Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reciprocity


Well, this is the aftermath of my teapot tragedy the other night.  One important lesson is to never handle teaware before you've had enough time to wake up.  I've glued it back together, but it will only sit on a shelf now.  I won't be drinking from it anymore.  This means I'm teapot shopping.  Hibiki-an, Tokoname, Ebay...  there's also a nice little Asian grocer not too far from where I live.  This will be an urgent purchase, because I need something to brew greens in.  Anyhow, with the bad always comes the good.

In this case, I've had a few more days to play with my utiliTEA.  I was impressed by how slick it looks right out of the box.  Being my first electric kettle, I really don't have anything to compare it to other than a traditional teapot, or my Sunbeam Hot Shot.  First, I must say that it heats water to a rolling boil in less than four minutes.  There's a window where you can watch the water boil...and who says a watched pot never boils?  ^__^  

The pot has a variable temperature dial on it, and quite honestly, I've only had it ramped up to the highest setting.  The other settings don't have the temp listed, so it's best to use a thermometer to find the sweet spot for whatever tea you're brewing and just remember that position.  For what I drink, that's occasionally 157F, 178F, and 212F.  Easy!  

As for the design, it balances really well in the hand.  Nothing about it feels awkward.  It retains heat very well too!  I was mostly concerned with the pour, but that was quickly squashed too.  Thankfully, it pours just as clean as I would expect from something with a much longer spout.  

It cleans up pretty well, although the opening in the top is impossible to get your hand into.  Whenever I'm done with it, I stuff a flour sack towel inside of it and turn it upside down.  It balances really well on the edge of my sink and somehow my cat hasn't made it her new toy yet.  My only concern about it is the mild discolouration on the bottom of the inside of the pot.  I believe it's made of nickel, but I'm not completely sure.  Anyhow, it has a few little spots where the bottom has changed colour due to the heat and water.  A very small gripe, and I highly doubt it affects the flavour in any way, so I'm not going to concern myself with that detail.  

Regardless, for $50, I don't think there is a better electric kettle out there.  I highly recommend this.  

Friday, November 28, 2008

OTG

You've likely seen it a hundred times in movies; a NAVY ship is headed out to sea and someone smashes a bottle against the hull for good luck. Well, I can only hope the woes of working Black Friday in the world of retail are the same. This morning, while packing it up to go to work, my Kyusu cracked. I watched in slow motion as the lid came crashing down onto the rim of the pot. Initially, my hand picked up the shattered piece and put it back where it went hoping it would somehow fuse itself back to the rest of the pot. In my head, a small choir would show up in my living room to sing Hallelujah, and I'd go to work like intended.

A minute or two later, after realizing such was not the case, I carefully tucked it away into it's box and placed it in the back of my cupboard. It was bound to happen sooner or later; it's just a bummer because it's the first pot I ever brewed pu-erh in.

Operation Teapot Graveyard: Commence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Adagio utiliTEA


My Adagio utiliTEA just arrived today, and has replaced the Sunbeam Hot Shot I used to use for brewing teas. I am not making any solid statements on it yet, but first impressions are very positive. Give me a few days to feel it out and I'll have a full review on it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"I love you Daddy" (Revisiting the '8100')


Several months back, I had a bad run-in with the Xiaguan '8100' and casually made a promise to myself that I wouldn't try this again until after my daughter had said "I love you Daddy" for the first time, which happened yesterday. Over the past seven months, I'd like to think that the aging process may have smoothed this out a bit, and that perhaps the passing of time smoothed me out a bit too, as my brewing is a bit more consistent now. I figure this is a good time to revisit something that everyone else but me seemed to love.

I used 8g of leaf in a 100ml gaiwan for this. I used spring water and brewed this around 180F (since my water boiler freaked on me last time I throttled down on it). I used my usual (aggressive) steeping times: 15s rinse, 15s, 12s, 25s, 35s, 50s, 1:15, 1:25, 1:35, 1:45, 2:00. This was perfect for the first couple of infusions, as they had a sweet, almost syrupy presence, but I quickly realized that this is still a little more finicky of a tea than I've been drinking lately. By the fifth bitter infusion, I thought I was headed down a dead-end and decided to throttle the time back to 15 seconds again and started receiving much better results. The leaf expands quite a bit more than usual, so perhaps 8g is a little more than is necessary to enjoy this. I guess this may be the case because the leaf has filled the gaiwan up to the brim. I'll try it again next time with a little less leaf and see if my usual steeping times once again bring me to another untimely tragedy. However, as it stands, a little shorter times are yielding a much better cup.

Starts sweet, with a little bit of dry bitterness. Normally I'm not a fan of that in such young pu, but for some reason, it works now. It lingers on the roof of my mouth with a slight tingling and cleans up to a very smooth and refreshing aftertaste.

I'm still not 100% convinced I really like this one, but it's definitely been a much better conversation this time around. I feel I was actually able to get somewhere with this, instead of the pure frustration I ran into last time. The bitterness I kept getting last time was likely due to lower grade water, steeping too long, and too much leaf. This time, it's significantly better and will likely just be a matter of tweaking the leaf quantity and steep times.

So, it's better this time around, but still not where I'd like to see it. I'll try again soon.

Well...

I don't have a whole lot to write about tonight.  I did fall in love with the 2008 Yong De Zi Yu Sheng toinght, and as promised in a prior post, I would revisit the Xiaguan '8100' as soon as my daughter said "I love you Daddy" for the first time.  Quite a fantastic night for tea, but since my brain is all washed up until morning, I'll leave you with this instead:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another year older

Pop your corks boys and girls becuase today I find myself another year closer to my demise.  Each year seems to have this feeling of going by faster and faster.  Hopefully I can surround myself with good friends, many cups of good tea, and whatever else I can find to slow down the process of aging.  

I'm just pleased to know that next year at this time, everything I have will be one year better.  Perhaps that's an attitude more people should have a wider scope attached to.  

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Rhythm Method


Alex recently emailed me inquiring as to how I steep my teas.

As far as my parameters for testing out a new pu-erh, this is my process:

Water: I use spring water. Not always particular on brand, so long as it's spring and not just 'purified drinking water.' The mineral content seems to enhance the taste of every tea I drink that way.

Temperature: Right now, I have a Sunbeam Hot Shot that I use for heating my water. It wasn't until recently that I discovered that although it heats the water quickly, the water comes nowhere near boiling, which is ideal for many pu-erh teas. I had been using a thermometer and ramping on the button until the water hits 200F. At that point, it will coast up a few more degrees and come close to the boiling pot without ever actually bubbling. I can't do this anymore though because it's killing my Hot Shot. I've looked at the UtiliTEA on Adagio's website. $50 well spent, in my humble opinion.

Teaware: I always test out new pu-erh in my koi gaiwan. I like to taste the leaf without the aid of a weathered pot. By doing this, the brew hides nothing.

Leaf Quantity: I usually fill the gaiwan to about 1/3 full. The leaf will expand and fill out a lot more of the gaiwan, and this has, in my own experience, given me great results in terms of flavour. Further, doing this, I rarely have to remove leaf because I've added too much. It still happens, but it's much more rare these days, which is a far cry from the surplus of leaf I used to waste and have to feed to my garbage disposal. I'm sure those blades have a healthy coating of tea-oil on them by now! ^__^

Rinse:
This one varies a bit depending on whether or not it's shu or sheng and how tight the compression is. Sheng is always one rinse at 15 seconds. Shu is also at 15 seconds, but I just rinse it twice. If it's really loose, I'll cut the rinse time in half.

