Dec 31, 2008

Let it be a BULL year!

It's not Lunar new year yet. But holiday season has started, and will go all the way till mid-February (and that's very modest, compared with the old times). Here is a festival calendar I try to make every year, full of excuses for festivities haha... I would always print copies (with one-side clean recycled paper as possible) to share with friends and colleagues.

To make a one-page handout, this is a very simplified summary of the festivals. To visualize a more complete version, just imagine 20 times more holidays, 100 more food festivities (especially the dumpling, it's everywhere), and, of course in traditional time, a few dozens more ancestor worshiping days. Haha...

Some of my English interpretations of Asian Festivals look somewhat weird, I know... But I've tried my best!

Please click the calendar picture to enlarge.

An inexpensive Lapsong Souchong (正山小種), smoked

It's almost exactly like my plum water, not the commercial kind, mine home made from dried plums! After having it, I miss my plum water. Plum water is a summer drink. But I really want to make some now! The tea is a smoked kind. I don't hate the smokey flavor in it, maybe even like it. But I would rather have one non-smoked - I almost feel I am smoking, although I never smoke :-p But maybe plum taste wouldn't be there if the tea were not smoked. And I don't think I can find an inexpensive lapsong souchong that is not smoked - I guess, smoking is the selling point here.

I love to have plum water with hot pot meal or barbecue meal. I can visualize this tea replacing plum water. This is even zero calorie, while plum water does need a lot of sugar :D To put it in a formula, it's:
This lapsong souchong = my plum water - sugar + smoke


Here is a question:
Song means Mountain; souchong means small variety; Lap is Lap. So what is Mountain Lap? I couldn't find the answer. In Chinese, it's called Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong. Xiao Zhong = souchong. Shan = Mountain. Zheng means authentic. This tea is from Wuyi Mountain region. In Wuyi, they used to call the tea produced in their place "authentic mountain variety", and tea from other places "Wai Shan". Wai means outside, alien. Hehe... So, is Moutain Lap same as Wuyi Mountain? I couldn't find the answer. I saw quite several articles saying "Lapsang souchong is Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong", but none of them bother to further explain what Lapsang - Mountain Lap is.

Loose tea leaves:

First infusion:

Dec 28, 2008

Bai Hao Oolong (Oriental Beauty, 白毫烏龍,椪風烏龍)

A few books (such as China Tea Book, 中國茶譜,Edited by Wan Xiaochun, 宛曉春)document that "椪風“ (Peng Feng) means bragging or "talking through one's hat" in local dialect. When this varietal first appeared in market in 1920s, it was a year that most tea in Xin Zhu county suffered severe cicade attack. (The cicade is likely Jacobiasca formosana, but I am not familiar with insects at all and not sure of it for now.) Tea leaves were partially damaged with bug bites. Most farmers gave up harvesting, thinking the damaged tea leaves worthless. There was one farmer who didn't have the heart to give up a whole year's hard work. He made some tea from the damaged leaves anyway and took it to market. The tea turned out so good that it was easily sold for a price 13 times higher than the market average. When the proud farmer of this tea told his fellow villagers about this, nobody believed it and everybody thought he was just bragging (椪風, Peng Feng). There came the name, Peng Feng Oolong 椪風烏龍。

This story is very likely to be true. And I love the story! Bai Hao Oolong is one more beautiful thing discovered accidentally, just like Tofu, cheese, and wine, which were all "invented" by accident. This is all because someone wouldn't pass it as an accident.

This is one of my favorite oolong varietals. It has the intensiveness of traditional oolong, without that much roughness. I imagine in old days, most traditional oolongs were very strong and even somewhat rough. And there wasn't any of the greener style oolong yet. Then it's not hard to understand why this tea was once worth more than 10 folds of market average price, with its unique rich fruity aroma.

Most Bai Hao Oolong products have rather complete leaves. If there are cicade bites then they must be too small to see on the processed tea leaves. I am still curious to know how much the cicade contributes to flavor of this tea, and whether most flavor is from the tea itself or due to bug attack. I believe bugs do wonderful things to our food. Come to think of it, many of our fragrant food sources, tea, coffee, herbs... they have all developed their aroma as defensive mechanism in long history of coevolution with bugs, and that's how we get our favorite flavors from plants.

