Oct 28, 2011

found a new way to clean white porcelain tea cup!

Warning - those of you who always stay neat and organized may find this strategy totally useless... but indeed it works for me...

I don't have a photo to show the effect. But I swear it works! I've seen quite a few online discussions on how to clean porcelain teacups. But to be honest, I didn't read most of them thoroughly... because... this problem just doesn't bother me much. Most of my frequently used porcelain teacups have layers of tea stain, lighter or heavier, always! There are few days of a year when they look bright white, and that's because my dear partner has cleaned them for me :-p

I've learned that baking soda is one of the best things for cleaning porcelain. That's what I use, very occasionally, when I need to pretend being neat and treat some guests with bright white teacups. But baking soda should be used with care and shouldn't be used to soak the porcelain ware. I remember when I was little, when my mom wanted to "deep clean" some dishes, she would soak them in baking soda water, and the dishes would eventually gain a "scrubbed" handing feeling.

Recently I used a teacup with heavy tea stain for red wine (I do this kind of messing-up very often...), didn't quite finish it, and left the cup there for a night (usually I am not that messy...). But then the second day, when I wash that cup with plain water (and I never use detergent for teacups), the wine stain and tea stain both came off, and I had a bright white cup in my hands!

So next time, if a porcelain cup is too heavily stained, I would use it for wine, and wait till the next day to wash it. Lazy people can always find a way out, haha!

I guess, it's because the tea stain is slightly alkaline, and wine stain is slightly acidic. So they perfectly neutralize with each other. Probably vinegar, cider or lemon juicy would do the same?


Announcement: A big box of Petr Novák tea wares (beautiful teapots, shiboridashi, teacups...) have arrived today! Most of them will be available in Life in Teacup online store soon. But before that, some special blog discount will be available. So stay tuned :-D

Oct 23, 2011

2011 wild oolong

2010 wild oolong and why this tea was made are recorded here.

Now here is the 2011 version of the same tea, made by the same people. Actually there are quite a few changes!

One obvious change is the dry tea leaves. The producer is still exploring how to make such a tea fits the taste (including visual tastes) of a broader range of tea drinker. The dry tea leaves look more "ordered" than last year.

The flavor, I feel, is slightly closer to that of some Taiwan tea, while remains a taste resembling some herbal medicine. A friend commented that this tea shares some similarity to Dan Cong. I don't think it has a lot of uprising fragrance that's commonly found in Dan Cong. But this tea does have a strong throat feeling which some people may feel resembles Dan Cong to certain degree.

The leaves indeed look much prettier than last year!

A very interesting tea! I look forward to finding out what 2012 version will be like!

A concern, which is also a general concern for tea, is that it will be harder and harder to find enough tea workers in the harvest seasons. This may only slightly affect prices of some popular teas, but will largely impact the production of some "boutique" tea and "experimental" tea.

Oct 14, 2011

Big Snow Mountain sheng puerh ball

These little tea "balls" were produced in 2010, used tea leaves from Big Snow Mountain (大雪山), a tea district in Lin Cang region, near the town of Meng Ku. In my personal opinion, it's one of the regions that produce puerh that can be quite tasty when young.

What's special about these balls is, they are hand made with whole leaves from big trees.

 Each "tea ball" is about 8g. My only complain is it's a bit too much for one tea session of mine. But to make tea balls manually, this is probably a perfect size and good compromise between production and tea drinking. Besides, if I think 8g is too much, it's my fault because I was drinking this tea alone. Tea is meant to be shared anyway!

I used the little shibo from Petr Novak, my current favorite vessel for sheng! I should have given the shibo a better photo. Next time!

The "tea ball" wouldn't dissemble after a few infusions.

The tea went for quite a few infusions, probably above 10.

The tea leaves near the end of the tea session.

What I like most about this "tea ball" method is that all the tea leaves are preserved intact to the maximum degree. There is no prying required, which is both convenient and avoids damage of tea leaves. I have no idea whether this is a good way for long-term aging. Currently not many manufacturers are making "tea balls", as the manual work is somewhat exhausting and buyers are not very keen to it, because the beauty of the leaves aren't so obvious on a small "ball" as on a tea cake.

