Thursday, May 31, 2012

Screaming Spring

Everything about tea from Korea, Japan and Taiwan screams spring, freshness and vitality. I've joined in the fun with this year's Bi Luo Chun, from San Hsia in Taiwan. There are a few ways to drink to tea. In what I call 'open-face' style style where you simply rest green tea leaves in a bowl and pour hot water while watching the leaves unfurl and come to the surface before settling down to the bottom of your tea bowl again. A sort of smoothening dance performance. The leaves are slow to open up because heat escapes very quickly from the water surface. I like it on some days especially so when my mood is heavy and could do with some lightening up. Thankfully such times are far and few between and last week I opted for a tastier way of drinking this tea - using a gaiwan. With this vessel, one can trap more heat and coax more flavours out of these finely feathered (typical of young budding leaves), light and dark green leaves.

I love the smell of these dried leaves - very green with a hint of sugarcane sweetness and light umami notes. I decided to dedicate a longer session to drinking this tea and came up with a cha xi that more or less looks like the colours I witnessed the other day at the park. Blue skies, cotton candy clouds and yellow-green grass. Let's see how much of a parallel I can recreate in my cha xi.

This is the best I could manage and I decided to stay with this set up once I sense that I can find functionality and comfort with room for imagination when starting to prepare tea. 

While waiting, I was curious to see how the leaves were unfurling in my big gaiwan and took a few sneak shots. The changes are so subtle and gradual that one can only witness such beautiful transitions through undivided attention.Notice how the colours progressed from dark green to green and finally yellow green?

The brew is a very light green with fresh, grassy and sweet notes. I also notice that with a gradual and gentle pour of hot water into the gaiwan, you will obtain a rather meaty 'broth' in your first infusion. I'm having fun!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tea lions

Not just a global drink, tea holds the key to the past, involving dynasties and their influences on teaware, and opening many colourful pages of Chinese history for me.

This week, I entered a photo competition themed "Chinese influences outside of China". Chinese guardian lions have traditionally stood at the entrances of imperial palaces, tombs, government buildings, temples, and the residential compounds of the well-heeled since the Han Dynasty, and were believed to have mythical powers of warding off bad spirits just like the gargoyles that adorn the steeples of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Today, pairs of such guardian lions: one male and one female, are still decorative and hallmark features parked outside entrances to Chinese restaurants, hotels and supermarkets. Being in the middle of Europe and 8000 km away from the middle kingdom, I sought inspiration from my gaiwan and the stone lions guarding the entrance of the town hall tower in the market square. Quite similar to their Chinese counterparts in Asia, but not identical.

Notice how these lions guarding the town hall tower seem a bit more laid back and stretching out comfortably for their cup of tea. They remind me of myself on low-energy days in need of a sip of energising tea. Chinese lions on the other hand tend to be in upright, no-nonsense position everywhere you see them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Meine erste Tasse Tee

Als ich ein Kind war, in der 80ern, tranken die meisten eleganten Großväter, darunter auch der meinige, Tee – und zwar im Gung-fu-Stil, mit ihren wertvollen Yi-Xing-Teekannen, meistens Zhu Ni oder Hong Ni, und kleinen Teetassen, die Aromen und Düfte konzentrieren. Und was gab man meistens in die Teekannen ein? Kleine, dunkle Kugeln stark gerösteten Tie Guan Yin (TGY) voller Aromen. Dieser Tee kommt aus Anxi in Fujian, China, und hat ein sehr charakteristisches erdiges und fruchtiges Aroma. Ich nenne dieses Aroma den Duft meiner Kindheit.

Ich habe die Bedeutung des Terroirs in diesem Blog schon erörtert. Nachdem ich diesen Tee nun seit mehr als 25 Jahre bereitet habe, seit ich ihn zum ersten Mal gekostet habe, erkenne ich zum ersten Mal, welchen Einfluß der Boden auf das Endergebnis hat. TGY hat in den letzten Jahren zumeist leicht bis mittelschwer oxydierte Varianten mit einem geringeren Grad der Röstung gesehen. Teilweise imitieren diese Teesorten Hochgebirgs-Oolong aus Taiwan, der sich durch Duft und Frische auszeichnet. In diesem Eintrag über das Ändern von Tees können Sie sich vorstellen, wie viele Teevarianten sich als Ergebnis der verschiedenen Verarbeitungsverfahren ergeben.

Ganz im Gegenteil zu solchen leicht oxidierten und weniger gerösteten Varianten wird dieser TGY, den ich heute in einer Ni-Hong-Kanne gekocht habe, als sehr dunkel und tief mit komplexem Geschmack und Aroma beschrieben. Eine Tasse frisch gekochten Tees hat eine sehr durchdringendes und süßes Aroma, das meine Tee-Ecke binnen weniger Sekunden füllte. Es war erstaunlich und gab klar an, daß dies der am meisten geröstete Tee in meiner Sammlung sein muß. In diesem kurzen Augenblick fühlte ich mich, als ob ich in einen Laden gekommen war, wo der Inhaber gerade beim Rösten seines Tees ist.