Steeping times: This one is something I think everyone needs to experiment with as a personal discovery, as we all have varying palates. At present, I think my steeping times have already changed three or four times, but after the rinse, this is how i do mine:

15s, 12s, 25s, 35s, 50s, 1:15, 1:25, 1:35, 1:45, 2:00, 2:15, 2:30, 3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 5:00

I don't normally go past 15 or 16 steepings unless it's something with longevity, like the LCT. At that point, if it's still hitting, it's no longer a matter of science but a sort of 'conversation' with the tea as Teddy put it. By that point, I try to feel out what the leaf is trying to say and brew longer or shorter times depending on that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

2007 Haiwan Lao Cha Tou


When I arrived home from work today, I was pleasantly surprised to find a package from Norbu sitting on my porch. As always, the green rug pulled over top to ensure nobody knows there was a box 8 inches tall hiding underneath it. Inside of this box lies a sample of the Haiwan 2007 Lao Cha Tou Ripe pu-erh. I already know I love the Menghai equivalent, but considering it's the same price and you get 500g instead of 250g, I wanted to compare them myself.

The first thing I notice about it is the aroma. It's oozing with this incredible scent that rips right through the bag. If anyone has ordered from Norbu yet, the first thing you'll notice is the quality of the bags he ships in. They're thick, durable, and have a solid, reinforced feel about them. One close-up look at the bags and you'll immediately understand why I'm impressed the aroma carries as strongly as it does.

It really starts to wake up around the fifth infusion, much like Menghai. The nuggets are slightly larger and appear to have a bit less compression. It doesn't really seem to be a factor in the taste or the longevity of the tea. As for the soup, a rich amber liquor that quickly shifts to a much darker shade of red. I'm talking about the sort of colour you'd expect from a mature cake. In my experience, this seems to be a pretty standard characteristic of most shupu.

The Haiwan is, as expected, full of flavour. It's complex, warming, leaves my mouth tingling, and dries out the back of my throat. The menghai may have a little more kick to it, but they're so close that I can't immediately justify a reason not to purchase the Haiwan brick. It's my understanding that Menghai pioneered the Lao Cha Tou, and because they don't release annually, their bricks fetch a higher ticket price. Either way, both of these factories have created something special. Is it really any wonder, considering both factories have felt and been rewarded by the brilliance of Mr. Zhou Bing Liang?

Time Flies

video

I'm not sure about everyone else, but five hours with a good friend and good tea always feels like this.

Thanks to Norbu for the incredible Lao Cha Tou and to Alex for the TGY. Those were some impressive leaves! We gave them a light roasting before we drank them! The night wouldn't have been nearly as grand without such generosity! ^__^

Monday, November 10, 2008

2007 Menghai Lao Cha Tou


Anyone who follows the pu-erh live journal community may remember a post I made several months back in which I received a gift in my shipment from Scott at YSLLC.  It was the Yongde Qing Beeng, and I hadn't been able to find it anywhere, until recently.  I discovered a seller out of Texas who carried it.  Norbu Teas, headed by a fellow named Gregory.  I sent this guy an email, and much to my joy, he's likely one of the coolest Texans around.  He is enthusiastic about his teas, he has fantastic customer service, and he doesn't mind getting to know his customers a bit.  I recently placed an order for some samples; one of which was the Menghai 2007 Lao Cha Tou, which translates to something along the lines of "Old Tea Nugget."  From what I'm told, this tea is formed during the fermentation process.  During sorting, some of the leaves, under heat and pressure will clump together at the bottom of the pile and form nuggets.  They are then pressed into bricks and sold to fine folks like you and I.  The interesting thing about this tea is the longevity and the taste.  I ran 25+ infusions with this the other night, and at no point did I think to myself that it was getting weak.  

Both rinses had a medium amber liquor, and by the time I got to the first actual infusion, the soup was a dark cherry red.  Thick, smooth, loaded with a very strong aroma somewhere between smoke and mint.  After about five infusions, a slight dryness in the back of my throat reminiscent of a night with a bottle of wine.  Between steeping, my mouth carries that same tingle and desensitized feeling that I get whenever I've just done a fluoride treatment at the dentist office.  There is hui gan in later infusions (around 8-10), but it retains a complex flavour.

I'm always a bit leery of sweet teas.  It always reminds me of my ex-girlfriend from years back.  All her family drank was Lipton, and their recipe was to take a dozen or so teabags, place them in a pitcher, and add a crap ton of sugar...to which I always said "What's the point?"  The hui gan that comes around must not be mistaken with such treachery.  

I had some questions regarding the LCT from Menghai and Haiwan.  They both fetch the same price, but Haiwan sells in 500g bricks, where Menghai is only 250g.  From what I've been able to extract, most people like the Haiwan just as much, if not more.  I have a sample of the Haiwan on it's way right now, so once I try it, I'll be able to let you know what my thoughts were.  I've always been pleased with Menghai, and although less versed with them, I've had great success with Haiwan as well.  Since the manager for Haiwan used to trot around with the Menghai flag, it's no wonder it shows a similar attention to consistency.  

One way or another, a few bricks of Lao Cha Tou (whether Menghai or Haiwan have yet to be determined) will be finding themselves a most welcome place in my tea collection very soon.  Good stuff!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Crouching Gaiwan, Hidden Pu-erh


Some teas, like the shape above, are impossible to destroy.  It seems that some of them cannot be overbrewed.  They are quick to deliver and maintain consistency throughout.  This is fine and dandy, but what of teas that require a little bit more of a skilled hand?  Tonight I was talking with Scott from YSLLC and the topic came up because I was doing an experiment.  I was trying to recreate whatever scenario it was one night that made the 2005 Dehong Golden Tuo taste so wonderful.  It's usually a 'meh' tea to me, but on occasion, it's got a lot of character.  The differing flavours all get in line to go a round with my tastebuds.  It left me with a tingling feeling in my mouth, a bit of astringency, and a thick soup that carried in the back of my throat for several minutes.  It made me wonder just what I had done that one night.  

I must say, as soon as I picked up the pu-erh knife, Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get it On' randomly came on my Zune.  I knew this would be a special night.  This made me smile, because the compression on this tuo is so tight, I've been known to have marks on the palms of my hands from trying to work the knife through it.  So, after breaking off some of this demon-tuo, I prepared it the exact same way I've been preparing all of my pu-erh lately.  It didn't wake up until the fifth infusion, but when it did, it suddenly had that tingling mouth-feel to it.  It had just the right amount of bitterness that made it more than just 'decent.'  

That in place, I've been ordering a lot of samples lately.  This particular tuo had been an impulse buy.  I bought it back when I knew absolutely nothing about pu-erh.  What happens if you go through a 25g sample without having a solid steeping process in place?  You may get lucky and find something you enjoy, but more often than not, you'll end up with a cup that delivers far less than it would in careful hands.  Even then, there may be other variables that aren't working in your favour....water temperature, mineral content in the water you're steeping with, your mood...everything plays it's part.  

