A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from August 2008

Drinking matcha

August 14, 2008 · 11 Comments

I find that among all teas, matcha gives the highest caffeine rush. Yes, I sound like a true addict, but I’m being serious here — most of the time, when I drink a tea I don’t notice the caffeine, not immediately anyway. With matcha, however, I KNOW I just had some caffeine injected into my system — it shows up right away in more measure than one. Yesterday I had some matcha, partly because I only had half an hour to my next appointment, which meant that it was impossible to drink a full sitting of tea, but partly because I wanted to play with my new toy and matcha seems the most appropriate

And I noticed, after drinking one bowl of that stuff, that my heart started pumping a little faster, my mind got a little clearer, and I was having a bit of a caffeine buzz. Of course, it probably was more obvious than usual because it was late in the day for my first dose of the stuff (5pm) so it might have accentuated the effects, but regardless, it made me wonder if that’s why so many people like drinking matcha. A friend recently told me that although she is a die-hard coca-cola drinker, she recently took a liking to a new kind of Pepsi. She couldn’t figure out why, until she noticed that Pepsi Max includes, among other things, a double dose of caffeine compared to regular Pepsi. Small wonder that she likes it more.

So, if in need of a caffeine kick, drink lots of matcha.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
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How to deal with a new yixing pot

August 12, 2008 · 6 Comments

I think I mentioned a while ago that a friend of mine has asked me to write a column for the magazine he’s editing. I just got a copy today of the first issue, and it has a rather interesting article on the care of Yixing pots. This is advice from a daughter of one of the Yixing pot artists on how to deal with new pots:

1) First use hot water to rinse the pot, both inside and out, and get rid of the dust and dirt on the pot. Then put it in a cooking pot that doesn’t have any oil (or other forms of contamination) and fill it with water – three times the height of the teapot itself — and boil for two hours. This will get rid of the soil and the fire taste.

2) Put tofu into the teapot, add water and boil the pot for an hour. The gypsum in the tofu will help reduce the fire element in the pots, and can help disintegrate the excess materials of the pot (this is written pretty ambiguously in Chinese — not sure exactly what she’s talking about).

3) Buy some sugar canes, cut it into pieces, and put it into the cooking pot. Boil for an hour. The sugar will help moisturize the teapot.

4) Then you can brew it with the kind of tea you chose for this pot!

So, sounds rather simple — I’ve heard the tofu before, but not the sugar cane. I’d imagine all this should be done in one go. I wonder what the sugar will do to the pot….

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
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August 10, 2008 · 12 Comments

I sometimes wonder how much caffeine I actually drink everyday. I normally only drink one sitting of tea a day, using a smallish (100ml or less) pot, and filling it anywhere between 1/4 to 1/2 full. I will drink it until it tastes like nothing other than sweet water, and that could be anywhere from 10-30 infusions.

The normal amount of caffeine in a cup of tea varies wildly, since how you brew and what you brew makes a huge difference in the amount of caffeine you get. So they say the average is 50mg of caffeine in a cup of 5oz tea…. which doesn’t really mean anything to me, since I have no idea how they actually arrive at such numbers, and how that compares with how I brew mine. I drink far more than 5oz of tea, obviously, but it seems to me that unless you’re comparing weight of the leaves used per ounce of fluid, the comparison is almost meaningless.

Is there a way to test for caffeine? This is, of course, purely out of curiosity, but it’s nevertheless something that I am interested in knowing, if nothing else, because other people ask me all the time…. “which tea has less caffeine?”

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Balacing teas

August 8, 2008 · 1 Comment

After a long string of aged oolongs (and having run out of a few bags of them) I find myself going back a little more to puerh. The past few days, aside from yesterday anyway, I have been drinking some loose stuff that I have gathered over time from various places. They are by no means great tea, merely ok, drinkable teas. But there’s a certain steadiness and reliability that one gets from such things, rather than, say, a prickly but potentially great tea. Sometimes, simple is good.

