Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Misunderstood pu'er tea

10 year old golden pu'er tea from Yunnan
I used to loathe pu'er, finding it almost disgusting to down. My first impression? Muddy and smelly. Good quality pu'er, however, has a deep, rich and complex flavour that I consider to be earthy with a perfumed aftertaste. In some raw pu'ers, I tend to pick up rosy notes from time to time, knowing very well that there were no additives and this is more likely the result of the post-fermentation process. Nature certainly has its own way of tantalising our senses.

Gradually, I started drinking this tea more often for reasons as mentioned and more importantly, the Qi that this tea brings to my body. Warmth and improved blood circulation, where the most obvious effects are felt at my fingertips.

My experience with high quality pu'er finally opened doors to yet another dimension of tea appreciation also known as 品茶 (pin3 cha2). Notice the three squares in the character 品 (pin3)? This reminds us of how tea can be appreciated - in three sips. It is very enlightening to witness language at work here in conveying the subtleties of enjoying tea in a meaningful way. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

'High' tea in the Bavarian Alps - Anji white tea

Tea drinking has always been a source of excitement for my taste buds. When we celebrated my birthday on 11.11.11, we decided to make a trip to the mountains where we can enjoy the breathtaking view that the mountains have to offer. Needless to say, there was tea. A sort of tea and view pairing.

Food for the senses and definitely the best therapy for my weary soul. The alpine air reminds me of freshness and vibrancy. So I decided to brew Anji White tea for the occasion. It is a relatively new breed among famous teas in Zhejiang Province.

Anji tea is processed like a green tea, but it is termed "white tea" because the tea buds harvested in early spring appear to be so. The higher the grade, the whiter the tea buds. Anji white tea also has a deceivingly light-coloured infusion.

For this reason, I'll take the liberty of coining Anji white tea as the champagne of teas. The brew is pale in colour, yet very aromatic with a vibrant and grassy flavour that isn't as overpowering as low-grade green teas tend to be. Sounds just like the perfect flute of bubbly.   
Once again, the characteristic leafy green colours confirm that Anji white tea is in fact a product of the green tea processing method. This shade of green is a vivid reminder of ornamental jade. The leaves are beautifully slender and smell elegantly perfumed, leaving you wishing for more like a savoury dish does to your appetite. The smells of the opened leaves become heavily accentuated.

The amino acid content of Anji white tea is higher than most teas, resulting in a mild and slightly sweet flavour that gives you an overall feeling of calmness.

This tea contains at  least 6-8% amino acids, of which at least 2.5% is theanine. This roughly translates into 3-4 times the level of theanine found in other Chinese green teas.

Tea has four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. L-Theanine contributes to the fifth element, which is termed unami or broth-like. Tea tasters often rate the unami taste most highly, as this is considered to be the single most important determinant of tea quality.

Blogeintrag auf Deutsch: Hochland Tee in den bayrischen Alpen - weißer Anji-Tee

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Me tea is meaty - Japanese gyokuro 玉露

Gyokuro is a fine type of green tea from Japan. It differs from the standard green tea known as sencha (煎茶), because it is grown in the shade rather than the full sun. I very much enjoy this tea at lower temperatures of brewing water, which helps to reveal its well-kept little secret - the taste of meat. 

Yuzamashi, water cooler
To prepare this tea, I used a hohin, also known as a gyokuro teapot for this brewing session. Prices of gyokuro tea sets could range from 40 to 300 Euros. I got mine inexpensively at Takashimaya and paid slightly under 50 Euros for it.  A good bargain, given the soft beautiful strokes of blue-white painting and calligraphy on my tea set.

Gyokuro leaves are rather similar in shape and form to their sencha cousin. The most noticeable difference you see here is its colour. Gyokuro leaves are generally darker as a result of spending 3 weeks under shaded conditions prior to harvest. The dried leaves smell fresh and at the same time carry a deep secondary scent of seaweed and mellowness. I could not resist the idea of picking a few leaf needles to munch on.

Hohin, gyokuro teapot
After bringing water to the boil and filling up my hohin, I transferred water into the cooler, Yuzamashi, before transferring the same water into small cups. The idea is to cool the water down sufficiently before the infusion process begins.You can read more about the preparatory steps here.

Meanwhile, I added about one and a half teaspoons of tea leaves to the pot and poured water from the cups into it. For the first infusion, I would allow 60 seconds before pouring the tea. This is a slow, yet rewarding process. So precious is the tea that the Japanese name it jade-coloured dew,  玉露.   This tea comes from the Uji district, one of the oldest gyokuro-producing regions in Japan. However, the greatest appellation of gyokuro is Yame, in Fukuoka Prefecture in terms of both quality and quantity.

To ensure equal concentrations in the cups, I would pour tea in the sequence of cups 1,2,3 and cups 3,2,1. This way, the  more concentrated tea at the bottom of the pot will be evenly distributed. A neat little trick for the serious connoisseurs.

The jade green liquor and the mellow grassy scents emanating form the cups remind me of  the misty Uji tea fields in light rain. Even though this isn't most people's idea of beautiful weather, such conditions are crucial to the quality of the next tea harvest. Tea plants thrive in high mountainous areas where the fresh misty air continues to caress and care for them.

The first infusion of gyokuro is always the strongest in terms of tasty, meaty notes. This pleasant savoury taste ('Umami', a loanward from Japanese) likens ripened tomatoes. Drinking this tea induces salivation and a furry sensation on the tongue, stimulating one's palates and throat.

Having spent 3 weeks shielded from the sun causes amino acids and caffeine in the tea leaves to build up, while catechins (the source of bitterness in tea, along with caffeine) decrease, giving rise to a deeper, richer and sweeter savoury taste.

So far, I cannot think of a more rewarding experience for a trek through the Uji mountains than this fine and exquisite tea which is a gift from the dewy skies overlooking beautiful Uji.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Brewing a good cup of pu'er tea

Storing pu'er after some time will most likely increase its worth, but more importantly, how do we get the best brew out of your pu'er tea collection? Choosing the right tea leaves is a matter of your own judgement. However, let me share a few tips with you to get the best brew from your pot.

1. Flaking the pu'er tea cake and getting the right quantity. Make a small horizontal incision on the side of your cake. Tear the tea cake apart slowly and allow some parts to flake off. As much as possible, do not break individual leaves. This is also why I recommend flaking by hand and avoiding sharp tools.

2. The teapot should be wide enough to accomodate your tea leaves and their expansion during infusion. A pot with a narrow base will only intensify and accumulate bitterness of the tea at the bottom of the pot.

3. Pu'er is best enjoyed in big cups, those that roughly fit the size of our palms. Unglazed ceramic cups are more befitting for this tea and certainly add to the taste, flavour and ambience of your brewing experience.

Article adapted from Teaparker.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to prepare white tea - silver needles 白毫银针

White tea is one of the least oxidised teas in the whole spectrum of tea types. Grown and harvested almost exclusively in the Fujian province of China, white tea is the product of the most delicate buds and young leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant. Only those young tea leaves with much fine hair (pekoe) are plucked to produce good-quality white tea with lots of pekoe.

The processing steps involved in manufacturing white tea are relatively simple as compared to other types of tea. The leaves are allowed to wither under the sun before they are air dried to prevent further oxidation. This is why white tea is very rich in antioxidants.

 To brew this tea, you will need:
1. a porcelain gaiwan, 2. high quality white tea from a trusted vendor, 3. tea cups, to enjoy the beautiful colours of a white tea infusion. When at work, I usually would drink form the gaiwan without these "frills".

Preheating the gaiwan is always recommended to ensure an optimum brew. After preheating your gaiwan, pour some of the hot water into your cups to warm them as you get ready for the next few steps. Discard the remaining used water.

Depending on the size of your gaiwan, the right amount of leaves should allow enough room for the tea leaves to open fully to release their maximum flavours. Add boiling water to just about 80% full so that the gaiwan will not be too hot to handle after the infusion. As these are delicate leaves, I do not recommend pouring hot water directly onto the leaves. The hot water should ideally hit the walls of the gaiwan first before coming into contact with the leaves. In addition, a thin-walled porcelain gaiwan is used to help diffuse the heat.

If you find bubbles accumulating on the surface, gently push them to the sides of the gaiwan with its lid before replacing the lid. As they are rather open leaves already in their dried form, infusion time is short. To quantify, I would say, approximately 40 seconds. No hard and fast rules apply here.

The infusion is light tangerine in colour. The tea smells beautifully of autumn leaves and tastes very sweet with an even sweeter aftertaste.

Blogeintrag auf Deutsch: Wie man weißen Tee aus Silber-Nadeln bereitet