A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from April 2009

Spot the difference game, part two

April 30, 2009 · 10 Comments

Ok, we’re back.

To keep you all occupied while I am still learning the ropes, here’s something for you:

Which one of these three pots is Yixing?  For the two others that are not, what are they respectively?

Keep in mind this is pre-cleaning.

The prize is either a cup (chosen from a group of them) or a few tea samples.  Winning entry must specify what each pot is.  Good luck 🙂

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Turning to the dark side

April 26, 2009 · 8 Comments

No, I still don’t drink coffee.

However, I did format my harddisk and install Linux.  I was a Windows user (XP).  However, it gave me a nasty crash yesterday.  Some system files got corrupted.  When I tried to recover the computer using the pre-installed files that came with the computer (Lenovo doesn’t give you a recovery disk) the computer can’t seem to find that either.  So what that means is that I couldn’t load anything up at all.

I had two options.  I could wait for the folks to send me a disk, which can take three to five days.  Or, at the suggestion of the kind folks at my school’s help desk, I could use Ubuntu to boot up and recover all the documents/files I want, and then, well, wait for the recovery disk or just use Ubuntu.

I have been pretty fed up with Windows recently, and have thought of doing something about it.  This was enough of an excuse for me to make the switch.

That does mean, however, that I have to install everything again, and to re-learn some things, since I’ve never used Linux extensively before.  It also means I need to find the right programs for the right tasks again.

For the purpose of this blog, I need to find something that manages photos, and also does some simple editing — cropping, changing brightness, the basic stuff.  I don’t like toying with the pictures too much, because I feel like heavily edited pictures, for a blog on tea anyway, takes away the original flavour of the image.  This is especially true when you switch colour balances and that kind of thing.  You don’t want to see blue tea leaves, which sometimes show up on vendor pages because they did too much to alter their image.

So, any suggestions on software is welcomed.  Until I’ve figured this all out, however (hopefully not too long), expect low amounts of updates.

Categories: Misc · Old Xanga posts

Cost effectiveness

April 24, 2009 · 9 Comments

I thought it might be interesting to list what I think are the best ways to improve the cup you drink, day in, day out, arranged in order of cost effectiveness

1) Skills — skills are free, unless you’re paying for lessons (which you shouldn’t). The thing that can most improve your tea in your cup everyday is how you make them, and that, unfortunately, only comes with lots of practice. Taking golf lessons with Tiger Woods won’t make you a better golfer, so similarly, taking tea lessons with some “tea master” won’t necessarily make your tea any better either. It’s all about practice, learning, investigation, understanding, and thinking. With enough time and effort, you can be your own tea master.

2) Water — how exactly you can improve your water depends on your circumstances and what teas you make, but in general, improvements to water is much cheaper than trying to improve the other things. As the only other ingredient in tea (aside from the leaves of course), it makes a huge difference in what comes out from the other end of your pot

3) Tea — yes, the leaves. I think this part is pretty obvious. Remember — good tea is rarely cheap, but cheap tea can be good, and most importantly, expensive teas are not guaranteed to be good at all.

4) Wares — kettles, pots, pans, dishes, cups, whatever. This is by far the least cost effective way to improve your cup. The benefits (if any) they offer are usually marginal, and not that obvious if you’re newer to tea. It also clouds other things and can mask problems in your brewing technique, etc, and so it’s better to get the basics down before trying to upgrade the wares. They are also expensive and unpredictable. To continue the golf analogy – using the best clubs won’t make you a good player. It can help a good player, but if you’re not good enough to use that help, it’s just wasted money

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April 23, 2009 · 12 Comments

I was chatting with BBB today about teaware and things, and one of the points we agreed on was that both of us are moving towards simpler brewing. These days for me it’s a kettle, a pot, a cup, and that’s it. I don’t pour water over the pot. I don’t pour tea over the pot (usually). I don’t do anything fancy. Water in, water out.

If you watch those videos on youtube teaching you how to do gongfu brewing, they are usually full of pomp and circumstance — paraphrenalia galore, plus a lot of extra steps and movements that are, for all intents and purposes, completely unnecessary. In fact, very often they detract from the actual product that you care about — how the tea comes out and tastes. Oftentimes I’ve seen people getting too preoccupied with a certain step or two that other, important aspects of tea brewing gets ignored. They might take too long to pour, wait too long so the water is cold, brew too long because they have to clean something or move something, the list is endless. This is what we call literally “inverting the base and end” in Chinese (本末倒置), meaning that the emphasis is entirely on the wrong thing.

Brewing tea is really only about three variables, once you’re done with figuring out the inputs (tea + water). It’s temperature, time, and volume. How hot, how long, and how much water/tea. The rest is just motion. For me, temperature is almost not a concern, as I almost always use water that’s just off boil, no matter what it is. As long as you adjust the other two, anything, including greens, can come out just fine.

