Sunday, September 14, 2014

revisions

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Boseong Tea Garden, on a misty summer's day


At the risk of tarnishing my credibility, I would like to point of a couple of mistakes I've made in past posts. In both cases, it was a result of my lack of good Korean skills that lead to my misinterpretation of what I was told. Through further questions and conversations, I've cleared things up.

The first was with "Date Aroma Puer Tea". The taste was so convincing that I actually thought that it had been infused with dates. Actually, it's the recipe, special technique and skills of the workers that give it its special taste. Technically, it's a shu-puer, but the leaves are only left to ferment for two weeks, not the usual three months. Usually, a brick puer uses leaves 7-10, the largest leaves, but this puer uses a combination of all the leaves, 1-10. Though the only thing that changed was my understanding (it's still the same tea), knowing this made me appreciate it even more.

The second was in my description of "A Traditional Way to Brew Da Hong Pao". This was one of the first things Mrs Kim ever showed me, back in '07, and I never actually tried it at home until I wrote the post, so it's likely that my memory didn't serve me well. But trying it out for myself proved to be troublesome, and for a reason. The crushed leaves are meant to me mixed with whole leave at a 3-7 ratio. Using just the crushed leaves (and apparently I crushed them too small) ended up clogging the spout and took far too long to pour. Showing my post to Mrs Kim, she also mentioned that the pot I used wasn't appropriate for cliff tea. The next time I watched her make Da Hong Pao, after adding the leaves to the pot, she simply took the butt end of the wooden tea scoop and crushed the leaves a little before rinsing. It made a terrible crunching noise in the pot, but returns an extra strong flavour for the sacrifice of the beautiful, whole leaves.

So, that should clear things up... Apologies for the misinformation, and I'll do my best for it not to happen again, though I can't guarantee anything!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Korean Lotus Green Tea

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Popping in the tea house quickly to grab some Dragon Well on the way home from work one day, I noticed a large glass pitcher on the tea table with what appeared to be a soggy lotus flower inside. Peeking inside, it was a lotus flower and had large tea leaves layered throughout the pedals. The girl tending the shop asked if I'd like a taste, but knowing if I sat down, I wouldn't get up again, I thanked her for the offer and skedaddled.

The next time I was in for a more leisurely visit, I asked Mrs Kim about it, mostly just curious how it was prepared. She went into the fridge, removed a lotus bud wrapped in bubble wrap, and gave it to me. Her daughter explained, traditionally, it was made by taking a boat out on to a lotus pond, placing a silk pouch full of tea inside a lotus flower, and as the flower closes for the night, enveloping the pouch, the leaves would absorb the lotus' essence. At dawn, one would return to the pond and collect the pouch as the lotus opened to meet the sunrise. Nowadays, they cut the lotus bud, make a small opening at the top, are fill it with about 30-40 grams of "dae-jak cha", forth-flush "large-leaf tea". She added that her father prefers the traditional way, and I agree in that I at least prefer the concept.

They instructed me to keep it in the fridge for a full week, then shred the entire thing into small strips, the pedals, the seed pod, the stem, all, mix it up well then separate it into five small freezer bags and keep it frozen until use. When the week had passed, I did just that, with the help of my daughter, which was a bigger chore than I expected but a truly enjoyable one. The pedals had a soft, powdered texture and the gentle, sweet and lovely scent covered our fingers. The tea leaves had become moist, steeped in the spirit of the lotus.

For brewing, Mrs Kim suggested a glass pot and only 60°C for a mere 5 seconds for steeps 1~3, 70°C and 10 seconds for steeps 4~6, and 80°C for steeps 7~10. I felt my arm trying to revolt against the order to pour after just five seconds, it just seemed much too fast for a flower or a green tea, but faith in Mrs Kim prevailed and for good reason! I've had plenty of lotus leaf tea, some mix with a small amount of flower, but this was the first time I'd tried tea from only the flower. It was beyond expectation; full, sweet, soft, heavenly. The flavour was similar to something along the lines of bubblegum ice cream, but natural. There's little else that comes to mind to compare it with. After a few steeps, the sweet, floral flavour faded and the taste become more savoury. A friend compared it to eggplant, which coincided with my thought of roasted vegetable.

