A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from August 2008

I hate infuser baskets

August 31, 2008 · 7 Comments

especially the red ones that have a plastic lining.

What I’ve found over the years is that if you go out to a tea shop to drink some tea, in this country anyway, more likely than not they use an infuser basket to brew the tea for you. This makes sense to them — it’s easier to clean up and remove all the tea leaves that were used in the process, and so all they have to do is to rinse the pot and it’s ready to go again. All is well, is it not?

The problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that these things are very good at soaking up smells and tastes, and that what actually happens is that they start to impart a taste to the tea that is made in them. Yesterday, I went to Tea Time in Palo Alto. It’s a nice little shop with lots of interesting English style teacup and saucer sets for sale. It also has a decent selection of tea, and aside from a few items that seem grossly overpriced, such as a $1 a gram Wuyi yancha of unknown provenance, it offers a nice variety and is not entirely filled by your typical “blackberry currant butterscotch mint vanilla tea”.

I ordered some cheaper Wuyi, as I found them to be generally fairly safe when going to a tea shop I’ve never been to before. I sat down and waited for my tea. When it came out, in an English style pot with a cozy, I figured that I am not going to see the leaves — and I was right. It was pre-brewed, which is ok, except that the tea has a slight hint of something else…. maybe vanilla? Peach? I couldn’t tell, and it can be a mix of both. What it almost certainly is though, is that it is the leftover smell from previous teas, usually flavoured teas, that were brewed in the infuser basket. The flavours that those teas have tend to seep into the infuser… which makes for bad tea for everybody else when it’s brewed weakly, which my Wuyi certainly was.

I wish there were more stores out there that will let you brew your own tea, instead of them brewing for you. I actually don’t really understand that, because it’s more work for them, and I’d imagine it’s easier to just let the customers make their own tea. Perhaps it’s a ploy to get us to buy more, because without giving us the leaves, we can’t refill? Or perhaps it’s a fear that the customers will mess it up? I don’t know, but please…. the infuser baskets have to go. There has to be a better way.

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Caffeine overdose

August 28, 2008 · 9 Comments

I’ve had caffeine overdose exactly once in my life. I remember it was early in my college years, and I was staying up writing some paper. I had some rather nasty jasmine pearls, and…. well, long story short, I woke up in the middle of the night and my legs were shaking uncontrollably.

These days when I drink too much tea, I know, because my heart starts feeling like it’s pounding and I feel as though I want to throw up. It’s not a pleasant feeling, and nothing will really get rid of it. It doesn’t usually happen when I brew tea myself, but sometimes when I go out, it happens. I had to go out and get some things done today, and had two cups of tea while out. The first one was fine — a keemun that was fairly tasty, but not too interesting either way. The second, however, was a killer. It was one of those places that put loose leaves into the paper filter bag, and then brew in a paper cup for you to go. Nothing’s wrong with that, except that he must’ve put about 10g of tea (darjeeling) into a cup that’s about 100ml.

Needless to say, after that cup (and I wisely took it out after realizing, 30 seconds in, that it’s too much tea) I was rather buzzed. The uncomfortable feeling showed up, and I spent the next three hours shaking it off.

I hope that guy wasn’t paid to try to kill me.

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New stuff

August 26, 2008 · 1 Comment

Today I recieved in the mail two beautiful cups as a wedding present from our common sensei. The cups, I believe, have Korean origins. They have a milky white crackled glaze, sort of like Hagi-ware for the Japanese ceramics aficiandos out there, and is quite large. Just large enough, in fact, so that when I put my two chataku together, the lips of the cups just touch, which means no tea wasted when I pour straight from my pot into the cups, gongfu style, splitting the guangyungong bing I brewed today evenly into two cups.


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Weeks old tea

August 25, 2008 · 5 Comments

I went to the Tea Gallery yesterday. Among the many things that Michael, the proprietor of the Tea Gallery, has been experimenting is one scary sounding thing — drinking teas that have been brewing for weeks on end.

I think I am fairly brave sometimes when it comes to tea, but even that, initially, has me feeling rather skeptical. After all, I have tried having forgotten tea in a pot for weeks on end and ended up with nasty, white mouldy tea that smelled sickly sweet and forever screwed up the pot, so the idea of drinking stuff that have been brewing a few weeks is, to say the least, a little alarming.

Yet that’s not really what’s going on. What Michael does is basically brew the tea fresh everyday using new water (and drinking the previous day’s brew). On and on it goes. I have now tried a few teas at different “ages”… from a week to a few weeks. None are mouldy, and all of them, though light, are still drinkable and enjoyable in their own way. Mind you, I think a certain amount of proper processing and what not is probably required, but maybe it’s not as far fetched as it seems…

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Aged darjeeling

August 22, 2008 · 3 Comments

I have, with me, a 10 years old tin of Darjeeling

I bought this quite some years ago in New York city, some first flush stuff that I never really drank much of. I carried it with me to many places, and after numerous moves (and multiple times considering whether or not to throw it away) it is still there

Having had some fresh first flush recently from Lochan tea, I can say that the muscatel from this aged darjeeling is much more subdued. There’s a different character that shows up early in the cup — some form of sweetness. The tea is still bitter if you overbrew it, but there’s less of a bite and a little more rounded, I think, than fresh stuff. It’s not quite as aromatic, and will certainly taste a little strange to someone expecting the usual. I do wonder though… are these things ageable?