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Midnight tea

April 22, 2009 · 4 Comments

Salsero on Teachat gave me some tea recently, two greens, to be precise (and one darjeeling). I drink greens fairly casually. My family, being from the Shanghai region, mostly drink green teas, usually longjing or biluochun. My grandfather drinks nothing but tea all day. My first tea revelation was a high grade longjing, showing me how not all teas are created equal, and starting me down this very slippery slope on which I’m still sliding, head first, into the abyss….

Anyway, back to the point…

The tea I ended up making today is Yangyan Gouqing, a Zhejiang green that’s slightly rolled. I made it the old-fashioined way, in a gaiwan and sipping from time to time, with no parameters to speak of.

It’s mostly one bud two leaves. Very sweet, somewhat aromatic, and pretty good for the price. Steeped too long and it gets a little rough, but that’s because I used a generous amount of leaves. Some might say I’m wasting good green tea, but that’s how 99% of people drink green tea, steeped grandpa style in a cup or mug or bottle, and I don’t pretend to be any different from them. I rarely drink greens these days, but doing this takes me back to when I used to drink more of them, sampling all kinds of longjing to find out which one’s better. These days I probably don’t even get through 100g of green in a year.

Thanks Sal.

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Ceteris paribus

April 20, 2009 · 1 Comment

I think everybody who has been through an economics class has probably learned of the term “ceteris paribus”, most likely in the first lecture about supply and demand. The idea that you keep all but one variables constant in order to evaluate what is happening to the one variable you’re interested in is pretty much the basis for most scientific inquiry, and in the case of tea, it can also be put to good use.

I wanted to try testing kettles again using teas I don’t know at all. So I picked up a sample I got from Jim of Puerhshop, the 2003 Longma Yiwu. I’ve never had this tea before, and had no idea what to expect.

Three days worth of drinking:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 1 was using a silver kettle, day 2 was the same setup, using my regular tetsubin, and day 3 was with the tetsubin, but with a new (well, old, but new for me) pot.

I think it is almost impossible to tell any difference from the way the tea looks in the pictures. I can say, however, that silver, as I suspected, was not partiuclarly kind to the tea. It gave it that typical clarity and crispness that a silver kettle generally imparts on water, but lacks that depth and complexity that I tend to like in teas like this. It did, however, give it a nice mouthfeel, and was very smooth. In comparison, on day 2 when I made it with my tetsubin, the tea came out much more intense in taste. It might have been a little bit rougher, but that was more than offset by the additional character in the cup. On day 3, with the new pot, the tea again changed a bit — this time giving it a little different profile, maybe a little more throatiness. The difference, however, is not as obvious as compared with day 1 vs day 2.

As for the tea itself — it’s quite nice, pleasant, certainly not a bad tea. Whether it’s worth the admission price is probably dependent on individual taste. Some may find the tea to be a little on the bland side. I don’t, but I know people who probably would.

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Outdoor tea

April 19, 2009 · 6 Comments

Or more exactly, semi-outdoor tea. It’s always nice to have a chance to sit outside and drink tea, rather than cooped up in my own little room facing a wall. The weather is nice and finally, warm enough for tea drinking outside, so onto the balcony I went.

A little traditionally stored, loose puerh.

I like drinking these things. They are easy to make and pleasant to drink, as long as it’s stored right. I also like drinking them out of bigger cups. Small cups, especially tiny ones, are not meant for puerh. Drink all the oolongs you want in the small cups, but puerh, in particular those of the traditional storage variety, belong to bigger cups.

I’ve also noticed a steady drift towards larger teaware once again, having eschewed it for a long time. For a while, smaller pots/cups was the rule of the day, maybe partly because I was under heavier influence from those whom I first learned about gongfu tea. However, as I drink more, I find myself prefering slightly larger wares. Perhaps it makes more sense for the lone tea drinker who has to consume it in isolation. Maybe if I always have friends to share it with, smaller cups will once again make their appearance.

This tea today revealed a new side to me as I was listening to the cardinals sing their songs, with my cats watching them rather intently (and perhaps menacingly). The tea tastes a lot more floral and, at the same time, spicy than when I brew them in a larger pot with a view of just gulping them down for general consumption. It’s just better. Maybe it’s the smaller (relatively) pot focusing the flavour of the tea better, or maybe the environment helped me concentrate, at least until I was chased away from the downstairs neighbour grilling their meat on their barbeque.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

Moving sale

April 17, 2009 · 2 Comments

Being a young academic means you pretty much have to deal with the nomadic lifestyle, at least until you find a stable job. I have to move again in a few months, and as anybody who’s followed this blog for a while would know, I’ve accumulated a lot of things in the past few years.

So in the interest of lessening the load of things I have to carry, as well as putting some of these items to better use than sitting on my shelves collecting dust, here are some teaware that I’ve dug up so far that I am hoping will find a better home somewhere else.

