to incessantly pick his brain about teas, teawares, water, etc.

Jason setting up his table
Jason displaying his awesome little business cards at his table.

He brewed 5 teas: a gong ting grade Menghai shu, a 2006 Nannuo shan sheng, a 2002 bamboo-roasted sheng, a mid-1980s sheng tuo cha, and a 1996 7542 sheng. The first four were generously provided by Brian, while the fifth was from Jason's personal stash. The teas were all good; I especially enjoyed the last three. Jason even let me brew a bit at the end of the night while he started to clean up, which must have felt a bit like handing over one's car keys to a student driver.

Four teas provided by Brian
Four teas provided by Brian, displayed at his table. Counter-clockwise from the left: 1980s tuo cha (behind wrapper), 2006 Nannuo shan, Menghai shu, 2002 bamboo-roasted sheng.

It was lots of fun, though the 50 or so cups of puerh through 10 PM sure didn't help me sleep last night. :) I met lots of new people, and learned a ton about tea. I'm very happy I went, and I won't be forgetting it any time soon.

Group picture
Iffy group picture. From left: Adrian, Brian, Jason, Simran, Me (ugh), David, and Will. Completely obscured by us is a nice exhibit of various teawares.

Davelcorp's writeup can be found here. Also, there are more photos in the Puer Flickr pool.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just a few photos...

As some of you know, I've been trying to teach myself a bit about photo composition and photography in general, so I've been taking pictures of more than just teas and teawares (though most of what I've snapped are boring flower photos). Anyway, here are a few I took today:

Pink flower
Does anyone know what kind of flower this is, by the way? My dad says they are roses, and they have thorns, but as Salsero pointed out once before the petals don't look like typical rose petals.

Flower through hole
This is one of those instances when I wish I had more than a point and shoot. I could not for the life of me get my camera to focus on that darned blue flower!

Violet rose
I was actually going to throw this photo out, as I was trying to snap a typical flower picture with the stamen/etc. in focus. The way this one turned out is much more... expressive, even a bit sexy.

Rotten apples
I think this is my favorite of this bunch. The lighting turned out much better than it usually does in my pictures!

Anyway, I hope these are enjoyable, or at least a bit pleasing to the eye. If any of you photographers out there have any tips/critiques, have at 'em! I'll take all the help I can get.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Wild" Gao Shan Oolong

Class: Oolong
Origin: Taiwan
Year: 2007
Vendor: Mountain View Tea Village & Gallery
Price: $29.99 (100g)

Wild Gao Shan

I don't feel like writing too much; this was a good tea, but not great. It's not really worth the price, anyway. I also have no idea whether it's truly wild or not. Call me a skeptic, but I'm betting on not. :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blue Hagi-yaki Chawan by Yamane Seigan

I unwrapped a lovely tea toy today! This blue hagi-yaki chawan (tea bowl) was made by Yamane Seigan, who first created the blue hagi glaze and style. If it seems familiar, that's because Alex of Another Tea Blog also owns a Seigan piece.

Seigan Chawan
For some more info on this wonderfully talented potter, see here and here (thanks for the links, Alex).

If you're interested in Yamane Seigan's work, check out MagokoroDo on eBay; they have tons of his stuff on auction, and you can get a good deal if you're patient. also has some of his work, as well as other quality blue hagi-yaki. If all else fails, send an email to Toru from Artistic Nippon; from what I've heard, he is happy to seek out items for customers.

I can't wait to take it for a spin (whisk?)!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Imperial Tea Court (again)

I went to Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco (the one at the ferry building) today. Unlike last time, though, it was a bit disappointing. I ordered their Imperial Wu Yi Yan Cha, as I've been getting back to drinking yancha lately.

Unfortunately, they only gave me a teaspoon or two of leaf in a 4oz gaiwan, so I didn't get a chance to taste much of anything. I guess if I were smarter I would have just used less water, but I didn't think of it at the time. Oh well. At least I got to look at all the cool wares! (Though my girlfriend did tease me about it. I believe the word she used was "swishy.")

The following picture is completely unrelated, but I don't like making text-only posts. :)

Blue flower

Friday, June 06, 2008

2008 Miyabi Shincha

Class: Green
Origin: Uji prefecture, Japan
Year: 2008
Vendor: O-Cha (Product page)
Price: $27.95 (110g)

This tea comes courtesy of Chip, a fellow TeaChat member. I know a few people who consider this to be the king of sencha, so I had high expectations of this tea. And, fortunately enough, my expectations were mostly met. :)

This is a great tea. It has good flavor; it does not have the most intense flavor ever, but it is clean and refined. There is a light sweetness, and a pleasant cooling aftertaste. Chip mentioned tasting a slight roasty/nutty flavor, and I think I agree. Whether or not it's just in my head or not, though, I can't say. :) In my experience it isn't a particularly vegetal tea, but there is some grassiness. Also, it's pretty easy to brew, as long as you pay attention. Much easier than the Yukata Midori (or the Hatsumi, so I hear), anyway.

It is expensive, though. Compared to O-Cha's Kirameki it's a steal, but that's not saying much. Actually, having tried Miyabi, I can't really recommend Kirameki anymore. It's more expensive than Miyabi, and not nearly as good (in my opinion).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Harney & Sons Da Hong Pao

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountains, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: Harney and Sons (Product page)
Price: $18.00 (2 oz.) / $128 (1 lb.)

Flowers and Bee
Despite the constant danger of bee attacks (see above) and the smell of dog excrement (see below), I braved the outdoors again today. It's so much more enjoyable to take pictures outside! (It was so enjoyable that I completely forgot to take a picture of the dry leaves, but whatever, they weren't anything special.)

Source of the aforementioned dog excrement
This is actually a revisit; I've already reviewed this tea, so it should be interesting to see how the two of us have changed over the last 9-10 months.

Tea liquor
Has this tea changed at all? Not really. It tastes pretty much the same; my notes from this session are remarkably similar to those from my previous review, which I hadn't reread until just now. It's an aromatic tea, but doesn't have much depth of flavor. The smell and flavor are about the same; bright tartness and fruitiness (last time I thought of rhubarb, and I think that's still true), with just a hint of cocoa and hot spice. There is not much charcoal/roast taste, thankfully.

After reading a recent post by MarshalN, I was inspired to brew the crap out of this one. I kept going until my kettle was almost out of water, despite the tea giving up most of its flavor in the first few infusions. Of course, I'm still guilty of not taking notes about the tea after the third infusion, but to my defense this one did die rather suddenly. :) Regardless, it was nice to slow down and enjoy the surroundings (and the company) with the occasional cup of sweet tea water; I think I'll do it again next time.

Another flower, yay
Though the tea hasn't changed much at all, I think my tastes have. If I were to re-adopt my 1-10 scale, it wouldn't score as high as it did then. Perhaps I didn't brew it as well this time, but I think it's more likely that, at the risk of waxing arrogant, my tastes have become slightly more refined since then. Don't get me wrong, this is still a decent tea, I just don't think it's as spectacular as I thought before.

Yet another flower
Did I just have a nostalgic moment? Hmm, I guess I did. Still, I can't help but think it might be nice to forget everything about tea and be amazed by the slightly-above-average stuff again. Wait for it...

Sigh. ;)