Friday, April 29, 2016

Gongfoolery: Of Lids and Green Tea

It is a going bit of advice in the tea world that if you are brewing a green tea (especially a delicate one) in a gaiwan to leave the lid off. The reasoning behind it is the heat from the steam will scorch the tea, similar to the effect of using water that is too hot. The real question is whether the affect of having slightly steamed tea is enough to affect the taste, and for that matter if the affect is negative or positive.

For today's testing I am using MeiMei Fine Tea Sichuan Mao Feng from last year, I was hoping to use this year's tea, but all my green's are stuck in postal limbo at the moment. For the brewing gear I am using my porcelain dragon gaiwan and a vintage porcelain cup. First session will be leaving the lid off except when using it to pour, next the lid will be left on during steeping but off between steeps, and lastly the lid will stay on for the whole session. The gaiwan and cups will not be pre-heated, which is standard for how I do tea in a gaiwan (unless it is clay.)

First up, the lidless brewing adventure! One thing I can certainly say for brewing in this fashion (other than I had to get my stubborn to cooperate and not leave the lid on) is you can really see the leaves dance, green tea is some of the prettiest to watch steep so it is almost a shame to lid it. The main difference between taste is sweetness. I find leaving the lid off the entire time (except while pouring) means that the tea's natural sweetness shines over the more savory notes. I also found that the flavor did not fade as quickly, so I could squeeze one more steep than usual out of it.

Next up I brew with the lid on, but take it off between steeps so the leaves don't get steamed like a pile of broccoli. And speaking of broccoli, leaving the lid on when the tea is steeping brings the vegetal notes, taking the sweetness and turning it savory. If you are a drinker of tea who dislikes the bittergreen aspect of some greens, this method might not be for you since I do pick up notes of kale and dandelion greens, I find it immensely tasty, but I know some people prefer their greens on the sweeter side.

For the last section of this test it was all lid all the time, the first steep being like the first steep of the previous section, more vegetal than without the lid but with a bit of subtle sweetness still. From the second steep onward the taste is just intense! Not only is the savory jacked up, so is the sweetness, it is savory and vegetal at the start with a touch of bittergreen at the middle and the finish is almost syrupy sweet. Also the color of the liquid is a lot darker, definitely a 'green' tea which was entertaining. The only real downside I could find to leaving the lid on at all times was the tea called it quits sooner, barely having any taste by the third steeping, with the most of the taste and body being in the first two. Which is fine if you are not having a lot of time for gongfu or just wanting a quick intense session.

So unless you are a person who really hates heavy vegetal notes or any bitterness at all I can see no real downside, however this is just one tea in a sea of hundreds (品茶图鉴 lists 136 Green Teas and that is not counting the random experiments farmers come up with) so the results can be vastly different from tea to tea, even harvest to harvest. Next week I am planning to compare green tea brewing in porcelain compared to a clay teapot, celebrating spring just a little bit more!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tea Yuan: 2013 Rou Gui, A Tea Review

Well I WAS going to go to the zoo today, but the weather had different plans, it is going to be one of those all day storming events, so instead I shall satisfy a different kind of craving. The craving for muffins! I plan on baking blueberry mochi muffins later today and then I will gorge myself on them. I woke up with such a muffin craving, it is rather intense! But first I have to go gather the needed ingredients.

Today we are looking at one of my favorite rock oolongs, Rou Gui, specifically Tea Yuan's 2013 Rou Gui, and this one is fancy because it is a Zheng Yan, meaning it came from inside the Wuyi Scenic Reserve area, a legit Yancha! Since this is from a couple years ago, the roasting has mellowed out, and you can tell this from the aroma. There are the usual char notes, but they are mellow and distant, alongside the gentle char are notes of tobacco, cocoa, very gentle spice like a spicebush flower, and a touch of sweet nuttiness.

Yancha pot time for the leaves, giving them a steeping and then sniffing. The aroma of the wet leaves is stronger in the char department, but instead of smelling like burnt wood, it smells like burnt nut shells, and just toasted nuts in general. Like fire roasting chestnut shells and walnuts, it is pretty pleasant, it has the usual char notes but with a fun twist. There are also notes of tobacco and a touch of burnt plum, no spice though which is always sad. However, the liquid has a gentle spice quality, not terribly strong, but like a distantly blooming spicebush. There are also notes of creamy sweet chocolate and plums, with undertones of wet slate and a touch of wet char.

