Friday, December 25, 2009

Tea Break in Kuching Part 2

Kuching is known worldwide for its rare varieties of fauna and flora.  We were unfortunate not to see the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, as it was not in bloom that week.  My family visited a pitcher plant and wild orchid garden in Kuching and we were awed by the various pitcher plants on display.  Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants whose prey-trapping mechanism features a deep cavity filled with liquid known as pitfall trap.  Insects are attracted to these plants either for nectar or water found in the pitches.  Once in the pitches, the insects are trapped as the walls are slippery, and the insects die and dissolve in the pitcher.  There were many types of pitcher plants there; on the ground, different colors and sizes.  The pix shows a beautiful 8 inch (height) pitcher plant.

Sarawak in also known for its pottery.  This industry is very established and the pottery is exported worldwide.  I managed to hand-carry a huge pot/vase (2 feet high) home as well.  It costs me US$20.

Eating is one of the highlights of visiting Kuching.  The various and inexpensive varieties of food will definitely put any visitor on a weight diet program when he gets back home.  The seafood dinner we had at the famous open air seafood centre (top spot seafood) costs my family of 6 about us$50.  We also had numerous bowls of the local favorite sarawak kolo mee (chinese noodles) and laksa (curried noodles), which are found in the chinese coffee shops and shopping malls in Kuching.  For drinks, we had the famous teh-c peng  (see pix for a poster ad I took at a coffee shop).  Teh-c peng is a combination of brown sugar syrup, milk and tea.  This give rise to 3 different densities so you get 3 colors in your drink.  Ice is added to complete the drink.  When you are served with this drink, stir the drink with a straw and enjoy the delicious sweetened iced milk tea beverage.  Cost about us$0.5 a glass.

Lastly, I bought 2 more pieces of pu erh in Kuching.  The langhe ripe was found in a chinese grocery shop (Kwang Yan Trading) along main bazaar. The yellow mark ripe CNNP , my most expensive tea purchase in Kuching was bought from a chinese tea shop; Zhen Chi health food trading co.  Located in pandugan street, this co. has a couple of outlets in Kuching selling traditional chinese herbs and medicine.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tea Break in Kuching Part 1

My family went for a  vacation in Kuching, East Malaysia last week.  Kuching (nicknamed the cat city) is the city of Sarawak.   Kuching has a population about 600,000, one third chinese, one third malays and the rest ibans and other ethnic groups.  Main religions are Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam.  The city is considered one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia and was voted as one of the world's healthiest cities, recognised and awarded by UN and WHO.

It was my family's 1st visit to Kuching and I am really impressed with the level of cleanliness and design of the city.  It has an eclectic mix of old and new architecture with excellent outdoor adventures like hiking, longhouse visits and river rafting all easily available when you make Kuching your base.  The "faerie cave" in pix 3 (click for larger view) was one of my cave visits one afternoon.  It is breathtaking and beautiful.  Shopping is another must do in Kuching.  You can literally spend all your money in the many new malls and outdoor bazaars (I recommend Main Bazaar).  I got myself a few traditional fishing cages (which I intend to make into  decorative lamps) and also some wooden carvings and local textiles as souvenirs.  

Whenever I am overseas, I will now try to locate and buy chinese tea.  I found only one eating place that serve chinese tea.  This was Life Cafe off Ewe Hai Street.  Located in a renovated prewar shophouse, this cafe provided a nice stop for lunch.  They had some pu erh for sale and I bought a 2005  raw Menghai Dayi 7542 cake for US$18. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rabbit Hair Tea Bowl

I have bought myself a tea bowl.  This is a rabbit hair teabowl.  Measuring about 9cm (3.5 inches) in diameter, this teabowl is commonly known as Jian ware.  The Japanese version of such pottery is known as Temmoko.