I've written about it before, but once again, just another example of how it pays to stay faithful to the fundamentals.  The control you get with a consistent practice is remarkable. Plus, if something tastes 'off,' you've already minimized the variables, so compensating is often easier.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hiding Place FAIL and Tea Swaps


I was killing time on Failblog the other day when I stumbled upon this image, which made me chuckle.  When humor is applicable to real life situations, it's always funnier to me.  The reason I found this humorous is because every time I order a package of tea, my UPS driver or USPS Carrier do the exact same thing.  I assume they believe my large green doormat provides the same level camoflauge you'd expect from an elite military covert operation.   Truthfully, it just lets me (and everyone else) know as I'm driving past my house to pull into my driveway that my tea is here.  It's a good thing that people in my city only drink Starbucks.  ^__^

Hobbes, your package is on the way.  I spent the afternoon today sampling some of these teas as I was packaging them up for you.  Remarkable to see how just a few months can affect the flavour of this stuff.  One of the teas I'm sending out came from China, made it's way to the UK, spent a few months with me in the states, and is now making it's way back to Oxford.  I would be interested to see how the same teas would age in different parts of the world under similar storage conditions.  If anyone else is interested in doing a swap, please let me know.    

Also, if anyone has any good shou recommendations, I'm all ears.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shou?


I'm starting to find that all of my young sheng have many similarities in taste.  This may be in part due to the fact that my tastebuds have been craving something completely different.  I went out for sushi the other day and had a cup of Houji'cha and my eyes shot up immediately because it was a taste I hadn't experienced in so long.  When I first started drinking pu-erh, I was amazed by the smoke, the camphor, the melon, the nutty, and all the other subtle flavours that are present in so many of the teas I have.  After a while, it all started blending together and I wanted to try something else.  Made it difficult to pull enough inspiration out of each cup to merit sharing my thoughts.  

Initially, I had this notion that sheng was superior to shou.  In many respects, I believe that to be true but only in the proper context.  Even asking friends, they've all said they'd prefer aged raw tea.  This made me wonder, if it's superior, then why the hell is there a market for shou?  This was quickly dismissed when I thought further about those poor excuses for tea that come in cute little bags filled with nothing but dust and fannings.  I just chalked it up to "people probably just don't know any better."  I made my purchases and never bought shou.  I just stuck to my young shengs and I was perfectly content until that moment when I realized that drinking only young pu-erh is like asking a six year child old to build a theremin and understand exactly how it works; then asking him to play Barrios' Las Abejas on it.  

End result:  A lot of dreaming with no real delivery.

Once this thought hit me, I again revisited my "why the hell is there even a market for shou" thought and this time I rode it out a little more.  I've got a pretty healthy collection of pu-erh that I know will serve me well throughout the remaining years of my life.  The idea behind shou is that it is supposed to get a tea closer to what it will taste like when it is mature by cooking it.  This sounds great, but a big part of me still said "but isn't that why I'm aging my teas?"  Absolutely, that's why I'm aging my teas, but I'm also starting to see the limitations of what young sheng can do for me.  I had the pleasure of tasting a Xiaguan tea from the early 1980's and it blew me away.  The soup was a colour unlike anything I had seen.  The complexity of each cup, and a texture I had not experienced before.  The way it danced with my taste buds.  It reminded me that aging my collection will truly be a rewarding experience and give me some amazing teas to accompany whatever it is old-man Jamus will enjoy doing.  But what about now?  What am I supposed to do when I'm starting to taste so many similarities between all these young teas, topping it off with the fact that young sheng is harsh on your stomach:  Easy, try something else for a while.

I bought a couple of cooked cakes recently; one of them being a 12 Gentlemen Chun Ya Shen Yun.  I have had it around a month and a half now, but hadn't cracked it open until tonight.  First thing I noticed was the aroma.  Very different than the rest of the teas I've had lately.  Very nutty, reminded me of a roasted oolong.  Sweet aftertaste and much darker leaves.  A crimson red soup.  All new things.  That roasted flavour carried through in each cup and it suddenly made itself new again.  Definitely wasn't as good as a truly aged pu-erh like the 80's Xiaguan I had, but I now understand that there is a market for it for a very good reason.  I really enjoyed it.  

To this point, I must admit that I am ignorant when it comes to shou.  This is one humble man's attempt at asking for help.  Where do I begin?  What do you like?  I've got the notion to walk forward and discover this side of pu-erh; I just need to know which direction to face.  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Little Buddhas


My eldest sister lost her pet of over ten years yesterday; a cat named Morris.  I stopped by her place last night to talk with her for a little bit and give her my sympathy.  She told me that it was a very quick thing; he was fine when she got home, and then he started to cough and laid down on the floor.  By the time she made her way over to him, he was already beginning to check out.  She watched the life disappear from his eyes while she held him in her arms, but knew he didn't appear to be in any sort of discomfort.  It made me wonder if he knew it was coming and decided to wait for her so he could say goodbye.  The depth of cats is amazing to me.  They always seem to know what you're feeling and respond to it accordingly.  They're extremely social without being needy.  Nor do they ask for much from us aside from our love (and food).  It's almost like they're little buddhas in disguise.  

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back in Business


I finally bought a new camera so I can finally catch up on all the pictures I've been meaning to take for the past couple months.  A lot of new additions to my collection and many stories to share.  For now, I've got a couple of things to tend to.  Hopefully a real update this evening.  

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Late nights and Old Shoes (06 Twelve Gentlemen Yi Wu)


There's just something about a quiet evening alone in the early fall when I feel content, no matter what is going on in my life. That favourite old pair of shoes come out of the closet on nights when you don't remember just how many cigarettes you've smoked. Walking home with a friend and forgetting to turn down your own street because it didn't really matter. It's that time of year when I just don't worry. Tonight I am drinking a 2006 Twelve Gentlemen Yi Wu that I ordered from Nada a little while back. I've been drinking a lot more tea now that the weather is starting to cool down a bit. I'm taking the extra five minutes to brew a cup for the drive to work, even if it means I'll be a minute or two late. Last winter, I had a really good hand for timing and water temperature. This year, I'm consistent with water temperature, but not so much with time. For that reason, I've decided to use a tea timer to help me get back on track. I figure that by staying consistent, I'll even gain some insight on what has happened to my teas this summer while I was drinking water (or beer) instead. Here's the times I'm starting with. I'll adjust if I need to.

Rinse - 15 sec
2nd Rinse - 15 sec (only for cooked)
1st - 15 sec
2nd - 12 sec
3rd - 25 sec
4th - 35 sec
5th - 50 sec
6th - 1 min 15 sec
7th - 1 min 25 sec
8th - 1 min 35 sec
9th - 1 min 45 sec
10th - 2 min

Also, brewing in yixing clay with water filtered through a charcoal filter.

This was a fairly enjoyable tea, and I'm glad I have a chance to taste it. It's smooth, clean, and leaves my teeth feeling like I just had a flouride treatment. The soup is thick enough to make up for the fact that it doesn't really have any mysteries. Small choppy leaves which have made quite a pile in my mesh strainer. Kind of a caramel/maple aroma to it. I honestly thought it was just going to be a straight shooter, because the first five infusions were all pretty bland. Not bad, just not terribly exciting.

