Jan 31, 2011

2010 Da Dian Huang Ye (Wilderness) Tuo sheng

(By the way, the 6th blog carnival of ATB will be about What is the most uncomfortable place where you prepared tea (work, traveling, in a place without suitable equipment, etc.) and how were you able to overcome the difficulty? I don't have much to say about this, so will be in the audience. It will be published tomorrow and hosted by Gongfu Girl.)

Generally I don't feel comfortable to drink brand new sheng. I tried this tea last year, and found it quite drinkable even when brand new (with some of its leaves from 2009 and 3 months of "buffering period" after the tuo was made). But just to mentally obey my restriction on drinking new sheng, I waited patiently till recently to drink it again - not that January 2011 is that much different from December 2010.

I think this tea is very unique, and almost wanted to put it in the archive of Concept Tea. But then, in puerh, there are too many concepts, and too many concepts upon which people never agree with each other. So, no trouble making, just drinking the tea :-p

(I will soon write about a Concept Tea puerh, which, I believe, most people would find somewhat unique.) 

The tea is made of early spring 2010 high mountain young arbor tea leaves and 2009 old tree wild tea blended - this sounds to me a very exotic way of blending. The manufacture's goal of this tuo is to make a product not harsh on stomach when drunk new. It's beyond me how a new tea with wild tea leaves can be not harsh on stomach (maybe due to the 1 year of aging in loose tea state). But after trying it last year, as one with relatively weak stomach, I found it quite friendly.

There have been a lot of conversations recently about big factory products and small factory products. I think a commonly seen trend of small factory products is, many of them are made drinkable when relatively new. I believe the rationale behind it is, big factories have the history of credibility and reputation to convince people into stocking up their products for aging, while the survival strategy of many small factories is to make people like their products upon the first tasting.

Something else that I've found interesting about this product is, Da Dian, its manufacturer, predicts that this product reaches its peak after about 5 years (aged in intermediate humidity). Again it's beyond me how to make such a prediction. But I am kind of glad that he didn't tell me the tea would peak after 20 years. I think I am glad because it will take only several years to test this hypothesis.

There are two types of leaves in the tuo. The bigger and broader leaves are not Huang Pian (yellow flake, or older leaves), but leaves from wild old tree.

What I like the most about this tea is its dark honey flavor and strong aftertaste. The liquor color looks "warmer" than most new sheng too. 

Two types of leaves can be found among the spent leaves. The top left, bottom left and bottom right are typical early spring stems, buds and leaves. The leaves on the left and on the right are wild tea leaves with deeper color and rougher texture.

Jan 25, 2011

blog sale: Petr Novák tea ware

The sale is for fellow bloggers and readers in the States, and is not for profit. Price of each piece is price I paid at darjeeling.cz (including 20% VAT tax) + a fraction of shipping & handling from Czech to US (5 euro). US domestic shipping for each piece is $7 (insurance included). $2 shipping for each additional piece.
All summed up, it's probably the best price, one-time deal one can get in the States for Petr Novák tea ware, minus the painful, long waiting for inter-continental shipping! I hope this is an opportunity for more people to enjoy Petr's work. Meantime it will allow me to make better decisions about what types of Petr's tea ware to carry in future at Life in Teacup (yes that's the plan!) Feedbacks and suggestions will be highly appreciated. 

People out of the US may consider contacting Petr Novák himself, as well as darjeeling.cz

If interested, please email to gingkoheight at gmail com in two weeks. First come, first serve.

All photos can be clicked into large images. Prices are in USD.
1. Shiboridashi set. Sold.
The shibo holds about 110-120ml, with a diameter of 4.25"

2. Houhin and cup - orange. Sold.
Houhin holds about 130ml (150 to the top rim), with a diameter of 4"

3. Teapot grey-orange. 
It holds about 165ml.

There is a dent on the bottom rim of the lid. It's not a defect. But please be aware of it. 

4. Tea set - light. Sold.
The teapot holds about 145ml.

Following teacups are from another source and have very little international shipping factored in!

5. Prairie Hay teacup. Sold.
Height: 2"; Diameter: 4.25"

 6. "Snakeskin" teacup. Sold.
Height: 2"; Diameter: 4"

Jan 20, 2011

Zhang Ping Shui Xian mini cake (漳平水仙茶饼)

I've been longing for this tea for a few years, but missed it again and again. Finally, got this 2010 autumn tea.

It's wrapped in paper, the traditional way, as it has been since it was invented in 1930s.

Each small tea cake is about 2"x2" and weighs 8g. It leaves the drinker less flexibility and urges one to use 8g in each tea session. This also makes drinking this tea a little expensive, since almost all Zhang Ping Shui Xian products are a little expensive, due to its complicated processing procedure. However, the tea doesn't cause any market hype and therefore is never on the most expensive end of oolong either. The producer said, if you wish, you could break it in half and brew half a cake each time. But I didn't feel like to break such a nice little cake. I used a 150ml small porcelain teapot to brew the whole cake, which turned out a good leaf/volume ratio.

When I first looked at the dry tea leaves, my impressions were 1) it looks quite green; 2) the tea leaves seem a little broken.

