Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Tang emperor's favourite consort - Gui Fei

Just a rank below the empress, Yang Gui Fei, known for her unrivalled beauty and footprints she left behind in Chinese history is the woman shown in this painting. Since her pre-mature death, her beauty can only be inferred from old records and ancient paintings.

Many of her namesakes began to emerge in Chinese society. Gui Fei chicken, a yummy dish remembered for its trademark liquorice flavour and Gui Fei Oolong tea, a new addition to my growing list of teas that I have sniffed, tasted, enjoyed and strongly recommend.

This slow roasted oolong tea is refreshingly light and flavoursome at the same time - tea and water fused seamlessly. In combination with its dewy sweetness and pure aftertaste, I would like to coin this the fruit juice of teas.

With 3 grams of this tea brewed in a Gaiwan, I can obtain at least 4 standard infusions in one session. Generally, I would allow for a 5th infusion, leaving the tea to steep for an extended period of time and returning to it after an hour or so. The result is a cooler, more concentrated version of this tea - the perfect thirst quencher. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Broken teaware

This rarely happens, but when it does, every experience is etched into memory. So here it is, my zen garden sandpit turned teaware cemetery.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tea diaries - Tie Guan Yin TGY storage (I)

My inspiration for writing flows from good teas and out of a bottle. Winter was a tough 5 months and from the looks of of this near empty bottle, it must have been a wordy period on this blog, in part thanks to vodka!

With the ongoing seasonal change, I am feeling more energised and enthusiastic about my tea studies. The subject of my study today lies in my Russian blue-white tulip jar : a batch of light TGY Oolong from China.

Petite Russian tea jar
My task to find out what kind of chemistry has taken place inside this jar over the past year. First impression after sniffing the contents of the tea from its original pouch was a dry and light sweet but weak scent. The jar presented me with a dampness and hints of soya bean. This dampness is due to having had insufficient tea to begin with which allowed tea inside the jar to absorb moisture form the air that is present in the unfilled parts of the jar. My guess is that a completely filled jar would have yielded dryer, more refined and sweeter scents. Tea from the original bag seems darker whereas the tea from the jar comes across as more oxidised with its yellow green appearance.

Left: Tea from the bag
Sniff, sniff, sniff, let the brewing begin. For this experiment, I am using porcelain teaware to minimise the influence of teaware material. Porcelain is neutral.

Two bulky competition mug sets dominate my cha xi. They are scientific tools used for judging. During my early years of serious tea studies I use them a lot when trying to make objective comparisons between two teas.

Right: Tea from petite jar - 1 year storage
If you are already an expert in tea tasting, brewing three or more teas at once using these porcelain tasting sets is most definitely a piece of cake.

Personally, I keep to testing on average two teas at a time so as not to spread my attention out too thinly and diffusing unnecessary pressure if I had to cross compare more than three samples at once. For each tea, I would take mental/ visual notes of the dry leaves' appearance and scent. Then comes the colours of the infusions, the smells and tastes.

With so much going on at once, comparing teas for first-timers could pose as an overwhelming and potentially stressful situation. My 2 p is to keep enough samples for a repeat of your tea experiments in at least three tea sessions. This way, you become more confident about your findings. If you are in an adventurous mood, you could even add one additional sample to your tea test, each time you repeat your experiments to gather more knowledge and work your way up  through the ranks of tea experts and masters ;-)

Tea tasting: fitness tests for your senses
Left: flowery scent at first but short-lived. Right: smells of soya bean followed by a flowery and longer-lasting fragrance
~3 g of tea with a 10 minute infusion (Adjust as you see fit, but keep conditions identical)
2nd infusion: colour and scent differences grow harder to detect
Left: tea from pouch is greener, right: tea from jar displaying signs of further oxidation.
Playing Sherlock, closely examining spent leaves: this batch of TGY is made from a blend of leaves
Cross comparing TGY to a batch of Shan Lin Xi Oolong tea made from a single type soft-stemmed leaf. A stark contrast that plays an important role in the reasoning behind why some teas can taste purer than the others.
To be continued

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ideas for Cha Xi (Part 2)

Brewing the last bits of tea - clarity of infusion is still good!
The flowery jinxuan oolong tea sets me up for a chaxi in pink
Tea & poetry
Da Yu Lin Oolong
What tastes mild at first is followed by a prolonged and complex aftertaste. I brewed this tea in a plain gaiwan that symbolises its purity yet presenting itself with such high density and a compact aftertaste that evenly coats the whole tongue, insides of your cheeks, throat and stomach, represented here by a porcelain saucer bearing a subtle, flowery symmetry on all sides.
The lightness of this brew suggests something quite the opposite of what I am about to sip
Waste water and cup rinsing bowl from Lin's ceramic studio

Of ants and dandelions

Recent spates of hostile political developments in the Middle East have been hoarding my tv channels and left me with a bitter taste and soured faith in humanity.

Turning to outdoor tea sessions and nature, I found it hard to ignore the high levels of complexity, division of labour and cooperation among ants. While helping myself to some dandelions in the garden, ants were foraging these flowers - a peaceful coexistence. As these ants get their source of food, the flowers are meanwhile protected from more damaging herbivores. Learning to live with others, embracing diversity and allowing the severely oppressed to claim their national rights seems a far fetched idea in many cases.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ideas for cha xi (Part 1)

While sorting out pictures on my computer today, I came across some previously unpublished tea moments captured on photo. So here they are, enjoy!

Gui Fei Oolong - a fruity, everlastingly sweet and beautifully balanced tea
My Cha Xi of 'No extremes 無極' to highlight the harmony experienced from this Gui Fei Oolong
A flavoursome cuppa!
The woody scent emanating from my tea mat nicely complements the tea that I was about to brew. 
Raw Pu'er tea cake Lin Cang 2007: this tea left me with a prolonged & perfumish mouthfeel!
I know it is selfish of me to have prepared only a cup for one ;-)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Which flavours?

An interesting perspective I gathered when offering tea to tea virgins (perhaps to a lesser extent in Asia): Which flavour of tea is this? The answers that they would expect are usually strawberry oolong, peachy pu'er, apple green tea, ginger, ..... When you come across teas labelled this way, they are likely scented artificially and you will not be able to drink much of them as our senses quickly grow tired. Not unlike using a bottle of perfume that you thought you would have liked very much but soon develop dizzy spells after longer periods of wearing it.

Chinese teas are named after their origins, appearances of dried leaves or associated legends and stories. Long Jing, Silver needles, Huang Shan Maofeng, etc. From these teas, natural scents develop as a result of fermentation and a rich array of descriptors can be tagged to them. The aromas could be described as pleasantly flowery, fleshy fruity and are complex, not easily replicated with artificial additives. Your breath smells lightly perfumish when exhaling and you can feel genuinely at ease with the perpetuating aftertaste.