Der gekochte Tee hatte eine gelbgoldene Farbe hat eine schöne Transparenz. Der Geschmack ist vollmundig und komplex, mit leichten Kaffeenoten. Der Tee hat mich auch schnell aufgewärmt. Die Überraschung liegt im Geschmack unten in der Tasse. Zugegebenermaßen war dies der Moment, den ich am meisten genoß – die Düfte zu schnuppern, die dieser starke Tee hinterlassen hat. Sehr süß, fruchtig. Dieser Tee schmeckt nach mehr… 

Article in English: My first cup of tea

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cherry blossom Zisha pot (Sold)

The teapot may be the most sought after teaware, but good and functional designs with the right price tag do not come our way so often. I am not a habitual teapot collector. On the few occasions when I set my eyes on the tea pot, it is mainly out of consideration for its form and functionality, or when I am definitely blown away by its artistic value, in combination with an affordable price tag of course!

What makes the best body shape for tea pots? I would say round, spherical or any extensions of it such as the gourd or pear shapes allow for most effective convection during brew times.

The overall material thickness of the body is another aspect to examine when it comes to choosing a pot.  Ideally, we would like to have a thicker layer of clay built towards the bottom that tapers more thinly at the top. A thick bottom retains the heat while a relatively higher heat loss takes place at the top resulting in sustainable heat circulation throughout the whole pot, ensuring that every leaf can infuse most optimally. Understandably, this may not be the case with every teapot and when you are forced to settle for second best, an even distribution of thickness is acceptable.

This purple beauty weighs 170 g and has a filling capacity of 176 ml. The clay type is zisha from around 2005. The spout is well shaped and the pour is smooth, uniform and very easy to control.

Only the spout and one side (side facing a right-handed tea master) of the pot are adorned with flower blossoms lending itself to a sort of asymmetrical art form that is teasing and attractive. 

I find this pot to be very suitable for teas like Hong Shui oolong, medium roast Tie Guan Yin and Wu Yi teas. Some fellow tea drinkers have recommended this pot for cooked pu'ers. It is most desirable to use a pot for only one type of tea, but necessary to try out a new purchase with  a few types of tea beforehand.

Available now in my shop.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My first cup of tea

Growing up in the 80s, most fashionable grandpas including mine drank tea: gong-fu style complete with their prized Yi Xing pots, usually Zhu Ni or Hong Ni, and tiny tea cups that concentrate flavours and aromas. What usually goes into their pots then? Tiny dark bullets of high roasted Tie Guan Yin (TGY) bursting with flavours. This tea comes from Anxi in Fujian, China and has a very characteristic earthy and fruity aroma to it. Something I describe as the scent of my early growing up years.

I discussed the importance of terroir in this blog entry and after preparing this tea for myself at least 25 years after I first tasted it, I am able to see a real life example of the importance of soil conditions in determining the end result. Recent trending for TGY has moved towards light to medium oxidised with a lesser degree of roasting, at times to mimic high mountain Taiwanese oolongs, where the emphasis is on fragrance and freshness. In this article about 'modifying' teas, you can imagine the mind-boggling array of teas that can be made as a result of various processing methods.

Quite the opposite of its lightly oxidised and less roasted counterparts, this TGY that I brewed today in a Hong Ni pot is described as dark, deep and very complex in its taste and flavours. A freshly brewed cup of this tea has a very penetrating and sweet aroma that permeated my tea corner seconds within pouring out. It was amazing and definitely hinted that this has to be the most roasted tea in my stash. In that brief moment, I felt like I just walked into a shop where the owner is busy roasting his teas.

The infusion was yellow gold in colour and has a nice transparency to it. The taste is full-bodied and complex with some light notes of coffee, warming me up very quickly. The element of surprise lies in its smell at the bottom of the cup. Admittedly, this was the moment I thoroughly enjoyed - sniffing the scents left behind by this strong tea. Indulgently sweet, fruity and leaving you wanting more of it.

Blogeintrag auf Deutsch: Meine erste Tasse Tee

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tea on the rough side

For a while now I've wanted to enjoy tea on the floor without having to strain my posture too much and still allow myself ease when handling a pot or gaiwan.  Hence this setting which in the end worked out very comfortably for me. 

I have been practising my tea brewing techniques with gaiwans of various sizes and mainly working with round oolong tea balls. They look deceptively small but can grow into a foresting lump if you overlook their capacity for expansion while infusing. 

I am trying out this big gaiwan for a tea picnic soon once the weather cooperates. Its large size is good for keeping teas warm for a longer time. The deeper, wider dome helps to trap more air between the lid and the hot tea, acting as a layer of insulation. 

When handling a gaiwan, a willingness to try and practice should suffice. Videos like the following are made readily available on the web.


I am most used to handling smaller volumes of tea in medium-sized gaiwans. So it does take a bit of time to practice stretching my fingers more. By the third infusion, handling a big gaiwan has become second nature to me. Of course, this varies from person to person.

Above you can see that I did not add as much oolong as most tea shops would offer you simply because this is a very compact type of tea and requires room to open up before its aromas and full flavours can be released. Filling the gaiwan up to its brim would make it too hot for my fingers while pouring tea.