Dry, loose leaves

First infusionW

Wet leaves
Spent leaves

Dec 27, 2008

Traditional medium roast dong ding oolong (正味中熟凍頂)

Dry loose tea leaves:

First infusion:

Second infusion:

Wet leaves:

Spent leaves:

Jin Xuan Oolong (金萱)

Edited in 02/10

Jin Xuan is one of the 4 major Taiwanese oolong varieties (the other three are Green-heart oolong, Cui Yu/Green Jade, and Si Ji Chun/Four-Season Spring). It is famous for its natural milky buttery flavor.

I like the story about development of Jin Xuan cultivar. Cultivation of Jin Xuan started in 1950, and it took 30 years of research, experimenting and field work to get the Jin Xuan we have now. Before it was cultivated in large scale, this oolong variety was just called Taiwanese oolong #12 among researchers. When this cultivar was approved for large-scale cultivation across Taiwan, a common name was needed. The head scientist of this tea research group, Professor Wu Zhenduo, named this oolong cultivar and another one with names of two people he loves and admires most, his Grandmother and his Mother! He named this tea with his Grandmother's name, Jin Xuan. He also named another oolong cultivar, Taiwanese oolong #13 with his mother's name, Cui Yu. Behind these names are Professor Wu's best wishes that the society should give mother-like love to tea farmers and nurture rural tea economy.

Jin Xuan (literally meaning Golden Tiger Lily) and Cui Yu (meaning Green Jade) are both beautiful yet ordinary female names. In old times, there must have been thousands of women with these common names. I appreciate Jin Xuan and Cui Yu as names of these two nice oolong varieties. They reflect women's great influence on many things in our daily life, including tea!

Loose tea leaves

First infusion in cup:

Spent leaves:

Dec 23, 2008

An inexpensive Shui Xian (Shui Hsien, 水仙)

Dry loose leaves:

Tea water of the first infusion:

Dec 16, 2008

Turkish Black Tea

Dry loose leaves (CTC style)

In cup

Dec 7, 2008

Ali Shan Oolong (阿里山烏龍)

Dry loose tea leaves:

First infusion:

Spent leaves:

Traditional Roast Dong Ding Oolong

Dry loose leaves:

First infusion:

Spent leaves:

Brewed sencha (煎茶)bancha (番茶)with mug and saucer

A kyusu is the best instrument for brewing sencha. But when it's not available, I would brew my sencha in this way with a mug, a saucer and a glass:

1. Put 3 gram of dry loose tea leaves in the mug (let tea leaves barely cover the inner bottom of the mug).
2. Pour in hot water of about 160F (I would boil the water and let the hot water pot sit on stove for 5 minutes).
3. Cover the mug with a saucer and let it sit for 45 second (adjust it depending on tea quality).
4. Use the saucer to cover the mug, and pour out all tea water in a glass and let the leaves stay in the mug (skills needed and some tea water may be spilled).
5. Enjoy the first infusion. Then brew for the second infusion in the mug for 20 second, with the mug covered by a saucer.
6. Pour out all tea water of the second infusion.
7. Brew for third infusion in the mug for 45 second, with mug covered by a saucer.
8. Do more infusions as wish.

Dec 5, 2008

2008 spring Dong Ding Oolong (凍頂烏龍)

Dry loose leaves:

Tea water of the first infusion:

Wet leaves:

Spent leaves:

More spent leaves:

Wooden Tray with Flowers

Please click pictures to have detailed view.

Dec 3, 2008

Ceylon Black Tea

Kenya mamri CTC loose leaf black tea

This tea is from high mountain region of Kenya. It is made in CTC (meaning "cut, tear, curl" style). It has very strong, awakening flavor, and therefore excellent for breakfast or for winter time.

Most people use English style for this tea, with 1-2 teaspoons of tea in 1 mug of hot boiling water, and brew for 3 minutes. Add sugar or milk as you wish. This tea gives a very pleasant warm floral flavor, especially when you use a mug, instead of a teapot. For black tea, some people would like sugar or milk added when they feel bitter flavor. But for the best black tea, like this one, it won't turn bitter as long as it doesn't stay long in a hot covered pot of water or not made too concentrated. Then you won't need sugar or milk. Without additives, you will better experience its unique floral fragrance and many layers of subtle flavor. I personally like using 1 teaspoon in 1 mug of hot water. And for this tea, I would go for at least 3 infusions, sometimes even more. One serving of tea last a whole morning for me.

For some quick good information about Kenya tea, here is a good site:

Loose leaf CTC style:

In cup:

Dec 2, 2008

Little Pretty Cups

Click pictures for detailed view.