But interestingly, "tea ball" is not anything new. In 1960s, when tea experts uncovered and tasted some puerh from Palace Museum, the previous royal palace of Qing Dynasty, among all types of puerh, there was a type of "tea ball" as big as "ping pong (table tennis) ball" documented. The "ping pong ball" puerh sounds like 3-4 times as large as this 8g "tea ball". But they should look quite similar! I also wonder how the "ping pong puerh" was supposed to be consumed. Since it was already made in such small size, I guess a whole ball was supposed to be used each time, either in a large teapot shared by several people, or separated into a few smaller pieces and distributed to different guests.

Oct 7, 2011

thinking of Wegman's

(In case some people are interested - a book club on Anna Karenina has started Today at http://unputdownables.net/! It's always fun to read with people, especially for such a long book with long sentences and all people's names long!)

This not exactly about tea. Wegman's is a grocery chain store. But the more I think of it, the more I feel it's not totally irrelevant to tea. My observations and thoughts are in 3 aspects:
1. Wegman's and tea drinkers
2. Wegman's and me
3. Wegman's and business

Wegman's and tea driners

In the past a few years communicating with tea drinkers, I have got the impression that many tea drinkers enjoy shopping at Wegman's. I remember reading Alex Zorach's (of ratetea.net) talked about his tea shopping experience at Wegman's. Marlena at Tea for Today wrote about her tea from Wegman's too. And I think I saw Wegman's mentioned in a number of other blogs and online tea forums too. For a few times, I saw Wegman's mentioned in some tea reviews and topic discussions on Steepster. So I did a quick search by googling (Wegman's site:steepster.com). The turn-outs are numerous, although Wegman's is not specifically a tea company. Interesting!

I guess there are a few major reasons why tea drinkers like Wegman's. First of all, Wegman's has a broader range of loose leaf tea than most other grocery stores. Secondly, Wegman's has a broader range of many other agricultural products (such as vegetables, grains and nuts) than most other grocery stores. In my observation, most tea drinkers have great interests in fine food and natural food, and Wegman's does very well in this aspect.

Wegman's and me

I lived in central New York for several years and went to Wegman's frequently. Later, after I moved to a region without Wegman's, I miss it so much! I even went to their website to checkout their pace of expansion, hoping they expand to my area soon! 

Why do I like Wegman's? There are several reasons. First of all, as mentioned earlier, it has a broad range of things, especially fresh stuff such as vegetables (and of course tea, but several years ago tea was not yet as abundant as today). Compared with Wegman's, many groceries have very small veggie and fruit section, so small that it almost seems like they are determined to let us have very little fresh goods and drive us to the central aisles of the store where many processed foods are located. 

Besides, I could find in Wegman's a number of things that I could hardly found elsewhere. For example, there was a time when I missed a kind of Chinese green beans very much. Before visiting Wegman's, for a long time, I had thought this kind of beans are not available in the States. Later I was so glad to find it in Wegman's. It's labeled "Italian flat beans" but it's the same as my Chinese flat beans. Wegman's has other things that are not so rare but most other groceries don't carry, because they are not what everybody buys every week. 

As I remember, Wegman's was also one of the first groceries that had extensive bakery sections. Later on, a few more groceries expand their bakeries to sort of match Wegman's offerings. I grew up without bake goods ready to pick up on store shelves. At the beginning, I was attracted to bakeries because freshly made breads always taste so much better than shelf breads. Later, it took me some reading and studying to learn that there are huge differences between bakery breads and shelf breads not only in their tasting quality, but in their overall ingredients! Therefore I really appreciate it that Wegman's took the lead to have in-store bakeries.