Ooh this is a pleasantly woody Yancha, like fruit wood that has been roasted rather than charcoaled, it is sharp and a bit brisk, a good start. The initial woodiness fades to a fun combination of char, wet slate, and wonderfully sweet and gently spicy cocoa. The spice notes are pretty mellow, as are the char, it is like only slightly burnt chocolate rather than chocolate that has been lit on fire. The finish is sweet and a touch creamy, with a fruity plum and cherry aftertaste.

The aroma of the second steep is surprisingly sweet, it blends plums and creamy chocolate with wet slate and gentle char. I always love that about Yancha, it is like eating dessert out in nature and the tastes and smells of both blend perfectly. This is a thick Yancha, usually I found their mouthfeel sharp and crisp, sometimes smooth (especially with the aged ones) but this one has a real thickness to it similar to many Taiwanese oolongs I have interacted with. The taste is smooth and sweet, chocolate and plums dance with gentle spice and wet slate. The finish is a blend of wet slate and plums, the mineral is strong in the tea and it lingers for a while in the aftertaste.

 A thing I can certainly say in this tea's favor, it has some excellent staying power for a Yancha, usually I find most of them putter out after four or so steeps, but this one lasted for seven, which was awesome. The aroma for this steep is sweet, not as sweet as the second steep, but still quite sweet. Notes of fruit and fruit wood blend with chocolate and char, with a strong mineral finish. The taste is so sweet this steep, there are the strong notes of mineral and some char, but there is such a wonderful juicy plum and chocolate note that I was surprised when this tea turned out to not be sticky. I really enjoyed this tea, it had great strong mineral qualities which I love in a Yancha, and of course it had the char notes I love, but it was pleasantly mild and not like drinking the remnants of a forest fire.

This tea came from a tea trade with tea friends.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tealyra: Da Hong Pao Superfine, A Tea Review

My weekend was excellent, even though my sleep schedule is totally off now! I enjoyed fighting games and worked on painting, who can ask for more? Sadly though, my happiness is at an end, sort of. The basement has a hellish flooding problem, so there is going to be a lot of noise and a lot of mess this week, with the warning 'anyone with lung problems shouldn't be here.' Bah. So I am going to spend a lot of time outside, meaning no painting, though I am going to hopefully spend a lot of time at the zoo.

Today I am looking at Tealyra's Da Hong Pao Superfine, specifically it is a Ban Yan Da Hong Pao (because if it was Zheng Yan it would cost a small fortune) see the term Ban Yan comes from Ban Yan Cha, or semi-rock tea (as contrasted with Yan Cha) meaning it is grown outside of the Wuyi National Scenic Area. It is still a Wuyi 'Yancha' in style and spirit, but being grown outside of this rather fancy region means us mere mortals can afford it. Good for people who want to drink Da Hong Pao everyday and not as a special treat. So how do these long twisty leaves smell? Like a Da Hong Pao, strong notes of char and tobacco with undertones of cocoa and lots of loam. It smells like the remnants of a campfire on an autumn's day, a campfire where someone was smoking a pipe and eating s'mores and the air still holds both of those memories.

Time to use ye'ol Yancha pot, and the aroma of the tea leaves is still fairly char heavy, giving the tea a sharpness. There are also notes of loam and black walnuts with a finish of wet limestone. Not terribly nuanced but certainly very strong. The liquid for the first steep has mellowed out a bit on the char, smelling like wet coals and molasses with an accompaniment of walnut shells and a very faint creamy candy note, not unlike molasses candies...something which I am craving suddenly.

The first steep is surprisingly mellow, it starts with a loamy mineral note, like wet limestone and damp autumn leaves after a rain and then bursts into molasses and scotch. The finish is loamy and gently sweet but does not linger long. It was a good first steep but very mild for a yancha, which is usually balls to the walls from the first sip.

For the aroma of the second steep, there are notes of sweet molasses and chocolate with wet limestone and a nice burst of wet coals at the finish. It is stronger than the first steep, but sadly has lost the walnut shell notes. The taste reminds me of strong dark chocolate, just a touch sweet and nicely bitter with a coal and mineral finish. Often when these rock teas have a strong coal and dark chocolate flavor it reminds me of the burnt edge of a s'more you let catch on fire. Tasty but burnt chocolate!