After the first infusion (that's after the tea was rinsed and I drank the rinsing water), I could see the tea is in a traditional light roast style, with medium level of oxidation. When the mini cake dissembled in water, the leaves started to look very silky. Many people would prefer to use a gaiwan for this tea. I was just on teapot mood. But anyway, using a porcelain vessel is a good idea. After the first infusion, the aroma under the lid is amazing.

The tea liquor has a well balanced flavor with combination of floral, honey and bright fruity aromas. It's more floral than most traditional light roast style oolong I recently had, but it's not too vegetal.

After about seven infusions, the leaves expanded more and filled the entire teapot.

Afterward, I had a few more infusions. Then I pulled the spent leaves out of the teapot. It surprised me how silky and succulent the leaves felt between my fingers. Some leaves were crushed when the mini cake was made, but there were also many whole leaves.

Traditionally, leaves of southern Fujian oolong were described as "green with red edges". Nowadays, many oolong product with modern processing don't look like this. But Zhang Ping Shui Xian always has green leaves with red edges.

Jan 16, 2011

2006 Xia Guan Bao Yan Brick Sheng (下关宝焰/边销砖)in a Kyusu

This brick is said to have some relation with the Xia Guan mushroom sheng, which is often called Bao Yan (treasure flame) Jin Cha (tightly pressed tea). But in fact, leaves in this tea are more choppy than those found in the mushroom tea. The mushroom is said, by many tea drinkers, and not denied by Xia Guan Factory, to be royal tribute for Ban Chan Lama. But I guess the royal tribute version is a special, limited edition, not the same as seen in the market. I guess the source of all this said-to-be relations is, between 1967 and 1986, the previously popular mushroom tea was made into brick shape, for the convenience of packaging and transport. But in 1986, Ban Chan Lama sent his message to Xia Guan Factory that he believed many Tibetans still preferred the mushroom shape. From then on, mushroom tea started to be produced again. But mean time, the brick tea is also produced, and has Bao Yan as its product name. However, many people would call it Bian Xiao (meaning "made for border regions") Brick.

I've had this tea for a few years. Recently, for the first time, I gathered my courage to drink it. I think this tea is interesting in a few ways.

First, it's a great demonstration of Xia Guan Factory's traditional Sa Mian technique (meaning using higher grade leaves to cover the surface of a puerh product). Why this coverage technique was traditionally used on puerh product? That's an interesting and complicated question to think about. But now we can skip the question and take a look at its surface, evenly covered by larger leaves.   

I said I had to gather some courage to drink this tea, first of all because it's a Xia Guan and it must have the harshness of Xia Guan. Secondly because this tea is one of the most choppy teas of Xia Guan. It's made of chopped leaves and leave debris gathered from production of other Xia Guan teas (well I am sure they will save even the chopped leaves of higher end teas and won't use them in this brick).

About this tea, I've heard drastically different comments from people. Some say it's a treasure after aging 10 or 20 years (which I don't have a chance to experience yet). Some say it's a terrible lower end tea, not much more than floor dust (comparable to teabags?).

So, to prepare for the worse, I pried off pieces from the bottom side of this brick, where there is no coverage of larger leaves. Now looking at the pieces, can anyone recognize any leaf piece larger than a rice grain? I couldn't :-p

But I'm not scared. Part of my courage was from this cute little teapot from Yuuki Cha. It's a great teapot in many ways!

And it's especially great for this tea, because, under its outlook of traditional beauty, it has the nice, modern, obiami 360 degree filter!

The tea liquor has some dusts and "pulp", which precipitate to the bottom of the cup. All the debris were effectively filtrated out by the teapot strainer! More importantly, the pouring time of this teapot is about 5-6 seconds! That's the difference between a pleasant cup of Xia Guan and a bitter+astringent cup of Xia Guan. When brewing this tea, pouring time of a yixing teapot could be... forever... when the straining holes are clogged by the chopped leaves. Using a gaiwan might be better, but the leaf debris are very small and can easily come out of the gaiwan. Then you will need to use an additional strainer anyway, and the leaf debris may soon lay a layer of debris blanket on the strainer.

A look into the teapot. Can you recognize any leaf piece larger than a green bean? I couldn't :-p

The teapot is not made for Xia Guan brick. But I almost feel Xia Guan brick is made for this type of filter!

Something else that I think interesting about this tea is, just as people said, its chopped leaves aged rapidly! Liquor of this tea is redder than that of my 2004 Xia Guan Jia Ji Tuo, and taste is milder and smoother, with a hint of the Xia Guan feature smoky aroma.

With such choppy leaves, it's amazing how many infusions this tea can last. Here is a snapshot after about 7-8 infusions. The taste was strong, but the compressed piece wasn't entirely dissembled yet. I gave it several more infusions, but knew it could go even much farther.

My impression from examining the used leaves is, although most leaves are in debris, not all of them are very dry and old leaves (especially if compared with Fu Zhuan 茯砖, which I've tealogged on steepster). Some are, and some are just normal leaves in smaller pieces. Overall the brick is a mixture of leaves of various grades. If brewed longer, the tea yield some, but not much, tobacco type of astringency (I don't know if I said so, although I've never eaten tobacco leaves), which might be from some older leaves.