Treat your leaves well and be rewarded with an aromatic and flavoursome infusion worth every dollar you paid. This spring's Jin Xuan oolong smells very light. The flowery and milky scents are subtle. The brew is yellow-green and tasting notes progress from a soothing milky and flowery flavour to a grassy sencha-like taste. A lightly fermented tea as confirmed by the dark edges on the leaves and their general off-green appearance. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gaiwan - 天 Himmel, 人 Mensch und 地 Erde

Ein Gaiwan ist eine Teetasse, die zum Kochen und Trinken von Tee verwendet wird. Der Gaiwan ist eine Erfindung der Ming-Dynastie und besteht aus einer Tasse mit Deckel und Untertasse, die Mensch, Himmel und Erde symbolisieren. Der Deckel konzentriert alle himmlischen Düfte guten Tees bei jeder Ziehung.

Diese elfenbeinweiße Schönheit hat neun prachtvolle, fein dargestellte Schmetterlinge.

Dieser handbemalte Gaiwan aus feinstem Porzellan wiegt 213 g und hat ein Nutzvolumen von 166 ml.

Ich habe drei Sätze meiner Sammlung von Teewaren hinzugefügt.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tea as a global drink

When Teaparker asked why tea could be considered a beverage of the world, he explained that this is so because of our noses and mouths. With these, we are able to smell aromas and taste notes of purity.

What is tea appreciation and how can we tell good teas apart from bad? A sincere attitude, a true conscience and child-like innocence:  真心,本心,童心. Words of a wise man.

At Teaparker's lecture last weekend in Brussels, I prepared a Da Yu Lin high mountain Oolong tea from Taiwan's highest elevation at 2600 metres above sea level. He likened this tea to the Romanée-Conti of red wines. Our noses and taste buds later confirmed - fresh and smelling of both the high mountains and seaweed from the coast, rich and enduring.

For the same tea, we used six different cups ranging from an 18th century De Hua porcelain cup to a modern day Jing De Zhen Qing Hua tea cup to demonstrate the differences in each cup's interaction with the infusion. 

Through the simple tea cup, event visitors were introduced to the world of Chinese teas. Teaparker believes that tea has a universal language that can bring about pleasure to both our senses and spirits.  

Although a disciple of Chinese teas, I did not forget to make my rounds to the Japanese tea ceremony booth to have my picture taken with these ladies in their kimonos. And as you may have noticed, my Cha Xi is a combination of a Japanese sash (the centre-piece of traditional Japanese costumes), ancient and modern day Chinese tea cups and a truly fascinating high mountain Oolong all the way from Taiwan. All in all, the underlying message of tea as a globalised drink has not been forgotten even in the slightest of details.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kombinieren von Speisen und Tee – Win-win?

(Teil 1 von 2) Zugegebenermaßen handelt es sich beim Kombinieren von Speisen und Tee um ein sehr breites Thema. Ich habe mich seit jeher mehr darum gekümmert, als meine bescheidene Erfahrung erlaubt. Deshalb genieße ich meinen Tee meistens ohne entsprechende Speisen. Es gibt allerdings einige Kombinationen, die ich sehr genieße.

Hier ein Beispiel von meinen wenigen erfolgreichen Kombinationen von Tee mit Speisen: arabische oder iranische Datteln mit einer Tasse starken, roten Tees. Die Süße der Datteln wirkt mehr ausgewogen und mit rotem Tee spürt man die natürlichen Aromen der Datteln besser.

Selbstverständlich ist es wichtig, die Speise kritisch zu erwägen. Viele Speisen enthalten chemische Zusatzstoffe. In seinem Buch zum Thema chinesischer Teekultur empfiehlt Teaparker seinen Lesern, sehr kritisch zu sein, wenn es sich um die Kombination von Speisen und Tee handelt.

Article in English: Food and tea pairing - A win-win? (Part 1 of 2)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

天 Heaven , 人 man and 地 earth gaiwan

A gaiwan is a tea cup used for the infusion and consumption of tea. Invented during the Ming Dynasty, a gaiwan consists of a lid, a bowl and a saucer symbolising heaven, man and earth. The lid concentrates all heavenly smells of good tea at every steeping. 

This ivory white beauty comes adorned with nine beautifully fragile butterflies.

Exquisitely hand-painted and made from bone china, this gaiwan weighs 213 g and has a filling capacity of 166 ml that is perfect for ball sized oolong leaves to unfurl.

Three sets have been added to my teaware collection.

Blogeintrag auf Deutsch:  Gaiwan - 天 Himmel, 人 Mensch und 地 Erde

Monday, May 7, 2012


Apologies for a period of silence on this blog as I have been away in Brussels. The coming week will also be a rather quiet one as I have other commitments to see to.I will however, make sure to upload pictures of colourful people, fragrant teas and memorable events I encountered at TeaWorld rendezvous on my facebook page. Until then. Au revoir!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In good company

This is one of  few entries where I do not say very much, except enjoy some of the cherished moments lost in the sea of tea.

Birds singing, tea infusing in the pot, waiting to be served and quiet neighbours (finally..).