Thursday, 30 June 2011

Slurp Your Tea!

Slurping is a simple mechanism by which the drinker aerates the tea, a practice also common to wine tasting. The main difference here is that whereas in wine tasting the liquor is simply sloshed about inside the mouth, in tea tasting the liquor is slurped. Admittedly, some people do find the noise associated with the tea version bit unpleasant, but there is a purpose to it so bear with me.

Because slurping cools down the tea, it can be served and drunk hotter and faster. To me, however, experiencing the tea as fully as possible is always the primary consideration, and slurping works towards that as well. When tea is slurped, the aromatic oils it contains are sprayed all over the inside of the mouth, and while this may not provide a more fragrant cup per se, it noticeably alters the character of the liquor by emphasizing some characteristics and playing down others, sometimes dramatically enough to make what seem to be entirely new tastes emerge (depending on how much you choose to slurp). As an added benefit, I have found that slurping often mitigates the appearance of excessive bitterness or roughness in the aftertaste of many teas; useful for rendering an overbrewed cup more palatable.

These differences may seem fairly minor, but then to slurp or not to slurp was not the existential question posed by Hamlet. The tea experience is rich in subtle nuances, so slurp to explore (and once the tea has been swallowed, exhale deeply through the nose for a few more)!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Gu Zao Wei - Spring 2010 from World Of Tea

Tea: Gu Zao Wei oolong from World Of Tea
Origin: Taiwan
Harvest: Spring 2010

I've often read about the profound effect the nature of the water used to brew tea has on the final beverage, and today I have a prime example. Gu Zao Wei is a tea that I used to think of as a pretty good example of a mid-roast, mid-oxidation oolong. A good all rounder to drink on a day-to-day basis, but nothing really special. This afternoon's was my first session with this tea using my new ceramic kettle, and it was a wholly new experience. The water coming out of the unglazed ceramic spout of my kettle made the tea come alive in a way I had never experienced with this tea before! This may be incentive to revisit some teas from The Before Time...

On to today's tea. The smells trapped by the airtight seal on the bag in which the leaves are stored are abundantly smooth and fruity-floral without too much evidence of roast; that particular character makes itself evident once the leaves are heated up.

The first short infusion doesn't release much in the way of aroma from this tea, but what little there is is pleasant. This may seem a strange thing to say, but the tea feels wet in the mouth. It's not the oily thickness of a very green oolong, but just a refreshing feeling which coats the palate. This makes for a very interesting overall textural profile as this tea has a tendency towards being very mildly astringent. When I say very mildly astringent, I mean that it isn't quite enough to actually register as astringency unless you're really looking for a word to describe that nice, slightly cooling feeling on the tongue and across the rest of the mouth.

To me, this is an all-weather tea: slightly cooling on the days which are a bit too hot, and slightly warming on the days which are a bit too cold. The roasted character starts to emerge on its own as an undertone in the second infusion but never really comes to the forefront, leaving flavours of ripe fruit to occupy the limelight. On some level this tea is slightly sweet, a characteristic which comes out more in the aroma from the liquor itsself and even more so from the aroma cup. Whereas this set of leaves is mostly all about fruit, the aroma cup gives up notes which are distinctively floral as it cools.

 Brewing with water kept hot only by the residual heat in the kettle walls this tea has good endurance, with a more herbaceous flavour only starting to creep in as I approach the tenth infusion. This seems a little surprising as the liquor seems to have a fairly green tint right from the get go, albeit as a shade of bright yellow. Perhaps it's just my eyes.

Inspecting the leaves after my session there are few examples of stems at all, let alone stems with leaves attached. The leaves vary in size but are of a uniform dark green, and are fairly stiff and wrinkled in texture.

All in all, this is a good tea I've enjoyed for quite some time given new life by new water. If I'm honest, it's not a tea I'm passionnate about, but its vivacity made my day (which was mostly filled by two final exams) a better one, and surely that's why we all drink so much tea.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dian Hong - Cloudwalker Teas

Tea: Dian Hong (sheng pu'erh) from Cloudwalker Teas
Origin: China
Year: Unknown; its page on the company's website says it's three years old, but I'm not sure how recently the page was updated so it could be 2007 or 2008.

