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.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New to tea?

Last night, we received guests from abroad who were probably very new to the concept of tea and brewing with loose leaves. Now, in a situation like this, I thought it would be easiest to start with a floral green tea scented with jasmine flowers brewed in a glass pot, served in neutral blue-white porcelain cups.

Why a floral tea? I find this tea to be the most widely accepted amongst tea rookies and to quote a friend, 'seduce their senses with fragrances'. This is not to say that I am a proponent of scented teas like orange-flavoured pu'er, strawberry flavoured ginger tea and what not. I believe that tea can be appreciated without the frills of artificial scents, milk and sugar. However, if certain scent and tea combinations work out seamlessly, I would embrace them with arms wide open. 

Take for example jasmine green teas, or orchid scented teas from Anhui province in China. These are labelled scented/ floral teas, but quite different from teas suffering from the wrong kind of marketing. The elegance in fragrance and the synergy between tea and flowers will not go unnoticed by discerning tea connoisseurs. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Old Beijing street performers

I have just added a few items to my online shop and thought I would share a photo of one of them here: 4 men with 5 string instruments performing in a cross-linked fashion. With one hand playing on his instrument and the other reaching out for the next musical instrument, they perform in a neatly coordinated manner.

This set of two gaiwans reflects everyday, entertaining art forms of the past that are limited to select tea houses in China today and reminisced by older generations of Beijingers. They are now available in my teaware collection to anyone who is keen to bring home a piece of old Beijing.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Thoughts on tea (Part 2 of 2)

Have you tasted water at each boiling phase? How did they differ?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rinsing tea

Student: Sensei, do you think we should briefly rinse those tea leaves first?
Sensei: Why do you want to do that?
Student: To have a cleaner brew.
Sensei: If this is dirty tea, it will still be so after the 10th infusion. Why then would you want to drink it from the outset?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Blurring lines

In the world of tea, there is no lack of big brand names, luxurious designs and attractive marketing campaigns. How similar yet different a single pursuit of tea as a pastime can be! I am brewing Dongding oolong in a mixed clay pot and pouring tea into individual tea cups at equal concentration. The founders of TWG are probably enjoying scones and marmalade with tea steeping in a big pot. Sugar and milk on the side, no doubt. Two traditions, one piping hot beverage. Where do you fall in the spectrum?