Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Learning to Understand Hong Cha

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Last month, Prof Ahn invited me to sit in on a tea class which happened to be on hong cha, "red tea".

I mentioned last summer that hong cha is my least favorite style of Chinese tea. On top of that, I also mentioned the frustrating time I had trying to brew it. For this, I was eager to taste Prof Ahn's brew and watch his technic.

Using Yixing "Gong Fu" Hong Cha, he scooped a fair amount of leaves into a glass pot. Barely giving the water enough time to cool from a boil, he filled the pot and let it steep for a relatively long time, nearly a minute. So far, he'd done everything I'd thought I'd done wrong and then some... Tasting it just confirmed my feeling, as it was strong and murky, though not bitter. Nothing of the sweet fragrance of the leaves was apparent. (Despite my lack of enthusiasm, hong cha leaves are actually one of my favorite smelling.) After the third cup, I began thinking that I just don't "get" hong cha. Then something marvelous happened; I burped!

It wasn't just any old burp. It was a magical burp filled with all the lovely "huigan" that had been building in my throat with each sip. All the lovely sweet floral fragrance of the leaves came out like a small explosion. I thought, "This is what hong cha is about!" (just to be clear, it was a silent burp, no heads were turned! ;) ).

"Huigan" is a difficult word to translate, but essentially it's a Chinese term for a sweet aftertaste and what most Chinese tea drinkers truly judge a fine tea by. It reminded me of the general difference in how Westerners and Far-Eastern approach tea. Westerners tend to prefer the initial, direct taste of the tea, whereas in China it's the subtle, lingering effect of tea that is desirable. I appreciate the elegance and sophistication of the Chinese approach, though I don't always remember to apply it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pots for Da Hong Pao & other Wuyi Cliff teas

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Over the last few weeks, I've shifted my focus away from blogging to start working out some book ideas that I've been conceptualizing for a long time now. I would, however, like to answer a question that was posted by a reader some time ago:
Out of curiosity, as somebody who likes to drink wu-yi teas, and especially da hong bao when affordable: could you ask Mrs Kim which type of tea pot she does recommend for wu yi teas, and da hong bao? It would be great if you could post her answer when convenient. 
All best! Vladimir
Apologies for the late reply, Vladimir, but here it is now!

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugI actually spoke to Prof Ahn about this a long time ago and he told me that Biao Zhun (standard) teapots are especially good for Wuyi yancha as well as Pheonix Dan Cong. He brought in this little 25ml Biao Zhun pot and recommended for me to use it with Da Hong Pao. The small size is appropriate for expensive teas, which you'd like to use with care.
People tend to doubt that I can even fit yancha leaves into it without breaking them, but with a little care, they fit perfectly well.

In Mrs Kim's opinion, the quality of the clay is more important than the shape. (As Prof Ahn once said to me, "Best tea, best teapot!", meaning the higher quality the leaves are, the higher quality of teapot they deserve.) Over the past few weeks, I've had the pleasure of tasting their incredible 1997 Da Hong Pao a few times, and each time was with a different style pot; a dragon egg, a "stone ladel", and, this morning, this antique pear teapot.

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