At the sixth infusion, it did it's first trick for me. It started to tease the tip of my tongue a little bit. I'm not feeling any kind of lift from it, like I do with some of my other teas, but the added bit of ku along with that tingle isn't bad. It seems to go on forever, and the flavour really hasn't weakened at all after seven infusions. If anything, it's become more prominent. It definitely has a sweetness to it. All in all, a pretty good tea. I must say I'm far more impressed with it's later delivery than what it did early on. I went eight sessions with it, although I'm totally convinced I could go more. I'll leave it overnight and try it again in the morning with breakfast. Final thoughts: This was a consistent tea with good texture. I enjoyed the taste; even moreso at the end of the run. I still don't think I'd pay $76USD for it, but a sample is definitely worth investing in.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Calm


Often times I wonder what it is that makes some of us capable of keeping our wits in the most frightful of scenarios.  To what do I owe my capacity for calmness?  I see it in most facets of my life.  I prefer to drink tea because of the taste; this much is obvious.  However, there is also the joy of preparing it.  Opening the cupboard and smelling all of the teas I have in my collection.  Choosing the right teapot, not only for the tea I'm drinking, but also to fit my mood.  Heating the water, cutting off a sizable chunk of pu-erh.  It all takes time, and at no point do I ever wish there were an easier way about it.  Calming patience:  I have been told people flock towards me because of that quality.  

I need to remind myself that others don't posses such tranquility all of the time and last night I had a first hand lesson at that.  I have been meaning to make it out to the UofM Go Club in Ann Arbor for quite some time.  I've been looking for a group of individuals to play and grow with.  Yesterday, I finally had a night off of work and of daddy duties, so I decided to head out.  I walked in, bought a hot Chai, and made my way to the back of the coffeehouse.  Within three minutes, a guy walked up to me and having never met me before, asked if I wanted to play him.  Turns out he's a 1-dan player; leaps and bounds ahead of my 11-kyu rank.  To sit across from someone with a much firmer grasp of this game was amazing.  The fact that he wanted to play and help me out was even more incredible.  Soon into our first game, I found my hands fumbling; trembling even.  A feeling that is quite unfamiliar to me.  At one point, I almost dropped my stones, and had to pull a table over because I couldn't hold the bowl in my lap and focus on the game.  Yet throughout, he remained very calm.  It was quite an inspiring magneticism, and I often wonder if any of the worriers of the world view me in that same fashion as I saw him.  The firmness of stone to help others grow, yet light enough to never find itself getting dragged down by unnecessary worries and turbulence.  One can only hope.  It's time for another cup of tea.  Thank you Nada for your wonderful teas, and to anyone who hasn't had it yet, pick up a few of these before they're all gone.  This tea is carrying me tonight.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tornado




At approximately 9:22pm this past Saturday night, a tornado travelling at 130mph came ripping down my street. It knocked out the power, and immediately I ran to pick up Grace. We watched five or six transformers blow, each lighting the sky with this ridiculous shade of bright blue. We watched a couple of trees fall over and debris fly everywhere. This picture is of the sidewalk in front of my house. It's frightening to see such disorder in what was once a very calming patch of sidewalk. Fortunately, Grace and I are both safe, as well as all of my neighbours. A couple blocks over, an apartment complex had it's roof completely ripped off and there were cars on their side and stacked on top of eachother. Truly a frightening experience. Walking around the next morning felt very dreamlike. There are more pictures on my Flickr page if anyone cares to take a peek.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Impossible?

I'm standing in my kitchen right now with a very puzzled look on my face, and I'll tell you why.

Some months ago, I was cleaning out my kyusu. I boiled it in water with tealeaves and the boil got little out of control. Anyhow, I came in just in time to hear the boiling water smash the kyusu into the pot it was sitting in, making a very distinctive cracking sound. I cooled the water, pulled out my kyusu, only to find a nice giant crack along the inside of the pot. I was terribly disappointed that day, and have since only brewed whites in it because I was afraid to expose it to higher temperatures. I showed this crack to several of my friends, and they all shared in my dismay, which is why I'm standing here with a very puzzled look on my face.

The crack is gone.

I spent fifteen minutes looking over the surface of the pot and now there is nothing. Impossible, I know, but it's a hand made pot. Markings would be impossible to duplicate. It's definitely the same teapot. Not sure how, but I'll chalk it up to a little bit of magic.

Today is a very fine day indeed.

Friday, August 29, 2008

We're still kickin it

Been busy getting used to life. This little lady takes up all of my free time, and she's walking now too! She has personality, laughs at everything, and has me wrapped around every finger of her. Fall time is coming. I'll be drinking more tea once it starts to cool down a bit more outside. Hope everyone is well.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cadence

I know there have been a lot of hardships going on around the tea community lately. Cancer, separations, and divorce being the three that stick out in my head at the moment. It floors me to see such good people enduring these kinds of events, and although the base of people who will likely read this is still very limited, my heart goes out deeply to everyone who is going through some kind of hardship. It's summertime; we're supposed to be with our families and our children. We're supposed to be teaching those around us all the things that make our fragile little lives worthwhile.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the day to day that we cannot begin to truly enjoy these moments that are here before us now. We miss the subtle points entirely. I think sometimes this carries over into our enjoyment of good food and drink. Much of an experience is a person's mental state while it's happening. My mother said

"Did you ever notice how when you have a good day, Grace seems to have a good day too? I think children can sense a person's level of anxiety and they respond to it."

Earlier today, I stopped by my parents' house to help my father with his computer. Both of my parents are cancer survivors. When it comes down to it, they both could have very easily not made it. I consider myself fortunate to have them here. Without them, I have no idea how I would raise my daughter. Yet, I so seldom remind myself of the importance of remembering just how lucky I am to have them. I get out of rhythm with my thoughts and always end up scatterbrained.

To that end, I will close every tea session the same way; remembering how lucky I am to have my time before me. Remembering those who have helped me, and those who have cared for me. Those who have stopped to say hello, and those who have their hearts nestled so deeply within this community. It is for all of these people that I can be here at this moment. It's to all of them that I will honour my last cup.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You see puppies, but trust me, this is about tea

Since I work at an electronics retailer, and everyone knows that the only way to increase customer traffic is with gimmicks, we get a ton of promotional crap for new release DVD's. When a couple months go by, and we still have them left over, we usually junk them out and give them to our customers. Since I'm a customer when I'm not on the clock, I got these little guys at work for Grace. The other day while she was in the car having a meltdown, I handed her one of them and she started squealing really loud in a fit of frenzied joy.

That's the best way for me to describe how it feels to receive a package in the mail with tea in it. I always wonder what kinds of flavours await me. Whether it be smokey, minty, acidic, smooth, bitter, even skunky occasionally (for those "holy crap you need to taste this!" moments). I am finding that I am beginning to get better control over my brews. We all know how intimidating it can be making a cup for guests when you haven't figured out your style yet. Did I use too much leaf? Do I need to take some out? What kind of water? How warm should the water be?

I could go on for hours, but the point is this: I'm reaching a point where I don't really need to measure how much leaf I put in to the gaiwan. I don't actively think about the temperature of water anymore, and as soon as the water covers the leaves, my hands have started going into autopilot and pouring delicious cups. The whole process is finally finding it's way into muscle memory. I'm starting to find a bit more consistency in my pours. Looking back only three or four months ago, I clearly remember brewing the same tea a few nights in a row and getting startling differences in the colour of the liquor, the thickness of the syrup, the smoothness, right down to the cha'qi.

I'm starting to take hold of the belief that in able hands, most tea has some potential. It's just how a skilled musician can still make good sounding music on any instrument, even some that are slightly damaged. On the other end of the spectrum, you put a $3,000-$4,000 Taylor in the hands of a player who knows only the first three chords to Inna Gadda Davita, or the first bar of Classical Gas, it's still going to sound like a novice player, and you're sure to repel a crowd.