I've had a few samples of variously aged shengpu on hand from Cloudwalker Teas for about a month now, and this is one I somehow hadn't got round to trying until today during a visit from Director's Cut. According to the description on the company's website, this is supposed to be a good introductory pu'erh "processed similar to that of a black tea"; great for me as pu'erh isn't a genre I've had much chance to explore thus far. On the whole then, I don't really know a whole lot about this tea, but as far as I'm concerned a rose by any other name would smell as sweet so here goes.

The dry leaf in my preheated yixing teapot gives off a fairly typical aged pu'erh smell: wet wood. I quickly rinse the leaves, but the liquor looks too inviting to pass up so DC and I drink it anyway. For the first few infusions I normally use an aroma cup for pu'erh as I do with my oolongs, and the immediate impression with this tea is one of spice. There are undertones of smoother scents of mushrooms and wood, but they very much take a back seat for the moment. The liquid component of the tea washes over the inside of the mouth and down the throat, thoroughly coating my insides. An interesting contrast is created between the tea's warming action in my throat and the chaqi which leaves my mouth tingling.

Over the subsequent infusions the aroma evolves with a note DC likened to beeswax becoming more prominent while the spice which was initially so strong fades into a position parallel with the woody character, giving me the impression of a well loved and well seasoned kitchen countertop. Much to my delight, the beeswax note continued to sweeten, eventually acquiring a subtle floral quality much like the oolongs with which I am most familiar before subsiding alongside the rest of the aromas.

The tea feels thick and full of life, a characteristic which remains constant throughout the session as flavours come and go. The initial infusions are only slightly earthy, and over the course of the session this far from unpleasant quality eventually gives way to straw, grain, and abundant mouthfeel. In the middle infusions a wonderfully smooth cooling bitterness emerges, tickling the middle of my tongue before dissolving away.

The energy is noticeably relaxing, but not lethargic. A pleasant calmness envelops both DC and I as we drink.

The chaqi presses lightly on my glands and temples.

The spent leaves have a few twigs mixed in, but the leaves aren't very broken up and about half of them have acquired a definite green hue.

After eight or so infusions a very small amount of roughness started to appear at the back of the throat, but when I looked up this tea after the session and found out how young it is, I was astonished that there was so little in the way of unpleasant edges. This tea is wise well beyond its years. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Subtropical Forest Baozhong - Spring 2011 from Teamasters

Tea: Subtropical Forest Baozhong (luanze oolong) from Teamasters
Origin: Wenshan, Taiwan
Harvest: April 22, 2011

Today I sat down to drink the last of the sample of this Subtropical Forest Baozhong that Stéphane so generously included with my last order. Well, let's not spend too much time beating about the bush here, this stuff is really good.

Today's was my last of three sessions with this tea, and despite it being with what is quite literally bottom-of-the-bag tea, it was the best. My first taste of this tea with all my friends who were around the day it came in the mail two weeks ago was thoroughly enjoyable, but getting to spend some real quality time with it today just hit the spot. When I tried this tea for the second time a couple days ago, however, I was really just having an off day. To begin with I didn't use enough leaf, and then part way through the session I reheated my kettle rendering the water far too hot and bringing out a nasty roughness that persisted at the back of my mouth for the rest of the session, not to mention the miserable effect of my lackluster timing when it came to actually steeping the tea. Today's session, however, went far differently, showing that with just a little attention, this set of leaves will give up something really special.

I neglected to take a picture of the dry leaf from this session, so these are the leaves from my previous session, the difference being the degree to which the leaves are broken up.

On opening the bag such a clear and thick oily scent escapes that I know this tea will leave plenty glossy residue on my teaware (if only I had a pot to consecrate to baozhongs). The odour is fresh and slightly vegetal, and only intensifies within the heated walls of the gaiwan. In using up the last of my sample, I found myself using a bit more leaf than I usually do, so the water flows out of my kettle making only a brief hesitation in the gaiwan before arriving in my faircup. Even so, the strong energy of this tea is immediately evident in its nose-tingling aroma.

As I don't usually rinse most of my teas (pu'erh being the main exception) this tea's character really opens up in the second infusion with strong floral notes under the lid of the gaiwan followed by a citrusy sweetness accompanied by wet nectarines and (sub)tropical fruit in the aroma cup. I spend such a long time marvelling at the strength and complexity of this aroma that the tea in my tasting cup grows cold and I have to pour myself a fresh one. A taste which initially gave the impression of a herbaceous take on sunflower seeds evolves through the second steep into something resembling the taste of stir-fried bamboo hearts. Stéphane was right to say that this is "a tea that mirrors its environment very well".