The third steep's aroma is faint by comparison, just notes of wet leaves and wet coal with a ghost of molasses. The aroma made promises of faintness that the taste fulfilled, this tea has given up the ghost. All that is left is the ghost of burnt chocolate and mineral, like rainwater more than wet limestone. If you want a tea that lingers for a while I say look elsewhere, but if you want a nice char heavy DHP for a fairly cheap price then this one works and fulfills that craving if you are running low on the higher end stuff.

This tea was purchased by me.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Gongfoolery: The Effect of Heat Part 3, A Tea Experimentation

Continuing on the theme of heat for this week's Gongfoolery! I decided to take the clay experimentation a step farther, comparing a tea brewed in my Petr Novak clay pot and the same tea brewed in my Duanni gaiwan. For the sake of clarity, the gaiwan was gifted to me as a Duanni clay gaiwan, I have my doubts, in my experience the vibrantly yellow Duanni clay tends to cost a small fortune and is very smooth, where the darker yellow clay darkens with use and has larger grains. The texture of this gaiwan says to me that this clay was either mixed with a mineral to give it its vibrant color, or was 'glazed' with a clay slip to give it the vibrant color. It behaves the same as my other Duanni pots except it did not get darker with age and use like they did, of course I am no expert. The tea I decided to go with is of course one I looked at before, Quantitea's Hong Jin Luo, I will start with both pieces of teagear being cold and finish with both of them being pre-heated, for contrast though I am not pre-heating the cups, they will be left alone, but to make sure the difference in taste comes from the teaware I am using similar cups, the blue line and red line hat cups from Teaware.house.

First up is the 'dry' run, three steeps each with the gaiwan and the teapot fresh out of my teaware stash with no pre-warming. Since this is the control, it is mostly to compare how the gaiwan compares to the teapot, and of course to wake my senses up and re-familiarize myself to the tea, controls are a tasty part of science. The biggest differences between the gaiwan and teapot comes from the first and last steep, the first steep from the gaiwan brings a maltier tone to the tea, where the teapot brings out more sweetness and yam notes. The last steep I found the opposite was the case, the tea from the teapot was malty and rich and the gaiwan was sweet and light.

This time around I pre-heat both the gaiwan and the teapot, the aroma of the leaves in their respective warmed brewing devices is lovely, almost effervescent and I could linger with my nose in the tea sniffing it, but by the time I finish all the good the warming did will be cooled. Ok, I will admit, the results of the first steep surprised me immensely, they are identical. Completely no difference, both light and sweet with the same notes, maybe if I concentrate really hard I can say the tea from the teapot is a minuscule amount stronger, but at this point I cannot tell you if I am just imagining it. The second steep brings some change, the teapot has more richness, stronger notes of yam and peanuts and underlying sweetness, the gaiwan is maltier and has pine and cocoa notes that are stronger. The third steep, oddly enough, was like the first and mostly identical, with the teapot being a bit more piney in nature.

This was so fascinating! I was expecting a stronger difference between the two, even though they are both clay being brewed in different devices and being different types of clay should have made more of a difference. This not being the case confuses me, and alas I do not really know the reason as to why, perhaps the thing to take away from this is that it is not the shape that matters when pre-heating but more the material, and even though they are different clays once they are heated the difference vanishes. Next week I plan on looking at the effect of heat, but in a different way, I want to test the myth that leaving a lid off the gaiwan when brewing green tea will make for a better session.
The official Gongfoolery Mascot, the Carno, needs a name still...suggestions welcome.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

J-Tea International: Lucky Golden Lily, A Tea Review

You know a reference I need in my collection? A guide to glazes. I have a wonderful book on symbolism used in Chinese art, many books on tea, but no real references on pottery and the styles used in teaware. I have checked the library's books on pottery and porcelain and not had much luck, so I need to dig elsewhere. I want to know what makes Ruyao and Geyao different, how long ago was Junyao developed, and what exactly is Huoci? I love the aesthetic of teaware, but what really gets me excited with it (and pretty much everything) is its history and story, even a brand new piece has a history and I want to know it!

