Jan 28, 2009

Post-Winter Tea Si Ji Chun (四季春,冬片)

Since I have seen some Dong Ding whose flavor is undermined by Si Ji Chun, I generally have a negative impression about Si Ji Chun. But this tea is very good, I think, because it's a post-winter harvest. Leaves are generally small, and therefore don't have harsh chemicals accumulated in them. It is a very good example of Si Ji Chun.

It doesn't give much more than 3 or 4 infusions. But the first a few infusions are very nice. The fragrance is subtle, closer to the green tea way, yet still the unique oolong style of floral taste.

First infusion:

High Mountain Honey Orchid Dan Cong (山峰蜜蘭香)

I like it very much. It's somewhat similar to the honey fragrance TGY I got from Wu Yu Tai (吳裕泰). I didn't try the two side by side, but feel this can almost replace that one from my personal tea list, and that will be probably 50% saving of cost! But of course that's assuming quality is stable every year. Wu Yu Tai is generally expensive in everything but famous for its high quality standards.

Dry leaves:

First infusion:

3rd infusion and leaves:

The end:

The other day I spotted this post about somebody else's Honey Orchid Dan Cong. It looks great! No need for translation. The pictures just look delicious!

Jan 27, 2009

First tea party of this year & a gift

Who is that lucky one in the poll to have one tea party every week OR MORE? :D

I had only 2 tea parties last year - not many tea drinkers around, people are busy, tea drinkers are mostly somewhat introvert... I guess these are why. But will try to have more tea gathering this year. Just because we are somewhat introvert, we should try harder reaching out for each other :D In fact, preparing a tea party is so much easier than other kinds of parties, and the food/drink is generally healthier.

And I got this nice gift from a friend. It's Meng Ding Snow Bud (or Meng Ding Yellow Bud, 蒙頂雪芽)! The tea leaves are so adorable, as its flavor. I could stare at the leaves for a long, long time! It's quite green for a yellow tea, but I guess, that's the trend in recent years.

"Almond Flavor" Dan Cong (鋸朵仔)

It's just ok.

Dry leaves:

First infusion:

Second infusion:

Wet leaves:

Jan 16, 2009

Xue Pian (winter tea) Ba Xian (8 immortals) Dan Cong (雪片八仙單樅)

Ah! Very fragrant. There was an emperor who commented on Bee Luo Chun (碧螺春)by calling it "frighteningly fragrant". I would call this Ba Xian "frighteningly fragrant", admiringly. Haha.

Not expensive at all. It's Dan Cong by modern concept (from single bush propagation group), not literally single bush. Thanks to modern propagation techniques.

Dry leaves:

Warm-up infusion (3 sec.). So fragrant. I drank it anyway to avoid being wasteful.

First infusion:

Second infusion:

Third infusion:

Wet leaves after 3 infusions, still tight

Tea water and wet leaves after 6 infusions

I lost track here, guess it's after 10-12 infusions.

The end. I didn't around 18-20 infusions. After about 15 infusions, it was mainly just background flavor and fragrance, but it was intensive background, with a taste of sweetness backward on the side of tongue. RS said, sweet without being sweet... hehe...

Overall the fragrance faded very, very slowly, and meantime astringency (in the nice way) picked up very, very slowly. I liked the pace of flavor change in this tea. Because I was "frightened" a bit by the intensive fragrance, I did 5-8 sec. for all first 10 infusions, and less than 15 sec. until near the end. I wasn't sure if that was optimal infusion time, just thinking shorter infusions are generally safer.

If giving some critics, I would say, the flavor and fragrance are not implicit or subtle enough. It's rather intensive and expressive. Implicitness is a very important value in Chinese aesthetics, hence in Chinese tea aesthetics. But no I won't criticize this tea. I am not tired of crazy fragrance yet and am very happy with this tea.

Jan 11, 2009

Little bowl

Please click pictures for enlarged view.