Encyclopedia Britannica aptly describe this pottery as “The clay used for Jian ware was of a very hard, coarse grain. The inside and about two-thirds of the outside of the ware were covered with a thick, very dark glaze (coloured with iron oxide). This glaze usually stopped short of the outer base in a thick welt; it also tended to pool thickly on the inside of the vessel. Within a limited palette dominated by a purplish or bluish black or reddish brown, Jian ware had a range of variations. The most prized glazes resembled the streaking of a hare’s fur, the mottling of partridge markings, or the silvery splattering of oil spots."

The Chinese tea culture online museum explained "In the Song Dynasty the tea competition was a popular game. The drinkers liked to use dark colors to emphasize the white tea soup. Rabbit-hair bowl was one of the favorite equipment.  The most famous producer of the rabbit-hair bowl was the Jian Kiln located in Jianyang, Fujian Province.  The Jian Kiln was famous for its black glaze porcelains. Ferric oxide was the element responsible for the black color of the glaze. Under the high temperature, some of the iron was released into the glaze and tiny bubbles were generated in the glaze around the iron atoms. When the temperature was as high as 1300oC, the iron atoms flew in the glaze in straight lines. When it was cold there was hair like crystals inside the glaze, looked like the hair of a rabbit. This was called the rabbit-hair glaze. "

“The Jian ware temmoku tea bowls of Fujian Province have long been appreciated in Japan; indeed, the term temmoku itself is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Tianmu Shan, a mountain where, according to tradition, Japanese Buddhist priests visited a Buddhist temple and acquired some of these bowls to take back to Japan. The Jian tea bowls are fairly uniform in potting, with dark, coarse-grained stoneware bodies and lustrous bluish black or brownish black glazes that generally are shot through with brownish streaks likened to "hare's fur." Occasionally, as in this fine bowl, the glaze exhibits a multicolor surface iridescence as light plays across it.” (quoted from

This tea bowl I had purchased is a new bowl, not an antique.  You can see from the pix (please click pix for enlarged views) that the glaze that was applied on the bowl is very thick.  I was fascinated with this bowl as there was a “drip” like effect as seen from the bowl, in that the a bit of the glaze is flowing down and was solidified.  Taking pictures of this bowl was very challenging.  I has to use artificial lighting and power on the flash to capture the fine “rabbit hair” lines on the bowl.  As a result the tea bowl appears "orangey" than dark.  The bowl reflects light very well.  Another highlight of this bowl is that once the bowl is “warmed up”, it keeps the tea warm for a longer time compared to other types of tea bowls/cups.  Perhaps tea drinkers there like such Jian ware as it kept their tea warm during the cold weather.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jasmine Tea

Jasmine tea (known as mo li hua cha) is a green or oolong tea that is scented with the fragrance of jasmine flowers.  I was told that the process of making jasmine tea involves spreading newly harvested jasmine flowers over the tea leaves (done in the evenings when the flowers bloom at night).  A good quality jasmine tea is usually determined by the quality of the leaves as well as the scenting process.  Good grade jasmine teas are tea that have been scented by the jasmine flowers about 5-7 times before the tea is ready for sale.  The pearl jasmine tea has the tea hand rolled into a mini balls.   Prices for good grade jasmine tea costs from  US$25 for 100g (4oz). 

You will notice that some of the jasmine tea, that are packed for sale, have the jasmine petals mixed with the tea.  This is merely for visual appeal as the flowers had mainly lost their aroma to the tea. (see pix). 

The taste of jasmine tea, to me, is a light and delicate flavor.  The taste of the green tea comes with a fresh floral scent with a nice sweet finish.  I could get 2-3 good infusions of good tea from a single brew.  In Hong Kong chinese restaurants, jasmine tea is one of the tea choices been offered to the diners besides pu erh, chrysanthemum and tie guan yin. Just ask for “heong pin”, that’s in Cantonese for jasmine tea and in a few moments you will be served with a hot pot of wonderful tea.  Many new chinese tea drinkers take to jasmine tea well.  Its sweet floral scent and delicate taste of this tea makes it a favorite among many tea drinkers around the world.