Guys, I feel really bad today, so I am going to use this as an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite ways to drink tea when I feel ookie, and that is oolong grandpa/bowl style. Back around my birthday I ordered some tea from J-Tea International and with my order was a sample of Lucky Golden Lily, and it might be well known, I really like drinking Jin Xuan in this style. It is soothing to just take a bowl and toss the leaves in it and fill it with water, not only is it immensely convenient, it is also aesthetically pleasing because you get to watch the leaves unfold while you are drinking. The aroma of the curled green leaves is what you expect from a Jin Xuan, it is buttery and sweet with notes of cashews, cream, sesame seeds, honey, and of course slightly spicy lilies and honeysuckles. It manages to be sweet without being too sweet.

The aroma of the leafy pile and soup is very sweet, creamy and floral with nutty tones, sesame and cashews being the dominant nutty notes with lily and honeysuckles being the dominant floral. There is a slight green undertone, like butterhead lettuce, which is my favorite lettuce if you were curious on that little snippet. In classic Jin Xuan style it starts out sweet, wonderful notes of honey drizzled cashews and sesame, with a hint of chestnuts which gives a bit of extra thickness to the buttery texture. It has notes of flowers as well, though it is light when compared to some of the more flowery oolongs, with gentle notes of spicy Asiatic lilies and honeysuckles and an undertone of hyacinth.

The more the leaves steep and unfurl and the more my bowl is refilled, the more the buttery to the point of being savory notes pop up. I love this about Jin Xuan, it is not savory like eating cooked spinach, and it certainly is not salty as in someone salted my tea, no it is savory like butter and mineral like I just licked a piece of limestone. There is a touch of salinity to it, since most rocks are ever so slightly salty (word of advice, don't lick rocks unless you know what it is, as some are rather toxic, especially when wet) but it is more mineral than salt. It is not just mineral and buttery, there are flowery notes but by the late game it is faded, mostly gentle ghostly flowery notes remain, the nutty notes mostly faded as well.

This tea was purchased by me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MeiMei Fine Teas: En Shi Jade Dew Green Tea (En Shi Yulu) A Tea Review

Sometimes, fantasy names sound better in our heads than they do on paper, and that is what I assume happened with Shyish. Today I was reading the booklet that came in my Age of Sigmar starter box and ran into the word Shyish, 'The deathrattle legions stalk from Shyish's underworlds, the cold mists of the grave curling towards their mortal prey' describing an army of undead. To me, this sounds like describing someone who is only a little shy, rather than the purple wind of magic and the Aethyric certainty of the passage of time and the inevitability of death. The most mysterious and terrible of the wholesome forms of magic. Warhammer is a silly place, it is awesome but sometimes I run into things like this and just lose it.

Today I am taking a look at MeiMei Fine Tea's En Shi Jade Dew Green Tea, also known as En Shi Yulu, from the Wuliang Mountains in Hubei. This is last year's harvest, in fact my little stash of this tea is long gone, this is just me going though my ever expanding pile of notebooks, because I have to take notes on every tea I drink. MeiMei Fine Tea is (according to the beautiful photos on their Instagram feed) out sourcing tea in China, so I would not be surprised if this year's harvest shows up soon. The aroma of the really pretty curly leaves is surprisingly sweet and nutty, blending notes of toasted sesame and wheat germ with peanuts and roasted soybeans. Underneath the nuttier notes is a touch of sweet peas and snap peas, it is lightly vegetal in aroma, focusing more on grains and nutty sweetness in its aroma.

This tea is fancy, not only is it pan fired like most green teas from China, it is also steamed like greens are mostly done in Japan (and like it was done in the old days of Chinese tea) it is then hand rolled and lightly fired more to remove moisture. The aroma of the wet and very green leaves is more balanced with its nutty and green notes, with a blend of sesame and soybeans, with snap peas, sweet peas, broccoli and green beans, they definitely smell more vegetal once steeped. The liquid is gentle with nutty sweetness of peanuts and toasted soybeans and a slight bit of sweet peas and cooked broccoli.

The first steep is wonderfully light and refreshing, with a gentle mouthfeel. It starts with fresh bell pepper and snap peas, moves to cabbage and broccoli, and finishes with artichokes and sesame seeds with a distant gentle floral note that teases from the edge of taste. I was really impressed by how fresh this tea tasted, not in a 'fresh from the field' kinda way, but in a 'wow this tasted freshens my mind' the flavor notes are very fresh in nature.