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Keemun from Taiwan

August 21, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I drank the same tea two days in a row, a rarity for me. The reason is because I completely misjudged the amount of tea I should use in such a small pot for blacks, so I ended up with too much tea (and not enough water). So eventually, I just dumped the leaves out into a mug and drank it that way yesterday.

The tea in question is a Keemun I got in Taiwan. No, it’s not a Taiwanese Keemun… just sold in Taiwan.

Keemun, like Lapsang and a few other blacks from China, are generally better grade when the leaves get smaller. I remember, almost two years ago, I tried two Lapsang from the same guy but of slightly different grades. The difference between the two was subtle but very present. The differences in price for higher grades of black usually isn’t that much more than the lower ones, and since I drink this stuff only very occasionally, I figured it’s a good investment.

I like Keemuns because they are sweet. I think brewing them English style is a complete waste of tea and time — Indian blacks are probably better for that purpose. Using a gaiwan might work best. I am using a yixing pot simply as a way to experiment. It doesn’t work terribly well with the small leaves — the pot gets clogged. I should actually find one of my gaiwans and brew the same tea (again!) in it and see what happens.

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Rishi Yunnan Gold

August 19, 2008 · 1 Comment

It’s annoying when your camera runs out of battery when you’re about to upload pictures and then go to bed.

Anyway, yesterday I drank some more Yunnan Gold, this one from Rishi. I bought this at least 3 years ago, in one of those little overpriced tins from Whole Foods. Impulse purchase, you can say

The leaves here are a bit more broken, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have used the leaves quite a few times and that this is more of a bottom of the pile than a fresh tin. Otherwise, looks rather similar to the Adagio stuff.

The colour of the tea also brewed a little darker

Again, possibly a result of the more broken leaves, and perhaps, just perhaps, a little to do with the fact that it’s been aged a few years. Since black teas do not go through kill green, I’d imagine something is still working to change the tea, somehow. If oolongs can age, surely so can blacks.

The tea’s smooth, round, a little more bitter, but that might just be my brewing, and all in all not a bad cup. Costs too much, but that’s another problem entirely. I know Yunnan Gold seems to be a fan favourite among Western tea drinkers, although I personally prefer the sweeter Keemun. Come to think of it, maybe I should drink some of my stash today…

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Adagio Yunnan Gold

August 18, 2008 · 5 Comments

I decided to start brewing some of my black teas gongfu style. So far I usually drink this stuff as is in the grandfather way — some leaves in a big mug and continuous refilling with hot water as necessary. But since these things are usually referred to as “gongfu hongcha”, why should I not do it the proper way?

The first up is what I used as wedding favours… Adagio’s Yunnan Gold

Clean, sweet, with a slight undertone of bitterness, full bodied. Not a bad tea, I think, although without comparison given the fact that I’m using a new (for me) pot and all, I don’t want to say too much about it yet.

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Roasted kukicha

August 16, 2008 · 2 Comments

I was at a Japanese restaurant today, and the tea they served was rather interesting — a roasted kukicha, supposedly aged. I could tell right away it’s an aged roasted tea — tastes just like stuff you can buy in Taiwan, aged a few years and heavily roasted. This is pretty much what it is. The tea itself is not very strong or particularly complex, but it does do the job very well, and confirms two of my pet theories- 1) roasted teas all taste very similar if the roast is strong enough, no matter the origin of the leaves, and 2) aged roasted teas are rather sweet as long as it’s not messed up.

What someone should do now is to buy up a lot of hojicha and then hoard it to make a fortune out of selling aged hojicha, or something like that.

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Dok cha

August 16, 2008 · 2 Comments

I got a piece of tea in the mail a few weeks ago

It came from Matt of Mattcha’s blog. The tea was wrapped in some nice handmade (I think) paper, and has a sticker on it from the teashop — a shop named Nok Ya Won (Green Field Garden?), in Daegu. They sell traditional tea, apparently, and I think this tea, given what Matt had to say about it, seems pretty traditional.

I sat on it for so long because I was trying to make up my mind as to how to make it. I knew this is more or less green tea, from the way it looked and smelled. I ended up deciding to make it in my young puerh pot. I figured that if anything goes wrong, the pot will fix the problems for me.

And luckily, I was mostly right. The tea came out very clean and mellow, and was very tenacious — it kept going long after I thought I might die. Green teas don’t last quite as long, usually, but this one had something for me every infusion. I gave up before it did, probably 10+ infusions in. It was not a powerful tea, but a subtle one. The taste, look, and feel of the tea is definitely that of a green, but more of a maojian than a longjing.

The leaves are tippy, but not too tippy. I wonder — how would this taste when left alone for a while?

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