Jan 9, 2009

Questions you may want to ask about your Dong Ding (2)

First, I believe a very important question to ask is "what is the composition of the tea". There are 4 common oolong varietals in Taiwan oolong, Qing Xin (Green Heart) Oolong, Jin Xuan (Golden Lily), Cui Yu (Green Jade) and Si Ji Chun (Four Season Spring), and this is also roughly the sequence from most expensive to least expensive (but price also depends on leaf quality, and Jin Xuan and Cui Yu have similar price range).

In near past, if a Taiwan oolong is named after its production location, for example, Dong Ding, Alishan, Lishan... then Qing Xin Oolong, the most prestigeous varietal was by default used. Products of other varietals would be labeled with their varietal names. It was not law kind of thing, but pretty much the unwritten rule. Therefore in the past, I wouldn't feel comfortable asking a vender if his Dong Ding or Alishan was entirely composed of Qing Xin Oolong. Of course it was supposed to be Qing Xin, therefore the question, I think, would sound offensive. But in recent years, I've seen more and more Dong Ding and Alisha composed of all 4 varietals. It seems such a common practice that even some good Dong Ding and Alishan are made from different varietals, not just Qing Xin.

And here comes the problem - I did find larger amound of Si Ji Chun in less tasty oolong products. I personally don't like Si Ji Chun, not that it's a "bad" variety. Following photo A shows a winter Si Ji Chun with very young leaves, and it's actually a very pleasant tea. But when older (larger) Si Ji Chun leaves are blended in oolong products, very often, they add in significant bitter flavor in the tea, and sometimes entirely shade out flavors of other tea leaves.

Of course this is just my personal preference. But if you have a particular preference in Jin Xuan or Cui Yu, it would also be helpful to know the composition of the tea.

Among following photos, "A" is a Si Ji Chun. "B, H, I" are Alishan Oolong with blend of different varieties. The rest are Dong Ding Oolong with blend of different varieties.

When you buy tea product of specific varietal, you can recognize features of its taste and tea leaves. Here, "A" is an example of young Si Ji Chun, but there is a bigger leaf there. Usually the bigger leaves show more distinguishable feature.

I didn't start to collect photos like this until recently, so don't have a photo sample of product with Qing Xin Oolong only. Actually I started to wonder about this only after I found most Dong Ding and Alishan I've got these days are blends of different varieties.

Not all leaves in my photos show typical features. But the easily recognized ones include:

Qing Xi Oolong: E2, F3, G3, H1
Jin Xuan: E3, I2 and an example here from a pure Jin Xuan product.
Cui Yu: B1, B2, B3, D1, D2, G1, I1.
Si Ji Chun: All in "A", C4, F2

A. Si Ji Chun winter harvest:

B. Alishan






H. Alishan

I. Alishan

Questions you may want to ask about your Dong Ding (1)

(1) Why should you want to ask questions

Dong Ding Oolong is one of my favorite. I used to just spot it, notice the price and description, then buy it. Before the internet shopping era, there were few suppliers that I could go for Dong Ding, and generally few choices of quality grades. But almost every Dong Ding I got was great. Dong Ding Oolong is exclusively produced in Lugu Villiage, Nantou County of Taiwan. After all, when suppliers took all the troubles importing them from Taiwan, they had better get some Dong Ding of good grades.

However in recent years, I've noticed some changes in Dong Ding Oolong market.Of course my observation is limited, and there are always better teas and not-so-great teas in market. But I've got the impression that in recent years, generally speaking, there has been a wider range of quality. One Dong Ding could be great, while another could be disappointing. I've also heard people talking about bad harvesting seasons that resulted in unstable quality of Dong Ding. I personally don't believe climate is the major factor. There are other factors that can affect a Dong Ding Oolong's quality more directly.

Therefore I would like to talk about questions that we may want to ask about our Dong Ding Oolong. If Dong Ding is still new to you, then probably you want to just go to a reliable retailer and try it first, before asking these questions. If you are already absorbed by Dong Ding, asking questions before purchasing may help you get Dong Ding of stable, desirable quality.

Jan 3, 2009

a straight hole (no strainer) little teapot

So I got this little teapot, and love its structure. It has perfect alignment of everything, pours water very well and rapidly, and no leaking/dripping at the spout even with hot water (I've seen some pots doing well with cold water but still drips a little with hot water). I don't know much about clay texture, but guess it's not anything bad. I am not sure if I like the engraving or not, but overall think it's a cute little teapot.

