Saturday, January 24, 2009

Move 12 Small things...

...or something along those lines. I'm not exactly sure how the quote goes, but a friend of mine read a book on Feng Shui and now she's my expert. She said "move 12 small things before you move one big thing." I took it with a giant pinch of salt until this evening. I've been a bit lethargic. Definitely down about the weather being so frigid. The humidity has been low, so cranking the heat up still leaves me feeling cold. Obviously a humidifier is the solution. A trip to Target (as well as IKEA) are both on the horizon for tomorrow morning. Anyhow, I felt like a change was in order, and small changes weren't taking care of it. Normally, finding enough old clothes to fill a bag for goodwill, or cleaning out a closet helps. Dishes (oddly enough) have been a slice of salvation. Yet, these past two weeks, not even the small things work. Perhaps I'm alone, but the enjoyment of coming home to a clean and empty kitchen sink makes me feel like I've earned the right to kick my shoes off and take a knee. After eleven and a half months and much frustration, the bedroom finally got the big shuffle, and I was left with a new sanctuary for reading, researching, creating, and drinking.

Fact is, lately I haven't been so much concerned with what I've been drinking. I haven't been hot to review a hundred different teas just so I can share my tasting notes. It's winter time, I'm cold, work has been hectic, and the demands of a growing child all occupy the time that would otherwise be spent happily inside of a Moleskine. What I do know is that a big part of enjoying tea is being in a comfortable position. In many regards, I miss my old kitchen. I miss heating water on a gas stove. Above all else, the lighting was pristine. The stove had a single incandescent bulb tucked into the range hood that lit the small kitchen perfectly. There wasn't even room for chairs, but it just felt right.

Tonight, I was talking with another friend of mine and she sent me this, which came from a friend that follows her blog, which came from a friend of theirs via Twitter. I'm not sure what the real origin is.

"We seldom ask for what we really want. We ask for what we think we can get or ought to have, but seldom ask for what we really want. Ask."

Sure, I'm a single dad. I don't have the fanciest house, and not a ton of cash but I'm doing pretty well for myself. Why can't I have the most enjoyable place to reside while I'm here? The answer is simple. I can. I just settled for less than what I really wanted. I think as people, we often do that to make things easier for those around us. Perhaps it just gives us the perception that it makes things easier for those closest to us. When it comes to one's happiness, we have to look out for ourselves too.

Some of that resonates and leaves a somewhat unsatisfied feeling in my gut, but most of it is hopeful that I've locked in on a better way to live. Simple, honest, direct. When we stop and step back from it all, none of the superficial stuff really matters. It's up to us to figure out what we really need and satisfy that need. The desk, the tea, the placement of everything else; yeah it's fresh and new, but what I really needed was comfortable lighting. I satisfied that need and at this point, the type of tea in my pot doesn't matter. It's hot tea. What more could I ask for?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Weight Comparison

A post that is not tea-related. I'm in the midst of rearranging my house and I'm drinking Lao Cha Tou; something I've ranted and raved over numerous times. Anyhow, my attention is focused on the fact that my new razor...

...weighs just as much as a McDonalds Quarter Pounder. Shaving has never been so awesome!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Overanalyzing Humidity

So, I found myself fretting over the humidity factor, just like everyone else. I was curious where my cabinet sat, and whether or not my pu was in any kind of danger. I'll tell you, sometimes, I think it's more hassle than it's worth. I have been running a bit of an experiment to see where my stash falls. If I put a bowl of water in the cabinet, it will hover anywhere between 39%-47%. If I take the bowl out, it immediately drops to 30%. I live in an old house. The windows don't seal as well as I'd like them too and the heater is always sucking the moisture out of the air. I think I'm going to run it how it is for a few more days and then pull the bowl out for good. I enjoyed my pu-erh so much more when I didn't think about it like a child to be looked after. Soon spring time will come and that seems to be when my pu-erh makes it's most remarkable changes. Best of all, it does so without any intervention from me. Besides, I'm not out for a quick profit. If I stopped buying tea today, I would have enough to last me for at least ten years. Those two things in consideration, what's the hurry? My cabinet is definitely not dry enough to kill it and at least I won't have to worry about mould.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Oily Seas

One of the first pu-erh teas I ever fell in love with was the 2006 Six Famous Tea Mountains Yi Wu Millenial Tea Tree. Wild arbor, big leafy facing, thick soup, lots of minty camphor goodness. Above all, oily as can be! I can recollect numerous times after handling the beeng rolling my thumb and fingers around for a couple of minutes, impressed by the amount of oil that sits on a dry leaf. I'm not sure why, but it wasn't until the past six months that I ever paid attention to the amount of oil that sits atop the chahai after pouring an infusion. My only guess is that I don't think I ever really saw it until I started drinking aged and shu, which both generally carry a darker, amber/red shade. Now that it's something I look for whenever I'm drinking tea, I tend to notice it more frequently and last night was no exception. However, I noticed it was actually dancing in the chahai.