Wegman's and business
As I've learned from Marion Nestle's book, What to Eat, in terms of business model, what distinguish groceries like Wegman's and many other groceries is, family-owned groceries such as Wegman's don't have to work for the stock market, and therefore can possibly aim at a balance between making profits and fulfilling other missions (such as providing good food?). For a lot of businesses that have stock holders, making profits is not enough, and sometimes is even a failure. Many of them have to maintain an increasing rate of profits in order to boost stock holders' confidence. This means, their profits must increase almost exponentially for several consecutive years. Such profit increase would be hard for most businesses. To make it happen, a business has to try everything to maximize its profits - for a grocery, this often means carrying products (often "bad" food) of maximum profits and dropping many others (often good food). 

In this sense, although Wegman's is a grocery, it can be a role model for tea businesses too. With the expansion of American tea market, there will be a lot more large companies, and tea companies have started entering the stock market. Generally speaking, such expansion is a good thing, and indicates a new era of American tea market. On the other hand, I believe, for tea drinkers and tea businesses (small and large all included), the vitality of tea always lies on its diversity.

Oct 1, 2011

Blog Sale - tea shirts and others...

First, my apologies - this is going to be a very long blog post, as there are quite a few items, a bunch of photos, and I am rather talkative...

These items are of limited amount and not available in the store (or not yet). Most of them are not found else where in the country. The prices are made low for blog sale and do not reflect future store prices of the items.

Please contact me through email (admin at lifeinteacup doc com) for purchase. Feel free to pick up some free samples from our web store. For North American buyers, shipping can be combined for blog sale and any web store purchase.

Shipping is $4 flat for US and Canada, $10 for Europe.

Items will be shipped in 1 week but sooner if possible.

1. Hand-painted Tea Shirt. $22

These are hand painted with eco-friendly paint. Custom design for Life in Teacup. Please ignore the size tag on the tea shirt. I normally wear S to M size T shirt, but couldn't fit myself into the female size XL from China :-p There are two sizes (both bearing XL label though):

Smaller size: 15.5" from shoulder to shoulder, and this width can be stretched to above 21". Length is 23". This is similar to female T shirt size M or slightly smaller.

Larger size:  19.5" from shoulder to shoulder, and this width can be stretched to above 28". Length is 27.5". This size is similar to male T shirt size M .

Since these are hand painted, they require more carefulness in washing. Hand washing is preferred, or at least for the first time. Ideally the shirt shouldn't be soaked in water for more than 30 minutes. When washing it for the first time, it helps to use salt water for the first rinse. If using machine washing, gentle cycle is required and the shirt should be turned inside out. 

The first order of these tea shirts are mainly for family and friends. So currently there are only 2 yellow ones and several white ones available. I would love to hear what people think of the design and whether hand-painted design is preferred to ink printed design.

Front: The line says "There is a world in the teapot."

Back: lotus flower.

Yellow color (small size only)


2.  Hand sculpted ceramic teacup. Sold.
This is one of my recent favorite :-D
Height: 1.9"; Diameter: approximately 3.3"
It can hold about 50-70ml
Since it's hand sculpted, the shape is slightly irregular and ceramic color pattern variation exists from cup to cup.

3. Pair teacups of lotus flower and lotus seed pod. Thin porcelain. Made in Jing De Zhen. Hand-painted under the glaze. Since the patterns are hand-painted, small variation exists from cup to cup. $28 per pair. There are 3 pairs available.

Each pair has a cup with lotus flower and another up with lotus seed pods. These are my recent favorite :-D

Height: 1"; Diameter: 3"; each cup holds about 50-60ml.

Chinese traditional aesthetics put great value on theme variations that reflect natural patterns, especially seasonal transforms. In the old days, it was a fashion trend to make two gowns that were almost exactly the same, but one with flower buds of plum flower or lotus flower, and the other gown with the same plum tree or lotus stems but the flowers were at their blooming peak. The first gown was meant to be used for the morning and the second gown for the afternoon. I don't think I can ever afford this kind of things (or afford the time handling this kind of things). But I like the idea very much!

I also have a pair of hand painted shoes that reflect such fashion (the shoes are not for sale :-D) Now probably you can tell I love lotus flowers very much :-D

4. Porcelain gongfu teapot. Sold.
Height: 2.5"; Length: 4"; Width:  2.5"; Volume: about 120ml (4oz.).
It has a 7-hole strainer.