I have noticed that recently I have moved more and more away from the esoteric or rare teas, instead preferring things that are, by and large, very pedestrian. I have also lost most of my interest in finding out where a tea is from, or anything of that sort. Tea is tea, and my pleasure, for the most part, derives from the drinking of it. Whether or not it is from this mountain or processed that way — it is of no concern to me if it doesn’t translate into the cup. It does matter if I’m making a purchase decision, and if something marketed as one thing turns out to be something else (usually much cheaper). I obviously don’t want to be paying more than I need to for anything, but once that question is more or less settled, it does not matter at all.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Lochan darjeeling

August 7, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’m still having trouble with just exactly how green this stuff looks

Both dry and wet, the tea is quite green in colour. The liquor is something like a light amber. The taste is classic Darjeeling.

How come I don’t remember my first flushes as being this colour? Were they of inferior grade?

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Thoughts on the Classic of Tea

August 6, 2008 · 3 Comments

We all know about the Classic of Tea, written by Lu Yu in the mid to late 8th century. It is widely known as the first book on the subject of tea, and has therefore received much attention over the years as a pioneer study in tea drinking. While the book is widely accessible in Chinese in its original form, it seems that in English there has only been one translation, and it is long out of print. I heard that somebody’s working on a second translation of it, and I’m sure it’ll be nice to have it in print again for the general public who might be interested in this book — a used copy of Carpenter’s translation runs at about $100 on Amazon, which is certainly not cheap.

I think what is significant about this book in general is that it forms the basis of so many tea drinking traditions, and looking back there are a number of things that we still hold true today that date back to his theories on tea. When reading it (and it is in fact very short) you often get the “hmmm” and “aha” moments quite often — things that you might have already observed in your own tea drinking, and yet have not yet formulated into something like a theory. Lu Yu puts it very simply and elegantly.

At the same time though, I do feel that sometimes we can take it too literally, and miss the point entirely. After all, tea drinking in the Tang Dynasty is not anywhere close to tea drinking in the 21st century. Everything from production to consumption has changed, quite significantly so, so trying to cling onto minute details in a book written in the 8th century doesn’t always work. Take his advice about teaware, which forms the entire middle section of the Classic of Tea. The practical, concrete advice he gives are probably entirely irrelevant to today’s tea drinking — to start, we now use whole leaves, whereas his tea was not. What is useful, however, is the principle behind such advice, which can sometimes be gleaned from reading between the lines.

On the selection of bowls, for example, he tells us at the end that the porcelain from Yuezhou and Yuezhou are both blue-green in colour (celadon type colour, I think), and therefore enhances the tea’s liquor into a white-reddish tone. Whereas those from Xingzhou is white, which makes the tea red, those from Shouzhou is yellow, which makes the tea purple, and those from Hongzhou is brown, and makes the tea black — none of these are good for tea. First of all, it’s interesting to note that the liquor of the tea he’s talking about is reddish, not greenish, which I imagine is a product of the roasting that takes place. Moreover though, he doesn’t think that white, which gives you the original colour of the tea liquor, is necessarily good, but instead the red-over-green is perhaps superior. Why? I don’t know if I have an answer to that at this point, but welcome any thoughts on this matter.

Another example is about the water kettle, which is a topic I’ve been thinking much about these days. On it, his advice is fairly simple — use iron. Porcelain or earthenware are both too fragile and not long lasting. Silver is nice and clear, but he thinks it too extravagant. Keeping in mind that during the Tang Chan (Zen) Buddhism was very much in vogue, one can probably see why he thought so. The name of the water boiling vessel is also interesting — it is fu 鍑, which can also be written as 釜, which, if you read Japanese, you will know is the kanji for the word kama, i.e. the thing I showed a picture of a few days ago. Let’s not even try to get into how differently water boils in one of those things over a charcoal fire versus how water boils in a modern kettle — needless to say, they probably act a bit differently. What passes for a “third boil” in Lu Yu’s terms might not be quite the same as what we get these days with an electric kettle.

So in many ways, I think reading Lu Yu is like reading any religious text — you have to read for the principles and inspirations, and not necessarily for the practical details. Being a literalist while reading one of these older tea texts (and there are many) can lead to many contradictory and interesting, but not necessarily good, results. Tea drinking, just like any tradition, is constantly evolving and changes with the times. I’ve seen many writings on tea quoting Lu Yu as if he were the only credible source of tea knowledge, when in fact he was only the first among many. Keeping an open mind, but also keeping our perspective, is a useful thing even when it comes to enjoying our favourite beverage.