Because a picture of bag-bottom leaves isn't much use to
anyone, these are some of the leaves from a previous session.

The taste of this tea is more refined than that of its semi-wild cousin and overall seems more cohesive with less in the way of obtuse angles. This is by no means a slight to either tea; what I'm trying to express is that while both have complex flavour profiles, the cultivated tea's are more closely blended together rather than emerging as separate notes. It's because of this, its more cultured nature, that I'm not entirely surprised when a sweetness which is almost sencha-esque in character emerges in this tea.

In the fourth infusion an intriguingly distinct lemony note makes a brief cameo in both taste and smell, leaving behind a pleasant tingling sensation. It's at this point that the tea mellows out into a more conventional baozhong character. More bamboo hearts, less papaya.

Because of the degree to which the leaves were broken up in the bottom of the bag (which had settled to the bottom of my tea drawer with a few things on top of it; I really need to reorganise my stash), I had expected this tea to have a fair amount of bitterness and astringency, but over the course of my session very little ever came to bear. While drinking the seventh infusion I noticed some roughness at the back of the mouth emerging in the aftertaste, but considering the state of the leaves it really was negligeable. The more lasting impression of this tea in its more than ten infusions (which in all honesty could probably be pushed farther if I had the patience for adequately lengthy steeps; today I don't) is its cool mint aftertaste and mildly relaxing full-body chaqi.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

An Incomplete Experience

With all the buzz about pu'erh on the blogosphere these days it's a real challenge not to be tempted to at least try these teas, and admittedly not one I've made much effort to resist. To that end, this is what I had for tea today. It's an aged wild sheng pu'erh from Cloudwalker Teas, and my experience with it today was, to say the least, incomplete; happily, this doesn't seem to preclude it's interestingness, however.

Today has been "just one of those days" for me, and even the weather seemed confused with the morning being chilly and overcast and the afternoon clear, bright, and hot. When I woke up this morning I felt today was the day I'd been waiting for: a cold spell to enjoy some hot tea. Having tasted this tea before, I know its warming chaqi will heat me up from the inside out, so I'd been waiting for weather like this morning's to make the most of the tea, leaving me a little disappointed when the aforementioned climactic conditions changed for the better. In spite of this I decided to have some of the tea, but mixed up as I was I got up and left for dinner during the third or fourth steep. When I came back a little over half an hour later and discovered my teapot full of hot water I thought any future infusions would be bland at best given the length of the accidental steep. I was wrong. The following infusion was still quite tasty and surprised me by being no more rough than any other brew, quite a feat considering this tea has only a little rough dryness at the back of the throat in the later infusions when brewed more attentively.

This mistake is, I think, a great illustration of the appeal of aged shengpu: remarkable endurance and a tendency for flavours to gradually evolve over the course of a session rather than going through a short cycle in the first few infusions then tapering off as do many other teas. Although this may not have been much more than a double-take at what could perhaps be described as a more engaging version of the Energizer Bunny of tea, it was nevertheless an enjoyable one, and confirmation for me that this is a genre that merits further exploration.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Aged Oolong - 1988 from Cloudwalker Teas

Tea: Aged Oolong from Cloudwalker Teas
Origin: Taiwan
Harvest: 1988

During the second part of my session with Director's Cut yesterday we tasted a tea with which I am very familiar: Cloudwalker Teas' 20 year old oolong tea. (Although the small company is physically located in Ottawa, it is run as a web-based operation with no storefront location. This may seem a barrier, but the customer service is excellent and I recommend checking them out if you have an interest in the kind of teas they have on offer. The company blog is located here.) Unfortunately, little is known to me about the origins of this tea other than it being some sort of Taiwanese oolong that's been aged for about twenty years; this tea is, however, anything but nondescript.

Upon being placed in my warmed yixing teapot the tea's most immediately obvious characteristic becomes even more apparent: its roast. Oolongs have to be re-roasted every few years as they age in order to dispell the moisture that soaks into the leaves from the air and allow the aging process to occur properly; as a result, aged oolongs are sometimes faked by simply roasting a new tea very heavily to imitate years of gentle roasting. Telltale signs of a forged aged oolong are hard, blackened leaves which don't open much over the course of a session and have an unnaturally harsh fiery nature. This is not a fake.  

The real deal.

