Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Feng Huang Dan Cong • 凤凰单枞

On Phoenix Mountain, One is Many.  

If I had to choose a single favourite tea, which I hope no one ever asks me to do, I just might have to pick Feng Huang Dan Cong. 

Feng Huang, 凤凰, is Chinese for Phoenix, and Dan Cong, 单枞, can be translated as 'single bush'. Simply, dan, 单, is one, and cong, 枞, is many, so, to me, the name Feng Huang Dan Cong, is like a poem, "On Phoenix Mountain, one is many."

The name originates from a combination of Phoenix Mountain, where the tea grows, and the technique of keeping the leaves harvested from each tree separate, rather than blending the leaves, how most other teas are produced.

There are many other ways that one becomes many on Phoenix Mountain, though.The oldest tree of the mountain, about 900 years old, over a couple of centuries, spread across the slopes, covering the mountain with tea trees. The trees that grow on Phoenix Mountain are known for their single trunk that umbrellas out into many branches, and on each branch sprouts several leaves. I haven't been told where the original tree came from, but I like to imagine the seed was dropped there by the old Phoenix of the mountain, but feel free to believe otherwise... ^_^

The mist covered mountains are the perfect place for growing tea. Hot days and cool nights also add to the quality of the leaves, which is why mountain tea is so nice. The rocky terrain of the moutains also add the warmth and richness of the tea. The higher up the mountain, and the older the tree, the better quality the tea leaves are. It's because of the unique flavour of each tree that they are kept separate. The area also has thousands of years of tea history and is a likely place of the origin of Gongfu Cha.

Since I've yet to visit Phoenix Mountain, the photos I've used come from here: http://www.hojotea.com/article_e/phoenix_e.htm#

If you're interested, it is an excellent, much more in depth article on Phoenix tea.

Wu Dong Mountain, a part of the Phoenix Mountain chain, is where the best trees grow.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Three Sips

Though there are no rules for enjoying Gongfu Cha, there are "ways" that have evolved.

Gongfu teacups are very small, so that every sip is fresh. They are usually shallow and wide so that they can be held without burning your fingers. Hold the cup between your thumb and index or middle finger at he rim, then turn your hand so that the back of your hand is facing out. If you are younger than others at the table, it is etiquette to hold the palm of your left hand just beneath the cup. This is most likely a Confucian thing, but will be noticed if you are drinking tea in the Far-East. 

·1· Perceive 

The first thing to admire is the colour of the liquor, its translucence or opacity, dependending on which type of tea you're drinking. As you become familiar with the different teas, you will know immediately just by looking at it what to expect, if it is a bit strong, a little thin, just right.

·2· Fragrance

Gently wave the teacup back and forth below your nostrils, slowly inhaling the tea oils as they oxidize. Let the fragrance of the tea consume you, then holding onto the scent, invite the teacup to your lips.

·3· Three Sips

With the tea's fragrance still fresh in your senses, take a small sip and hold it in your mouth a while, allowing the tea time to perform its choreography. Different teas behave differently, interacting in unique ways, or with different parts of your mouth, perhaps with subtle elegance, or others with bold complexities. Three sips are best, especially if the tea is very hot.

Of course, the best way to enjoy tea is with others. The colour, the scent, the taste, all become secondary to the conversation with company over which it's meant to be drunk, whether it's in three sips, or in one...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tea; the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

"Tea is only tea, not medicine," the tea master told me, with an authoritative tone and heavy Korean accent, cutting off my attempt at a conversation about the health benefits of drinking tea.

He wasn't denying that tea has significant health properties but was pointing out that that's not the mind one should enjoy tea with. So, as long as we forget all this while making tea, maybe knowing the health benefits of tea will be an enticement to choose tea over a less healthy beverage in the future.

The Good;

First of all, green tea has the highest concentration of catechin of any food, a type of flavonoid antioxidant amazing for fighting cancer, it's loaded with vitamin C, and has Riboflavin, vitamin B-12, and a healthy dose of fluoride. Green tea has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen your bones. The balance of vitamins and minerals in green tea help the body absorb them easily, too.

There is also evidence that green tea can lower cholesterol, help burn fat, prevent diabetes and stroke, as well as stave off dementia.

In oolong and Puerh teas, the oxidation that occurs lowers the concentration of antioxidants, but it is only slightly. I've also noticed that bottled green teas tend to have a reddish tint, which means oxidation has occurred. Puerh tea actually develops living microorganisms, though, that are beneficial to your body. Puerh tea is good for soothing a sore throat and helps digestion, as well as keeps you warm in the winter.

