Yulan Tea

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After a long separation from the inner tea house of my soul, I unpacked my dutiful Xishi and set up a makeshift tea table on the floor in the corner of my mother’s living room. We are visiting again for the fourth of July. It seems these are the only times I can find some solitude as my rambunctious husband has found a willing companion in my step-father, happy to partake in with him all the manly things I have little aptitude for such as golf and barbecue buffets.

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At last, I am able to open the bag of yulan tea that I bought months ago and had otherwise been languishing in the tea box at our new house with all my books and unpacked assorted hobby items. Yulan is a Chinese magnolia, but I could not decipher that upon first inspection. The appearance and scent were strikingly unfamiliar to me.

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The flower brews a clear, clean and fragrant tea that goes down easily. It wasn’t after I finished my first cup that I noticed the tingly sensation on my tongue akin to the effects of drinking a strong ginger tea. Yulan also warms the body like ginger root.
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I’m on the fourth steep, and the flowers are still producing a potent drink. The scent seems to have an undercurrent of fried bananas or plantain as my narrow culinary experiences can only offer such limited comparisons. I don’t think yulan will become a staple in my tea selection but it was still a lovely distraction from the usual camellia sinensis.

Finding A Moment

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How long has it been since I found some time to calm my mind with a pot of tea? I have been feeling rather lost and stressed while adjusting to adult life – work and marriage. Trying to brush off these unhappy thoughts, I dusted off my neglected tea set and dug into a sample of green tea crafted by Yi Ho Yeong, generously provided by Arthur at Morning Crane Tea.IMG_0193

IMG_0194It has been awhile since I’ve brewed green tea, so I’m not confident that I really optimized the quality of those precious leaves. Nonetheless, they helped quell some of the anxiety swelling in me. When I first unceremoniously shuffled the dried leaves into the warmed pitcher, I could not really place the aroma – it was surprisingly savoury, almost meaty. The first steep was bit reminiscent of sencha, but without the sharp caffeine jilt. As I continued to taste, I was reminded of my homemade miso soup base, a simple composition of kombu and bonito flakes. Subsequent steeps were light with a sweet aroma, and very comforting. I did not get that overcooked grassy taste, instead the leaves quietly mellowed out, yielding a clean liquor with a creamy texture.

I wish I could have cleared my mind a bit more to appreciate the moment. It would have been better not to distract myself by finicking with the camera and playing with the table setup. I also kept trotting back and forth to the kitchen for hot water. Honestly, I have not given much thought in creating a space for tea in my current apartment. Recently I’ve been considering purchasing a tetsubin and hotplate then carving out a small corner of the living room for a permanent arrangement. I need some space to myself!

Contentment

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At last, some time for tea! I’m done done done with school but not with exams (professional licensing and all that jazz). This afternoon I’m taking a little break to finally do a photo shoot of the Park Jong Il teapot I received many months ago while the sun is still out and I’m finally sitting in a well-lit room. I had originally wanted one of his red clay teapots better suited for darker teas like hongcha or roasted oolong, but the shape of this porcelain 4 oz side-handle teapot was something I had been dreaming about for a longtime too. I suppose my preferences for tea and tea ware will never quite line up.

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Isn’t she beautiful? It took me quite a bit of time tinkering with the camera to capture the crackling glaze. Turns out it’s all in the lighting and exposure level.

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This is a close up of the stand. It was a really lovely surprise to see an engraving of the Chinese character for mountain on the base. The character is also on the cups and pitcher, an unexpected detailing.

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This is the full set!

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Another lovely feature of this porcelain set is the different glazes on the pitcher. Half of it is somewhat smooth but still different from the glaze of the teapot and cups, while the other half is very matte. Can you tell?

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Now she shall fulfill her destiny by brewing up some lovely Bao Zhong Puchong, a light Korean oolong also from Morning Crane Tea.

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Life is good~ The ergonomics of the handle and the texture of the glaze allows for enjoyable pouring. My only gripes are the spout tends to dribble and the hole on the lid doesn’t seem to serve any useful purpose, unlike Chinese yixing that are crafted so you can stop the flow of water by covering the hole and prevent a dribbling spout. I suppose the hole allows the tea to cool faster, which is an advantage if you’re brewing greens in it. But that’s not something I do much of these day. Nonetheless, I’ve become rather attached to this refined yet rustic beauty.