Holding up the teapot a powerful aroma of roast with sweet undertones bids farewell to the clay and greets rather than assaults my nasal passages. My note taking lapsed at this point barely into the session as hours of sitting with this tea resurfaced with the aroma and I got a little excited.

The incredible sweetness of this tea's aroma never ceases to amaze me, even after enough sessions to noticeably season the clay of my teapot (I tried brewing a medium oxidation/roast oolong in this pot recently and the tea felt muddied by some subtle textural interference). For the first few seconds very little emerges from the aroma cup, and then all of a sudden the liquor breaks open. An intense sticky sweet perfume of caramel and candied fruit rushes all the way to the back of the sinuses and just keeps coming. This smell, which DC likened to that of candied peaches and brie heated up together in the oven, endures with such strength that it seems it will keep on forever from the seemingly empty tiny porcelain vessel before gradually receding, leaving both DC and I with a pleasant lightheadedness. At this point, however, it proves difficult to mourn the passing of this exquisite odour as its liquid counterpart beckons from the table's surface.

Why yes, I think I will.
The liquor washes over the inside of the mouth and down the throat warming me as it goes. As someone with normally poor circulation in my extremities whenever I drink this tea in company I stretch out my arms in front of me and exclaim "Look! I have blood in my hands!" This tea has always had the remarkable effect of not only causing my hands to flush bright red, but also making the networks of veins in my hands and feet bulge as they seldom do. Needless to say, this tea has a strong warming chaqi that flows throughout the entire body. What continues to make this experience very pleasant to me is that the warm qi really does flow through the entire body, rendering this experience a gentle one more like to easing into a warm bed with crisp, fresh sheets after a long soak in a hot bath than to the harsher experience of sitting by a bonfire on a warm summer's night. Nonetheless, there is always a slight lingering warm dryness present at the back of the throat, but it fits so well into the tea's character and is so without the roughness that usually accompanies such astringency that this is one of the very few times I would call such an aftertaste to be an asset to the tea.

Even as I lengthen the infusions a little bit more than necessary the tea exhibits an uncommon absence of harsh characteristics. The tea has a feeling of roundness and of being full of depth in the mouth, one that is certainly displayed to an advantage by the teapot in which it is brewed, but gaiwan brewing in the past has proven to me that this tea has a thickness all its own. The textural fullness of this oolong is quite unlike the creamy or oily thickness of greener and fresher teas, and is one that I suspect comes quite simply from an abundance of maturity. As I drink I develop an impression of dry old timbers, like those forming the outside wall of a barn exposed to the elements for many years rather than the wet wooden notes familiar to those who drink pu'erh.

As I lift the lid in between infusions I'm always tempted to lean in and give the tea a sniff, and the odour there is one that, for me, is at once good and bad. Good because if there ever was any doubt as to the tea's age, it's now been erased. Bad because it's a sour and slightly tangy herbaceous smell that I don't particularly like, but because it doesn't appear to me in any other instance with this tea, I just take it as a sign of being the genuine article and move right along with my brewing.

During one particularly long infusion, a hint of the sweetness that was so obvious in the smell crept into the liquor itself, but as I timed the infusions more appropriately this note disappeared. It was only in the last few very lengthy infusions that the roasted taste began to give up ground to this sweetness. For the very last infusion, I simply poured more water into the teapot, replaced the lid, and walked away. Some time later I came back to my tea board, having completely forgotten about the infusion I had started some time ago, and was delighted to find that the teapot was now full of tasty tea! This last brew was surprisingly smooth and left a sweet memory lingering pleasantly in the back of my throat, a fitting end for one of my very favourite teas.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Re-learning Temperature

One of the most basic and most emphasized aspects of brewing tea any more seriously than from a bag with a yellow label is water temperature. Plenty of people adhere to stringent guidelines requiring temperature to be measured precisely with a thermometer to ensure it's always at just the right temperature to infuse x kind of tea. I'm not one of those people.

I may have no use for a thermometer in my daily brewing, but that's not to say I don't pay any attention to temperature. In general, I brew my greens cooler (65-80C depending on how tough or delicate the individual tea is), my oolongs warmer (80-90C), and my pu'erhs hot (+95C), but really I'm all about brewing tea by intuition. If I think a tea can take it warmer or needs it cooler, I adjust accordingly, and in general I find measuring and re-measuring the temperature of the water being used is more of a distraction from the tea making process than an aid to it. Admittedly, it doesn't work out every time, but even then I look at it as an opportunity to learn more about the tea I'm drinking and about how I can adjust my brewing style to compensate for unwanted characteristics such as excessive bitterness or astringency. However, as much as I may learn a lot from tea brewed at a less-than-ideal temperature, the goal is always ultimately to make a better cup of tea, so at the end of the day the reason I do what I do is because it works for me. Or worked.