Categories: Old Xanga posts
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Home sweet home

August 5, 2008 · 1 Comment

It’s nice to be home again, drinking some tea that I like, in this case, a wet stored loose puerh.

Aside from the obvious, such as having a whole tea set to brew tea properly, drinking tea at home is invariably calmer and less stressful than, say, trying to drink tea the proper way away from home. It’s not the same to brew tea in a hotel room, or a tea room somewhere, as it is to do it in the comforts of one’s own home. Mind you, my room right now is still a mess, still suffering from the ill effects of moving a few hundred miles, but slowly, I can see it take shape and become something of a sanctuary.

One of the elements missing from my current tea room is some proper decorations. Right now, it is full of boxes and other junk from moving, and unfortunately, it will probably take a while to clear all that out. Just as a Japanese chashitsu has a toko, or alcove, where the host displays a work of art or flowers to set the mood, I think all of us can probably spend a little time to make it more comfortable. Whether it is a conscious display of teaware, or a little painting or even poster, having some objects to admire while drinking tea does, I think, enhance the experience a little.

Categories: Old Xanga posts


August 4, 2008 · 1 Comment

The past two weeks were mostly spent drinking bad tea. Aside from one or two chances to drink decent tea, the rest of it was consumed by travel, last minute planning, etc, and had no time to drink much that’s good. Much black was consumed, and in between, some aged oolongs and some other random teas I had with me. Drinking my way across little teashops was an interesting experience, because talking to some of the owners or shopkeepers, you really get a sense of what people actually order. For example, talking to a person who works at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, I found out that aside from a few people, the vast majority simply order what’s on the “simple” tea menu, which is not surprising, but the end result is that the “better” teas are often not very fresh, and in the case of the Assam which I wanted, was adulterated with the smell of some other herbal stuff and thus brewed a cup that had a strong hint of peach or some other fruit. The people who work there have no clue what an Assam is supposed to taste like (ditto Darjeeling), so they really have no way of telling if anything’s wrong with the tea.

I think it is safe to say that despite the hulabaloo about tea becoming more popular, etc, the “tea” that is really becoming popular is the “RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS! SLIMMING TEA!!” variety. People drink tea for the perceived health benefits, and unfortunately are probably drinking low grade, pesticide soaked leaves, instead of what might actually be good for them. The few stores I went to that sells decent teas also show the other kind of tea that is popular with your average tea crowd — the “Vanilla butterscotch mint cinnamon rooibus” kind. One store, called Lupicia, has a wonderful looking store with very nice packaging, and basically every flavour you can find under the sun. I think one out of every twenty of their teas was actually unflavoured, and if you are willing to shell out $1 for two grams of tea, you can buy some ok looking Taiwanese oolong, overpriced, to say the least.

What I feel is very much lacking in all this is any sort of real education going on. You can’t fault somebody for selling tea — they have to make a living, after all. It doesn’t mean that we should just leave it at that. I feel that there is often no effort being made to try to show the average consumer what a wonderful drink tea is. It’s not a spiritual thing, it’s not Eastern mysticism, it’s not some hollowed age old tradition — on the most fundamental level, tea is simply a beverage to be consumed and appreciated. Nothing is wrong with flavoured teas, mind you (I drink my occasional Earl Grey), but so much more is out there. Unfortunately, they are either not available, or marketed as some rare, exotic, Oriental, mysterious, or even sacred, with the attendant price tag that goes along with such labels. I am continually amazed at the kind of markup some people get away with simply with a nice back story and pretty salesgirls (or boys, or website). The “Monkey Picked” stuff comes to mind…

Anyway, I’m rambling, so I’m obviously too sleepy to write anything more that’s coherent. Maybe to be continued.

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August 2, 2008 · 2 Comments

There was this wonderful looking kama in my room at the hotel we were staying (no, we were not in Japan)

But some people decided to use it as a candle holder

Which is really quite unfortunate, because the kama itself is rather nice. I, for one, won’t mind having one, although the ones shaped like these are almost impossible to use for my kind of tea making. Subsitute it for a tetsubin though….. oh, the endless possibilities.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
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