Jan 13, 2011

tea ware and green kisses from Czech!

The new year has been great so far! In the first two weeks of 2011, I had minimum tea. But in the beautiful southern Mexico, drinking jugo de naranja (orange juice, each glass of it freshly made from 5-6 oranges!) all the time, I was totally satisfied. Then, shortly after arriving home, I received my order of Petr Novák tea ware from darjeeling.cz. I am so excited!

I am usually not a tea-ware-shopaholic. While constantly visiting websites and admiring various types of teapots and tea bowls, I wish I could have a lot of them, but can surely live with my modest collection of tea ware without buying more. Then, occasionally, probably just a few times a year, some teapot or tea bowl would suddenly take my breath away and make me want to grab it in hands immediately. That's how I felt when viewing photos of Petr Novák's tea ware on teachat and then on his web album. They are so beautiful and different from anything I had ever seen before. I knew I would lose a lot of sleep without getting a few pieces from Petr soon! 

Realizing Petr is far away in Czech, I first searched for American sources that carried Petr's tea ware. There were not many, options were limited, and many of them were out of stock! Then I contacted Petr, and learned that the artist himself was out of stock on all his tea ware as a result of great demand at the end of the year - good for him! Then from Petr, I learned of darjeeling.cz, which carries a lot of Petr's tea ware. 

It takes a lot of time for the package to travel from Europe to America. But darjeeling.cz does the best for shipping. The package was shipped within 24 hours after the order was placed. When they arrived, all the pieces were wrapped and cushioned very well. Furthermore, included in the package are some very lovely complimentary samples! There is a sample of Korean yellow tea and a sample of Korean green tea (Nokcha Sejak), exactly what I've never had and want the most at this moment! Besides, there are three pieces of Green Kiss, a very lovely Green Chocolate made with green tea powder and cacao! It's certified organic, made with real tea and real cacao, and absolutely tasty! I have to admit, the samples led me to visit their web store again immediately! 

Here is what the chocolate looks like. And you can find more information about this and other similar products on their website http://www.darjeeling.cz/en/keiko/green-kiss-keiko-tea-sweets 

A little more about Petr Novák tea ware -- since the inter-continental shipping is quite expensive, I bought several pieces from darjeeling.cz to make shipping cost for each piece relatively small. I would love to keep them all, but also realize it's good for my soul not to keep too many personal possessions :-p So I will soon put a few pieces for sale on this blog. 

The sale is for fellow bloggers and readers in the States, and is not for profit. Price of each piece will be price I paid at darjeeling.cz (including 20% VAT tax) + a fraction of shipping from Czech to US (about 4-5 euro, to be computed) + domestic shipping cost to the recipient (to be computed, about $6-7 including insurance). All summed up, it's probably the best price one can get in the States for Petr Novák tea ware, minus the painful, long waiting for inter-continental shipping! I hope this is an opportunity for more people to enjoy Petr's work. Meantime it will allow me to make better decisions about what types of Petr's tea ware to carry in future at Life in Teacup (yes that's the plan!) 

Stay tuned for the blog sale!

People who want more of Petr's tea wares and people out of the US may consider contacting Petr Novák himself, as well as darjeeling.cz.      

Jan 10, 2011

How do you brew your green tea?

1. In a glass - you know that's my favorite vessel for green tea :-D It's easy and it has a view!

2. Sometimes a wine glass :-D I don't notice much difference between a wine glass and a glass mug. But a wine glass makes the tea session feel special!

3. Sometimes a very small glass. This 2 oz. double layer glass from Amazon is very cute. I use it for everything, tea, coffee, grand marneir... It's great for ball-shaped tea that's ready to sink to the bottom.

4. Sometimes a shot glass. Still looking for a tall shot glass for Tai Pin Hou Kui!

5. In a bowl - I like this way too and like holding a tea bowl, easy and comfortable...

6. In a gaiwan - I like it, but then I would need to use both of my hands, while glass/tea bowl requires only one hand :-D But I like gaiwan for Long Jing, which typically has leaves floated on the surface, and you can always use gaiwan lid to wave away the leaves.

7. In a yixing - I rarely used a yixing for green tea...

...until I got this cutest Duan Ni teapot. Its 180ml volume and narrow spout makes it insuitalbe for most of my oolong or sheng puerh. I am worried red tea would stain Duan Yi to a dirty color. As for shu puerh, I won't use any cute teapot for shu! It's very rare that I would change my drinking habit to fit a vessel. But that happens!

8. In a kyusu - I rarely use a kyusu for Chinese green tea, mainly because I love glass vessels. I would love to have a few more porcelain kyusu between 150ml and 250ml though. Currently I have a few above 300ml. I love them but seldom really use them.

9. In a water bottle - I do it a lot in summer, mostly with cold water, and sometimes warm water in a heat-tolerant bottle.

10. For few times when the tea should be drained after each infusion, without a gaiwan or teapot, I did this too... in a very clumsy way...

How about you? :-D