My expectations for this tea were for it to taste like green tea with a slight lotus flavour. But it really is lotus tea with a slight green tea flavour. A very lovely and beautiful tea.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Aged Old Bush, Wu Yi "Shui Xian"老歲水仙茶

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After being amazed so far by every tea I've tasted from cliffs of Wuyi Mounatin, and Da Hong Pao being the very tea that first got me interested in Chinese tea, I decided to order a small amount of aged "Shui Xian", harvested from 100-year-old trees to further my figurative exploration of the mountain.

Before we get into the tea itself, I'd like to delve into its name a bit. Shui Xian is actually the name of the cultivar that all Wuyi "yan chan" (cliff teas) are produced from. There are several translations for its name, including Narcissus, Sacred Lily, Water Fairy, or the name of a Taoist Immortal. According to the Chinese character for Xian (仙, person + mountain/person on a mountain), it has the connotation of a mountain hermit which is what the Taoist Immortals essential were. It also fits with the tendency of famous teas to have some mystical legend attached to them. Another theory claims that the Shui Xian cultivar originated not too far north of Wuyi mountain, in a cave called Zhu Xian and the local dialect lead to the confusion of "Zhu" with "Shui" (水, water). There is also speculation that Zhu was the local word for pray, which could mean it was a cave where an Immortal prayed and perhaps he found a tea bush which he cultivated and passed on to the local farmers or the farmers may have named their local cultivar in honor of him.

Alas, a tea by another name would still taste as sweet (or bitter), so let's get brewing...

Looking at the leaves, the first thing that caught my cognition was how dark they are. Certainly putting the "oo" in oolong, except for slight reddish-brown highlights, they are the blackest oolong leaves I've encountered. It would make sense if these were, in fact, the leaves that gave oolong its name.

The scent was rich, the heat of the high-fire roast apparent, quite similar to the aroma of dark-roast coffee beans. The leaves were so dark that even an instant rinse is darker than many puer teas I've drank. The first full infusion was even darker, as black as black could be (The photos below start from the third steep. I was so consumed, that I forgot to take a photo, twice...), fading to brown around the walls of the cup. The aroma of the tea soup was consistent with that of the leaves. Though it definitely tasted like tea, with a slight woodiness, and a strong presence of charcoal, it was very reminiscent of a strong cafe mocha or a shot of espresso (is that a thing? maybe it should be! or maybe I should just stick to making tea...). I found the residual taste of the firing quite strong but enjoyable. After all, it's part of what interested me about this tea. With trends pushing tea farmers more and more towards lightly fermented, barely roasted teas, a good traditional oolong like this is becoming rare. I'm also thinking perhaps this tea was recently re-roasted and just needs a few more months to soothe and mellow.

The leaves proved to be durable and consistent. Personally, I felt they lacked the "pow" of Da Hong Pao or the intricacy of Ruo Gui but since the price was comparably to an average grade Da Hong Pao and a quarter the price of a medium grade Ruo Gui, it stood its ground. Since Da Hong Pao, Ruo Gui, Tie Lo Han, and all the other Wuyi varieties, are essentially Shui Xian, and the variations are a result of the different growing conditions. My reasoning may be off a bit on this, but as they all do share a unique characteristic that makes them Wuyi Yan Cha, I consider this a good standard yan cha for comparison.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Xue Hao Snow Tips Yellow Tea • 雪毫黃茶

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Browsing The Chinese Tea Shop for something new, I was intrigued by Xue Hao Snow Tips Yellow Tea. I'd not come across Chinese yellow tea before and was curious how it compared with Korean yellow tea.