On to the second steep, the aroma is stronger this time, nutty notes of peanuts and sesame with a soybean finish, alongside green beans and bell peppers, it is both sweet and savory. Wow, this steep was impressive! It starts very crisp with notes of bell pepper and nap peas, a bit of edamame as well, then it moves to a more savory vegetal quality with cooked spinach and green beans, but then the finish slams you with sweet honey drizzled sesame seeds. I love when teas do that, switch from tones quickly, it keeps my brain from becoming complacent when tasting.

The third steeping's aroma is not much changed from the second, strong notes of sesame and soy with peanuts alongside green notes of bell peppers and green beans, it is a touch sweeter this time, overshadowing the savory side. The taste takes its cues from the aroma, similar to the second but milder and more sweet. The savory burst of green beans and spinach at the midtaste is much shorter and quickly replaced by honey and sesame seeds which lingers longer in the aftertaste. I was sad when I finished this tea off, it was quite tasty and balanced savory and sweet wonderfully I thought.
This tea was sent for review purposes by the company.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eco-Cha Tea Club: Batch #5 ShanLinXi Black Tea, A Tea Review

It is a beautiful day! Perfect weather, intermittent cloud cover with a pleasant breeze, 75 degrees (the perfect temperature for me) and the hint of possible storms in the future. Of course I am spending the day watching Fighting Games on the West Coast Warzone Stream and have been doing that since yesterday. I am using a break in stream (by break I mean it is a game I don't care about, sorry Guilty Gear) to blog about some yummy tea.

Today I am looking at one of the teas from Eco-Cha's most awesome club which I am a member of, I joined at the beginning and paid for the whole year because I know Eco-Cha has good tea, so far I have been very pleased. I plan on writing about all of the teas I have gotten at some point, but this one needed blogging about now because Taiwanese Black Teas are a thing of epic beauty. ShanLinXi Black Tea (the link takes you to their blog post, very informative) comes from, you guessed it, Shan Lin Xi Mountain, one of my favorite mountains in Taiwan to procure tea from. The aroma of these curly leaves knocked me out of my chair from first sniff, seriously, I am so easily floored by red teas, it is a bit embarrassing. There are notes of lychee, mango, papaya, cocoa, cream, and nutty almost coconut water undertones, this tea smells tropical and immensely sweet and rich.

Into my beloved ruyao gaiwan the leaves go, the aroma keeps up the tropical fruit notes with papaya, longan, lychee, mango, and a touch of cherries. There is also an undertone of chocolate and cream, it is so sweet, it is almost cloying but manages to sneak right under the cloying radar and fall happily into richness. Wow, somehow the liquid manages to smell even sweeter, but still manages to not be cloying, probably because it smells like fruit juice rather than candy, with notes of papaya, cherry, and lychees, with a woody and cocoa undertone and a delicate hint of cream.

Wow, just wow, this tea is sooo sweet! It is a bit mind boggling! It is very smooth in the mouth with a tiny bit of bright crispness at the finish that let's you know there might be some tannins somewhere in this tea, but only a hint. It starts with papaya and lychee, then moves on to woody and creamy with cocoa undertones. The finish is a bit of autumn leaves and mineral. Then the real fun, the aftertaste on this tea goes on forever, super sweet tropical fruit creamy goodness that just does not quit.

Second steep, the aroma keeps up the intense sweetness, but it also has a distant floral note that took me forever to pin down, at first I thought maybe the spring flowers outside my window were playing with my sense of smell so I took the tea elsewhere to sniff where I was able to determine it has a subtle peony and plumeria notes. The taste also has a hint of that floral quality, it is almost ghostly dancing in and out of taste. The fruity and creamy cocoa notes stay strong, and woody notes become a little more pronounced, along with a mineral quality to the finish. The aftertaste is not quite as long lasting as the first steep, but it was still long lasting.

The third steep's aroma has a stronger floral note, definitely picking up on that peony and plumeria, though it is woodier this steep, the cocoa notes are also more prominent. Wow, the mouthfeel on this steep is super smooth, which goes well with its nectar like sweetness. The tropical fruit notes are not as strong this steep, mostly the lychee note sticks around, it is joined by strong creamy cocoa and coconut water  and a woody finish. The aftertaste is still strong but not as strong as previous steeps. And perfect timing, as I wrap this post up Mortal Kombat Top 8 is starting, so I shall take my tea and stare at the stream happily. Happy weekend everyone!

This tea was purchased by me.