Saturday, March 28, 2009

Imperial Da Hong Pao from Jing Tea Shop

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountains, Fujian province, China
Year: 2008
Vendor: Jing Tea Shop (Product page)
Price: $78 (100g) / $23.50 (25g)

I feel like a broken record saying this, but thanks go to Adrian for this sample (he sent me so damn many!). At 78¢/gram, this is definitely one of the most expensive teas I have had the pleasure of trying. Not surprisingly, it is a very good tea, especially for one so new.

Dry leaf
The dry leaf's aroma is gorgeous: chocolate, caramel, cassia, and maybe some nutmeg. The best part though was its richness. Really, wow. When wet, the leaves give off charcoal and fruit notes, a pretty typical scent for a young Wuyi.

The first infusion is best characterized as "lively." It is rich, fruity (think tropical fruit, like kiwi), floral, and thick in the mouth. The second infusion has a hint of charcoal but is mostly the same as before. By the third infusion there is a nice oiliness developing on my lips, and a relaxing cha qi feeling. In the next few infusions the fruity/floral liveliness is replaced by spice and the classic yancha texture. All of the infusions are a vibrant orange color— very purty.

Luni teapot
There probably would have been some more charcoal if I brewed it stronger, but whatever. This was a very impressive yancha, though it definitely does not taste like a heavily roasted one if that is what you are looking for. As Jing Tea Shop says, this tea is ready to drink now and really doesn't need any aging. I don't pretend to be an expert on aging oolongs, but I don't get the feeling that this one would age well. Even more reason to drink it now! Yum!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Townshend's Tea in Portland

While in Portland several days ago, a certain family member brought me to this little tea place on Alberta Street called Townshend's. I don't usually expect much from these sorts of shops, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Townshends Card
It is a contemporary tea house, as opposed to the stereotypical dusty/overstuffed Chinese tea shops and doilies-and-pinkies Victorian tea rooms. I thought it worked well; it's the same sort of design that Starbucks had their way with, but I don't mind. It was peaceful (it seemed to be a nice spot for studying or reading, for those of you who go places to do either), comfortable, and the staff was friendly.

Oh yes, and the tea isn't bad either. From what one of the employees told me, the place used to be focused on chai and bubble tea, but they have recently developed a pretty decent loose leaf tea list. Don't get too excited-- I doubt there is anything there that you couldn't find online for a better price, and there isn't a ton of variety (I don't remember if they have any puerh actually, probably just some cheap shu), but their selection was very good for a small brick-and-mortar store.

Gaiwans and cups
We ordered a Tie Guan Yin and a Wuyi yancha (probably a Shui Xian), which were served in gaiwans (large ones-- probably 7 oz) with cups to decant into. Also provided was a reasonably-sized kettle over a tea candle. It is hard to see in the photo, but they actually gave us a lot of leaf! The little tea light didn't keep the water very hot, but I imagine that is one of the more difficult challenges in serving tea to customers. Even Imperial Tea Court (the Ferry Building location, anyway) doesn't take any measures to keep your water warm, though I'm sure they would reheat it for you if you asked.

The employee I was talking about earlier (Sadly, I forgot his name) came over to talk and we chatted for a bit about the teas we like and what vendors we buy from. I was happy to find someone really interested in tea working at this place. I've heard the horror stories about Teavana employees and assumed the worst, but this store seems to employ people that are genuinely interested and pursue tea as a hobby on their own time.

Overall, I had a great time, and this place exceeded my expectations. Check it out if you are in the area.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fujian Gaoshan from Serenity Art

Class: Oolong
Origin: Fujian province, China
Year: Unknown (but basically irrelevant)
Vendor: Serenity Art, Inc.

This tea was a gift from Adrian, purchased at Serenity Art in Portland, OR (I wish they had an online store! Arrrgg). It is a somewhat-heavily roasted gaoshan, which is not always easy to find-- the unroasted, nearly green oolongs are reported to be more popular with young tea drinkers in China and Taiwan.

Dry leaf
If you like Just4Tea's roasted TGY, you will probably like this tea too. The dry leaf smells of cocoa, caramel, and toasted grains. It looks darker than Just4Tea's roasted TGY, so I'm guessing this was roasted more.

The liquor has a solid caramel/ toasted grain flavor. It is sweet, smooth, slightly fruity (blueberry, I think), and it has a little bit of a kick from the roast.

Hongni pot
This is a very good roasted gaoshan, and I would definitely recommend trying it if you happen to find yourself in Portland. Coincidentally (and conveniently, for this post), I was in Portland this past weekend and stopped by the store. It is a nice tea shop with a large selection of teas and teawares, which are generally cheaper than products of similar quality you may find online. Communication can be an issue (particularly if you butcher Chinese tea terms as badly as I do), but the owner is helpful and patient.

28mm f/2.8 Ai
On a mostly unrelated note, I just got a new (used) lens: a 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor Ai. So far it seems to work fine; I used it for all the tea photos in this post (Not that they are anything special. Actually they're pretty lame, but the lens works fine). It is a manual focus lens though, so it can be hard to focus properly on my dSLR (the viewfinder is much smaller and doesn't have a split-prism for determining correct focus, unlike my film SLR), especially handheld in low-ish light like I had. Also, on my crop-sensor dSLR it is only the equivalent of a ~45mm lens, which is why these shots don't look like they were made with a wide-angle. I'm looking forward to running some film behind it though!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

2008 Da Wu Ye Jiang Hua Xiang Dancong

Class: Oolong
Origin: Guangdong province, China
Year: 2008
Vendor: Tea Habitat (Product page)
Price: $30 (1 oz)

Dry Leaf
A big thank you goes out to Victoria from TeaChat, who generously sent me a sample of this very fine (and very pricey) tea. I stupidly brewed this tea while focusing on something else the first time; I am glad I gave it the attention it deserves when I revisited it. "Da Wu Ye" translates to "Big Dark Leaf" and "Jiang Hua Xiang" translates to "Ginger Flower Fragrance."

Everything about this tea is subtle, which may or may not be a good thing. The dry leaf's aroma is almost undetectable. The flavor is mild, especially compared to the 90's Golden Pearls Dancong I recently tried. It is certainly not a powerhouse in any sense. However, it is a rewarding tea if one is in the mood for a subtle, delicate experience.

This tasting session was one where all the pieces clicked into place. Forgive my waxing poetic, but the soft winter light was a perfect visual complement to this tea. It is lightly honey-sweet, with a clear but fragile ginger flavor and a sweet aftertaste. Gentle brewing seems to help with this tea; I used a relatively small amount of leaf (about 1/2 full, which really isn't that much with long dancong leaves) and shorter brewing times (5, 10, 20, 30, etc.) than I normally would.

In addition to its wonderfully delicate flavor and sweet aftertaste, I felt warm and relaxed after drinking this tea. I couldn't tell you whether it was solely due to the tea or other factors, but the tea certainly didn't hurt.

This really is one of the finer teas I have ever had. It is not the most complex or the most powerful tea, but it does not waver in its subtlety or clarity of flavor.* As usual, Tea Habitat does not disappoint!

*Ugh, that sounds so corny! It is the best way I can think to describe it though, even if the purple prose does make me want to barf.