When the parcel arrived, it was the first one I opened. The first thing that was obvious was that it was not going to be anything like Korean yellow tea, at all... The leaves were tiny, coiled, and full of fine white hairs. It looked nearly identical to Bi Lo Chun, except for a lighter, slightly yellow colour.

From what I gathered, it's harvested and produced in much the same way, as well, using only the tiniest buds of early spring. The one element of difference between yellow and green tea is that after they are withered and quickly heated to stop the enzymes from further changing the leaves, the process known as "kill-green", yellow tea is gently wrapped in cloth and left to sit in its own warmth, drawing more aroma and flavour from the leaves and giving them their yellowish tint.

I always love the thrill of opening an unknown tea and getting the first, fresh scent of the leaves. This one was very interesting, fresh, sharp, with a distinct lemon zest and cocoa aroma.

Deciding it best to treat it as a green tea, I gave it a slightly longer infusion with not too hot water. The result was a pale, yet bright yellow brew, speckled with tea down. The taste was very clear and refreshing. Not surprisingly, it tasted much like a fine Bi Lo Chun, with a distinct nutty bitterness, but the lemon-cocoa aroma of the leaves came through very nicely to give it a unique complexity that, in my opinion, made it slightly more enticing.

The ultra fine quality of the buds required to make yellow tea results in a very small harvest each year, making this a rather difficult tea to find. It seems I may have got a hold of the last bit from The Chinese Tea Shop, as the site was sold out when I returned to read more about it. But, if you ever come across any, I highly recommend it. (Or, if you happen to be in Korea in the next little bit, come over and I'll share a pot with you! I just can't guarantee I'll be keeping it for long. ;) )







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Friday, July 25, 2014

110-year-old Old Dragon Horse Tong Qing Cha • 龍馬同慶老號茶

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Prof Ahn, preparing old Dragon Horse (Yong Ma) Tong Qing Cha 
A few days after our trip to Cheong Seok Gol, I was dropping off the photos at Kkik Da Geo just as they were just beginning their Wednesday night tea class. So, I tried a cup of the gu jeung gu po they were discussing then began my quiet exit. I bowed to Prof Ahn and motioned that I would leave and he responded by holding up a bag of puer and asked, "Jo-sep, 100-year old Dong-Gyeong cha, do you know?" "AN GAYO! (NOT GOING!)" I replied, and returned to my seat... (I'd once heard him mention this tea but never thought I'd get a chance to try it!)

As he slowly heated and rinsed the pot and cups, replaced the screen inside the pot, shook out the last few drops of water, the anticipation grew. I'd only heard him mention this tea once, a few years ago and never thought I'd lay eyes on it myself. I thought maybe he would had a few small chunks from the bag into the pear-shaped pot, but instead he slowly scooped poured the whole bag in. I couldn't believe he was able to fit it all the the tall but slender pear-shaped pot.

He gave it a relatively long first steep, about 45 seconds. Even before he began to pour, the scent was heavy around the table. My mouth began watering. With twelve of us in the room, and the pot full of leaf, it took three full steeps to fill everyone's cup.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to follow much of what Prof Ahn had to say about the tea, but I gathered that it was one of the students who'd bought the tea from them twenty years ago, and brought it back as a generous offering to share with the class. Everyone gave her a short bow and thanked her. A 300 gram cake of this tea is worth about $100,000 (if you can find someone who is willing to sell, let alone find it at all, I'll add). "remember how many cups you drink!" he joked. "Even Chinese people rarely get to drink a tea like this. Usually only very rich people can buy it. You must have good "in-yeon" (karmic affinity) to have the chance to drink it."

