Monday, July 30, 2012

Whisking tea

It was not until two years ago that I learnt that preparing matcha tea with a bamboo whisk in fact originated from the Song Dynasty in China, before it became a common practice in Japan and has remained so ever since.

The movements of whisking this finely ground tea and the variations in strength behind these seemingly repetitive strokes involve skills that come with a lot of practice and focus. Whisking too lightly at the surface will not produce sufficient froth. Yet, a hurried and heavy-handed approach to whisking will only result in bubbles that disappear altogether once the movements stop.

My third attempt
I have to admit that it can be challenging, yet very fun to find out for yourself when you should mix the powdered mixture slowly but more forcefully, when whisking begins and gradually picks up speed, and you can reduce the strength of whisking. The result speaks for itself: the frothier it looks, the creamier it tastes. Through matcha, green tea has shown us its lesser known side of depth, complexity and stunning flavours that reveal themselves to the one who pays undivided attention during the preparatory stages.

This exercise of preparing ground tea seems very holistic. On one hand we need the arm and wrist movements, on the other hand mental concentration and alertness. Once satisfied with the result, your muscles come to a rest and you realise how fast your heart was pumping for the last few minutes.

Have fun practising. The discoveries you make along the way and at the end of the journey may surprise you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beauty and her scent

Gradually, I have moved away from Jasmine scented green teas to teas that emit fragrances as a result of fermentation. Why? The fragrances are longer lasting and the drop in the aromatic intensity between brews is less steep. I must say that the Oriental Beauty oolong tea is a good example. I regard this as sort of red tea because of its relatively higher oxidation level compared to other teas in the category of oolong. Check out the variations in colour. I see furry white tips, orange gold, dark green, light green and a few other undefined shades.    

The infusion is a deep and dark golden orange hue that one can easily mistake for a red tea. A sweet floral aroma travels from the root of my tongue to my nostrils. Quite similar to inhaling perfume through your mouth and very much like a muscat wine without the overwhelming sugary taste. The insect bites and saliva that these tea leaves have been exposed contribute a lot to this unique flavour that reminds me of a chemistry lab that produces esters.

Despite the strong colour of this tea, bitterness and astringency do not dominate the taste buds as much as a Darjeeling. A tea that I prefer to prepare with shorter infusion times or longer infusions but paired with a rather sweet dessert. Perhaps a sweet and mild tasting candy will be more fitting for this oriental beauty.

This is a type of cuboid Turkish candy affectionately known as the Padishah sweetie. I like it for its slightly crunchy and crumbly qualities. Made from flour, sugar and vegetable fat. I enjoyed this sweet with afternoon tea that day. Neither is overpowering the other. Just the kind of balance I was looking for.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cha Xi in der Sonne

Nach einem Wochenendausflug ins Grüne frage ich mich, ob mein Teegeschirr von der Sonne gebräunt wurde, vor allem nachdem wir mehrere Wochen lang Regen und Kälte ertrotzt haben. Ich habe nunmehr seit einem Jahr ein Cha Xi im Freien geplant, aber aus mehreren Gründen hat es bisher nicht geklappt. Als die Wolken verschwunden waren und die Temperatur anstieg, war der Moment da und sind wir ins Freie gegangen, um statt des komfortablen Zuhauses einige Zeit in und mit der Natur zu verbringen.

Als wir uns nach dem idealen Ort für die Zubereitung von Tee umsahen, boten sich viele Möglichkeiten an, darunter eine Bank im Schatten, eine gemütliche Ecke im Dachgeschoß mit einem feinen Holzgeruch sowie ein ruhiger Bereich am See, umgeben von Kiefern und ihren lebhaften Bewohnern. Hier muß der Teemeister improvisieren und die rustikalen Elemente ins vielfältige Gewebe des Cha Xi aufnehmen. Das Konzept des Cha Xi就地取材 (jiu3 di4 qu3 cai2) ist sehr dynamisch und nie langweilig.

Ich habe zwei verschiedene Oolong-Tees dabei: Si Ji Chun und einen mehr oxydierten Qing Xin vom Ali Shan. Beide sind eher grüne Tees mit einem frischen Geschmack. Sie unterscheiden sich in Duftintensität und Stärke des Nachgeschmacks. Da wir den Elementen, wie dem Wind und Insekten, ausgesetzt waren, war es schwierig, uns auf die feinen Unterschiede zwischen den Infusionen zu konzentrieren, aber wir konnten auf jeden Fall in Erfahrung bringen, daß der Qing Xin Oolong einen stärkeren Nachgescmack aufwies, der auch für längere Zeit auf unseren Papillen weilte. Der Si Ji Chun kam schwächer heraus, da sein Duft im Freien schnell verschwand. Diesen Tee sollte man wohl eher zu Hause genießen, wo die Kochbedingungen sich besser unter Kontrolle halten lassen. 

Ein dünnwandiger Gaiwan, Porzellantassen, Untertassen aus Zinn und der Teebehälter stellen einen perfekten Rahmen für ein sonniges Erlebnis dar. 

Article in English: Sun-kissed cha xi

Sunday, July 22, 2012

130 by 35 cm of tea joy

Starting the day off, I scanned the shelves of my living room and came up with this cha xi below. A lightly oxidised Taiwanese oolong was what I missed after spending a week in Turkey drinking mostly black tea. So here it is, a Javanese pot, flowers from the garden, Florentine teaware, a Chinese gaiwan and a Japanese pewter pot for filtering water against a beige and green backdrop.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer's green teas - Long Jing

Green teas make for great heat diffusers in summer. Their cool and fresh taste prove to have won the hearts and minds of tea lovers. The perfect hot weather recipe to get over dizzy spells and a placating drink for the increasingly hot tempered as I speak from experience. 

Having just returned from the coast, a delicious green brew was badly needed to moisten my parched throat and dry mouth. To pamper myself, I picked the sweetest available green tea also known as Long Jing or Dragon Well tea. Depending on tea grades, the methods for preparing green tea can vary. I borrow the  sports car concept, cruising on the highway in an Alfa Romeo at 90 km/h would be a shame and a complete disregard of its best at 200 km/h. The grade of tea I have selected is of a good quality known as the Shi Feng Long Jing. Hence, it would be a waste not to prepare this tea with higher brewing temperatures in the high 90s up to 100 degrees Celsius.

Because of the age of this tea (2 years old now,) I needed to restore some degree of freshness by allowing it some rest time (30 - 40 minutes) in an old seed jar. Indeed, the magic of time never stops to amaze me, not to mention what storing tea for longer periods of time can do to your teas. The flavours will improve and you achieve a longer aftertaste for the time invested in tea storage. 

Pre-heating of your tea cups and gaiwan is a necessary first step before moving on to brewing tea. Some methods of infusing medium grade green teas include partially filling your gaiwan with hot water, throwing in the leaves and then fill the rest of the gaiwan with hot water. For a high grade tea, the process involves adding tea leaves into a preheated gaiwan and then fill with hot water, gently pouring in from the sides of the gaiwan. 

The leaves are fairly flat and do not require much strength of pour from the hot water to open up. It is a delight to see these tiny green rafts floating in my gaiwan and gradually revealing their true form. 

The brew looks deceptively light, but tastes very sweet, nutty and rounded. Combine this with the aromas under the lid and the experience is a very rewarding one.