A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from February 2008

Tokoname yaki

February 29, 2008 · 10 Comments

Is this a yixing pot?

At first glance it might be, but look closer

Maybe not?

The pot is a tokoname yaki, which are sort of the Japanese equivilent of Yixing pottery. They are widely used to make tea, and most of the time, the pottery comes in the shape of a typical Japanese kyusu, with a side handle rather than the back handle like this one. However, in the 19th century I believe some guy from China (IIRC he’s called Jin Shiheng) went to Japan and taught them how to make Yixing style pottery, and so nowadays there are pots that look like this — sort of Yixing like in their appearance.

The clay, as you can see, is a bit on the orange side of things. It’s very fine. The pot is thrown on a wheel, I think, rather than being molded like a Yixing pot would. In this sense, it sort of reminds me of Shantou pots from China, which are also of an orange colour clay and thrown on wheels.

This particular pot was extremely dirty (and thus extremely cheap), and after cleaning, I discovered that there’s a nasty crack at the tip of the spout. It’s still usable, but doesn’t pour very well. I bought it partly as an experiment to see the clay for myself, and to play around with it, eventually. There’s a Yamada Jozan (four generations of them now) who is the most famous of these potters who make such back-handled pots. Prices for those can be rather high because that line is basically designated as National Living Treasures in Japan… and I am personally not sure what the value in them may be, other than as art objects.

Regardless, one more toy from Japan.

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Zhongcha orange in orange

February 28, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I rearranged my tea closet yesterday, which helped me fully appreciate how much tea I am actually sitting on, and while doing it, dug up a lot of old samples that are slowly aging in their respective little bags.

Since there’s precious little point in keeping those around, I decided to start — or at least attempt — to eliminate some of them by, well, drinking them.

The first victim is the Orange in Orange Zhongcha sample from Hou De, which is, I believe, sold out long ago. The tea is from 1996, supposedly, and I’m sure if you dig far enough in this blog, you can find my last review of it.

The tea smells almost liked a cooked puerh, oddly enough

And the smell sort of persists into the first cup

(Both of these cups, btw, are new acquisitions from Japan, along with the new tetsubin and a few other things — such as the bamboo tea spoon… although strictly speaking they are both intended to be used for sake, but I don’t care for such details)

The tea is…. quite unremarkable. It’s a bit cooked like at first, even though it is raw — wet storage can do that to you, but somehow for this particular tea, it’s a little more pronounced than usual. The tea switches into its “raw” mode after maybe 5-6 infusions, tasting greener and lighter, which, often enough, is the better part of a wet stored puerh. It’s not that interesting per se, but it’s not too bad either, and I’m sure back in the day when a sample means 2oz of tea, the price was sufficiently low to justify the purchase of many such cakes. Now…. I wonder if Hou De would even bother to list anything under $400 for somethig that’s about ten years old.

The wet leaves are, by and large, small and a bit broken. Clear signs of wet storage exist, but nothing so serious to have those carbonized leaves. Maybe wait another five or ten years and this tea should be pretty good, but these days, I begin to wonder if I will ever be patient enough to see my teas through decades of aging. If a tea that’s ten years old tastes only so so…. I don’t want to think about the implications.

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New tools, old tea

February 27, 2008 · 5 Comments

I got some new stuff yesterday through the mail, one of which is this

A new (for me) tetsubin that I bought a little while ago from Japan. The one I’ve been using, after much cleaning and what not, is still not entirely satisfactory. It’s basically too small, and the kettle is a little quirky to get right. This one, on the other hand, exhibits none of the problems I’ve had with the old one. It’s made by Sato Seiko about 30 years ago. The craftsmanship on it is much better than my more mass produced predecessor. The pouring is much more controlled, and the whole thing is easier to use, basically… not to mention bigger, thus less trips to heat up water fresh. I like it. The only problem, if there is one, is that it has absorbed the smell of the wooden box a little, but I’d imagine with some use it will clear up sooner or later.

The tea I drank today is the 2005 Xizihao Lao Banzhang, something that is long sold out at Hou De. I remember I had this tea almost two years ago when I first started blogging, and the tea tasted a bit green to me — I remarked something along the lines of how it reminded me of longjing or something, and that it had gone to my head. Mindful of the potential power of this tea, I went a little easy on myself. The result is a sweetish brew — the tea has aged a bit, methinks, and I with it as a tea drinker. The tea no longer tastes green, and the liquor is a bit orangy, rather than yellow. The tea, overall, is subdued…. not terribly powerful, but I never thought it was in terms of taste. I did feel some of that qi coming from the tea, but even that seems a little mellower. Enjoyable, but not mind blowing.

I don’t know if it’s just me, or if the tea did change that way. It’s hard to tell with just a sample. Also, since I’m using all new teaware, compared to my gaiwan, electric kettle, etc that I used last time, not to mention different water and two more years of drinking experiences, maybe all comparison is moot.

