How I Taste Tea



I have been hoarding a certain Wuyi Xilan Rock tea procured from Arthur at Morning Crane Tea almost a year or more ago. The stars aligned finally and I found myself in the proper circumstances to conduct a tasting. I had a bottle of Volvic water at the ready and a quiet, chilly morning where my husband was still sleeping in. While I was sipping away contentedly, I wasn’t only thinking about the taste of the tea but my own particular method of tasting.

It’s been awhile since I played with a gaiwan, but I feel it is appropriate to dust one off to explore this wulong. As always, I heat and rinse the vessel with boiling water, dry it off and then plop the dry leaves in. I think this might be my favorite part, more than drinking the tea, I love to sniff the warm aroma of the leaves as they are gently heated. These leaves smell like peachy pears – so delicious! IMG_2735.jpg

As the show must go on before everything cools off, I pour the still steaming water into the gaiwan and put on the lid for a little bit. While the tea was brewing, I realized I needed to take out the pitcher and clean it off. Thankfully, I was quick and the leaves did not over steep. The bright amber liquor is darker than what comes out in the photos…IMG_2737.jpg

I sip from my little tea cup just enough to coat my tongue. I push some air from my diaphragm as if I were about to speak but keep my mouth closed. I rolled the air and the tea around in my mouth and activate my olfactory senses. The first couple of infusions taste like crisp pears. Only a hint of the charcoal roasting is present but I’m suddenly reminded of the roasted Tieguanyin from MarshalN I experimented with a few years ago. On the third infusion, the taste of pears give way to a refreshing herbaceous flavor I’ve experienced before some gao shan wulong.

After the seventh or eight cup, I have to take a break and drink some water as my mouth is feeling dry. But overall, I’m very much enjoying myself, and getting a little tipsy. I stop to admire the leaves once again, swelling yet smelling so fresh.IMG_2745.jpg

After a month of drinking matcha and gyukuro regularly, this wulong is a welcome respite. In comparison, Japanese green teas are like a dainty smack to the face, while wulong is a gentle, warm rub and pat on the cheeks.


Tea in Autumn


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My orders from Ippodo and Yuuki-Cha arrived yesterday. I placed both orders last Saturday, Ippodo mailed via EMS while Yuki-Cha came via Airmail. The latter is cheaper and nothing was broken so if anybody was wondering, I think Airmail is a good choice if you don’t need tracking.


It’s rather gloomy and rainy today so I’m happy to have some tea to accompany me. I tried Ippodo’s Tsukikage matcha yesterday with regular Brita water and there wasn’t that much flavor so this morning I tried it with Volvic. It came out slightly more bitter, but I still had difficulty identifying any other flavors. As I’m writing now, I’m becoming cognizant of a light crispness, almost spiciness sitting on my tongue. My favorite part about matcha must be the aroma – is there a match perfume out there?? – I was sniffing the sifter the whole time during cleanup. I’m also glad to report that I did not get the jolt that I used to get from other matcha. Tsukikage is easy on the nerves.


My matcha preparation has only improved marginally since yesterday. I’ve learned to use a little less water but I accidentally scraped the bottom of the bowl with the whisk a few times during whisking. Depth perception has always been a challenge for me. Of course, I would like to create frothier, creamier foam like this. But I’m wondering if lighter whisking would bring out more flavor. Maybe I should try preparing koicha next?

2015 – A Recap


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While hiding from the chilly weather outside under a blanket on the sofa, it occurred to me that I have not blogged about tea in a while. So I opened up to the front page and I was rather surprised at how long it has really been…a year and a half! Upon reflection, it is true I haven’t been imbibing much camellia sinensis due to caffeine sensitivities and lack of quality hot water at work. I must have pulled out my yixing maybe fives times at most this year. Recently if I do have any hot drink, it is usually some herbal tea at home. Due to a flare up of psoriasis that has worsened since this summer, I recently began drinking Pau d’Arco tea from Traditional Medicinals along with Vitamin D and Milk Thistle supplements. Basically, I’m trying everything I can before resorting to seeing a dermatologist to be prescribed the typical dosage of drugs/steroids with all their horrible side effects. While doing research on alternative treatments for this blight upon my skin, I also read that green tea can be effective. Somehow, it shames me to think of “using” tea in such a manner. For me, tea – that is the real tea, camellia sinensis – is an art, a meditation, a spiritual respite. I always cringed when people talk about it as just another dieting or health supplement fad. Such ignorance! Disrespect! But maybe I’m just being an oversensitive, tea snob?

On the positive side, I found a convenient excuse to buy some more tea and teaware, which I had been eyeing for quite awhile but had put off due to space and time limitations. For “health purposes” I decided to stock up on Japanese green tea rather than Chinese or Korean due to the lighter processing. I finally placed an order yesterday with two vendors I’ve been meaning to try for a very long time – Ippodo and Yuuki-cha. I was probably overzealous since I can never get through Japanese green teas fast enough, especially matcha which gives my head a jolt and the rest of my body the chills.

I’m still working through some gyokuro purchased this summer from O-Cha. I even bought the requisite shiboridashi to brew it, but as of late I’ve been just drinking the stuff grandpa style to get through the bag before it goes stale. Initially, I had brewed it with Volvic water to compare with my usual Brita filtered water at the recommended temperature. The Volvic brought out the umami, but my tastes buds were overwhelmed by the highly vegetal flavor. I found plain filtered water at boiling temp brews a softer, sweeter tea more agreeable to my taste buds.IMG_2661

Yulan Tea



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.


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.


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.

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



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!



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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.


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.


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.


This is the full set!



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?


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


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.


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


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



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



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



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….


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~