A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from February 2009

A nice surprise

February 25, 2009 · 2 Comments

I was digging through my box of old samples and that sort of thing yesterday, and came across a bag of loose leaves that I have been holding on to for a while. It’s broken leaves from another cake that I had from China, and which I thought was quite interesting and bought a few. I figured I can try out the remaining sample and see how it might have aged since then.

The curious thing is that this cake is only about 4-5 years old

And it looks very dark. It’s certainly a lot darker than what I remembered it to be, and also less bitter. The tea is now relatively sweet, and still has a very strong taste. Good find, and I wish I had bought more. Too bad finding things like these are hard if you are only looking for one specific cake from a small producer.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

A fixed pot

February 19, 2009 · 9 Comments

I was always intrigued by the use of some sort of a gold looking bond to fix a pot. So, in an effort to figure out what it is, I bought one.

This pot is of an unknown make, but probably pretty old, as I don’t think they fix pots these days this way.

The pot was cracked on one side, but didn’t crack all the way, I think. Either the spout was broken off and caused a big crack along the pot, or, it’s one of those nasty “hot water in cold pot” kind of accident. Either way, the fix was some sort of liquidy looking thing that gelled. I have no idea what it is (chemist, anywhere?). The gold colour is a bit of a paint, it seems, used in all kinds of gilded goods and what not, I would imagine.

Here’s the other side and a closeup

Very cute little thing. I like it.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
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The evolution of a tea blogger

February 18, 2009 · 5 Comments

I remember when I first started this blog, it was mostly about me drinking new teas I haven’t tried before. There’s a certain excitement to it, and I was very happy to share my thoughts and experiences about those particular teas. It started as a way for me to keep track of what I’ve had, but also as a way to share my thoughts with others who are interested in the hobby. Over time, I have found a large number of people who are interested in this kind of esoteric thing, and have made many good friends through it.

Many of you witnessed the rather frenzied phase when I was in China and Taiwan, drinking my way through the country. It’s well documented on this blog.

I learned a lot through all that, not only because I did it, but because I wrote about it. Writing reinforces knowledge. That’s always true, and will probably always be true. It helps you organize the information you have gathered in a meaningful way, and I will always have a deposit of information in the form of this blog.

These days, I don’t sample anything anymore. I have lots of them sitting around, and I still get some offers to send me more, but over time, I find my appetite for samples diminishing. Partly it’s because you have to go through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff, and partly because, maybe, I no longer find the same feeling of excitement anymore, drinking new tea. Mind you, I think I will still drink my way through the city or whatever if I am in a place with a lot of tea — that hasn’t changed. Maybe what it is though is that I no longer feel the urge to document and to parse it with the intense interest I did before. They generally all fall into archetypes of teas that I have already tried.

I still drink tea every day, of course, but recently, most of the tea I’ve been drinking are wet stored puerh from Hong Kong or aged oolongs of some sort. I should probably talk about at least the wet stored stuff I’m drinking, as I actually think it’s quite good, especially for the price. At the same time, there’s probably no point in talking about the same tea over and over again. You’d be bored before I am.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Dobra tearoom

February 9, 2009 · 16 Comments

I’m in Madison, Wisconsin, and while I walked around town today, I came across a tea room. It’s called Dobra Tea. I never let a tea room go by without at least taking a peek, and since they looked pretty ok from the outside, I decided to check it out.

I ended up spending a little time there. Even though I was in a bit of a rush, I wanted to try some tea, as they looked rather well managed, with at least a few heads screwed on straight. That can’t always be said about other tea places in this country. When I asked if they do take out tea, their answer was “only loose leaf that you can bring home and brew yourself”. Great, that means no carry out cups…. I like places that don’t compromise too much.

So I plucked myself down for a gaiwan of shuixian.

The gaiwan they used was a little too large for shuixian for one person, but then, I should’ve specified for a smaller gaiwan. The use of the little heating thing for water is rather interesting. Underneath is a tea light, which, admittedly, gives off some heat, but I suspect it’s not really enough to keep the water very hot for very long. If you stick around for a while and take some time between brews, your water can cool substantially. I think that happened to the people sitting next to me, who were three people sharing one pot (in a largish yixing). Their water container was much larger than mine, and I think a little tea light really isn’t going to do much other than having a placebo effect of keeping the water warm.

It is also interesting becuase I flipped over the kettle to take a look inside. It is obvious that they are either using water of a very high mineral content, or, perhaps, that people let the water burn for a long time without using it. I am guessing the latter, because there is obvious scale buildup in the kettles, and there was mineral particles floating in the water itself. I am not personally opposed to it, although I wonder if they have actively thought about this issue or not and how it might or might not affect the teas they make. It’s fine if you’re making black or puerh or even shuixian, but I think this water isn’t so good for, say, green tea. Too heavy.

