Monday, July 22, 2013

Gifting a tea newbie

A good friend called me telling me that he enjoys drinking oolongs and jasmine tea and wanted to brew tea at home.  He wanted something to brew his tea and had wanted to buy a 'brewing apparatus' (his own words) for his tea.  He requested me to help him choose his apparatus.  I asked him to come over to my place this evening.

I decided to give him a present - a 'brewing apparatus'.  I gave some thoughts and have narrowed down to 3 possible presents.  You can see, from the pix, my choices for the gift.  No, the tea tray is not included.

I liked the 1st pix.  Its a stylized gaiwan (aka easy gaiwan).  Unlike the regular gaiwan in the 2nd pix, brewing tea by a newbie is easier, as the pour-out of the tea is easier as it has a spout.  Pouring tea from a regular gaiwan needs practice as your hand need to balance the gaiwan cover correctly so you only pour out the tea while preventing the tea leaves from being poured out as well.  It will also be quite hot handling a gaiwan and accidents and spills may happen, especially to a newbie. The 3rd pix shows a easy gaiwan with handle. 

I will let my friend choose his gift. Such porcelain would be good for him as he can brew different kinds of Chinese tea with porcelain.  Clay teapots or clay gaiwans are not suitable - clay vessels will absorb the scents of a tea and may affect the aroma another different tea, making a tea session quite unpleasant. I will only dedicate one type of Chinese tea for a particular teapot.    

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Korean Way Of Tea

"The Korean Way of Tea" - written by Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-Hee.  Published by Seoul Selection in 2007.  This book deals with Korean tea.  

An excerpt :

"If the tea grows more or less freely, naturally, with minimal fertilizing and trimming, it is known as Yasaeng-cha (wild tea).  This is in contrast to the tea that grows in long, tidy rows in large-scale plantations; Koreans always feel that what grows naturally will be better that what is cultivated artificially.  In the end, the main difference is between hand-dried and machine-dried teas, tea made on a small scale by individuals and tea produced by machines in a factory.  Nothing on the boxes indicate the mode of production.

The most common way of indicating different grades of quality involves using the labels Ujeon (tea made in April), Sejak (tea made in April-early May) and Jungjak (tea made in May).  These correspond more or less to the 'first flush, second flush, third flush" of high quality Indian tea.  Ujeon, made of the smallest, earliest shoots, is always the most expensive, and sometimes quite excessively so.  Sejak is usually almost as good, at least despite using shoots that emerged slightly later.  A good producer's Jungjak will be only a little less intensely flavored, having been made later in May than the other two.  It will usually be quite a bit cheaper.  Buyers need to know that sometimes Ujeon can lose part of its special fragrance after a few months, even if sealed in a foil packet, it is not necessary the best buy by the time Christmas comes."

Reading this book, I sense there is a mix of Chinese and Japanese tea influences in that the tea leaves ranged from fine tea leaves to powdered tea, so you may have to brew it Kung fu style, or with a whisk when you brew powdered tea.  

This book delivers much information on Korean tea; from the tea farm to the final product.   My impressions from reading the book are that the authors seem to convey there is a spirituality and calmness when it comes to Korean Tea.  Fascinating.  

I like the way the authors described the way of tea:

"It is a poor, simple Way, not really needing a capital "W" to justify itself.  Take the time, it says, no matter who you are or where in the world you are.  Take the time to stop.  Be alone with yourself or a few others in a world where a lot of people are alone in the crowd; be quiet in a world where a lot of people are afraid of silence, always listening to music or shouting into a phone.  Stopping, alone, in a simple space with just the minimum needed to make tea and drink it.  That is the essential practice of the Way of Tea.  It is a far removed from the complicated, self-conscious complexities of a formal Tea ceremony."

Friday, July 5, 2013

2000 Langhe Raw Puerh Cake 357g

I had purchased this pu erh cake at the Malaysia tea expo 2013 (see previous blog).  This tea was for sale to visitors of the tea fair and a visitor like me could be entitled to buy an item (actually 3 different items) daily throughout the week of the tea expo.

I did not pay much attention to this cake when I arrived on the morning of the 1st day of the fair.  One of my tea friends there bought a cake and opened it and started brewing at one of the booths (he was a regular patron of one of the tea shops there.....and had the privilege to brew the tea).  I liked the taste and managed to buy a this cake for 125RM( US$39) before it was sold out the same afternoon.

One observation of this tea was that the storage of this cake seems good. From the taste, I could tell it was not stored in places like a kitchen or factory where the tea can absorbed strange smells.  The cake felt dry and the brittle wrapper broke and tore easily.  When I broke the cake by hand, the cakes gave that 'crispy biscuit' sensation while breaking the cake into small pieces to store in my tea caddy.

This tea is one of the better raw pu erh tea I had blog this year.  This tea is old - 13 years old and is well stored.  It has aged pu erh tea characteristics, which to me meant that the tea has that added dimension of a mature fragrant wood aroma, something like an old camphor wood accompanied by hint of a sweet floral scent.  It was a very smooth tea making it an enjoyable tea session.  A good tea.

I would like to add that I had tried (even bought little) slightly younger pu erh teas (2003-2004) that have a more pronounced aged pu erh character than this tea.  No.....this 2000 Langhe cake is a very good tea.  But what I want to convey to my readers is that - Do not be caught up by a tea you deemed to be very good.  Lets say you do come across such a tea at a tea shop, you like this tea very much, by all means if it is within your a few cakes or a tong  but do not buy too many.......Yes, this tea may not be available the next time BUT there will be another tea out there.  Trust me on this.  If this tea was available, I might buy up to a tong of 7 pieces but not more as I do not want to drink this tea on a routine basis  (do a quick count...drinking 10g weekly if you had bought 4 tongs).  I had this debate with a tea friend and we had differing views. He would buy up the tea, all of it. "Its hard to find such teas! You may regret it".  I understand his point of view. 

Buying pu erh tea can be quite addictive.  Before you realize it, you would have acquired a good number of cakes.  What I am saying is this.....I do not want my readers to be caught in a cycle of 'tea chasing'.  I have a friend who would meet me every few months - "This is the best tea!" - and he would give me a generous sample.  Few months later, he would call me - "I found the best tea!"  To date, he had given me about 6 best teas.  

Tea for thought.  How many best tea cakes do you have?