A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from June 2008

Aged tieguanyin

June 29, 2008 · 1 Comment

I drank some tieguanyin today, which I tasted very early on in this blog’s life. That’s basically two years ago when I last tried it, and looking back at those comments, it’s really rather interesting how my view of teas in general have changed.

Two years on, the tea is still good. It’s still in the same tin, although its contents mostly gone. The tea is developing a little tartness that I don’t think it had before. There’s a more subdued aroma now — the floral sort of quality is certainly gone, or at least dissipated. However, it’s also not bitter anymore — bitterness seems to go out of the window after a few years.

Is this tea more enjoyable than it was two years ago? That’s quite hard to say. After all, it has lost the freshness of a new tea. It will not satisfy those who are looking for a nice green cup of tieguanyin. Yet, I think nowadays my body likes these things much better than fresh tea — maybe I’m getting stale myself, so I require stale teas.

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Adding silver to the tea

June 27, 2008 · 3 Comments

No, I didn’t run away. I’ve just been rather busy settling in, and playing with the silver kettle.

I’ve tried four things with it so far. Two aged oolongs, one puerh, and one lighter oolong that’s slightly aged. I think what I have found so far is that overall, water that has gone through the silver kettle seems to impart more “depth” to the teas in question.

Now, what do I mean by that? I think first and foremost, the teas seem to be a little more aromatic. The “high” notes are more emphasized, whereas I think when using a tetsubin, the “low” notes are more pronounced. Also, for the two aged oolongs and also the puerh (a border tea) I got a very long lasting throatiness that was quite pleasant, and is certainly something that I personally like to taste in my teas. Basically, the longer a tea stays in my mouth after I swallowed, the better.

Still, I am probably going to hold onto this for a few more days before I should send it off, and it might be time to break out my competition tea tasting set to do a comparison…..

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On silver kettles

June 25, 2008 · 10 Comments

This thing just came in the mail. No, it’s not mine (I wish!). But I do get the privilege of playing with it and using it for a little bit before handing it off to the friend whom I helped source this item. You can see my reflection in the kettle :).

Since there’s very little literature out there on these things, I figured I should tell you all what I have learned so far. Silver kettles come in different shapes and sizes. The small ones are very thin and were more like teapots than kettles — they often have an internal filter, and have an engraved surface with a flower or some other motif. Those are the cheapest and really not meant for water boiling. Then you have the medium sized ones like this one, which are good enough sized for brewing purposes. Compare:

And my tetsubin is fairly large. To give you a better idea, from the tip of the spout to the other end, it’s about 6 inches or about 15.5cm. The seller said this weighs 570g including everything. Then you have the large ones — the largest ones I’ve seen are around 1100g in weight and correspondingly larger in size. It’s pretty heavy, and a lot of silver. Obviously, you have to pay more for those, but even those ones should be obtainable for under $1600 or so unless it’s extremely intricately decorated or special in some other way (famous person, etc..).

A really important thing with all Japanese wares that are of some age though is the box — as you can see in the first picture, the box has stuff written on it. Here, it had a date — winter 1936 (written as Showa “bingzi” using the old Chinese 60 years cycle system). That’s more than 70 years ago. The thing also says “8th generation Ryubundo”, and then a name, “made by”, and then a Japanese style signature and a seal. The name is probably that of the person who is the person holding the firm “Ryubundo”, a fairly famous metalworks maker (best known among aficiandos for their tetsubins probably). So, this is probably made by that guy — not a bad pedigree. The name on the bottom right was probably the owner of the kettle. Sometimes boxes also come with some insert — a printed name card or piece of paper that basically advertise the shop’s wares, but the important info is always what’s on the box itself, usually the lid and sometimes the bottom of the box. But wait — look at the exterior of the lid, and it says “Precious Pearl shaped Tetsubin”. Hmmm, tetsubin?

The box (and the yellow cloth) are both part of the packaging, and having the original (rather than just any random box for something else) can significantly change the value of the item — usually for the higher. Unfortunately, this kettle didn’t come with the original box, but for less than 3x the price of the silver it took to make the kettle at today’s crazy prices, one can hardly complain. This actually happens a lot, as I’ve bought a bowl or some other stuff that obviously didn’t have the original box but instead came in what fit. Still, having A box is handy — not least because it offers quite a bit of protection.