The last package I bought (the aforementioned tea fiasco I've been writing about in previous posts) contained a few samples and one of them was the 2006 Organic Pasha Mountain from Haiwan tea factory. I was talking to Teddy the other night, and we were laughing over some really skunky pu-erh he brought over. He mentioned that he tried the Pasha and liked it, but that it was very consistent start to finish. Bland was a word he used. I put that aside, like I always try to do when I have never sampled a tea before. Tonight, I pulled it out and brewed it up in my new yixing clay pot (which still needs a bit more weathering) and immediately found that it was smooth, clean, and definitely lacked bitterness. It didn't really have a whole ton of character from the first infusion, but was by no means bad. It's a delicious tea. One I would definitely share with guests, but not a tea for my more adventuresome taste buds of late. Each infusion packed plently of the same flavour, which I can admire. I chalked it up to this excerpt from string of text messages that went back and forth between Teddy and myself a few minutes ago:

Pasha mt. is the Snickers Bar of pu-erh. Not flashy, no surprises. Consistent delivery each infusion. I like it.

My next post is going to be about some of that skunky pu-erh that I've come to love on an occasional night of brewing here and there. Hopefully, anyone who reads this will be moved to speak up and share some of their tales of woe with me at that time. ^__^

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I fought the Post and the...oh wait, I won!


In early May, I decided that I was going to place a large order from Scott at Yunnan Sourcing. Two bricks of the 2008 Dehong Purple Varietal, a tong of the 2008 Menghai 7542(801), a yixing teapot, a mesh strainer...all things that should never have been an issue. I paid for my order, it was shipped to me. Everything was going just as planned until the USPS got their hands on my package. Somehow down the line, some brainiac decided to remove the waybill from my package. It made it out of China through customs, over a rather large ocean, into US customs, in the hands of the US Post Office, and eventually to my local hub. A little after five weeks had gone by, I receive a letter explaining that the package arrived without a customs declaration, no postage, and that I owed them $59.25 if I wanted to pick up my package. Because I thought it was a complete outrage, I called the post office immediately.

The next day, I spoke to Dennis, the postmaster at my local post office. He informed me that if I could provide a copy of the waybill then he would let me have my package. I immediately contacted Scott, who faxed it over, although the post office claims to have never gotten it. I asked Scott to scan and email it to me directly, which he was kind enough to do.

Upon receipt of the waybill, I thought I had this one in the bag. I went to Kinko's to print up a nice colour copy, and took it to the post office, only to be called a scam artist. The lady told me I should just refuse the package. I immediately spoke up saying "lady, this is a tong of spring harvest.....nevermind. You have no idea what I'm talking about." I asked to speak to the postmaster, and was refused; told he was in three interviews. She advised me to then just pay the $59.25 and get my package. I left, much less than satisfied, and more than determined to be a pain in their ass until I was able to recover my package.

I called and spoke to six different people on Saturday, and left multiple messages for the post master to call me back. He finally got back to me on Monday morning, and informed me that he wasn't even in the office on Friday when I went to talk to him. I emailed him the waybill, and a description of the contents of the box. I informed him that I would not be paying $59.25 for a package that shipping was already paid for, and showed him exactly how to read the way bill. I also informed him that if he was unable to help me, I wanted the name and phone number of his superior, as well as the postal investigator involved (since I was told the postal investigators had their hands on my box as well).

The very next day, I found an email the moment I arrived at work saying that he would be willing to turn over my package under a few conditions. He said he would be out of town and to speak the other supervisor that would be there. I would need to provide a copy of the bill (so I brought the one they called me a scammer over), a valid Drivers License or State ID (which they ended up never checking), and be willing to open the box at the post office for inspection; all of which I agreed to. the shipping was 216.3 RMB, and the weight was 4452 grams. After showing that to the supervisor, he simply said "How the hell am I supposed to convert this?"

I replied, "You're the post office...don't you have tools for that?" When he looked at me and said no, I busted out my cell phone and pulled up Google in order to do the conversions for him. Once everything matched up, he grabbed a pair of scissors, and I proceeded to cut my box open.

He was careful with the contents, thankfully. Scott was also careful in his wrapping of my pu-erh, so everything came through in tip top shape. Out came the tong. Out came the two bricks of Dehong. Out came my yixing clay pot and my strainer. Then, then unthinkable happened. Scott was kind enough to include some samples with my order. I watched as the man at the post office (who already hoped he was on the precipice of catching a terrorist) pulled out three bags of tea and began to sniff them with a very suspicious look on his face. He then asked me what they were, and I explained that many sellers will include samples of things they think you may enjoy. I then gave him a thorough background on pu-erh, explaining the way it is made and the way it ages, to which his reply was "You're too good for Lipton, huh?" I said "yes sir, I prefer not to drink dust and fannings." After a minute, he grabbed a roll of tape, closed my package back up, and said "Okay, you can take your package home," I breathed a deep sigh of relief, but inside felt like I had just been rode hard and nobody even offered me so much as a towel. I honestly have never felt more violated, or more like a criminal in my life.

Through this ordeal, I'm very grateful to Scott for coming through with the waybill. He even offered to go above and beyond that if necessary, but being as persistent as I am, I wanted to keep pushing and pushing to avoid either of us having to spend unnecessary money. It's just the right blend of manner, pestering, determination, and conviction.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tea Fiasco Update

Well, here's the latest on my shipment from YSLLC that is in limbo. My post office basically called me a scam artist today. The way bill was separated from the shipment somewhere along the line. The postmaster told me that if I could provide a copy of the way bill then he would allow me to pick up the product. I contacted Scott, who provided me a copy of the way bill. After showing them the copy of the way bill, I was told that this was most likely made on a computer and that they see scams like this all the time. My post office sucks. Oh well, at least my sheng is in a moderately dry atmosphere and is always aging slowly. I hope I can get this resolved.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

*Snap*

To anyone who has never experienced it, there is nothing sweeter than the snap of a well-placed Go stone on a nice wooden board. I used to enjoy sipping a cup of tea and playing through professional games with the window open when I lived at the old place. I started playing again last year on a real board, but have played off and on over the past 4 years. To me, such a simple yet complex mindset is required to really enjoy the game. That's what I've always loved about it, but it wasn't until last year that I decided I wanted to stick with it for good. Since last year, I have moved forward 12 ranks, settling at the moment around 11kyu. I'm hoping that by this time next year I'll be closing in on shodan.

Playing Go has been especially helpful in relieving tension from every facet of my life, but my board has sat idle for a couple of weeks now. Nobody has come by to play until 3:00am. I honestly think it's because it's just been so humid lately. Most of me knows there are several other reasons as well. Tonight, it's very cool outside. There's a slight breeze coming up to my feet from beneath the floor boards of my porch. Everything outside of my body feels almost frozen in time. It makes me crave another warm cup of tea with a dear friend over the board.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Marvels of Modern Mail

So about 5 weeks ago I placed a pretty large order for some tea to be shipped here from Kunming China. I was worried that something had happened to it. Today, I find out that it's here in Plymouth. However, instead of the package, I got a letter from the postmaster. It reads:

Dear Mr. Sumner,

Please see the attached photocopy of the top of a parcel we received in our office. The parcel has no postage or customs forms and the country of origin is unknown. Due to FAA regulations and heightened security this package is not deliverable as is.

Please contact me at the Plymouth Post Office at xxx-xxx-xxxx to let me know if you were expecting this package or not. If I do not hear from you in ten days I will assume you do not want the item and we will dispose of it via Postal regulations.