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In other tea ware news, I also recently purchased my first tea caddy, which is made by Hong Seong-il. If I remember correctly, it is a wood-ash shino glazed porcelain number. I just flushed it with some hot water to wash out any extra clay particles. I didn’t like the slightly industrial smell of the wet clay insides much so I’m not sure if it’ll really do well storing tea, but I’ll give it a try.

Organic Concubine Oolong – Winter 2011

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I’m on winter break right now. Since I decided to pack light for visiting my husband, I only brought a few teas with me.

Today I’m going with a sample of Organic Concubine Oolong from Tea Masters. According to the package, it’s from Feng Huang, Dong Ding and harvested in winter 2011.  If I’m not mistaken about the corresponding blog post, it’s undergone a high oxidation and medium charcoal roast processing.

IMG_0023I’m dumping the whole sample in, hope the gaiwan can take it.

The dry leaves smell primarily of oats and grains,which I think is typical of a winter harvest. Just by sniffing it, I couldn’t tell it was charcoal roasted. I guess those recent experiments did not pay off. T_T

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The dark color (slightly darker and redder than the photo) of the liquor might tip one off about the processing. The tea gives off a warming fruity aroma. Down the hatch! I get a hint of lychee. But the taste isn’t anything to write home about. My tongue feels dry.

IMG_0026Looking at the spent leaves, I would guess the tea was roasted less than 15 hours. On close inspection, they are still relatively green.

A pleasant drink, but not a tea I would seek out.

Roasted TGY – 30 hr v. 45 hr v. 59 hr

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I decided to try three side by side today since all my gaiwan are finally in one place. I must take note that the earlier tastings were done at my parents house but the following is done back at my apartment, an hour’s drive difference. I still filtered the tap water using Brita and boiled it in my electric Zojirushi kettle.

Honestly, I can not tell much difference between the dry leaves. Then again, the lighting in my room is not so good…

The tea liquor on the other hand definitely darkens with a few extra hours of roasting. The tea itself tastes fuller bodied. Something I didn’t notice in my previous tastings was a sourness prevalent in 30-59 hrs.  I would like to attribute the sour undercurrent to the change in water but it might just be because I had cake for breakfast and now my taste buds are a little screwy. Can’t control for everything. :(

OK, after sitting and cleaning my palate a bit with a glass of water, the next few steeps (I think third or fourth, lost count) lose the sourness. But then again, maybe things just changed because of the steeping progression.The funny thing is, a sort of green astringency hits the back of my mouth, something like raw bok choy. That rawness eventually dies down and I’m left with a sweet roasting flavor haunting my throat. I think the fourth or fifth steep of 59 hr is really the best. The front of my tongue is dry but the back is sweet and juicy. Oh, tea. At this point, my stomach can’t take anymore. Head feels a little dizzy too. Time to quit.

I am kind of curious about how water changes this tea now. Maybe I should try brewing with mineral water sometime?

The next and final installment of the Roast TGY experiments will be comparing 59 hr with X. I heard from other taste testers that X is measly compared to the 59 but we will see…

Roasted TGY – 15 hr v. 30 hr

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Continuing the roasted TGY samples, I will compare 15 hours of roasting with 30 hours of roasting.This time around I have taken the Professor‘s advice and used more tea leaves with water close to boiling point.

An extra five hours of roasting has darkened the leaves only slightly more.

But the change in liquor color is much more dramatic. The toasty roasting flavor is certainly more concentrated as well but not quite as potent as the finished product after 59 hours of roasting.

Compared to the 15 hr the 30 hr roast leaves the mouth drier. I don’t really notice any other major differences.

Tomorrow I will try to complete the experiment~

Roasted TGY – 0 hr v. 15 hr

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Sorry for the delay. Today I finally re-opened the package of curated samples MarshalN sent to me and was reminded that there are actually seven packets: 0, 15, 30, 45, 59, 59, X. The extra 59 and X, a low grade TGY are benchmarks for comparison.

For the first test between 0 hours and 15 hours of roasting using purified water at 195°F, I started out just brewing in some tiny plain rice bowls to get a clear comparison of the leaves and the liquor. But I quickly pulled out two gaiwan as I realized the water was cooling too fast to properly brew the tea.At 0 hours, the leaves produce liquor that smells and tastes just like vegetable or seaweed soap. My mom had a taste and it reminded her of when she was a kid in the countryside. They would take the leaves from some plant, boiled and rubbed it until the oils came out and then used it for shampoo! To me, it just tastes like any other green wulong, but much yummier than the usual aggressive nuclear tieguanyin I’ve come across. The liquor is smooth and clean with vegetal notes on top and some floral in the mouth. You can tell it’s good raw material.At 15 hours, I am a pretty satisfied tea drinker. I don’t really taste any roasting until the tea cools down. Otherwise, the tea is delicious with fruity cereal notes.