Then there are the details — like whether or not something is “pure silver”. From what I understand, the “jungin” stamp on silver items worked sort of like “sterling silver” stamps on western silver items — it’s not quite “pure”, but pure enough. And…. if something doesn’t have it, chances are it’s not actually “pure silver” — if you made the item with high purity silver, you’d want the people buying it to know. To do otherwise would be, well, stupid. Silver alloys are not bad, but with lower purity — it should command a lower price. The Japanese “jungin” seal is a tiny little thing, usually in the center of the kettle’s bottom — 4mm by 2mm, very small.

I think those are all the things to really look out for in a silver kettle. The rest are intuitive — is it well made? How was it made? This one you can see little hammer marks on it — a deliberate design decision. Some have hobnails. Others are more unique — swirls, etc. Once I saw one that was absolutely gorgeous, with a jade ball as a handle for the lid, and a very unique design. I still wonder why I didn’t jump on that thing.

How does it work for tea though?

I gave it a try today, although I don’t want to be too conclusive without more tries with it. Drinking the same tea as I did the last two days, I think I can say the tea came out a little more contemplative — there’s definitely an extra dimention in the tea that I haven’t tasted before, and that it gave the tea a very deep throatiness that lasted quite a long time. That itself was rather impressive. I am going to play with it tomorrow with another tea — a lighter fare, perhaps, to see how it goes.

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Pot matters

June 24, 2008 · 3 Comments

I’ve finally started to drink tea more regularly again (instead of sipping large cups of black using a big pot). I tried the same tea two days in a row, something I don’t normally do, and used two different pots for it. The tea in question is my “wet stored” tieguanyin from Taiwan. The pots are, respectively, a zhuni pot I bought from Taiwan, and a zisha pot I got from Japan (the one with the funny lid). I thought of it as a bit of an experiment — how different clays change a tea.

And change it did. All other things being equal, the tea brewed in the zhuni is a little more aggressive, wihle the zisha one (especially since this pot is relatively low density) is, I think, softer. I’m not sure if softer is necessarily a good thing, and I think that should I be making, say, a “dry stored” aged oolong, the softness might take too much away from the tea. For this “wet stored” tea however, it works just fine — gets rid of some of the pungent flavours.

I tend to think it’s better, in general, to use a lower density pot for teas that have more “mixed” flavours, or possibly unpleasant aspects — say, a young puerh that is bitter or a wet stored tea. For teas that are high in aroma though, a zhuni will probably serve better — helps concentrate the aromatics without taking too much away.

Of course there’s the possibiliy that all this is just placebo — and there’s really no way for me to know if that’s the case. Oh well, let’s just pretend there is 🙂

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Storage issues

June 23, 2008 · 5 Comments

Moving with a lot of tea to a new place means having to worry about where to store them. Oolongs are simple — you just keep them out of light and air tight, and it’s good. All you need are shelves (which I need to acquire). Puerh, on the other hand, is a trickier matter — right now I have all of them in a cardboard box, the same way they came during the move. I have not moved them at all.

The question is whether or not to take them out at all, or if I should store all of them as is. When it comes to storing tea, everybody has a different take on how puerh should be stored. The various theories I’ve heard range from absolutely closed environment, where little air is exchanged and teas should be “kept” so that they retain much of their qi (so the theory goes), to leaving them out in open air and let them air out. The most extreme, as I’ve related on this blog a long time ago, was a lady who bought a whole bunch of cakes from Hong Kong (all suitably wet stored, of course), took them to the desert weather in Xinjiang, put them in a big warehouse with all the doors/windows open and letting the desert wind blow through the cakes in an attempt to “tuicang”, literally “let the storage (flavour) fade”. I was unlucky enough to get to try the end result of this attempt, and it was, well, nasty. It seems like in addition to getting rid of the “storage” smell, much of the tea’s flavours and especially the smoothness also went out the window, carried out, no doubt, by the desert wind.

Ever since having tried that tea I’ve been more inclined to store my teas in relatively closed environments, or at least in places where they don’t see much air circulation. My teas in Hong Kong are stashed on the top shelves of a bookcase, in a corner where little air is exchanged while still being open to the room. In humid environments like Hong Kong or Taiwan, it’s probably best to leave the teas off the floor or even anywhere close to the floor, because moisture seems to be higher there — a cake of mine that I left in the open air in Taiwan on a low coffee table started growing stuff on it after a week of rain…. and I was living on the 8th floor.