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The gaiwan comparison

February 26, 2008 · 7 Comments

Since I mentioned it yesterday, today I whipped out my gaiwan and tried the same tea — the aged tieguanyin from my Taiwanese candy store, to see how the gaiwan fares.

The short version is: not too well.

I think there’s a temperature problem with the gaiwan, although I have a feeling that’s not the only issue. The tea came out a bit subdued — the aromatics and depth did not show up very much, although the throatiness of the tea presented itself strongly. The tea’s aromas were certainly lacking compared to the zhuni pot I used yesterday. Nor does it have the softness that I would get using my black pot. Did it have any redeeming feature? I’m not sure….

So, no gaiwan for aged oolongs. I knew this already, but this is a good confirmation.

I should note that I am not the only person to have tried something like this. Adrian Lurssen has written two pieces on the same subject of yixing vs gaiwan over at Chadao, dated Nov 27th and 30th. His results were more inconclusive, but I think it depends greatly on the tea in question. Gaiwans, I think, don’t do as bad with teas like greens or young puerhs, but I don’t drink a lot of those these days.

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Gaiwan brewing

February 25, 2008 · 1 Comment

I realized today I haven’t touched any of my gaiwans since I returned from Taiwan.

I remember I used to use the gaiwan for everything…. from greens to blacks. Gaiwan was my weapon of choice. Gaiwan was the only thing I’d use, pretty much.

Then slowly, I started using more yixing pots. I gradually bought a few more, and found them, somehow, easier to use. Maybe it’s because I will no longer burn my fingers, as I do once in a while with a gaiwan. Maybe they provide more aesthetic variety. Maybe they do make better tea?

On the better tea question, I am now quite certain that some yixing pots will make softer tea (whether that’s better or not is up to individual taste). I’m still not sure exactly what goes on in a yixing pot that actually changes the tea. There are many theories out there, from temperature retention (sort of true…) to pores in the clay (really depends) to seasoning (maybe true, maybe magic…. and also depends, greatly). Gaiwans, though, still give you an “honest” tea, without really messing with the tea in any particular way.

I’ve also basically ditched the fairness cup these days, especially after I acquired those Hong Kong cups that will hold a pot of tea, regardless of which pot I used. I find myself enjoying my tea more without needing to re-pour from the fairness cup into my drinking cup. That, I think, is entirely personal — somehow, the fairness cup feels artificial, almost lazy.

Maybe I should pull out my gaiwan one of these days and revisit one of the teas I’ve been drinking a lot recently, such as the tieguanyin I drank today. I wonder if I can tell the difference.

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Brewing parameters

February 23, 2008 · 6 Comments

This question comes up again and again in the course of talking tea over the internet…. what’s your brewing parameters?

The same question, I find, is much less common in the Chinese online scene for tea. Either people all know it and don’t need to ask, or people don’t care.

I think the reason people keep asking this question is because of the belief that there’s an optimal brewing parameter for a particular tea, where the extraction of soluable things from the tea will be optimal (just right, not too bitter, etc). It might be 5/5/10/20/30/60, or it might be 5/5/5/5/5/5/5/10. I don’t know. Whatever it is, there’s a certain sense that there’s a “right” answer.

As my readers generally know, I am against timing infusions. I think if we start timing infusions, then one must also time the number of elapsed seconds between infusions — whether that is 10 seconds, a minute, or five. Leaves that have been infused three or four times will continue to cook in your pot/gaiwan until the next time you pour water in. As Dogma said to me, the water that you pour in does basically two things — bring the temperature up a little (it’s likely still very hot in the pot/gaiwan without the water) and it carries all the dissolved stuff out with it when you pour. The actual amount of time it spends in the pot/gaiwan isn’t that important.

For example, today when I made a rather commonplace wet stored loose puerh, I think my infusion parameters, as judged by time spent with water in the pot, runs something like 3/3/5/5/5/5/10/10/20. I guess I should tell you how big (in ml) my pot is, but I have no clue. Nor do I use a scale. I can tell you that my pot was about 1/3 full of dry leaves when I poured the wash in.

But that’s not the whole story. I spent considerably more time (proportionately) drinking the tea earlier than later. There was probably a minute or two of rest time in between infusions 4 and 5 (or was it 5 and 6?). Some infusions come out weaker than others. How do I account for all of these things?

I don’t, however, think I brewed this the “optimal” way, nor do I think there is an optimal way. I like my teas this way, because …. I find they come out just fine. I use similar parameters for almost all teas, unless they happen to be green or white, which I almost never drink these days anyway. So, the short answer is…. that’s how I brew my tea, and it applies to almost everything I post about here, which, oddly enough, seems to work remarkably well.

Scary thought, isn’t it?