Not too shabby for a 3-month old shu. Delicious. One of the small joys this world has to offer.


Just a couple of quick photos. Not much to update tonight. 1) Quickly destroying my first bing of the Menghai Hong Yun. It's oily as all getout, and even more delicious when I brew it to my normal steeping times. 2) New teapots often smell like the north end of a southbound dog. Hence, a picture of my efforts to remove some of the stank. Goodnight.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh Gravity, You Win Again!

I'm not terribly superstitious, religious, or easily spooked. However, I'm starting to wonder whether there is a little invisible man living in my house who dislikes ornate ceramic, clay, and porcelain tea wares. Tonight, as I was getting ready to sample a 2003 Tai Lian Yi Wu sheng, the lid to this gaiwan decided to mysteriously roll clean off the counter and shatter into three pieces on the floor. Although it was my favourite gaiwan, it was inexpensive and replacable. In fact, I've already got a new one in transit...turns out, it's not travelling alone. Turns out, impulse convinced me to buy another pot to be used for roasted oolongs. Turns out, Scott from Yunnan Sourcing is the man. I had an order placed and paid for within six minutes of hearing the lid shatter. Talk about making a positive out of a negative. Since I only drink raw in the gaiwan, it looks like I'm stuck drinking nothing by this amazingly delicious shu and dancong that's eating holes in my cupboard...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Menghai 2008 "Hong Yun" ...and a few other things

Since I work throughout the week, and immediately have to pick my daughter up from my parents' house after work, I often miss the mail carrier when he makes his daily rounds through my side of town. Guidelines state that international packages must be signed for, and will not be left on the doorstep. For this very reason, I make several trips to the post office (which I hate oh so dearly...anyone who reads regularly knows exactly why) to pick up my packages. Yesterday, much to my surprise I came home to find a large box on my porch, riddled with tape from Kunming Post! (The regular carrier actually left me a note asking if I could please sign the paperwork and leave it in the mailbox for him to pick up tomorrow. In my eyes, he saved me a trip in this sub-zero temperature) Inside that box was a beeng of the Menghai 0532, a new teapot, and ten (count them) of what you see in the picture above. This was sort of an impulse buy, to be quite honest with you. I'm a big fan of Menghai, so naturally it works. I've also been on a shupu kick lately. I want nothing more than that lovely taste of old cellar, campfire, and wet earth. Actually, the first time I ever tried shu, I was immediately taken back to a morning camping in the Appalachains. Specifically, the morning after drinking around a bonfire all night, having it pour enough to flood my tent, and waking up early in the middle of the woods to clean up all the mess we made the night prior. Somehow, as weird as it may sound, I love that kind of stuff. Reminds me of rock climbing and rafting in the New River Gorge.

Anyhow, that brings me to the tea. It's a 100g ripe ironcake. This bad boy has a beautiful smell in that "I'm a lumberjack" sort of way. Compression is very tight, but gives way without too much difficulty. It's a little slow to wake up, but with a couple of good rinses, gives way to some incredible flavour.

It has a fairly strong Cha'qi, and isn't afraid to show it's presence. It had me feeling somewhat tea-drunk by about the fifth infusion. I assume that is something I'll probably refer to as "damn delicious" after a couple of months, because it was pressed in November of 2008...still VERY young. It didn't have a ton of surprises however; pretty straightforward, which is in no way a bad thing. All in all, I'd say it definitely earns a place as one of the best shu releases I've had in the past year. The only things I've had that I possibly liked more were the Haiwan Lao Cha Tou (which is in a league all on it's own), and the 7572 (both Menghai and 12 Gentlemen were delicious). Even then, it's a tough call. I have brewed up a couple of very bitter cups of 7572, as opposed to the fact that I just can't seem to make this one bitter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Top Albums of 2008

Every year, a few friends and myself post our top 10 albums of the year. Last year I destroyed every other piece of social networking I used to use. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter...all gone. So this year, my teablog becomes the new nesting grounds for the albums that have gotten me through this past year. The only rule is that the albums have to be ones that were released within the confines of 2008. So, here they are. Hopefully I might inspire a few others to post their favourites as well. Don't worry, I'll get back to the tea soon...most likely this evening ^__^

10. Lydia - Illuminate
9. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
8. Ours - Mercy
7. Ben Folds - Way to Normal
6. Tallest Man on Earth - Shallow Grave
5. Apes & Androids - Blood Moon
4. Natalie Portman's Shaved Head - Glistening Pleasure
3. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Pershing
2. Islands - Arm's Way
1. Human Highway - Moody Motorcycle

Dancong Madness

What you are looking at is dry leaf Feng Huang Milan Dancong from Jing Tea Shop.  Somehow, I got wrapped up in the mess that is Bryan's Dancong Fever.  I recently tasted this style of tea for the very first time and I'm still confused by it.  I ordered a 100g bag of this, 100g of an inexpensive oolong, and a couple samples for about $10.  Bryan was describing it to me one night while we were drinking some aged Tie Guan Yin (that unfortunately, didn't pan out to be what we had hoped) and when we looked it up a light went off in my head that simply said "Hey, I have $10!"  Never before have I tasted a tea where the dry leaf smells like chocolate, the first infusion tasted like a tangy peach, and later infusions mellow down into something that reminds me of lychee candy.  Definitely interesting stuff.  I plan to order more samples and see if I can't get a good handle on this one.  Recommendations and citations are definitely most welcome.  What has everyone else been drinking lately?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 Hai Lang Hao "Jing Mai" Brick 250g