These things aside though, they are really minor complaints. A place that uses gaiwan to serve tea? That’s an achievement in itself. The shuixian wasn’t all that bad either — it’s not a top notch tea, but it’s serviceable, and had enough aftertaste to keep things interesting.

I did a little research after coming back to figure out who they are. Turns out they are a Czech company that franchises out. No smoking in the States, but they do water pipes in the Czech Republic. (Website here). Anybody know anything more about these guys? I know I have readers from the Czech Republic.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Small time tea stores

February 7, 2009 · 3 Comments

I’m pretty convinced, after being an observer of the industry for so many years, that if you want to start a serious tea shop in anything other than a major city in the United States, you either need very, very deep pockets, a unique town that has a critical mass of people who will buy that kind of stuff, or you need to compromise.

Compromise can come in many forms.  The most common is probably coffee, but it can also be bubble tea, or other tea “smoothie” drinks.  Other than coffee, the rest are usually sugar laden high caloric vehicles.  We’re genetically programmed to like things that are sweet and fat, whereas something bitter is usually an acquired taste.  It’s no wonder tea is less popular when drunk straight.

I recently visited a small town that had a store like that, but are now going out of business.  Even though it has a nice liberal arts college nearby and a population that’s generally considered the more tree-hugging, outdoor loving liberal type, a tea store still can’t make ends meet.  I am guessing they didn’t sell tea online, and didn’t have enough operating income from their store to keep it going.  I can see why — selling pounds of tea (if it comes to pounds at all) won’t get you all that much money.  Brewing it on the spot is probably a much higher margin business, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have enough foot traffic, you’re doomed.

It’s too bad, really, but there’s probably nothing to be done.  Even in big cities, such as Boston, tea-only stores struggle and generally don’t do much more than selling very generic teas.  It’s a tough business, and the online competition is just very stiff.  They have much lower overhead and can offer a wide variety of stuff, whereas a physical store is always going to cost more and be able to offer less.  Serious tea drinkers tend to just go online, buy a bunch of samples, and then buy the few they like in bulk.  Given population density, etc, I honestly don’t see that changing any time soon, no matter how much more tea Americans drink.

The most successful tea store I’ve seen in a smaller city in the US is one that I went to in Syracuse, NY, called Roji.  They still did bubble tea, but had just enough for the tea addict (me) to feel comfortable.  It seems like they’re still alive; I hope they will be for years to come.

Categories: Old Xanga posts
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Public opinion on Teavana

February 7, 2009 · 2 Comments

It was an interesting experience to see that my post about Teavana has attracted the attention of those who either work for the company, or are in some ways closely related to it. In the last few days the post has gotten comments from some who are quite obviously aligned with the company. Some have self-identified as such, others merely claiming that they are customers or somehow sympathetic to the company in one way or another.

The timing was interesting, as it was quite a while after I initially posted about it. I’m guessing somehow because it quickly became the #9 hit to a google search of the term “Teavana”, it has gotten the attention of those who work there and they are eager to air their side of the story.

Some of the claims made by the commenters are that the tetsubins are 100% made in Japan only, with none from China. Others claim that they are doing a service to the community by making tea more mainstream, essentially getting people started on the slippery slope to tea addiction, which I, for one, am happy to indulge.

I don’t have problems with places that sell flavoured tea or sweetened tea per se. I think that’s fine, and in fact, very healthy. People don’t always like their tea bitter and esoteric. If it somehow makes it more palatable, sure. Lots of culture drink their teas flavoured and with lots of added sugar. That, in and of itself, does not a sin make.

What I do have problems with is the way they present their goods, and ultimately, the disparity between the claimed quality and benefits of the tea, and the actual utility that one might actually derive from them. Claiming that different teas have different health benefits has no scientific basis at all, as far as I am concerned, but that is extremely obvious from all the literature — that somehow different kinds of tea (black, white, oolong, etc) have different properties. A novice looking through their catalogue will think they need to buy all the different types to get all the benefits they claim they have. That’s about as fantastic a claim as I’ve ever heard when it comes to tea.

As for the teaware — there were definitely tetsubins I saw that day that were Chinese in origin, as far as I am able to tell. I do, however, allow for the possibility that I could be mistaken, and that it was simply a few Japanese tetsubins that somehow look extremely like the cheaper, less well made Chinese ones. Perhaps it’s the poor Yixing pots and expensive pricing that bothers me more. I can’t really tell once I’m in there.

Lastly, it seems that I am not alone, and that many others have a problem with Teavana as well.

This is my last post on the subject, as I don’t have any interest in furthering discussion on this. I turned off comments on my previous post on the subject, because the tone of the comments turned increasingly hostile and accusatory. Should it happen here, I will do the same.

Thanks for reading, and pardon the interruption.

Categories: Old Xanga posts
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