Thank you for your cooperation,
Dennis F. Wieczorek
Postmaster


Somehow, this package made it all the way from Kunming to little old Plymouth...and they want me to pay $59.25 if I want to pick it up. I already paid for shipping. How in the bloody hell does a package make it through the post, overseas, through customs twice, and to my rinky dink post office without a single form attached to it?!?!?!?!

How very frustrating.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Are Not My Rose


In St. Exupery's The Little Prince, we learn the tale of a man whose life is changed when he is convinced by grownups to give up a career as an artist to become an master of the skies. The story is the recount of a man whose plane crashes in the desert, only to meet a strange little man who never answers questions, yet never lets go of a question once he has asked it. As we come to find out, The Little Prince lives all alone on a very tiny planet, where he cares for a few things...one of them being an exquisite rose that is one of a kind. To quote, he says:
"If someone loves a flower of which just one example exists among all the millions and millions of stars, that's enough to make him happy when he looks at the stars."
That said, I think the interactions we have with people can share that same quality. We can meet someone, and to us, they are the only one in all of the world. We can appreciate them, cherish them for touching our world, and we can know that no matter what happens, we have met up with someone and shared in an experience the likes of which no other human being will ever know. However, if we forget who we've become, or how to tell those people that they are special to us, it is possible to find that they are just like every other rose in the world. I've met a rose or two throughout my time. Each of them was lovely. Whether it be their beauty, their confidence, or their thorns (which are in fact more ferocious than a tiger's claws), they had something that forever made them special in my eyes. When you have to leave a part of your life behind, I think the most important thing is that we don't forget how to tell our rose from the rest of them. If we can do that, we'll always have a reason to smile.

Friday, May 30, 2008

This one is for me...

Sorry for the non-tea related post. I'm sure that with time and counseling, the few individuals who read this will come to forgive me.

There aren't too many things that can spin a person about the way love can. In the mix of the past four years, I've seen a lot of changes come about my life. However, not one of those changes has made a larger lasting impression than becoming a father for the very first time. This is my daughter Grace at ten and a half months. She's small, but she's strong. She's starting to figure out how the physical world works, but still has no grasp on the social world. She knows that when she needs a shoulder, she can cry. She knows that she can say "car" or "ball" to tell us she wants a toy to play with. She says "Momma" and "Dadda" and a whole slew of other things. However, she can't possibly understand how much the course of her life is going to change because of love. There are many different types of love a person experiences; love of food, love of music, love of your parents and siblings, love of your children. However, sometimes that just isn't enough to keep a family together. Recently, her mother and I decided that the best thing for her interest was to separate.

I grew up in a household where we picked on one another. We were rude and dug deep into each other. It was how we expressed our love. We always said that if the world stops laughing at you, the world stops caring about you...and we actually believed it. It took some time, but I am starting to realize that every family grows up a little different. Grace's mother grew up in a family that was much the opposite of mine. Her mother was divorced while she was still young. She went back and forth from both parents, and everyone had a moral code of manners. I don't want to get into too many details that aren't my own, but my point is that we all have our own little nuances that make us a family. Some times it works and holds a group together, but when we can't find a way to make those gears mesh, it's time to take a look back at our own roots and determine whether or not to steer the course we've grown accustomed to, or whether we should make a departure from our normal way of thinking. Why did we end up the way that we are? Where do we get off thinking our way is always the correct way? Why don't more people question this?

It all goes around and around until you get to a point where you ask two vital questions:

Is this what I want for my life?

Is this what I want for my child's life?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

Lately I've been reading so many horror stories about people chipping yixing clay pots, finding a crack in my kyusu, hearing about someone's friend wash their yixing with Palmolive, and chipping nice sipping cups that I want to just puke. Which is why I've set up a few guidelines for myself to avoid similar disaster in the future.

* No tea ware ever gets washed with anything other than hot water. No Grandma, not even the ceramics.

* Tea ware does not get left out overnight, no matter what the circumstances.

* If tea ware has a chic and stylish (or functional and not very stylish) carrying case, for the love of all things holy, put it away whenever it's not in use.

* Friends and family members are kept abreast on proper care for teaware...in other words, DO NOT TOUCH!

* Nothing but pu-erh is to be brewed in yixing pots. Can't let any of my boss' sissy mango-peach teabags tarnish the flavour of a well-aged yixing pot.

* All persons drinking tea in my company have heard the F*ck Yeah Cranes! story at least a half-dozen times.

Okay, I'm stretching now...anyhow, what are your care tips for tea ware? I'm all ears.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Invasion

A couple of weeks ago, I moved all of my teas into a larger cupboard, but it looked really barren until just a few days ago. Today I received a shipment from a seller I had never made a purchase from based out of Hong Kong. His selection isn't as large as some of the other sellers, but he has some pretty good prices, and his customer service was fantastic. I'm still waiting on my tong of Menghai 7542(801) and my two bricks of Dehong Purple 08. I can't wait to add them to the rest of the collection. ^__^

Unfortunately, due to some personal events in my life, I'm going to have to slow down my purchases for a little while. My humblest of apologies to the kind souls who have let me purchase their wares; namely Scott and Gordon. I'll still be buying, just not as much. In the meantime, I will be taking time to prepare myself with an event that will forever alter the outcome of the rest of my life. It isn't going to be an easy transition, but there are too many great things in this world to not give it my all and presently, I am in a position where I am unable to give everything I have.

I am also on a path to figure out who I've become over the past five years. There are moments in the day when the dust settles just enough to where the steps I took to get here become obscured. I have glimpses, but this all has felt like one very long dream. Unfortunately, this is a path in which I will be without companionship. I hope to bring a few friends along from time to time, and I still intend to share my notes and occasionally stories that mean something to me. Aside from that, I make no promises on where I will end up. I do welcome you to come along and hopefully learn something along the way.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Change

When it comes to pu-erh, it's no secret that the 06' 6FTM Yi Wu Millenial Tea Tree is by far my favourite. It's an old and loyal friend, albeit maybe a tad expensive. It's the only pu-erh that I generally keep on hand, broken off and ready for brewing at any time. Tonight of all nights is a night for old friends. My brain has been so frazzled for the past few months. Trouble in paradise, as it were. Tonight I learned the most valuable lesson I've ever learned regarding patience and respect; one that will forever impact the rest of my life.

It takes a patient person to truly enjoy this stuff. To look after so many cakes; ensuring they are in a position to age well. Relationships are the same way.




This is a picture of my daughter and myself from last fall. We went to the orchard to pick out pumpkins. She's almost walking now, and will be in school before I know it. Patience patience patience. Need I say more? I'm drinking to her health, but I'll drink to yours as well. Raise your cups this night friends, we've many great stories to share and in due time, we'll all find ourselves sitting around a table laughing at how we never expected to end up where we did.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

2007 Xiaguan Holy Flame Tuocha

Tonight I decided I was going to have a little fun with one of the Tuos (a very inexpensive tuo, might I add) that I recently purchased. I was in the market for different things; not because of rave reviews, or recommendations, but because I heard this was a very smokey pu-erh. My friend said "This blows the 05 Dehong Golden Melon out of the water!" That was enough for me to buy two of these.

Upon removing the tuo from it's handsome box, I was overwhelmed with the aroma of smoke. My notes literally say "Very smokey! Rinse REEKED of smoke." It's a thick tea, full of body. From the first couple of sips, I already felt this one coursing it's way through my body. I started drinking this well over an hour ago and I've still got a tinge in my stomach. The qi hit very early with this one. I also wrote down "lumberjack tea" in my notes. Nothing clever to add to that.