Just a quickie as I'm home early from work sick and really should be resting. I received a brick of this as a gift from Bryan at Teajournaling and instantly fell in love with it. First impressions were how sweet the dry leaf smelled. Full of delicious aroma, oily in my hands; everything you never expect from such a young brick. It was thick, soupy, delicious leafy sweet goodness. Nice big full leaves scream out careful hand-processing.

The first night I drank this, I deviated a bit from my normal infusion times. Normally I flash rinse, 15s, 12s, 25s, 35s, 50s, 1:00, 1:15, 1:30, etc...this time, I started short....7s, 12s, 15s, 30s. I rode 30 seconds for another five or six infusions and then went up to 45 seconds. Before, I knew it, it was 3:02am and I was still wide awake. This is a tea that has no idea when to quit and for less than $10 a brick, could easily be a daily drinker. Normally if I drink that late at night, I'll leave some water in the gaiwan and drink the overnight brew first thing in the morning as an eye opener. Never bitter, even then.

That buttery yellow soup you're looking at is after the 15th infusion. Beautiful liquor, beautiful tea. Hands down Hai Lang knows how to make a good tea. Pick some of this up.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Something to Chew On

First off, Happy New Year! It's been a long while since I've made the time to sit down and write, but this one is important. I was speaking with a friend the other day and we got into a pretty lengthy conversation regarding batch numbers for pu-erh. Take the Menghai 7542; you have the 801, 802, 803, and so on. Sure, everyone knows that it is the number of the production, but does that really indicate the quality of the cake?

Look at it this way. Menghai uses maocha that is between 0-3 years old before being pressed into cakes. If you stop to think about that, the biggest factor would surely be the quality of the maocha and how well it was stored before it was pressed. So, the pu-erh that is the X01 release may not be the best batch of the season. It hardly guarantees that the leaf used to press our superior spring bing is even spring leaf at all. You might find that an X02 or X04 cake actually tastes better.

I spoke to Scott from YSLLC about this yesterday, and he asked me what my thoughts were on why people were so attracted to the first run of a particular recipe. My thought process, as a westerner, was this:

What do we see when we think of tea? Usually, if you live in the States, you think of bags filled with dust and fannings, stapled shut with a string and a paper ticket that reads Lipton, or Red Rose. Those bags are nestled into boxes on grocery store shelves. You might think of green tea from the local sushi joint. You may have had sencha, or gyokuro...perhaps even a hot cup of houjicha. If you stopped in to a fancy chinese restaurant you may have been served a small pot of some sort of oolong. The fact is, until I was made aware of pu-erh tea, I had no idea what it was. I think that many who first look at tea start with what they're familiar with and then branch out. Naturally, one might seek out some nice loose leaf japanese green tea, maybe a decent oolong, even stumble upon tieguanyin, but I've never been to a restaurant that served any variety of authentic pu-erh tea. Anyhow, from the stance of Japanese teas, people always rant and rave over the spring flush. "Spring release must be best!" Is that really the case with pu-erh?

I don't think so at all. Sure, china domestic market pushes prices up on the X01 release, and even in China a little more buzz surrounding the first run, but it definitely doesn't mean it's any better. Scott from YSLLC and Hai Lang recently did a side by side comparison between the 2004 and 2008 Menghai 7542 to test this out. With the 2008 they used the 801, 802, and 805 batches. Both of them could not tell much difference. As for Hai Lang, I'm told that he can taste a tea and tell you not just which mountain it came from, but where on the mountain it came from. Then they tried the 2004 batches 401, 402, and 404. Scott preferred the 404 batch, and Hai Lang actually preferred the 402 batch. Still, all of them were very similar once brewed.

My thought on this is that it really depends on how well the maocha is stored. Since I'm using Menghai as an example, I'll go ahead and note that Menghai has a subtropical climate. Warm, humid; great for storing tea, so long as it is well ventilated. Those factors really contradict the hype around an X01 batch being the best. Sure, a cake pressed nine months ago may taste better than one that was just pressed because it's had some time to mellow out a bit, but given a few years, I think that taste is going to be less discernable. As for shu, the differences are even less noticable.

Point of the rant is that just because it says 801, it doesn't mean it will be better than an 802, or an 803. I'm pretty convinced that the sequence of numbers settles in some people's heads as the end all be all for pu-erh, but if that were the case, why would people waste their time with recipes that use a lower grade of leaf? I can think of numerous situations where I've gotten a consistently better cup with a tea made from a lower grade leaf.

Just something to chew on when you're placing your next order for 901 cakes.