Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Golden Turtle / Shui Jin Gui from The Tea Gallery

Class: Wuyi yancha, oolong
Origin: Wuyi Mountains, Fujian Province, China
Vendor: The Tea Gallery (Product page)
Price: $18.00 (25g) / $63.00 (114g)


This is another lovely yancha from The Tea Gallery. The dry leaf smells soft, with a nice balance of caramel and tangy florals. The first few infusions show a strong yancha mineral base, as well as a nice cocoa/roast flavor. The tangy florals are quiet at first but linger, then bloom into a sweet, cool aftertaste. A caramel sweetness dominates once the flavor of later brews tapers off, until it ultimately fades.

This isn't a powerhouse of upfront flavor, but that's alright— the solid aftertaste and approachable mineral character make for a graceful, youthful tea.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Starting over.

It has been a long time since I had any sort of meaningful experience with tea. At some point I just... gave up. Looking back, I think one can see this in my last several entries; fearing that I would lose some important part of my life if I accepted my budding lack of interest, I desperately grasped at new ways to find meaning in the hobby I had spent so much time exploring. Sometimes it even worked, however briefly.

But sometimes we just have to let ourselves let go. Do I regret that I gave up on a beautiful thing, a creative outlet, and a means to meet interesting people and have stimulating discussion? Absolutely— I'd be stupid not to. But did dwelling on it accomplish anything?

Over the past year (probably even longer) I often had the thought, "I really should put together a new post..." I would look over at my tea stash and associate it with the burden of taking photos, looking up information, writing, formatting, etc.; it got to the point where I felt obligated to write about tea whenever I so much as looked at it. This obligation eventually turned into a weird guilty feeling I couldn't help but dwell on, and, well, it's no surprise that tea lost its magic.

Dwelling on guilt is an incredibly easy way of telling ourselves how much better we could be— how much better we should be. You know what? Screw that. You're just as shitty a person as you know you are; no more, no less.

"Quitters never win and winners never quit." A noble sentiment, but ultimately harmful. Does this mean we fail every time life takes us down a new road? Is one failure all it takes to permanently label us as failures? Where did we get this notion that we have to, or are even able to, win everything? Why do some of us give ourselves endless amounts of grief for not achieving the level of perfection we expect?

Take comfort in your revolting humanity, the piss-poor excuse of a god that you've become. Suffering from guilt is not righteous suffering, and freeing yourself from it is not a resignation to complacency but rather the first step in getting out of your own damn way.

All this to say, hopefully I can put this mode of thinking behind me and start (among other things) enjoying tea again. And who knows? Once that happens, maybe I'll start writing again, but forget about regular updates for the sake of regular updates.

Fortunately, my readers are used to waiting. :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2009 Tie Luo Han from The Tea Gallery

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Shan, China
Year: 2009
Vendor: The Tea Gallery (Product page)
Price: $18.00 (25g)

A few weeks ago I wrote about The Tea Gallery's 2006 Tie Luo Han; this is it's younger brother. I would be interested to know if they were both made from the same farm and/or producers; they are similar enough compared to other Tie Luo Han sold by other vendors that I would believe it. (To briefly recap, I wrote that the 2006 is a mineral powerhouse which is very interesting but not terribly approachable or well-suited for casual brewing.)

dry leaf
The dry leaf smells of caramel, bright tropical fruit, and copper. The lid aroma was mostly floral, but a bit of the mineral/copper character can be found here too. It's not quite as powerful as a good dancong, but "dancong-like" isn't far from a good description of this tea's fragrance.

The first few infusions are quite unlike the 2006; they are sweet like caramel, floral, and ethereal. The only thing that links the two so far is the above-average mineral aftertaste which grounds the otherwise flighty flavor nicely. After the first few though, the similarities between this and the 2006 become much more obvious; the earthy mineral flavor comes into focus and the caramel/floral sweetness tapers off, though if brewed with a lighter hand some sweetness remains to cut through the strong minerals. I also played around with the altitude at which I poured from the kettle: pouring a thin stream from high above the leaves seems to brighten the flavor a bit.

This tea has a lovely cha qi. It brings peace without being overly intoxicating or jarring, though it has the potential to lay you out if you don't pace yourself. This is a tea worth sipping slowly, anyway.

If the price doesn't bother you too much, this should be on your short-list of teas to try. It is more approachable than the 2006 (though my experiences with the 2009 make me want to revisit that one soon) but still strongly expresses the same mineral character. This is yet another lovely tea from The Tea Gallery— but really, is anyone all that surprised? :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010


little bridge
[As with my post on mindfulness, this is more a personal reflection than a lesson. Hopefully you can glean something useful from it, but I certainly do not want to imply that I know what is best for you.]