In the interst of not cluttering up the blog with too many messages, please inquire about prices or ask for more details/pictures by emailing me. My address is marshaln at gmail. The list of items here are

5 cups
1 silver plated kyusu
1 tea caddy
1 tetsubin
1 teapot + yuzamashi
5 chataku (one set)

Most of these I’ve used at one time or another, some rather extensively. They are no longer items that I use for my tea drinking, however, and will probably be more useful to some others. I also have some other cups that I am thinking of parting ways with. If you’re so inclined, shoot me an email too.

Categories: Misc · Old Xanga posts

Adventures in loose puerh

April 17, 2009 · 4 Comments

They come in bags, jars, boxes, cases…. loose puerh come in all shape and sizes, and they are notoriously hard to identify if you are only looking at the dry leaves. What is this, for example?

Even without the problem of trying to identify a tea through pictures, loose puerh of all types are difficult to classify without a taste test. They all look the same, especially if they’ve been aged a bit through wet storage — dark, musty, with a fine coating of white sometimes, loose, usually broken, and nondescript. The telltale signs that you can use to identify cooked vs aged in a cake don’t work so well with loose, because they are not as obvious. Throw in the wet storage, and everything gets even harder.

It doesn’t help when you are dealing with the brewed version either

What, pray tell, is this anyway? Any number of combination of factors can give you this.

Wet leaves give you more of an answer

But even then, heavily wet stored tea, or border tea, can give you something that looks like this. Ultimately, it’s what goes in the mouth that counts, and from that I can pretty safely say this is a lightly wet stored cooked loose puerh. It has that mellowness that you only get with cooked tea — aged raw, even if heavily wet stored, doesn’t taste quite the same. Also, those tend to revert to a greener/browner complexion when brewed heavily, while this tea never did. The price is a confirmation of this: at $10 CDN/100g, it’s pretty cheap.

I got this as a sample and was asked to identify this “20 years Yiwu”. That already rings a few alarm bells — no such thing exists, not because Yiwu didn’t exist, but because back in 1989, Yiwu produced very little tea, and nobody paid attention to exactly where the tea was coming from — certainly not enough for a bag of tea to be able to trace its origins to the holiest of mountains. The leaves are quite broken, so there’s really not much you can tell from that. The price is far too cheap. Cheap things can be good, and expensive is no guarantee of quality, but known good things, such as a 20 years old Yiwu, is not likely to be knowing sold at a great discount.

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1987 Hualien aged oolong

April 15, 2009 · 1 Comment

I don’t know if it has anything to do with my obsessive blogging about aged oolong in the last two years, but it seems as though there have been many more teas of this type available than even just a year or two ago. I’ve tried very few of these, and I only remember the Red Blossom aged baozhong relatively fondly. Recently I got a sample of Camellia Sinensis’ 1987 Hualien aged oolong from two different sources, so I figured I’d try it.

This is an odd tea, and I’ve had it twice now. The first time I tried it I felt it a little strange, and didn’t think it tasted like it aged much at all. I added more leaves today, and figured I’d try it again

What’s strange about this tea is that there is a very odd bitterness to it, especially right away, but it persists. There’s a slight sourness in the tea, which is fairly normal for an aged oolong, especially one that is of lower roast like this. Bitterness, however, is not usual, and certainly should not be expected in an oolong that is over 20 years old. While I wouldn’t say it’s a definite sign that bitterness must be gone, I’ve yet to try a good aged oolong that is as bitter as this.

That’s what prompted me to say that this is not really aged the first time, only roasted. Today, however, as I brewed it with more leaves, the colour of the tea approaches something more familiar

There’s that aged taste to it this time, in the back, while the bitter and sour mix still persists. In fact, the bitterness remained for quite a while, for ten or maybe more infusions. It’s an odd thing, because I couldn’t quite pinpoint where it was coming from. The bitterness did seem to fade though, and when I got to maybe the 20th infusion or so, it was mostly gone, while the sweetness that I am familiar with still remains. When my wife tried this tea, a good three or four hours after I first started (on and off) the tea is mostly just sweet.

I came up with a theory that seems to fit the facts — upon inspection of the spent leaves, there seems to be a combination of two kinds of teas or even more that were in this tea

Some of the leaves, the ones on the right, are full leaves, big, and easy to open. The rest, on the left, are much more mushy and not easy to unfold — they fall apart instead of being opened. Those seem to be more like an aged oolong, whereas the leaves on the right are not — rather, they are just like any random oolong you can find from Taiwan. This is some sort of a mixture. It could very well have happened by accident — lots of bags of oolong float around these farms or stores, and it was possible that they simply mixed it up.

It’s much harder to tell whether this is a mix or not from the dry leaves, but there’s definitely a bit of a mix of colours going on

Maybe I should try to pick out the weird looking leaves next time I try this, and see if I can get a purer taste.

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