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.