I recently noticed that light is a critical part of my great tea sessions. Of course one needs adequate light in order to brew tea adequately, but for a special tasting I need remarkable light. It has to create a sense that something is different, special, not merely mundane.

Whether it be bright sunlight outside, soft diffuse light through a window on a cloudy/rainy day, or dim incandescent lighting in a quiet room at night, the best light is simply and unpretentiously beautiful. It shouldn't be contrived, melodramatic studio-like lighting; it should be natural, effortless, and not distracting. Finding great light, whether planned or accidental, is more rewarding than my attempts to cobble something together myself.

The light should resonate with me; if my mood doesn't match the quality of the light, things don't quite fall into place. When everything harmonizes, though, and the cha qi of the tea is just right, and I feel as though I am dissolving into the light around me... Perfect!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

2006 Tie Luo Han from The Tea Gallery

Class: Oolong
Origin: Wuyi Shan, China
Year: 2006
Vendor: The Tea Gallery (Product page *be sure to select the 2006 option*)
Price: $23.00 (25g)

This is one of those rare instances when I am in agreement with a description on a vendor's site (though it's debatable who is usually at fault!). This is an interesting tea, as it should be for its high price, but it's not my favorite.

Even the dry leaf smells strongly of rocks (especially when placed in a warmed gaiwan), though the aroma is tempered with caramel and some tropical fruitiness. It certainly has a strong mineral taste, too; so much so that it overwhelms almost all traces of other flavors unless one is paying attention. It's like the crafter of this tea took a normal yancha and cranked the usual mineral character (aroma, taste, aftertaste) all the way up to 10.

Personally, I like a bit more sweetness and a more balanced flavor in my tea, but I wouldn't say that this isn't a fun tea to try; partly because it's a great example of yancha mineral character, but also because it is quite a bit different from the typical Wuyi you'll find on the internetz. (Did I mention it's expensive? Yikes!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mystery Aged Oolong A from MarshalN

dry leaf
This is the other tea given to me by MarshalN; you can find my notes on "B" here.

The dry leaf smells like caramel, toasty grains, and blueberry/classic-aged-oolong. The lid aroma is thick and luxurious, saturated with caramel and toastiness.

Despite the subdued flavor of the first steep (it was a flash infusion, after all, I wouldn't have expected otherwise), this tea's cha qi was already kicking my ass by the time I was ready for a second steep. The flavor developed as I went along, though the roast tended to dominate early infusions if I gave them too much time. The tea also had a light oiliness and a sweet, refreshing aftertaste throughout the session.

Good stuff, mmmm. Thanks again MarshalN!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tea notes

tea notes
I feel increasingly weird posting tasting notes here, especially for old teas you can't buy anymore. They make sense for group tastings where others may actually want to compare observations but... let's be honest, you don't really want to read about the bag of unlabeled oolong I just found in the back of my cupboard.

So, if you wouldn't mind, check out the poll to the right. Be honest, you won't hurt my feelings... much. *whimper*

Monday, February 08, 2010

Mystery Aged Oolong B from MarshalN

dry leaf
This tea comes from MarshalN, along with its sister "A", which I'll write about soon. It's an aged oolong of some sort, but I don't know anything more. I'm sure it has been discussed but in my prolonged absence from the online tea world, I missed out.

The dry leaf smells like rich, finished chocolate; I don't smell any of the raw cacao bitterness (lack of recent firing, I guess?) that is in most chocolate-y teas. There's also a whiff of that classic aged-oolong character— it always reminds me of blueberries, though nobody else seems to agree with me!

The lid aroma expresses more of the blueberry/classic aged aroma, is lighter, and more citric.

This tea has good flavor: sweet and fruity (more so than I would have guessed from the chocolate-y leaf aroma), and some chocolate. It is not the most complex, but it is well-rounded and enjoyable. The most remarkable characteristic, I think, is its balanced oiliness, mouthfeel, and flavor, which comes across as very "clean." I'd even call it "refreshing," which is more than a little surprising considering how many years it has been sealed away in a dark jar.


Oh yeah, by the way, Tea Nerd passed its 3rd birthday not long ago. It's a little late to make a big deal out of it, but I wanted to say thanks to all of you who actually read this thing. Despite not posting anything of great value lately, more and more of you come to visit my little corner of the internet. I hope you've enjoyed what I've written here over the years, and I hope to earn your continued readership— you know, by actually providing content or something.

Friday, February 05, 2010


This article is about something I take very seriously, though not often enough. I generally try to live by Oscar Wilde's maxim that "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about," but there are a certain few things in this world that I cannot help but revere. Mindfulness is one of them. The others are so corny they would probably make you puke. (Alright, so maybe I can't be completely serious.) I am no philosopher, so I'll try to keep my ignorant musings about mindfulness to a minimum, but I can at least relate how I try to cultivate mindfulness while making tea.