What I haven’t decided is whether or not to keep the cakes in the box. I used to think that cardboard boxes probably give off a bit of a cardboard smell, which is no good, but then, most tea merchants keep their teas in cardboard boxes… so does it really matter? Will we notice? I think it’s probably more noticeable in a dry stored tea, because off notes will be more obvious here. Wet stored teas are so dominated by the storage taste that subtle aromatics like cardboard smell probably won’t be very obvious — or who knows, maybe even add to the enjoyment of the tea.

When I was in Ohio I had no need whatsoever of adding moisture — living basically in the woods, I found the soil and flora nearby kept the apartment suitably humid without excessive moisture. After rains it would get wet for a few days, but will slowly dry out. I think the soil, grass, and tress around acted as a sort of buffer that kept humidity more constant within the house. In a more city-like environment though, I think the dynamics are a little different, especially since I now live on the second floor. It’s been raining a lot, but I think in the winter it won’t be too humid, at least not with the heater on all the time. That’s something I have to consider.

I have, however, been able to smell the tea recently just sitting at my desk. Smell, I’ve found, is probably a decent indicator of whether or not a cake is too dry. When I bought new cakes in Beijing they were almost all invariably odorless — you can hardly smell anything. After a few days in my tea closet in Beijing, they would start giving off some aroma. The difference was obvious, and since in places like Hong Kong a puerh cake is readily detectable by a human nose, I take that as a good sign.

So, lots of unknowns…. but I think I am going to stick my cakes on the top shelf in the closet, and possibly leave them in the cardboard box this time to see if anything happens.

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Family portriat

June 22, 2008 · 6 Comments

While I’m still unpacking and organizing things….

It’s missing the big one — one being used to brew Darjeelings, among other blacks. And come to think of it…. also one that I used to use for puerh but has been sitting in a box for quite some time now. Perhaps I should whip it out again…..

I do have too many teapots.

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Green is the new black

June 21, 2008 · 6 Comments

As Mr. Lochan pointed out — the picture I posted yesterday is, indeed, a picture of a darjeeling first flush for this year.

The tea tastes like a first flush, but looking at it…. I personally had a lot of trouble with the very green colour. Not because the tea was bad, but because there’s a slight disconnect between what it was and what I expected. You can tell right away when drinking the tea that it’s obviously a darjeeling first flush. But that, usually, comes with a certain thinking that perhaps the tea should be darker…. which is utterly untrue.

Just goes to show how little the colour of a tea tells you about really anything.

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Quiz time

June 20, 2008 · 11 Comments

What tea is this? This was taken under natural sunlight

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Crawling back out from the boxes

June 19, 2008 · 2 Comments

Moving, especially long distance moving, entails lots of packing and lots of unpacking. I’m still surrounded by boxes, half packed, half unpacked. It’s frightening to think that it takes about 5 largish boxes to hold all my tea stuff. It’s also obvious to me that, despite my earlier attempt to unload some of my teaware, I still have far too much of it.

So, while my tea stuff are still being unpacked, I have been subsisting on a few samples kindly provided by Mr. Lochan of Lochan Tea. These are all 2008 first flush FTGFOP darjeelings, or “Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”. There are a total of 8 samples, and I’ve only tried two, numbered 3 and 4. It’s quite interesting brewing teas you know very little about. I remember once upon a time, when I was first exploring the world of tea, when first flush darjeelings were one of my favourites — especially the greener kind that gives a nice fragrance. I’ve since left that world and pursued other kinds of teas, but brewing some of these reminded me why I liked them in the first place.

I use a 300ml (or thereabouts) yixing with a generous but not over the top amount of leaves, and pour them into a big mug to drink. I suppose you can think of this as a cross between my usual brewing and a more English style, although brew times are short — under a minute at most, usually about 15-30s. The teas are obviously very high quality, especially sample 4. A nice depth and overall very fine fragrance, qi, and body. They are also quite long lasting — sample 4 I brewed for two days. Wikipedia says a joke for FTGFOP is “Far too good for ordinary people”. I can see why…. and I’d imagine this stuff doesn’t come too cheap.

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June 13, 2008 · 2 Comments

After the trip to LA, now the move… I’m going to be moving somewhere east of Ohio this weekend, which means… packing up all the tea, teaware, and all other worldly belongings I have. Fun it is not.

Before I left though, I went and visited Sherab today for lunch and some tea. We ended up with a whirlwind of four teas, all drunk within about an hour and half. It’s too bad this country is so big — makes meeting tea friends a rather difficult operation.

Anyway, as I have to pack up almost everything and then go on the road, nothing much interesting will come of it — so until I’ve settled down, hopefully by the middle of next week, I’ll continue on my little break.


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