Saturday, February 23, 2013

Learn Chinese on a Cha xi (tea setting 茶席)

Tea culture being deeply rooted in Chinese history and its people, I find it important for tea lovers to be briefly initiated in the language and familiarise themselves with some of  their favourite teaware pieces. You will of course notice word similarities shared by Chinese and Japanese.

1. 废水碗 Fei4 shui3 wan3
This dark ceramic bowl can be used both as vessel for collecting waste water or for rinsing teacups between tea sessions as guests leave and new ones join in.

2. 茶杯 Cha2 bei1
Tea cups

3. 盘子 Pan2 zi3
This is a classic blue and white Qing dynasty plate that I would often place under small teacups when pouring tea so any stray drops of tea are caught and do not stain the cloth too heavily.

4. 茶布 cha2 bu4
Cloth for creating tea space and improving one's chaxi experience.

5. 茶托 cha2 tuo1
Tea saucers to match various teacup shapes and sizes. Apart from catching stray drops of tea, it lessens the risk of burnt fingers while handling hot tea!

6. 盖碗 gai4 wan3
A lidded tea bowl and probably the most versatile brewing tool to have be because glazed porcelain is neutral to all tea types and can be quickly rinsed and used for the next tea.

7. 茶海 cha2 hai3
This literally means the sea of tea, but in practise it is a fair cup where you pour tea pour tea from the Gaiwan into and further distribute this tea among the cups.

In the context of the Chinese language, the act of drinking (tea for instance) is often associated with assimilating knowledge. Carved on these rather meaningful plaques I found in Teaparker's tearoom, they read: to drink from the sea of Buddhism (Gaiwan), you (Cha hai) will in turn shine like a beacon of knowledge for the others (tea cups) around you. The same concept can be exactly said of drinking tea (饮茶 yin3 cha2).

To be continued..

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In need of pu'er

After two days of sumptuous hotpot meals, my body is in need of some warm comfort. Medical studies have shown that Pu'er has stabilising effects on the digestive system and cuts oil (triglycerides in this instance) and sugar absorption from the intestines, hence helping the detox process. I am a believer of this and am feeling better now after a few sips of this this 10 year old cooked pu'er tea... Life is a pleasure ;)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Goodbye dragon, hello spiritual snake

3 days to the Chinese Lunar New Year of the snake. To see the year of the dragon off, I planned my chaxi tonight with dragon themed cups and saucers. In the Chinese culture, dragons motifs are heavily used to decorate personal items and prominently adorn architectural creations. The snake however, does not share the same standing and understandably commands less reverence. Perhaps, it has to do with negative legendary associations with this legless reptile. Personally it isn't one of my favourites either.

Tea tonight is a 4 year old hong shui oolong form Ali Shan. It has been aging in my pewter jar for 16 months now in the hopes of refining it further and taming the roast. I especially like this tea because of the its strength that lasts for quite a while both in the mouth and its overall sensation of warmth that can be felt radiating from my stomach.
Notice the obvious roasting on the edges yet slightly yellow but mainly green appearance in the centre of the rolled tea leaves?  I believe care has been taken to roast this tea very gradually for an extended period of time. The purpose is to remove water content so tea tastes sweeter.

I used a zisha teapot to brew this tea. The infusion is a very light yellow green colour with a less obvious but present roasted scent. This time the fruity notes emerge more prominently than previous tea sessions. The difference that time makes to the aging process of tea is magical! The infusion is nicely balanced, moderately complex and sweet. The flavour reminds me of hay. The mouth feel can be compared to semi-bubbly mineral water. It is smooth and at the same time leaves behind a slight tingle on the insides of my cheeks and coats my whole tongue with a rather high resolution and long aftertaste. I really enjoy my tea sessions more and more so with this tea every few months I come back to it when I feel the need for a medium strength tea that gently heats me up and its effects continue to persist long after my pot is emptied. I put together a full scale cha xi complete with new year goodies and some candles to draw attention to the smallest of details and keep all our senses engaged. Afterall, a chaxi is an interaction between the tea master, tea and the chosen teaware. 

Like good people who mellow with age, so does good tea. What used to be an overpowering roast has subsided to allow the underlying fruitiness and freshness to take centre-stage. The tea has begun to balance itself out.

Happy lunar new year everyone!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Double-boiled mandarin orange red tea

I have adapted the original recipe from Teaparker's blog entry here.

You often find mandarin oranges to be an auspicious symbol used most often during the Chinese New Year but never have I tried them double boiled and I am curious to find out how this tasty fruit pairs with delicious sun moon lake red tea from Taiwan's Nantou county.

In the original recipe, 'ponkan' aka Chinese honey oranges are the ideal. Otherwise, any mandarin orange variety is acceptable.

You will need:

- a double boiler or any improvisation that allows for the same cooking process. In my case, I used a porcelain kyusu that can be inexpensively replaced if anything goes wrong.
- 3 g of sun moon lake red tea
- 120 ml of water for brewing tea
- 1 teaspoon of cane sugar (optional)
- 2 slices of mandarin orange
- a piece of mandarin orange peel roughly the size of a coin 3 cm in diameter

Self-made double boiler - porcelain kyusu in a pot
1) Infuse 3 gm of tea in a Gaiwan for 5 minutes
2) Place fruit slices, orange peel and sugar into the double boiler
3) Pour tea into double boiler and discard spent tea leaves
4) Double-boil on medium heat for 20 minutes

Serve piping hot cup of orange infused red tea in porcelain cups and experience the fruit-tea harmony yourself.