After the first infusion, I took a moment to take in the leaves and they smell like the bastard child of firewood, a little bit of camphor, and oregano. I was smelling it over and over and over until it reminded me of the last time I cooked with oregano (or parsley...same family). Honestly, the camphor was so mild that I almost want to group that minty scent in with the oregano because it also has it's own minty touch.

By the second infusion, there was a strong smoke smell still and the minty flavour seems to not be present. I am in awe as my lips, the tip of my tongue, and the hard upper pallet of my mouth are all tingling! Wow, I didn't expect to find that sensation from a six-month old pu. I was just going to comment that the camphor was replaced by a very mild bitterness...not bad at all, but I think it's more from overbrewing the second round a few too many seconds.

At this moment, the leaves smell faintly of cigarettes; non menthol...Parliament lights, to be more specific. I'm glad this doesn't carry over in to the flavour. This third infusion is going down smooth. Definitely the right balance now. If I take a very deep breath, I can ever so slightly smell that oregano again. I'd love to know exactly what is causing that scent.

The feeling I have right now is amazing. My head feels very clear, my body limber. I've got a tingling throughout. Also, I've got the last song of the Spirited Away soundtrack on repeat because Grace (my ten month old, teething daughter) loves to listen to it. Ithink it's called 'Always With Me.' She was humming along to it earlier this afternoon. Candy to my soul right now, I tell you.


The fourth and fifth infusions are still just as strong, even considering the fact that I removed some leaf (I'm a horrible judge with tight compression...sue me) and am using shorter infusion times...3 to 5 seconds tops. It definitely has some edge to it, but opens slowly. I am absolutely okay with this.

This one makes me want to take the night off and sip this until it's nothing more than golden water. I am amazed by how potent this stuff is. It's bursting with flavour, it changes each brewing, and it's got a ridiculously strong qi about it, the minty touch followed by the slightest bitter close. It's interesting, especially for such a young tea. Plus, for the price, you can't go wrong. It isn't for everyone, but if a pu-erh wants to sneak up and make my mouth tingle by the second infusion and still hit hard at the tenth infusion, and be only six months old....who am I to get in the way?

I had a lot of fun with this one. Maybe only us grizzly fellows can appreciate this. I'm going to serve a cup to one of my clean-shaven, well-dressed friends and get back to you with the findings. Till then, try to keep the leaves out of your beard. ^__^

Lumberjack tea indeed!

2008 Menghai 7542(801)

The 7542(801) comes next, but first, I've got something I need to get off of my chest. It's been both an exciting and frustrating time for me lately in regards to pu-erh. First, it is exciting because I just moved all of my tea to a larger cabinet with more room to grow. I've got some really good stuff coming in from Yunnan Sourcing, Tuochatea.com, Dragon Tea House, and a couple other sellers. I love waiting for packages to come. I love opening the tea cabinet to take a punch in the face of wonderful smells. That aside, I have been filled with some frustrations. Topping the list is the fact that some of the pu-erh I have been drinking lately leaves me craving something more. Ku is a great part of any pu-erh, but not when it overpowers the soup. Five infusions & none of the buzz, light chaqi if any at all. This was very discouraging until I read that both Hobbes and Marshal have been running into snags as well. Hobbes learned a valuable lesson about the importance of being careful with the puer'dao. Marshal recently said that he felt that he had outgrown one of the teas he used to drink on a fairly regular basis. It makes me feel more human, and overall more accepting of some of my recent experiences with pu-erh that left a sour taste. It also forces me to pose two important questions:

1) Is my heart poured into every cup of tea that I brew?
2) Am I being consistent with prep when it comes to logging my tasting notes?

Now, onto some pu!

2008 Menghai 7542(801)

I had this once before and loved it. This cake is sweet & smells of melon. Right out of the cupboard it makes me careful to get things right this time & every time moving forward. Knowing the best way to cut open any cake, knowing the correct amount of leaf and water to add, as well as how long to steep for and in what kind of vessel.

I love that Menghai has added a seal that must be broken before it can be brewed. It looks like a fantastic feat to find a crafty way to maintain integrity. I did manage to peel the seal off without any real difficulty. Even so, this helps to minimize counterfeiting as much as possible.

The cake is a very rich green colour and I am seeing a lot of light coloured leaves on the face of it. This doesn't outwardly appear that it is going to be a difficult tea to cut into.

As I suspected, the cut was fairly easy although the cake is very narrow at the edges. The rinse smells clean and the liquor is a light golden colour.
The first infusion is smooth and goes down very quickly. The leaves have only begun to wake up. I assume there will be more flavour as I brew my next cup.

The second infusion is where things start to become more complex. The tea coats my teeth and makes them feel smooth. The ku rides out and shows it's face as the last bit of drink makes it's way down my throat. I feel very calm and alert, yet relaxed. A few months back, Hobbes was explaining Chaqi to me, but ultimately said "it's just a feeling." He said "Chaqi is just as you say, the vital energy in tea. It's a subtle effect, which leads some to discount it. Trying some older teas really makes it obvious, I believe. Suspend your skepticism for just a while - I remember being skeptical myself when I first started drinking pu-erh."

Now, the 7542(801) is delicious. I need to make it abundantly clear that this is in no way the best tea I have ever had. However, for an 08, I can say it tastes better than many of the 05 and 06 bings. It's thick, it brews for a long time, and it's complex once the leaves have woken up. This tea is definitely thicker and it takes forever for it to lose it's sweet start and slightly bitter finish. If I had things my way, everyone would have a tong of this. Since I can't have my way, I'll just take comfort in the tong +2 bings I have of this and take pleasure sharing this with dear friends in the hope that our bonds will mature as well as I know this tea is going to.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The "8100"


I picked up Xiaguan's 2008 '8100' bing a month or so back from YSLLC because I really want to try as many of the '08 cakes as possible. I want to find my niche and be able to say for sure what I like, what I don't like, and be able to say why. This is one of those cakes that helps me make that clarification.


This has small leaves that don't really smell that fantastic yet. Maybe someday they will, but for now...it just isn't doing it for me. I've tasted this a couple of times, but haven't had much success with this thus far. The flavour didn't seem to carry, chaqi was weak, and it didn't last more than four, maybe five infusions. Maybe tonight I'll prove myself wrong.
The rinse smelled like wet earth after a drunken night around a bonfire cut short by rain. The first infusion is kind of bitter. Quite bitter, in fact. Not the good kind of bitter. I choke it down and hope that maybe it just needed a second rinse. Much to my dismay, the liquor is a little darker on the second infusion and the taste is actually more bitter. We'll go another round. Third time a charm? Not in this case. It's darker still and that kind of scares me a little bit. Three second infusions for all three of them and this one, albeit a bit less, is still quite bitter.

Either one of two things is happening:

1) My tastebuds are finally starting to become
particular when it comes to pu-erh. I'm finding things that I really enjoy as well as things that I simply detest.

2) This pu-erh is flat out way too young for me to be drinking.

Actually, if I had to put money on it, there'd be a third option:


Obviously, I cannot rule out that it could be both, and very likely is. There is absolutely nothing exciting about this tea in it's larva stage. I may as well ice it down, add some sugar, and drink it through a straw while I'm at it. There's no telling what my thoughts will be the next time I sample this, but I can say for sure it won't be before my daughter says "I love you Daddy" for the first time.
If infusion #4 isn't any better, I'm going to brew up some jasmine white peony and call it a night.