The Bad;

There really isn't much about tea that's bad.

If you have problems with caffeine, then you might use caution.

In tea producing areas in China, studies revealed extremely low cancer rates, but one type of cancer that did show up was throat cancer. This wasn't so much from drinking tea as much as it was from drinking extremely hot tea. Puerh tea is prepared with boiling water and drunk quickly.

In the UK, studies revealed that drinking seven cups of tea a day may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Tea bushes are extremely sensitive to their environment, and the leaves are susceptible to absorbing pollutants from the air. This could become an issue in today's world...

The Ugly;

Tea's flavour comes from its tannins, however the tannins are also what colours our teeth yellow.

When I asked my dentist about this, he said it doesn't actually dye your teeth but it dyes the dirt on your teeth but after time will soak into the teeth. So, if you brush your teeth shortly before or after drinking tea, it shouldn't turn your teeth yellow.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gong Fu Puerh Cha • 功夫普洱茶

Pu-erh cha, 普洱茶, is a type of tea that has been tightly packed, usually into disk, brick, or knob shapes, then fermented for several years. Though they are increasingly rare nowadays, it takes thirty years for pu-erh's cha-qi, 茶齊, tea energy, to be considered truly developed. A forty, sixty, or even one-hundred year old pu-erh is even better, as its character continues to mellow with age. Much of the tea trade revolves around pu-erh cha, and it's what you'll most likely be served when you visit a tea master.

More recently, an extra step of tumbling the wet leaves has been added before pressing the leaves to imitate the aging process. These teas are known as 'shou cha', 熟茶, 'ripe', 'cooked', or 'black' pu-erh, while the traditional aging process is known as 'sheng cha', 生茶, 'raw' or 'green' pu-erh. Sheng pu-erh is usually preferred for aging, though there are also many aged shou pu-erh on the market.

Though, Pu-erh can be quite a complex tea, it's actually the simplest tea to brew. It's almost impossible to ruin a pot of pu-erh tea, though you'll certainly notice when it's prepared with skill. I've chosen an 18 year old sheng cha, and an antique Yixing pear shaped pot, which wouldn't suit shou cha, but I find brews this sheng cha very well.

For gong fu cha, you generally want to fill the pot about a third with dry tea. With pu'erh you can add even more. It's good to add a balance of larger chunks with a bit of smaller bits, as the chunks will develop slowly and the small pieces will boost the initial infusions.

Once your water has reached a "crab-eye" boil (bubbles the size of crab eyes), the first step is to heat the pot and the cup(s). Fill the pot entirely, then returning the lid, pour water all over the outside of the pot. This also helps to wash any dust away. The water can be emptied out into the cups to heat them as well. Temperature is important, as the tea oils respond to heat, and a cold pot or cup will "steal" the fragrance of the tea.

Now you can add your tea, and if you like, let it sit for a moment in the hot teapot. Especially with aged pu'erh tea, it is important to quickly rinse the tea of dust. Fill the teapot with water, wait a few seconds and empty it. The first time you add water to the tea, it will be very bubbly and these bubbles will carry out the dust. Scrape them off with the bottom of the lid and then pour a bit of water over the pot once more. Rinsing the leaves also start to awaken them and you'll notice the scent emerging from the pot. I always enjoy smelling the tea or even the inside of the lid and getting a hint of what's to come.

Gong fu cha has very quick infusions, for pu'erh the first should only be about 10-15 seconds, depending on personal taste and the character of the tea. The second infusion is the shorter, only 8-10 seconds, since the leaves have further awoken. The third infusion is the shortest, 6-8 seconds, and the leaves are now at their prime. The third infusion is often considered the best. For the fourth and fifth add a couple more seconds to each brew, then a few more seconds after that. A good quality tea will continue to deliver about eight servings, though you can continue with brews a few minutes, an hour, or even day long infusions if you really want to get everything you can out of the leaves.

It's important to pay close attention to the brewing times, not to drain too much of the tea at one time, leaving it thin for the next infusions. Eventually, you form a type of "communication" with the tea, where your intuition begins to guide your hand. The tea tells you when it is ready.

Little things I enjoy while brewing tea are watching the water suddenly evaporate from the side of the pot, the smell of the cup just after it's been emptied, the warm feel of it in my hand, and most of all, the joy of serving someone a great cup of tea!

dry leaves

rinse, to be discarded
first infusion, full color 

second infusion, still lots of bubbles 

wet leaves
third infusion, some bubbles 
fourth infusion, no more bubbles 

my wife's untouched second cup compared with the eighth infusion 

used leaves