A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from December 2009


December 30, 2009 · 3 Comments

We all love to hate the teaball, that invention that should have been destroyed when first thought up.  It limits the amount of space that is allowed for the leaves to move, and inevitably, it creates a bad cup of tea.  It’s pretty common to see a tea ball being filled with soaked tea leaves, obviously unable to extend themselves and reach their full potential.

The same thing can happen to yixing pots, however, and is sometimes a danger if one doesn’t take care to brew carefully.  There’s always an optimal amount of space needed for a given tea, and sometimes that can be exceeded with negligible, or even negative, effect.  It ends up wasting tea, and achieving little else.  It also depends on the shape of the pot, and sometimes some pots are more likely to be “stuffed” like a tea ball than others.  I am just reminded of that today, when I used a gaiwan instead of a shuiping to brew my youngish puerh.  I’m not at home right now, so my regular teaware is missing.  The effect from my gaiwan was much better than that from the pot.  This is not to say, of course, that gaiwans are always better than pots, or vice versa, but just that sometimes parameters can drastically change the taste of a tea.  It’s easy to get into a routine brewing something, and then forgetting all together the other dimensions of the tea.  It doesn’t even have to be that one is necessarily better, but simply that the taste achieved can be different, and the amount (and type) of space is crucial to this equation.

Categories: Old Xanga posts

(Mis)appropriating wares

December 23, 2009 · 5 Comments

Using wares for new purposes happens all the time, and I am quite guilty of doing that fairly often.  Most of the time, it involves using some teaware for slightly different purposes than they were originally intended.  Other times, I am using things entirely out of context to suit my needs.  Some are mere modifications, others are complete changeovers.

For example, when there’s a lid-less yixing being used for a fairness cup, I’d say that’s at least somewhat misappropriating the pot. Lots of people do that, for reasons that may be quite varied, from a yixing that has a missing lid in need of some use, to wanting to season a pot for no particular reason.

In my case, the most often misappropriated ware is my pewter bowl, originally intended for fruits and other goodies, and now I use for holding my pot.

Over time, I noticed that it’s doing some damage to the mother-of-pearl decoration to the bowl, so I’ve stopped, and instead am using a dish for that purpose.

The wooden tray you see in the picture here is for the Japanese sencha ceremony, which basically means it holds the cups with saucers.  For me, the tray is where the action takes place, and does the job of framing the area over which I make tea.  I used to use a water-holding tray with slots, the kind you find from all sorts of teashops in China and Taiwan and Hong Kong, but I no longer like those.  In fact, I no longer own one of those as I’ve gifted or discarded them all (except a traveling one, but that’s kept only for mobility purposes).

Many cups I use these days are also not intended for tea to begin with.  The smaller cups are generally sake cups, such as these:

The gaiwan is a gaiwan, but the cup is a sake cup.  Many are nicely decorated, with a good size for gongfu tea purposes.  Some might not like the straight edges, but I don’t mind them.  They work.

And then you get into territory that’s a little more muddy.  Take, for example, the gaiwan.

This is not a gaiwan meant for brewing.  This is a sipping gaiwan, where your tea is supposed to sit and you sip from it, gently pushing the leaves aside with your lid and holding it by the saucer.  Instead, I used it to make some green, with a much higher leaf to volume ratio.  These days, we’re so used to using gaiwan for that latter purpose that the original is almost completely lost, except in period dramas.  That cup, though, is a teacup of sorts, although it can just as well be used for wine (Chinese, that is — this is not a sake cup).

But then, what is a teapot, a gaiwan, or a teacup anyway?  It’s just whatever you make tea in.  It doesn’t really matter if it’s a brown betty or a silver Korean teapot.  It only matters what you do with it, and sometimes, items find a second life, much like buildings (or in some cases, people) do.

Categories: Objects · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,

Qingxiang tieguanyin

December 21, 2009 · Leave a Comment

I haven’t had a proper Qingxiang tieguanyin in ages.  I can’t remember last time drinking it — it must have been at least a few months ago when a guest came, if not more.

It’s one of those teas that come in little pouches, which are handy for people like me who go through their tieguanyin in years, not months or days.  A zhuni pot seems appropriate, especially since it’s roomy enough for the tea to expand and brew.  When you drink a tea very infrequently, you often come across notes or tastes that are not always obvious when you drink it frequently, and it happened here as well.  Once again, I’m gravitated to what I mentioned as the “true” taste of tea, noticing how it was very strong underneath the veneer of fragrance that you get with this type of tieguanyin.  In fact, I started wondering if it might be time for me to revisit some of these lighter teas, since my normal diet of tea consists of aged oolongs and wet stored puerh, with some younger puerh thrown into the mix.  At least I didn’t get dizzy drinking this.

Categories: Old Xanga posts


December 12, 2009 · 6 Comments

These days I’m storing my tea thus

The cabinet is small, but just big enough to hold all my cakes and random puerh chunks.  My aged oolongs I leave in the plastic bags and in drawers that are away from light and heat.  There are really a few goals when you store a tea.  Obviously, you hope it’ll improve, but more importantly, you have to first make sure that it is safe.  A tea that grows unknown things is not going to improve, and that, I think, is a mistake that is sometimes made in an effort to speed up the transformation process of the tea.

From my experience with Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc, it is fairly dangerous to leave tea out in the open in an environment that is fairly humid.  If done improperly, mold grows very quickly, often within a week of continuous rain with no reprieve.  I think basically if the leaves are sufficiently moist, you’ll get mold growing, and that’s not a happy thing.

With the weather and the use of heater here, humidity is really not an issue.  I don’t really bother with putting any water in here either — I just let it sit naturally.  I rarely open the cupboard either.  I suppose I’ll have to see how this turns out.  I remember when I was in Beijing, I put a few bowls of water in there, and after doing that you can smell the tea more — moisture does have something to do with that.  I might try experimenting with that again sometime soon.

Categories: Old Xanga posts


December 5, 2009 · 14 Comments

I made some tea for class the other day, a Shuixian and an aged oolong.  I was trying to explain how Chinese have basically “invented” this new style of tea making that really has little historical basis, but is now widely viewed as “traditional Chinese tea ceremony” when nothing can be further from the truth.  What struck me though during the brewing is how different the tea tastes.  The Shuixian was subdued, without much of its natural aroma, while the aged oolong came out a bit bitter, rough, and not sweet at all like I know it to be.  I used all my regular equipment.  What’s wrong?


Specifically, the chlorine in the water.  Bringing a water filter to class and then waiting for it to filter through is really not an option, so tap water, instead, has to be used.  Maine tap water, for some reason, is really, really chlorinated.  When I turn on the tap here I can smell the chlorine.  When I boil it unfiltered, I can also smell the chlorine.  In fact, when I opened my tetsubin after that class, I could smell it in my tetsubin.  Disgusting.

School’s only two minutes away from where I live, so I am pretty certain we get the same water supply.  There’s no other vairable involved.  It has to be the chlorine (and whatever else is in the water, but most likely just that).  If you ever need proof that filtered water is necessary for a good cup of tea, this is probably it.  Bottled water, on the other hand, is a completely separate discussion.

Categories: Old Xanga posts