It says, Subtle fragrance fills the entire space.

This is, hum... magnolia? I guess.

But, it has only a straight hole toward the spout, without strainer of any kind. Friends recommended the little stainless steel strainer with a hook to be attached from inside to the spout. The idea didn't appeal me much. If the pot was not built with a strainer, why should I give it a strainer. I heard in old days, straight-hole teapots were quite common. So there must be some teas that fit straight-hole teapots.

For mine, I tried oolong first, thinking big leaves can't easily escape from the hole. A simple-minded mistake! Oolong leaves clog the hole easily, and I couldn barely finish the second infusion.

Then I thought, probably it was meant to be for jasmine green. Jasmine green is one of the few kinds of green that you may want to use a covered cup for, to prevent the fragrance from escaping. I hesitated a bit, because for most greens, I like to use a glass. By using a yixing teapot, I would miss the tea leaf dance part. But I tried jasmine green anyway. I used Bi Tan Piao Xue (Snowflakes on Green Lake, 碧潭飄雪). It turned out almost good, but not entirely. Green tea leaves did stay put at the bottom and not clog the hole. However it was the jasmine patels that clogged the hole from time to time. When the patels escape to the cup, it was very nice to have a few petals in the fragrant tea water. But when they stay in the spout hole, they block the water flow. Then after the first 2 infusions, when all the petals had escaped, the water flow was good.

But I don't want to deal with the petal clogging hole problem in my tea drinking. I believe the pot would be perfect for a jasmine green without petals, or for some heat-tolerant high mountain green tea. But among all jasmine green, the one with jasmine patels is my favorite. And for most of my green, I am obssessed with the tea leaf dance, which can only be seen with a glass vessel. So finally I decided to use the little pot for my Keemun red tea. Simialr to the green, the small red tea leaves stay put at the bottom of the pot, and escape of a few leaves won't cause clogging. So far I like it very much having Keemun in this little pot! Normally I prefer a glass/cup without a cover for keemen. I found covered vessel with high temperature cause less fragrance and sometimes over-brewed bitter. But so far the little pot works fine, I guess, because it's small and doesn't retain too much heat to over-do the tea. It's 150ml size is also very convenient for individual use. So I am loving my little straight-hole pot and happy to have Keemun with it :D
(The other pot is my new pot taking hot shower before it's put in use.)

Jan 2, 2009

2 weeks old tea pot

I mean, 2 weeks after being used, not 2 weeks after being made :D
My photo technique is not good. And I didn't take the photo at same time of the day. The first one was taken in day time, and 2nd taken at night. But at same location for both, and both times with my big, bright studio light on. I tried to adjust whole photo of the second one to make it have about same color level for the wall and table, and therefore the color contrast of the pot is more real. The top one is before use, and the bottom one is 2 weeks after being used. The photo doesn't express it very well. But I can tell the changes of this pot. Before use, it had some orange-red hint (a little red brick color). And not it's turning to darker color with a bit shine on the surface. I use it for "greener" oolongs, include Anxi Tie Guan Yin and green roast Taiwan oolongs.

It's Qing Shui Ni Tiao Sha (清水泥調砂). This is a (relatively) inexpensive teapot and is not perfect. But I like it very much and soon feel personal attachment to it :D I don't know much about zisha clay and techniques of yixing zisha. But this one, I can tell it's more seriously made than another one I bought at the same price level by another author. I believe all these authors of mid-low price range teapot can make better, a bit more expensive ones. It all depends on how seriously they treat each pot. Even for mid-low price range teapot, some authors have strict bottom line in terms of quality, while some others rush to finish lots of pots without good enough quality control. Even as an inexperienced user, by using the pots and holding them in hands frequently, eventually I can see the quality differences between two pots.

At this stage I don't plan to buy any expensive teapots. Although half-handmade teapots like this one can hardly be considered art work, I give my respect to widely-affordable-level teapot authors who strive to create work of quality.

Jan 1, 2009

Lichee Black Tea

Loose tea leaves:

Tea water: