Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Xmas tea party

Where I am, the Christmas mood is especially infectious. Unknowingly, through shopping and gifts exchange, I managed a modest candle collection which seemed very appropriate for short and dark days. I was slightly comforted with the passing of winter solstice and sensing that the days were growing a tad fuller with more energising sun rays.

With the festive mood kicking in, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to roasting some spice flavoured macadamia nuts and making some dark chocolate truffles which I intend to pair with a raw pu'er and red tea respectively.

As I went about heating my pot and tea cups, the swirls of hot vapour made the cha xi experience feel rather trance-like. My mood was especially lightened and my focus was drawn to the teapot and most attention was given to handling the tea leaves carefully then infusing it with hot water from the tetsubin.

By observing the capillary action at the spout, I know that the tea has infused well enough and is ready. The golden red colour of the infusion seems to shine through so prominently that the rest of the cha xi pales in comparison.

A bite of the truffle followed by a sip of this naturally fruity red tea, in the company of  Urbanus's jolly Christmas-themed song that paints a delightfully quirky nativity scene. Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2012

**Merry Christmas**Fröhliche Weihnachten**圣诞快乐**

Merry Christmas in seal script 
Can you spot the reindeer, candle stand, snowmen and the acorn in hiding?

The likeness to a classic christmas theme in a writing system that was developed some 200 years BC is uncanny!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Winter Solstice 冬至

Tangyuan in raw pu'er tea
On this day, the 21st of December, many Chinese keep up with the tradition of consuming glutinous rice balls jam-packed with flavours like red bean paste, matcha, peanuts or sesame seeds, cooked in a sugary soup base made from ginger and sugar. I love this sweet treat that marks the shortest day of the year and technically speaking, you're supposed to eat the number of rice balls that concurs with your biological age. Of course this isn't a strictly enforced rule!

Using a smaller amount of raw pu'er flakes
As with all festive treats, the discomfort of overeating never fails to set in too early, too soon. In his blog, Teaparker suggested substituting the usual sweet broth with lightly brewed raw pu'er tea. A combination like this helps to bring out the sweet rice fragrance from the dough. I thought this to be a brilliant suggestion as the light tea infusion can certainly help balance the sweetness of the rice balls and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect given my first time experimenting with tea in the culinary field.

Preheating the bowl with warm water
It took a few times of trial and error to make the dough and filling from scratch. By then, I already had 6 rice balls inside my system and was starting to bloat. Finally, I managed three almost perfectly round rice balls filled with a sweet potato paste that did not leak out. As the water came to a boil and the rice balls were almost ready, I was thinking to myself if I would still be able to make room for these last three balls that are about to be dished up in a bowl of lightly infused raw pu'er tea.

I first took a sip of the tea and then a bite. I could sense how the flavours of the dough and the freshness of the tea fused beautifully like tomato and basil. The glutinous rice balls felt much lighter in texture and consistency as I chewed on them (a bit like butter) and the slight astringency in the tea faded away as the flavours all came together in a seamless fusion.

More tea to follow a heavy meal
I was enjoying my dessert even more so now thanks to this wonderful combination with raw pu'er tea. My stomach also felt less heavy as I went on to take a few sips of this tea.

Yum, yum, yum is all I can say for now - and if you are thinking of letting yourself go and tuck in as heartily as you can stomach, by all means go ahead, but don't forget to pack a party stash of your favourite pu'er tea to give that extra boost of digestion.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A christmas painting in the winter of 2012

The black cat - a reflection of my nocturnal rhythm
Today during calligraphy lesson, we learnt something new about the concept of dating an art piece based on the Chinese calendar that runs in a 60-year cycle.

As this is the year 2012, the Chinese would term this the 'Rén Chén Nián', 壬辰年. Personally, I very much admire this style of dating artworks as it attributes a quality of transcending time and space into ancient Chinese dynasties 120, 180 and perhaps 960 years ago, which is the estimated age of the tea jar that I am using tonight.

This being the most celebrated season of the year ‘寒冬 Han Dong’ with snow-covered landscapes, I decided to design my cha xi using a piece of white calligraphy paper. The purpose of a cha xi is not just about using the best or most expensive teaware you have. For me, it is about weaving different elements together like in a water-coloured painting and striking a harmonious balance between the tea master, the tea and selected teaware.

This evening I brewed an easy drinking Ali Shan spring oolong tea  that I have stored for a day in the tea jar to remove any residual smells from its original paper bag. Preparing this tea is rather straightforward as all you need is a porcelain gaiwan and cups. In this case, thin-walled 'eggshell' porcelain cups work best in  highlighting the floral notes of a light oolong.  The irregularly shaped saucers chiselled  from wood remind me of footprints in the snow.

The entire tea setup relaxes my whole being and stirs my imagination of a white Christmas with an occasional snowflake landing on my eyelashes. Overall, it was a very serene evening in good company of  a picture perfect 'snow-covered' cha xi.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter wake-up calls

Now that winter is here for the northern hemisphere outside the tropics, I believe that the reluctance to get out of bed in the morning has increased exponentially. It is much easier to snuggle deep into the covers when the alarm goes off and constantly risk oversleeping when you know that you should get up. To shake off feelings of winter blues, you can consider some tips for making waking up routine less painful.

1) Have a morning sip of water to stimulate your body and help you stay awake.

2) Drink something warm before sleep so by the time your alarm goes off, you will probably have to use the bathroom and won't be able to go back to sleep comfortably.

3) Do not allow yourself to reason with yourself because you can convince yourself of a hundred different reasons to stay in bed when you're still tired, even if it isn't really the best course of action.

4) Have something to look forward to. It's much easier to get out of bed when you focus on something you actually want to do instead of the drudgery of what you must do. Try setting aside a few minutes in the morning for a ritual that will help you look forward to waking up. Maybe it's coffee in bed, the time to flip through a design magazine, or a shower with a special soap. Or, if there's nothing ritualistic that strikes your fancy, try to think of a getting-up reward the night before. Maybe you want to read another chapter in that book you can't put down, or perhaps you want to treat yourself to a fancier-than-usual cha xi. Whatever it may be, try to give yourself something that will help you start the day right.

Shu pu'er warming my stomach in minutes!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

HAND-ling tea

With a recent batch of spring tea that went bad as a result of poor storage conditions, I decided to give things a 2nd and probably a 3rd try depending on what professional advice I can get.

This is a batch of light roast and oxidised Dong Ding Oolong tea that I very much enjoyed until the brew only yielded a rather watery infusion with very little flavour left. I blame this on the rather cold and dry air that tends to build up in one corner of the room and the experience left me slightly heart broken. One of the techniques I tried out which showed some positive consequences involved holding the spoilt tea in my palm for a few seconds longer than normally before dropping the leaves into the preheated teapot.

From the outset, I normally prepare my tea with bare hands, i.e. without the use of a spatula unless the teas in question involve rather fine needle-like Japanese green teas that tend to stick messily on contact with your hands.

Our hands are like fine tools that should be put into good use during tea preparation. Their warmth prepares the tea leaves for their transition from the bag/ jar into the preheated teapot.  At least, this is the idea in theory and it wasn't until I came across this batch of tea leaves that I to began appreciate more deeply the practice of handling tea leaves with our clean, unscented hands. To a noticeable degree, I was able to restore some of its umami qualities and sugary sweetness that were there once before. Still, I am looking forward to further improvements and welcome any suggestions.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preparing Japanese gyokuro using Chinese teaware

A reader once asked if she could brew Chinese white tea using a glazed porcelain Japanese hohin. The question of interchangeably using your teaware with different tea types is a rather interesting one because with glazed porcelain, we can safely experiment with various kinds of teas and do away with those concerns of residual smells and tastes from the previous brewing session.

The purpose of preparing tea in different vessels is to find out what differences in aromas, tastes and flavours one can observe based on their overall size and shape. In the case of a gyokuro where its price per gram is considerably higher than regular sencha, I would choose brew this tea in smaller amounts in a hohin. The lid of the hohin which I am using is completely flat compared to a regular gaiwan. This is one aspect I do not mind so much when brewing fresh gyokuro because I derive most enjoyment from the umami taste in the tea concentrate.

In the spirit of experimenting, I decided to make use of the remaining leaves in a gaiwan. With a larger vessel to work with, I added slightly more leaves after preheating my gaiwan and meanwhile warm my tea cups thoroughly.

Here the difference in preparing Chinese teas and Japanese gyokuro is quite obvious. Unlike Chinese teas, if I do not cool the water down adequately, the umami taste will be overpowered by the tannins and taste like sencha. To avoid this, I poured water from the heated cups back into the gaiwan. By this time, water temperature in the teacups would have dropped to about 70 degree Celsius, an ideal temperature to prepare gyokuro.

The resulting brew was unlike Chinese green teas. In comparison, the colour was a more intense green with reduced transparency characteristic of Japanese green teas. Tea tasted like a well blended mix of umami broth and sencha. When using a hohin, highly distinct umami notes tend to be released in the first infusion, then come the flavours of green tea in the second infusion that continue to develop in the third infusion with quickly diminishing umami qualities.

Findings like these make experimenting very interesting. The chaxi felt very traditionally Chinese. Yet, the contents of my tea cup reminded me of a foreign element in today's setting which broke the usual routine of preparing tea in a gaiwan. I was made aware that brewing techniques need to be adapted to bring out the tastiest teas. There can never be a set of rules laid out for one to follow rigidly without any improvisation on the tea master's part based on the tea that he is handling.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Upgrading my tea experience

I prepared proportional amounts of Da Yu Lin tea in a gaiwan and a mixed clay teapot today. The gaiwan with a lower capacity has less oolong tea apportioned into it to level the playing field. Took a few small sips from each cup and made comparisons. With the lighter coloured infusion on the left, I could pick up fruity yet faint floral notes. The brew consequently was lighter on the palates and the tea coasted my tongue very loosely like margarine. In the second cup of tea, the basic notes found in the first cup were magnified many times and coated my tongue very densely like butter. I could pick up the changes in fragrances and track them more accurately in my memory. The differences are in some ways similar to eating instant chicken soup mix compared to slow-cooked chicken soup.

To try and achieve a sort of 'slow-cooked chicken soup' experience in the gaiwan, I dropped a few extra balls of oolong into it and proceeded with the second brewing session. This time the colour of the infusion from the gaiwan drew closer to that from the teapot but the brew felt colder due to superior heat retention properties of clay as opposed to porcelain.

The convenience of exchanging many different teas using a porcelain gaiwan has made it very popular with testing teas and narrowing down one's selection. With a clay teapot, we can test it out with a narrower selection of teas but must finally use only one kind of tea for brewing. In other words, the gaiwan and clay teapot complement each other in scoping for the best teas and eventually brewing these teas in dedicated teaware.

Editorial note: I left the teas to steep in the gaiwan and teapot overnight and found a more balanced brew from the pot with its freshness retained. Infusion from the gaiwan became more concentrated but had a rather prominent astringent note that lasted for about 20 seconds.  The freshness of this medium-grade Da Yu Lin tea was not there anymore in the gaiwan despite the more intense flavours and this led me to conclude that teapots in general have a more air-tight construction than gaiwans and their clays are more flattering on the performance of teas, i.e. teas taste rounder, more balanced and can even develop a longer aftertaste as a result of its interaction with the clay's porous quality.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Our trusted senses

Recall that moment when you seemed to have had a piping hot cup of tea but the warm fuzzy sensation quickly fades into an unexplained chill in your system? Why do regular tea drinkers exchange their gaiwans for yixing teapots during colder months of the year to make this transition from light green teas to roasted and highly oxidised teas? Is it really a case of equating the likes of roasted oolongs and red (black) teas to teas that heat us up most efficiently and assigning a cooling effect to the greener and lighter teas in the spectrum?

As part of surveying the tea market, I once brought an Oriental Beauty sample to tea class with the impression that this highly oxidised summer oolong will certainly heat us up nicely when Taipei turns cold and rainy. Quite the contrary. Instead of the expected cha qi that greatly improves one's blood circulation, one of the immediate effects after drinking this tea was a developing frostiness felt most prominently at the fingertips. The tea I brought was a case of poor quality tea leaves that were later processed into an oriental beauty. Needless to say, we certainly did not move on to the 2nd infusion despite the rather pleasant perfumish aftertaste. This tea was also sold as a rather high grade tea with a subtantial price tag to match. An insightful lesson learnt and chances are, there is still a fair share of such teas on the market.

With a good hearty brew of delicious red tea, I can feel the cha qi in my fingertips that turn slightly pink and the tension in my neck muscles ebbing away.  What are your experiences like and which teas do you rate most favourably in your book?   

Friday, November 16, 2012

End of Year Deals

A store-wide 10% discount  is available from now until 31 December 2012.

You will find the complete list of teaware items in my shop where a select range of teapots, teacups, lidded tea bowls also known as gaiwan, saucers, tea display plates, pewter storage jars and cha xi accessories awaits you.

>>Go to year-end deals

For pricing information and orders, please write to me at missteadelight@gmail.com

Happy browsing!

Monday, November 12, 2012


Being a tea blogger from Singapore, sharing information about tea culture, relevant history and modern day interpretations of tea appreciation on the Internet gives me an important understanding of emerging tea communities at the same time. Of course, I take into account that my blog is in English and has its limits in reaching out to as many people as I would have hoped for.

Changi coastal walk
So where is my audience predominantly based? The US comes in first, followed by Czech Republic and in third position we have Germany. How did my fellow Singaporeans place? At a respectable fourth and rather encouraging to note because Singaporeans are a very hectic bunch with little time left for slow food and tea.  Finding time to reference online tea blogs and exploring means to design your own cha xi with delicious teas to match in an outdoor setting can feel as luxurious as, if not more so than, a weekend spa treatment.

Places with a great view of nature and tranquility are far and few between on this island that is constantly subjected to changing landscapes. Now, I will enjoy this little piece of paradise while it lasts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gongfu tea - an old man's trademark?

Drinking tea in Asia is often synonymous with an old man's drink, giving the overall impression that the tea drinking community is a greying one. This argument is rather heavy as tea just isn't only beverage that can be appreciated by the elderly alone. 

Before I became deeply acquainted with tea, I was slightly wary of this stigma when holding onto my hot mug of tea as I entered a meeting room each time. Times have changed and my wish is for tea to finally shed its dust-covered image for the better.

9 of 10 people I come across often cast this look of doubt as if mulling over the issue of age when introduced to what I do as a pasttime. Gradually, I have learnt to shrug off mixed reactions and recognise the immense joy that one can derive from tea pursuits.  

So if you must associate tea drinking with age, be sure to grow not just older but wiser with every sip ;).  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Raw Bulang tea from April 2011

I roughly described this tea in an earlier entry but did not yet review the quality of the brew based on tastes and flavours yet. In the first infusion, great scents and colours despite a very weak smell of the leaves in their dried form. First sip of this tea felt really bitter followed by an overall astringency that could be felt in the mouth cavity and throat for at least half a minute. What is consoling to this overall bitter encounter was a rather prominent taste of the longan fruit, a very sweet fruit with strong woody notes.

The brewed leaves revealed very green young buds. A sight that I cannot reconcile with the harsh bitterness experienced. You can read the rest of this Bulang tea's review here from a fellow tea drinker who has been most dilligently documenting his experiences from the 2nd brew onwards.

If you have similar Bulang teas from the same year, please feel free to leave your blog review links on my page in the spirit of making objective comparisons and cross-referencing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


With a poor sleep rhythm and finding myself awake at 8 on a gloomy day, I made a hot drink of Dong ding oolong. The last thing I remembered while sipping were the scents of seaweed and sugarcane that greeted my nose. After two infusions, the tea's sugary goodness coated my whole mouth as I drifted back to sleep.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Love at first sight and sniff?

At least half a year ago I received some tea samples from Yunnan, China. So far, I have tested two of the teas from the parcel and was disappointed. As it also takes a while before I can shake off all those nasty notes and aftertaste from my memory, this probably explains why I did not find any inclination to try out more teas from the box until I am once again in a risk-taking mood.

This is one of the better packaged teas that arrived. A full 350 g scrumptious-looking raw pu'er cake.  The dried leaves peeled off rather easily as the cake was not too compact. From the unusually weak dry scents, it was difficult to predict what the tea would taste like.

To compensate for the initially weak scents, I took a slightly larger chunk off the cake and brewed it in a competition mug for about 5 minutes. The standard in the tea industry is to brew 3 grams of tea for 6 minutes. As this was the only tea I was tasting, it hardly matters in my opinion as long as we brew the tea beyond its usual steeping duration. The purpose of a longer infusion time ensures the full release of everything good and bad from the tea. In a way, previous subtleties in flavours and tastes are magnified.

I took in the scents of this tea from the curved back of a porcelain spoon. There was a hint of red roses mixed with fallen leaves. A very promising bouquet indeed! Additionally, the brew was a bright amber colour with a high degree of transparency. After witnessing these hopeful first signs, my expectations went up accordingly.

The fun part about tea tasting is this sort of dramatic build up until the first sip of tea that could either affirm or debunk all earlier sentiments of pessimism or optimism. (To be continued)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Notes on Wuyi tea - Smelling

Earlier, we discussed some of the qualities to look for in genuine Wuyi tea. Moving on, it's time to put our nose to the test and let it lead the way.

First infusion: Smell this tea at the surface, then progress upwards to pick up any unwanted notes along the flow of steam rising from your cup.

Second infusion: Characterise the fragrances of your tea. In the case of a Wuyi Shuixian, you will notice a unique orchid scent.

Third infusion and after: Conventional wisdom has it that the fragrances and flavours of good Wuyi teas can last for seven to nine infusions.

Besides taking in fragrances through our nose, another technique taught to me by Teaparker is to inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose a few times. This can help us appreciate and recognise the nuances of real Wuyi tea much more.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mid autumn night

Few hours before sunset on mid-autumn festival, I wanted to have a full-moon themed cha xi to mark this day of the lunar calendar that symbolises bliss and reunions. While waiting for the sun to take its leave and the full moon to gradually ascend to the skies, I decided to prepare a small sample of tea which I recently got from a friend, the content of which is unknown to me. The only clues found on the packaging pointed to an old loose tea with a long aftertaste. Marketing language of course, to be taken with a grain of salt.

Avoid cramming your gaiwan with too much leaves

Mystery tea calls for the use of a glazed porcelain gaiwan to do away with carried-over smells and tastes in the next tea. Inside this foil pack was a sachet of loose leaves. The first scent hints of sweet green beans. As these were not tea dust-grade leaves, I decided to do away with the sachet and cut it open to brew the whole leaves. Doing so will allow us to examine the leaves more closely and obtain an overall understanding of their wet and dry smells.

By now, I am able to identify this tea as an aged and cooked pu'er tea - its rather prominent woody note gave it away. To prepare this tea, I brewed all the contents of the bag in a pre-heated medium-sized gaiwan making sure that there is ample room for the leaves to release their full taste. This is only possible because pu'er leaves do not unfurl as much as tight balls of oolong tea leaves.
In the dark skies shines the bright moon

The first infusion was close to a shiny black with a decent degree of transparency. This tea's earthy character was complemented by the stronger scent and mildly sweet taste of green beans. It was an unusual combination of flavours in one drink and is slightly reminiscent of eating bean-flavoured mooncakes while sipping aged pu'er tea.

The sun rays were quickly diminishing. Waiting isn't always such a painful process when in the good company of a cup of tea, friends and loved ones. In fact, practicing this art of tea cultivates an understanding patience and rewards with simple, worldly pleasures.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Morning tea

With time to spare, I left the kettle on the stove to heat up slowly and went about to put together this morning's cha xi at my own pace. Cha xi is a dynamic and meaningful cultural expression that is demonstrated through selecting and arranging teaware that reflects your original style and taste. In fact, this is an extension of you and your preferences when it comes to drinking tea. The bunny-tailed branch that you see here is a timely reminder of the coming of the mid-autumn festival this Sunday ;)

Today, I opted for an Ali Shan high mountain oolong. Light oolongs tend to be floral and fruity in their aromas with a medium body to back it up. They remain one of my favourites when it comes to gradual awakenings. Fresh green teas like sencha or bi luo chun also work well for me in the mornings. The highly oxidised teas are reserved for mid days when the mind is alert and can better track the subtleties in taste variations and the length of the aftertaste. Also, higher oxidation teas, in combination with their roasting, are more likely to stand out and appeal to our senses following the first few bites of the day. I experience lighter teas as more subdued after a meal or two.

Since I was down to the last few grams of this tea, I took time to savour it at length and continue to make new observations about its performance. Besides its outstanding floral notes, four infusions of this tea did not drive my hunger pangs any bit higher on hindsight. This is a sign of quality that is confirmed by the amazingly soft texture in the opened tea leaves.

The first cup of the day is always the sweetest, I find.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Notes on Wuyi tea - Observing

Shui Xian
Wuyi tea falls into the category of oolong. As it is rather scarce, few shops will allow for complimentary tasting. It is therefore useful to be able to judge the quality of the tea from its appearance and the colour of its dried leaves. Good Wuyi mountain tea shaped like uniformly thick strips presents a greenish brown colour and an overall shine in the leaves. A closer examination will reveal white specks and a surface texture similar to that of a toad's back. Not the most flattering term one can think of and likely a naming convention according to Teaparker.

Moving on to the colour of the infusion, a good quality brew should either be golden orange or red with a high level of transparency. The last few concentrated drops from the pot will present a brilliant amber hue.

Finally, inspect the spent tea leaves. You will notice a rather soft leaf blade with a dark red oxidised appearance on the leaf's periphery and a central yellowish green region.

What is often stressed during tea lessons is the engagement of our senses: the eyes, nose and mouth. Hence, when it comes to spotting the real deal, we rely heavily on looking, smelling and tasting.