Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I suppose the title should really be "Three Shades of White and Shadow Blue", but here it goes, anyway...
At the tea shop a couple of weeks ago, while drinking some of Taiwan's best oolong, Prof Ahn poured our cups full then, uncharacteristically, gathered them together and asked, "Which one has the nicest colour?"
Gazing into the cups, I was surprised to see the distinct difference in tea colours, even though they'd all just come from the same pot and into Qing Dynasty cups. I observed my tea had a nice teal tint, Prof Ahn's tea was very similar but more green, and his employee's tea was ocher coloured.
He explained that the difference, as I'd already guessed, was in the shade of the cup. There are four different shades of white tea cups; milk white, snow white, ivory white, and "shadow blue". Milk white is pure white, snow white has a blue tint, and ivory white has a yellow tint. Prof Ahn's cup is celadon with a crackled glazed, darkly stained from years of use, but he referred to its colour as "geurimja-paranseak" (shadow-blue). Mine was a porcelain "Double Happiness" cup with a blue "snow-white" slightly blue tint, and the third was also porcelain but with an "ivory-white" tint. He added hat snow-white cups are best for admiring tea.
At home, I gathered a few of my cups picked one of each shade and experimented by comparing how they affected the colour of Bai Mu Dan (White Peony). The difference was subtler than with the brightly coloured oolong at Kkikdageo, but still noticeable. In the above image, starting with the top-left and going clockwise is snow-white, milk-white, ivory-white, and the closest cup I had to shadow-blue. You can see, the milk and ivory whites are very similar, as are the snow-white and shadow-blue.
Why does this matter? Well, depending on who you are, it may not matter at all, but much like with wine tasting, there are steps in appreciating tea, and admiring the colour is one of them.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
A while back, I picked up Thich Nhat Hanh's "Chanting From the Heart", a guide to ceremonies and daily practices from Plum Village. Of course, my favourite part was this short gatha:
This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness held perfectly.
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.
Preparing tea, especially gongfu cha with great care, is a chance to meet the present moment. A quiet break form the distractions of a busy world. Finding the moment when the water is just right, seeing when the pot has just enough leaves, knowing the perfect moment to pour. Each session, each cup is a unique moment, inviting our focus and appreciation.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
When I first began learning about Taiwan's high-mountain oolongs at Kkikdageo, it revolved around Lishan (梨山, Pear Mountain) in the central region of Taiwan. So, I was a little confused when I went in one day to replenish my stash and was asked, "Why do you want Lishan oolong? Why not try something different?" The something different was an amazing organic, medium roasted oolong from Taiwan that knocked my socks off, but I still longed for that sweet, floral, light oolong from Lishan that I'd grown to love.
Several times after, I asked if there was any Li-shan oolong in but I was always referred to something else, different types of Ali-shan oolong, usually. I wondered if maybe the market for Li-shan had pushed the price beyond what it was worth, as I'd seen happen with Bilochun. One part-time worker told me that the tea gardens were resting for a few years, but she hadn't been a reliable source for information in previous conversations, so I wasn't sure if it was actually the case, though it sounded reasonable. After that, I just decided to stop asking.
Last week, I dropped by and Prof. Ahn served some incredible high-mountain oolong. It was slightly reminiscent of Tie Guanyin but was certainly Taiwanese. Assuming it wasn't from Li-shan, I asked if it was Ali-shan cha. He explained that it was from Boksu-san, the highest tea garden in Taiwan at 2500 meters. I thought it would be a good time to ask about Li-shan and why they stopped selling Li-shan tea, which lead to a bit of a confusing exchange, until finally, he concluded, "This is Li-shan tea!"
With a pen and paper, he drew a sketch of Li-shan with it's highest peak being Boksu-san, the Korean pronunciation for Fushou-shan (福壽山, which translates roughly as "Blessed Life Mountain, but has the connotations of a life of happiness, luck, and longevity. Anyway, an all-around great name for a tea-producing mountain!). In his opinion, Fushoushan cha is the best high-mountain tea in Taiwan, and I have no trouble believing him.
Though most of our conversation revolved around why my Korean isn't better than it is after all these years, we did get some tea-talk in too. He told me, "After ten steeps, when oolong loses its taste, leave it for a 30 minute steep and it will taste good. Next, an hour and then leave it steeping over night and drink it in the morning." Of course, you should add some hot water after a long steep to really make it better.
I never did get to the bottom of why they went so long without supplying Lishan cha, but I'm excited that it's back and, really, that's all that matters!
Friday, January 31, 2014
Qing Shi (Chime Stone) Teapot • 磬石 茶壺
Qìng shí cháhú
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to haul out a seldom used stone pot for a post. It was one of the first Chinese pots I'd bought but it sat unused in the pack row of pots since just a few weeks after I'd bought it. Partially because I seldom drink puer at home compared to other teas and mostly because I've gone overboard in my Yixing collecting and this pot got left in the dust of the fancy zisha clays.
I grabbed it for a change of pace but I'm glad I did because it prompted a fellow tea blogger to request this post. And I'm glad he did because it got me to discover a little more about the pot.
I knew that the density and heat retaining property of the stone made it great for puer. Though I've never seen them use a stope pot at the tea shop, they praised how well it brews puer when I first bought it and again the other night when I asked about it again.
My main question was what kind of stone it is. I was guessing black soapstone or some sort of granite but we had a really difficult time finding a translation of the Korean word for it, 경석 (gyeong-seok). Finally, I was able to find the Chinese characters, 磬石, just as the battery on my phone died. They told me it was a stone used for traditional music but that was as far as we got. At home, I was able to look up 磬石 on my computer and found "qing shi", or "chime stone" in English. It was used to make the chimes of an ancient instrument called the bian qing 編磬, a type of hanging lithophone.
I like the idea of a teapot with a musical connection! It brings together another aspect of life's joy to tea time...
The pot itself I think is a Xishi style, but it also has a bit of an Aladdin's Lamp feel to it with it's pointy spout. It was made in 1990 and holds 120ml (without tea) which makes it perfect for two regular sized Chinese gongfu cups. The workmanship is a little rough, with several tool marks around it. I can appreciate the amount of work that went into it, though, especially with it's polished surface. The inside of the lid was chipped a little when I bought, but it fits snuggly and doesn't drip at all. There's no stamp on the bottom but, hey, can't expect too much! The pot is a bit heavy for its size, but well-balanced and comfortable to pour.
I'd grabbed this for about $35 (35,000 won) back in 2007 but the couple they have left are marked for $100 now. They also have a smaller hexagonal one with a dull finish that's very nice.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Today begins the Year of the Blue Horse. This year's element is wood, symbolized by the colour blue, which makes the Blue Horse. According to Chinese astrology, the Blue wooden horse "is ready to help everyone and provide any support." Sounds like a worthy existence to me!
The year of the Blue Horse could be a year of instability and life changes. It is recommended to act deliberately and with sure direction. Good advice for any year, I'd say, but particularly this one. It's said that this will be an auspicious year for many of the animals of the zodiac, not only horses.