I received my cup with sincere reverence and appreciation. The richness of the brew was immediately apparent, as the depth of the cup was hidden in opaque darkness. The scent was strong, earthy, and medicinal, like a dark, natural incense. "Look for a special plum flavour in the tea," Prof Ahn advised. Attentively taking in the first sip, it had the usual earthy and smokiness you'd expect from an old puer but with a refined smoothness I had not experienced before, followed by a rich bitter taste, perhaps form the long steeps, which then bloomed into the deep plum flavour he had alluded to.

While Prof Ahn is all about the tea, his wife, Mrs Kim, is all business. While Prof Ahn continued lecturing on the tea and I reveled in the the joy of the second and third sips, she sat beside me at a small table with a calculator figuring out exactly how much we were drinking. "$2400 worth of tea, divided by 12 people..." *click-click* *something-something* *click-click* "$100 A CUP!" she exclaimed. As a finished savouring the aroma of the empty cup, I promptly brought it over to Prof Ahn and asked, "Han jan doh, juseyo!" (One more cup, please!) In my experience, humour has been the most difficult cultural barriers to crack, but at least that got a good laugh from the others!

We enjoyed two more cups together before Prof Ahn switched to a different tea. At one point he asked if I was understanding anything he was saying but, honestly, I was so immersed in the tea that I hadn't even tried to follow. The 'cha qi' was so mellow and relaxing that I just sat, remarkably content. Looking up at the small painting above the tea table of a cup of puer tea with a Buddha sitting on a cushion of steam rising from the cup, Prof Ahn said that the painting was of a cup of Dong Gyung cha. I'd looked at that painting for years but had mostly found it sort of tacky, until now, it finally made sense. I may not of understood a word he said about the tea but I told him, "Now I understand that painting. this tea feels like Nirvana!"

Once I got home, I began the task of scouring the internet for what Dong Gyeong cha is in Chinese and hopefully some credible information about it. If I could read Chinese, this probably would have been much easier, but I was able to put together that is Long Ma Tong Qing Lao Hao (龍馬同慶老號茶/ Old Dragon Horse Tong Qing Cha). Tong Qing was a tea house that opened in 1736, the first year of the Qing Dynasty, and was known for producing the highest quality tea. Their Dragon Horse label was one of the first registered trademarks in China (and therefore, possibly the first to be knocked-off!).

Unfortunately, all I had with me was my phone camera, so these will have to do. Images of the cake and labels were taken from a book at the shop.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cheong Seok Gol Gu Jeung Gu Po, tasting

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Following the advice of the Cheong Seok Gok tea master, I kept my portion of our Gu Jeung Gu Po sealed for a couple of weeks. Basically, it lets the heat energy of the roasting process mellow out and the true taste of the leaves reestablish themselves. It takes a year for the heat to really fade, but I only have one package... Official 100g boxes from Cheong Seok Gol are sealed in individual 25g packages, so it's easier to keep one of those aside for a year.

It's a bit difficult to make a fair comparison to the batch we made last year, since we used the more elaborate technique of "gu jeung gu po", nine roast, nine dry, but on the other hand, it gives an excellent comparison between roasting nine times and the contemporary standard of roasting three times, as we did last year. The overall flavours and aromas where the same but what I noticed with gu jeung gu po is that they delivered themselves with an extra intensity.

The taste was incredible similar to the sweet, citronella-like scent of the leaves during the processing, which last year's batch only held a faint reminiscence of. The brew had a bright, concentrated colour (not so much in the images below, where I used very short steeps) and were very durable, producing a few more good tasting steeps than I usually get from Korean green tea.

Since making tea for the last couple of years, it's actually been over three years since I've purchased any tea from Cheong Seok Gol, but I would like to see how our gu jeung gu po compares to the tea master's Ujeon cha (first flush tea).We did taste some very fresh Ujeon between roasts making this tea, but it was too busy to give it my full appreciation.

side note - after seeing the Cheong Seok Gol tea master and Prof Ahn both use Yixing pots to brew this tea, I decided to do the same. I'd love to see how beautiful this tea looks in my favourite Korean pot next time...

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