I notice the roasted leaves open a lot slower than the unroasted leaves, which suck up all the water if I don’t pour from the gaiwan soon enough. After four steeps, I’ve had enough of the 0 hr leaves but want to take some more time with the 15 hr roast. However, by the fifth steep the 15 hr is only yielding weak tea water although the leaves haven’t completely opened.

At this point I would like to compare with the final product at 59 hours so I will clean my palate with some plain water, rinse my gaiwan, wash my face with the leftover green leaves….

—INTERMISSION—

Back to our regularly scheduled program, here is what the 59 hr looks like.

Not a straight comparison, but this is what the 59 hr after two steeps looks like next to the 15 hr after five steeps.

The roasting smell is definitely more evident in the 59 hr leaves but it’s not overpowering. Honestly, the first rinse smells to me like peepee or public restrooms in China but I will carry on. I can taste the roasting, the taste of burnt stuff. Nonetheless the liquor overall is very clean, slightly sweet tasting and goes down smooth and creamy. I’m having mixed feelings about this 59 hr roast. It reminds me of toilet but not so bad that I want to stop drinking. Maybe it will get better if I keep drinking?

Ok, third steep is much better. It’s starting to smell less like pee and more like…chocolate/coffee? Yes, it reminds me a little of the hongshui wulong I ordered from TeaMasters awhile back that I have yet to review.  There is some bitterness coming out now that eventually gives way to a savory sweet aftertaste, making my mouth water.

I think I could get better results using more leaf and a slightly higher temperature. Next time~

MarshalN’s Curated Samples – Roasted Tieguanyin

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Apologies for the long dormancy. This Autumn I have been so preoccupied with graduate school, job hunting, and getting married that I have not had time to do any blogging. I will try to get back into the groove once I find a photography solution – the bluetooth on my old camera phone is not working.

As soon as things settle down I will be embarking on a little experiment courtesy of MarshalN who has provided his readers a chance to gain experience in the world of roasted wulong. Personally, I am not really a fan of Tieguanyin, especially the really green versions but I couldn’t pass up the chance to taste side by side what different roasting times can do to a tea ceteris paribus.

In the mean time, I will try to figure out how I will set up my own personal lab. Since my teaware is limited to two gaiwans, I might just try comparing two roasting times in one session. For example, 0 hours of roasting with 15 hours roasting. Then the next session 15 hours and 30 hours of roasting.

Taiwan Green Tea with Tea Flowers

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While digging through my tea box today, I found one last sample packet from Life in Teacup, a Taiwan MOA certifed green tea. When I poured the leaves into a gaiwan, I was surprised to find little rolled up balls…like oolong! I think the orange thingies are flower petals?

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I decided not to put too much leaf just in case it ballooned like oolong, and I think I made the right choice because after the fourth infusion, I got this…

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Nice, big whole leaves! Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised with this tea. It’s extremely atypical of any green tea I’ve tasted before, but it’s not really oolong either and brews better at lower temperatures. I didn’t take a picture of the liquor, but it’s very light and clean. It has a unique floral, fruity flavor/aroma but not that thick, intoxicating property of low oxidation Taiwan oolong. It doesn’t make me drunk or sleepy or hungry or cold. It’s also not finicky with brewing parameters, tasting sweet with 200°F or 180°F water and lasting many infusions, I’m pushing six now. It’s simple and undemanding.  I think I will eventually have to order some more of this for lazy tea days.

1994 Dan Cong

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An unopened sample of 1994 Feng Huang Dan Cong from Life in Teacup has been sitting in my tea box for awhile now. It is a traditional roast produced in Chaozhou and provides a considerable change of pace from my other teas. I was surprised to find the dry leaves smell very similar to a shu pu’er I purchased in Vancouver many years ago (one of the few times I ever enjoyed drinking pu’er). It possesses a woody, herbal profile that brews up a nice reddish liquor with a tint of pink, if the light isn’t playing tricks on me.

Since it’s summer, I’ve been brewing it pretty light. But when I packed the gaiwan once, the tea get a lot darker and more reddish, producing a lightly burnt brown sugar flavor. it also produces a gentle qi, that warms and cools me at the same time. Interesting. It makes for a good everyday tea.

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