The teapot is made for Taiwan market. Due to the design of the spout, it takes about 20 sec. to pour all the water in it (when it's tea, it will take slightly shorter time). So it's probably suitable for Taiwan greener style oolong, green tea and/or red tea. The pouring time could be too long for Yan Cha, Dan Cong or puerh.

It's not artistically made, but very well made and handy. It can pass the block-the-hole-of-lid water test, which is quite outstanding for a porcelain teapot.

5. Porcelain tea jar. Hand painted plum flowers. There are 2.
Height: 2.5". Wdith: 2.5" at the widest.

$14 each.

Although it's not up to artistic level, I've found the painting on the jar quite lovely and unique. The jar is made for Taiwan market. It seems a market trend in Taiwan that the lid has filling material and foil to make the jar better sealed. So it can be used for green tea or greener style oolong.

6. Lapsang Souchong sample set, including 5 samples, 5g each. Purchase is limited to 1 for each buyer at this time. $5 each set. (They will be labeled as 6a - 6e.)

6a. Traditional smokey style - leaves were intentionally chopped. Plum sour and slightly smoky. Although it's a smokey style, it's not as smokey as lower grade Lapsang Souchong. If interested, please let me know and I will also include a sample of Grade II Lapsang Souchong (the one from web store) for your comparison. The Grade II is smokier, yet it's not the smokiest Lapsang Souchong compared with many others in the market. If there is no particular request, Grade II will not be included as it's not at the same grade level as other samples in this set.

6b. Superior Grade Lapsang Souchong (this is the same one from the web store) - relatively heavy flavor, slightly smoked, but doesn't taste very smokey.

6c. Lapsang Souchong - relatively heavy flavor, slightly smoked, but doesn't taste very smokey. It's a little hard for me to decide if I like 6b or 6c better.

6d. Lapsang Souchong - unsmoked, relatively light flavor.

6e. Lapsang Souchong - unsmoked, relatively light flavor. 6d and 6e are more similar to each other than to the rest of samples.

7. Tea samples. $1 each. These are for tasting purpose only. I will prepare 10 samples of each. Purchase is limited to 1 sample of each tea at this time.
(1) Jing Mei Tang 2007 Bao Zhuo shu puerh. 8g sample. Here is what it looks like from Jing Mei Tang official site. But ignore the price on the webpage. They put a high price tag on this tea just because they barely have any of this tea in stock.

(2) Jing Mei Tang 2007 Bao Zhuo Red Iron Cake sheng puerh. Made by Chang Tai. 8g sample. This tea was made to mimic Xia Guan style. It doesn't have the highest level of leaves, but focuses on untamed flavor, smokiness and powerful aftertaste. Worth mentioning is that although it's a 2007 tea, it uses significant amount of 2002 leaf materials. Purely dry storage and is already quite drinkable now.

Here is what it looks like from Jing Mei Tang official site. But ignore the price on the webpage. They put a high price tag on this tea just because they barely have any of this tea in stock.

(3) Yi Ru Chang Flowing Water 8g sample
It was discussed here in the blog and here on Steepster. 
I eventually got more of this tea and probably can't help getting even more soon :-D

(4) Old tree Tong Cheng Small Orchid green tea 8g sample. This is of the same cultivar but different version (from older trees) from the Tong Cheng Small Orchid in the web store.

Buyers are welcome to claim some free items:
(a) I've got some more samples of modern green style Tie Guan Yin. They are of various grades, but most range from decent to outstanding. I can't have too much modern green style oolong, so please take them away!

(b) Nan Jian Tu Lin 5g mini sheng, made in 2009, with leaf materials from 2005. If you have tried mini sheng before, probably 80% of the chance it's a bad memory. If that's the case, take this. The leaves are very choppy. But the taste is decent.

(c) Da Dian 5g mini sheng, made in 2009, with 2009 leaf materials. Decent leaves and decent taste. This tea completely changed my view on mini sheng.

(d) Wild oolong 2011. 2010 version was discussed here in the blog. 2011 version is made from the same tea but with slightly different style.

Question and comments are all welcome! Learning about what you think is my best gain!