Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Removing the lid between steeps

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It's important, when brewing tea, to remove the lid between steeps. It allows the steam to escape, rather than remain in the pot to cook the leaves. If the lid is left on, the steam will oxidize the leaves, affecting the flavour.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Holding an Yixing teapot

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When you see the looped handle on an Yixing teapot, its intuitive to hook your index around it to lift it and pour. But one of the first things the Tea Masters at Kkik Da Geo taught me was the proper way to hold them, not by hooking it with your index, but by pinching the handle between your thumb and middle finger at the highest point of the handle, away from the body of the pot, and using your index to hold the lid down while pouring.

At first, it feels a bit awkward but it quickly becomes comfortable and the advantages are immediately obvious. But hooking your index around the handle, your grip is not strong and the pot can easily slip down and press the hot teapot against you other fingers. It's also easy to burn your knuckle against the pot, as it pokes towards the pot inside the loop. But by pinching it, you have a much more secured grip are more controlled. With your free index finger, you don't need your other hand to keep the lid from dropping. A pot with good shui pin is perfectly balance when held this way, making the pot feel lighter and more comfortable to pour.

When held correctly, your thumb and middle finger should not touch. Though there's usually a practical reason for everything, this may be more for etiquette or elegance. It could also be that if your fingers are touching  the grip is not centered but too high on the handle, making the pot vulnerable to slipping out.

The Dry Salvages (excerpt)

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We had the experience but missed the meaning
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness
The past experience revived in the meaning
Is not the experience of one life only
But of many generations
Not forgetting something that is probably quite ineffable

-T.S. Elliot (excerpt from The Dry Salvages)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Silver Needle White Tea • 白毫銀針

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Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen) • 白毫銀針

I hadn't purchased Silver Needle White Tea since my very early days of Chinese tea exploration, when any decent cup of tea I brewed at home was mere fluke and not a frequent happening. So, I had little memory of Silver Needle until I made this purchase a few months ago.

The moment I opened the package, a sweet, light syrupy fragrance came wafting up and my senses began to tingle with anticipation. 

Putting three heaping scoops into the tea funnel to admire, I'm amused by the plump, fuzzy buds. I imagine the Ewok witch doctor must keep a small jar of these buds stashed amongst his other herbs. Another name for this tea is White Hair Silver Needle, and it is the white hairs that truly give it its silvery look. 

The tea is produced in the Fu Ding region of Fujian Province, from where it first originated. Daniel, from the Chinese Teashop, claims that it is the highest grade, and judging by the appearance and scent of the leaves, I already have no doubt.

Placing the leaves in a heated pot, the smell intensifies as the leaves are warmed. The contract of the leaves against the zisha clay is quite stunning. The smell is like no other tea, as it carried my memory back to childhood and the scent of fleshly bailed hay in a hot, humid barn.

As you'd imagine from its name, White Tea produces a very light liquor, but there is no subtlety about its smell, just like the initial scent of the packaged leaves. The first sip is joy; a soft, flowery sweetness mixed with the deeper syrupy dried hay, like I'd sensed in the leaves. Imagine sucking on a straw of the sweetest smelling hay ever cut and you might be a sniff in the right direction.

If you think its dishonouring the tea to be comparing it to hay, it's not. First, anyone who is familiar with the sweat smell of hay will understand. Second, it's not uncommon to describe tea as 'grassy'. And third, White Tea's production method is very similar to hay. The first buds of spring are picked, then left in shallow baskets to whither in the sun. Though there is slight oxidation, there is no roasting or fermenting of the leaves. 

After just a single steep, the silver colour disappears and rich, golden-green buds glow form the pot. Though the next steep has lost a slight bit of the sweetness, the syrupy mouth feel remains. As one good steep deserves another, I sip cup after cup, until the tea-drunk sets in and if I drink anymore, I'll be too shaky to hole a cup steady.

White Tea is best steeped with water no hotter than 80ºC (176ºF) to fully appreciate  the sweetness of the tea. I tend to steep my tea with very short initial three steeps, 10-15 seconds, then slowly increase the time with each further steep, preferring the subtleties of quick steeps.

Purchased from The Chinese Teashop: Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hunan Wild Handmade Fu Brick Tea • 手製 福磚茶 湖南 野生

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Handmade Fu Brick, Wild Hunan Tea • 手製  福磚茶 湖南 野生

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A type of tea that caught my curiosity on Kkik Da Geo's website, which I hadn't seen before, was a 2009 Fu brick tea from Hunan province, covered in tiny clustered specks of yellow mould, known as "Golden Flower". The full brick was beyond what I could afford, but Kkik Da Geo had broken up a few bricks into 100g samples which were perfect.

After exhausting the previous pot of Qian Liang cha, she began brewing some of their "Bukjeon Cha", as the brick of Fu tea is called in Korean (호남성 야상 수제 북전차), for us to compare. In all fairness, there are very few teas that could compare to the 60 year old Qian Liang cha, but this 3 year old brick tea is not bad at a fraction of the price.

Though it lacked the rich, nutty tone that I like so much in the Qian Liang cha, I found its soft and curiously sweet taste interesting. 

I've been totally intrigued but the Golden Flower clinging to the dry leaves. Breaking a chunk up, I found even more of it layered amongst the leaves. In dark teas, the appearance of this mould is an indication of its quality, the more the better, but for this particular tea, the mould was cultivated, then added during the processing.

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Heating up the antique Ba Le pot she'd let me walk out of the store with in my previous visit, I broke off a slightly larger amount of tea than I tried before to see how far I could push this tea.

The rinsed leaves had a strong fishy scent that I attribute to the mould, though I found it lingered more like the scent of dry kelp.

The extra amount of tea made the brew much murkier and more reddish brown than the bright yellow cups I had been brewing. Even so, it only had a slight bitterness, and its characteristic sweet taste prevailed. What I appreciated most from the strong brew was the woody aftertaste that emerged in the back of the mouth as the tea slid down, like the smell of a dank old tree stump on a warm autumn day.

After a few strong, woody brews, the tea lightened once more to its familiar sweetness before developing a more dry, astringent taste, then came to a rather abrupt end. An overnight steeping gave a final light burst of cold flavour and I decided there was little more to expect from the faded leaves.

Minerals swirling in a strong first brew.

bits of Golden Flower cling to the pot after sitting in the tea boat

the third cup was pleasant and clear

...three sips

a few clusters of Golen Flower remaining on the soggy leaves

a nice, bright, golden brew

final appreciation, most of the darkness has faded to a muddy green hue