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Sample H

February 23, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Sample H today

This tea was a little hard to identify. Looking at the dry leaves, I thought it could be some dancong, because of the long leaves and the relative greenness of it. Brewing it though

Revealed a yancha taste. So, yancha it is, but…. what kind? It might’ve been shuixian, one of the lighter roasted kinds. But then, shuixian is typically a little weaker than this — this tea was fairly strong, with a good amount of yanyun and a nice, full body, but a taste that I couldn’t quite identify. It was roasted right — not too little, and dare I say it, not too much. I am usually not a great fan of the lower roastings of Wuyi tea, because I tend to find them a little too green, but this one was enough so that the nasty greenness was gone and preserving a nice honey taste.

Talking to Will, I found out that this tea is actually called Changqingteng, literally evergreen cane. Never heard of it. Googling reveals nothing. My guess is this is a newfangled invention of the tea maker whom he got it from. Not a bad tea, I must say. Not something for everyday, but I think this tea can probably age well.

One interesting thing is that the leaves are extremely large — suggesting, perhaps, that it uses older leaves for the tea. I wonder if that’s what gives it the rather unique flavour.

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Sample F

February 22, 2008 · 1 Comment

Before I go on about today’s tea…. if you noticed that the links to your left have disappeared, that’s because my Xanga premium subscription ran out. Xanga, you see, is cheap that way — you can only put up links to outside sites if you pay them (as far as I know anyway). I don’t think it’s really worth the privilege, since I think the ability to link to other places should come for free. So… sorry for no more links.

Anyway, today was another sample from Will. Sample F this time.

The tea is rather reddish in colour when dry. Smells a little sour, but not bad. Not heavily rolled. Lots of stems. Looks old.

Colour came out all right

The tea is interesting. It is actually quite similar to a 15-20 years old competition tea I bought in Taipei just before I left. This tea is a little thinner than that one. The taste is also different somewhat — there’s an interesting (some might say odd) taste in this tea that isn’t in that one, which is mostly sweet and fruity. I don’t know how to describe the taste — it might be slightly medicinal. I am thinking that it might have something to do with the high amounts of stems in this tea versus mostly just leaves in that one of mine. Otherwise, flavour profile are quite similar from beginning to end. Mostly sweet, fruity taste. At the end the agedness came through with a slightly puerh-esque taste. Not a bad tea, so long as it doesn’t cost too much.

The leaves look standard — nothing too remarkable, but sometimes, nothing stands out is a good thing.

Two down… at least another half dozen to go!

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February 21, 2008 · 2 Comments

As promised…

Benshan, otherwise known as fake tieguanyin, or at least, it’s often mixed into tieguanyin and sold as such. It’s very cheap — my 100g bag cost 10 RMB, which comes to around $1.20. And this is the good stuff — there’s stuff that’s about half the price.

I used my tieguanyin pot to make it


It’s really quite interesting. The tea isn’t terrible. It’s got a familiar taste — I KNOW I’ve had this tea before, or at least something quite similar. I recognize the aroma, and the aftertaste. It’s even got a nice aftertaste, although for all I know, it’s some chemical they sprayed onto the thing. I am quite confident that this can be sold easily as tieguanyin here for 30 cents a gram and nobody would notice. Mix in a little tieguanyin, and it’s probably even harder to notice.

That’s what they do in China, anyway, so a guy selling tieguanyin here might actually be selling you benshan, and he doesn’t even know it.

I really haven’t had tieguanyin often enough these days to discern all the minor differences between this tea and the real deal. All I can say is this was a little thin, the huigan and the yun a little slow in coming, and a little grassy at the end. All in all… acceptable, but since I don’t like drinking things like this anymore these days, it mattered little.

The wet leaves

Do they look familiar? I hope not. I was told that one way to tell Benshan is that the stem of the leaves tend to look a little like bamboo — with little indents on them. They also don’t tear apart cleanly — when you pull them apart, they don’t have a clean cut, whereas a tieguanyin would. Differences in stem structure, I suppose, although I have never tried verifying this for sure. Maybe somebody can do that test for me.

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Sample G

February 19, 2008 · 4 Comments

As the slow boat from Taiwan arrived, I finally got my stuff, among which are samples — samples from Will of LA Tea Drinkers, in this case. I picked out a bag at random, sample G, so sample G it is.

It smelled like a lot of “aged” oolongs I’ve had in Taiwan…. heavily roasted stuff, rolled, probably claiming to be 20 years old, but probably no more than maybe 5.

It looks like those tea brewed as well

I don’t know if it’s obvious here, but basically.. there’s a difference in hue of the tea. The stuff that is heavily roasted but without much age is generally brownish, whereas the stuff that have been aged, roasted or not, are usually more reddish. It’s a subtle difference that probably barely shows up on screen, but when you see it in person enough times, it shows. The tea is a bit thin, with not much beyond the roasty taste. A little sour. It’s not horrible… but probably not as old and as good as it claims to be.

The wet leaves

Also look true to form. Examining them though reveals that they might be benshan, a cheaper varietal of tea that is often used to make “tieguanyin”. Which reminded me — I have a bag of benshan from Beijing that I’ve been meaning to drink all along, if for nothing else than self education. Maybe that’ll be tomorrow’s tea.

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