#4... I quit.

I even tried removing some of the leaves. It helped, but not enough to merit retracting my former statement. Right now, my cups sit like this:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Revisiting the 2005 Dehong Golden Tuocha




I bought this more as a curiosity than anything else, and I posted my notes on it a few entries back. Now that I've had it in my possession for a few months, I've only broken it out a couple of times. Main reason I don't try it more often is because of the fact that I'm sure I could cut diamonds with it. I broke it out one night when Teddy and I were sampling a bunch of different Pu-erh. We always have these nights where we'll try something really amazing, and just for fun, follow it up immediately with the skankiest pu-erh we can find. Twigs? Pine needles? No problem! That's just how we roll sometimes.

Last time, I remember my biggest takeaway being the bitter to smokey to smooth to minty effect...all one at a time. This time, the bitter has already started to go away. It had a little bitterness, but nothing that I would consider bad at all. The smoke flavour has definitely lessened. I'm not sure if it really has, or if it's because I've tasted something even smokier; the Xiaguan FT Flame tuocha I just received the other day made this seem like candy. In any event, the liquor still brews up dark, the rinse still smells of smoke, but the flavour is much much smoother now. Not so sweet as some of the others I've had; in fact, not sweet at all. The minty flavour has also subsided. It's still very interesting to me how much this tea changes in such a very little amount of time. Makes me wonder if these subtle discoveries, however big they may seem now, will be miniscule as they really start to age.

Is it just me, or do you want to replace every bing you open with a fresh one? That feeling when you cut into it for the first time and you know there is no going back. It's an $11 cake and I feel this way...Imagine how I felt cutting into the 2005 Dehong Purple. I need to see if I can't find more of those. Glad I was able to get a couple of the 2008.

I need to learn more about Dehong. It seems like Xiaguan has taken over my collection. At least, until my tong of the Menghai 7542 shows up...

On a side note, since I'm thinking about it, my tong of the 2006 Xiaguan Tibetan Baoyan arrived this afternoon. Yakbutter, anyone?

2008 Xiaguan FT Nan Zhao Tuocha

Lately I've been turning to tried and true Pu-erh. I've been going back to the ones that make me happy, so I was a little surprised to taste something that was not like anything else I've been drinking lately. I recently bought one of the 454g cakes for Teddy for his birthday, but come to find out, the tuo and the cake are NOT the same thing. The blend is a bit different in them. Also, it's of note that Xiaguan uses 2006 and 2007 leaves for this tuo. That said, I was pleasantly surprised to open the package and find my nose taking in something that smelled of melon. This tiny little tuo easily became the choice for me to sample this evening.

First off, I've got this horrible curse of getting ahold of nothing but ironcake tuos. I was happy to see that my pu-erh knife slid right in and I was able to break off a decent amount of leaf. The tuo itself had a lot of lighter coloured leaf on it, which looked very young. I could see fuzz on some of the leaves. Once I broke it off, there were pieces just begging to come along with it. This tuo is as loose as some of the bings I've cut into. After breaking off enough leaf, I did my initial rinse for about 15 seconds and found...well, not much. No strong aroma, nothing I couldn't smell just by holding the dry leaves up to my nose and inhaling. That seemed a little odd to me. I must be honest when I say I thought I had struck a dud after my first infusion.

The first infusion brewed up a light golden colour, and hid everything like a bashful child. WWMKD? Anyhow, a really weak brew, and upon further inspection, the leaves still hadn't woken up. I suppose we're all a little tired in the morning, but it wasn't until the second infusion when I started to notice some stuff going on. Second infusion gave way to some darker liquor and a slightly stronger flavour. It had a touch of bitterness at this point which I guessed would get stronger the third time around. By the third infusion, I was correct; the bitterness had gotten stronger and then when I said to myself "not something you give to a friend who has never experienced Pu-erh" something interesting happened. I found a patch of sweetness at the very center of the back of my tongue. That sweet melon aroma from earlier had found it's way out of the gaiwan. Not sure why it took so long, but I have a feeling this will just get sweeter over the years. It'll likely only take a couple of years and it should be a consistently smooth, yet hopefully bold tea. I'm starting to feel a little buzzed from this. I feel warm inside. I'm very interested to try the 454g cake now as I'm curious about the differences. It's still very bitter though. The bitterness reminds me of the Menghai 7542(801), but I don't think it works as well. Perhaps I like it so much because it's outside of the norm for my regular drinking? Perhaps there is more to this?

By the fourth and fifth infusion, the colour seems to have settled into this medium golden liquor and the flavour has mellowed a bit too. The bitterness isn't so prominent now, and what is left over is a sweet, yet somewhat bland taste. I really don't need to spend too much time with this to know how I feel about it right now. Don't get me wrong; I do enjoy this, but not because of what it is now. It isn't bad by any means. I enjoy this more because I have a feeling it's going to turn into something really great over the next 3-5 years. It reminds me of a younger cousin you know will be cool someday. Just sitting there asking me to come out and play. Every now and then I'm sure I'll give in, but only because I know I'll want to still play when they become a little more mature.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

More goodness

Scott just got in 460 bricks of the 2008 Dehong Purple Varietal. He's already down to around a hundred. When I talked to him the other day, he mentioned that he had just received them a couple of days prior. I remember how much of a pain it was to get ahold of the 2005 that I have, so I bought two. On top of that, I bought a tong of the 2008 Menghai 7542(801) as well. One of these days I'll get my notes on paper. But for now, I'm very excited just taking in the smells and making room in my cupboard. I think I'm going to move all of my stuff to the pantry soon. I've got an empty cabinet that is nice and far away from any strong odors and humidity appears ideal for aging.

The thing that really occupies my time is my daughter. She's crawling, and she just learned to stand. Plus, she's teething, so she's up a hundred times a night. As soon as the rhythm gets a little more routine, I'll have time to write more; for now, well, it's business as usual.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

No time for Notes

I've still been drinking it, I just haven't made any time for notes. I've got a few orders in transit to my house right now.

Yixing Clay Serving Pitcher from Dragon Tea House
2x Xiaguan FT Flame Tuo Cha Raw 2007 125g from Dragon Tea House
Chinese Zisha Clay Sipping Cups from Dragon Tea House
Strainer from Dragon Tea House

2007 Guoyan Youle Mountain Wild Arbor from YSLLC
2006 Haiwan Tea Factory Lao Tong Zhi Aromatic from YSLLC
2x 2008 Xiaguan FT Nan Zhao Tuo 100g from YSLLC
2006 SFTM Yi Wu Millenial Tea Tree 357g from YSLLC
2x Menghai 7542 from YSLLC
2007 Menghai * Silver Dayi * Premium Raw Pu-erh * 357g from YSLLC
2x 2006 Haiwan Certified Organic Pasha Mountain Mini Cake from YSLLC
2008 Xiaguan FT "Nan Zhao Round Cake" Pu-erh Tea * 454g from YSLLC

2006 6FTM Ancient Tree Raw Pu-erh Tuocha from Tuochatea.com
2005 6FTM Jia Ji Raw Pu-erh Tuocha from Tuochatea.com
2006 Xiaguan Tibetan Baoyan Raw Pu-erh Brick (5-bricks) from Tuochatea.com


That said, I can't wait to steal more space in the cupboards...and to make Tibetan Yakbutter...just like this guy!