It starts with setting up my tools. I pour water into my kettle; I taste the cool water, watch and listen to it splash. I like to close my eyes for as long as I feel comfortable doing so; without sight, one gains an appreciation for how dependent we are on it. I like to see how much I can do without vision, just to feel the uncertainty and anxiety of being without my dominant sense.

As the water is heating, I set out the rest of my things. I don't place much importance on the overall plan of how I will arrange these things, other than a simple yet pleasing composition, but I pay attention to the act of moving and placing each object. I see and feel the different materials and textures, and listen to how they interact with each other.

I pick up the bag of tea leaves. Today I've chosen a dancong from The Tea Gallery called "Essence of Ginger." I like dancong, especially when I can set some time aside to get serious about it. I open the bag and smell the leaf. I breathe into and out of the bag (I wouldn't recommend this if you share this tea with others or if you don't plan on finishing the bag relatively soon) to circulate the aromas and immerse myself in them. This tea smells soft, sweet, and floral; not overpowering, but confidently defined. I take a breath of fresh air, for contrast.

The water is coming to a boil now; it is violent and a bit unnerving, and starkly different than anything else at the moment. I pour it into an empty gaiwan, listening and watching it as it first splashes against porcelain, then itself. I let it sit, then pour into two cups to warm them as well. As I pick up the cups to empty them, I hold on a bit longer than I normally would; they are not hot enough to burn, but enough to cause minor pain and discomfort. Mindfulness allows us to experience pain and other "negative" experiences in a more (though not completely) objective light; they are simply sensations like any other. After I put down the cups, I run my warm fingertips across my face. Why? Hell if I know, why not?

leaf and water
As I take a few photos, I wonder why I don't take more photos of the water I use for my tea; I typically focus on the leaves and teaware to the exclusion of all else.

I place the dry leaf in the still-warm gaiwan, close it up, then open again to smell. It is different now; stronger, fruitier, more lively, with an unmistakable hint of ginger. I pour boiling water onto the leaves in a thin stream, again watching and listening as it splashes. I place the lid back on the gaiwan; it sings as I lightly scrape porcelain against porcelain. I wait a while, then decant into the cups.

I get jolted back to reality by an advertisement so abruptly interjected in my Pandora playlist. Damn. But, I slowly make my way back to tea.

I lift the gaiwan lid to my nose and smell. Again, it is different than before; woodsy, slightly acidic. I pick up the cups, once again savoring their slightly-uncomfortable heat with my fingers. I smell again, breathe out, then take a sip. First small sips, then big sips (though not so big that I burn myself), and everything in between. I play around with it a bit. Why not? I feel for oiliness on my lips, and warmth in my nose. The flavor is delicate, sweet, floral. I overbrewed some of the infusions, but for the moment I don't really care; I try to be mindful of the bitterness and astringency and experience them fully aware of their usual negative bodily reactions, like I did with pain earlier.

This reminds me a bit of something the composer John Cage said. "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."

I don't know if it is cha qi, various poorly-understood chemical interactions, or just plain-ol' caffeine, but after a few infusions I begin to feel the tea's effects on my body. Most notable is my jaw tightening; not usually a pleasant sensation, but mindfulness and objective perception help to sidestep some of the discomfort. I also feel a bit drowsy and heavy-headed, which only deepens the trance-like state this tea session has put me in. It is around this time that I start to pay attention to my breathing; not as much as one would in full-on meditation, but enough to feel its effects on the body.

Then, another advertisement yanks me back out. Shit, that's annoying.

I don't do this enough. There is something remarkably peaceful and satisfying about spending a couple of hours mindfully preparing tea. I'm not sure this post is particularly useful as a guide, but hopefully you find something here that you can incorporate into your own mindful tea practice. And please, feel free to share your own musings and observations! I would love to post some links to other similar tea blog posts as well, so don't be shy...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Aged Oolong from Imperial Tea Court

Class: Oolong
Origin: Fujian, China
Year: ?
Vendor: Imperial Tea Court (Product page)
Price: $6.00 (28g) / $21.25 (113g)
dry leaf

This is not a bad tea. (What, expecting something more profound after a month and a half?) The truth is, my taste buds are a wee bit rusty after such a long break from routine tea consumption, so I won't be waxing poetic 'bout none-a-those etherial hints of ambrosia this time.

ITC's aged oolong is an enjoyable tea though; not as rich and chewy as some others of its kind, but for the (relatively!) modest price I can't complain. It also seems to give an above-average cha qi experience if I'm looking for it, so it's not without its redeeming qualities.

This would be a good, economical introduction to aged oolongs, but you veterans looking for the next diamond-in-the-rough may want to give this one a pass.

[Happy new year!]