...and now.
Ever since I started drinking hot plant-based beverages I've been relying on your average plastic household kettle to heat the water. You know the type, they've got a metal coil element to heat the water, a plug for the wall, and a spout so large that it's difficult to hit anything smaller than a kitchen sink with any kind of reliable accuracy; on the whole not great for gongfu cha. For that reason, I've been looking for a better kettle for a while, and this past Monday one finally came in the mail. It's a ceramic kettle, stand, and burner set from Teamasters, and it's an excellent product. It heats water reasonably quickly (fifteen minutes to a boil from warm tapwater), pours a fine and accurate stream, and even noticeably improves the mouthfeel of the water put in it. In fact, the part that really lets this product down is the soft fleshy bit attached to the bamboo handle. My plastic kettle may not have been ideal, but I habitually estimate the water temperature based on the size of the bubbles that are coming off the element, and with practice I got to be quite good at it (during an experiment comparing my guesses to simultaneous readings taken using a meat thermometer I came consistently within a few degrees C of the actual temperature). With a new kettle using an element-free design, I need to re-learn how to estimate water temperature.

The dual prongs of bitter defeat.
Although I am usually loathe to use a thermometer as an aid to brewing tea, in this case it was necessary. For science (ah, the sweet allure of that quintessentially available justification...). I preheated some water in the plastic kettle and poured it into the ceramic one which then got placed on the burner. After playing the waiting game for a little while, I opened the lid and saw a handful of small streams of bubbles perhaps a few millimeters in diameter, the appearance of which I thought would signal approximately 85C. As it turned out, the actual temperature was 95C! No wonder the first tea I drank with this kettle got massacred.

My notes on the signs of reaching different water temperatures show that steam will probably be most practical indicator of water temperature, with light and heavy wafts from an open lid indicating 75C and 85C respectively. For my pu'erhs, I think I'll just continue to rely on the bubbles and the audible 'tinks' they make as they burst into existance. In the meantime, I've resigned myself to using a digital meat thermometer for occasional temperature checks to prevent the slaughter of innocent leaves. Although this has so far been successful, I do look forward to once again casting off this crutch.

(Note: I started writing this post this past Friday but waited until today to put it up to allow the inclusion of photos and better data, so everything since then has been brewed using temperature checks including the sessions that formed the basis of reviews.)

Alishan 1 - Spring 2011 from World Of Tea

Tea: Alishan Oolong from World Of Tea
Origin: Alishan (1,400m), Taiwan
Harvest: Spring 2011

Today I sat down with Director's Cut to try a couple of different teas, the first being this fresh gaoshan oolong from World Of Tea, a relatively new brick and mortar shop located in the national capital's Westboro village.

As this tea has a very low oxidation level I brewed it quite cool (and a bit too light in the first cautious infusion), and as a result very little in the way of aroma greeted us from the sniffing cups. The mouthfeel, however, was instantly smooth and coated the whole inside of the mouth just as a drop of soap diffuses across a layer of water covering it completely. Having been gently woken by the first infusion aromas of mango and papaya reached us revealing what little oxidation this tea had undergone during processing. Looking at the leaves in the empty gaiwan this was very apparent; they were of an incredible rich green!

Someone left emeralds in my gaiwan...
This tea really seems to be all about mouthfeel rather than the intense fruity and floral qualities for which more oxidised and roasted oolongs are known, and in this respect it really excelled. The mouthfeel was consistently smooth and had a pleasant cool and minty huigan which only lasted longer as we progressed through the infusions. However, this is not to say that the flowers and fruit of other oolongs are completely absent. After the third infusion very clear and distinct floral notes bloomed beneath the lid of the gaiwan letting us know that this was indeed an oolong. In later infusions the tea developped a light sweet note which DC described as being closer to the sweetness of caramelized onions than the honey-sweetness of the senchas with which he is familiar. This sweetness continued to evolve throughout the subsequent infusions eventually concluding with a note most like some sort of candied fruit.

One subtle but at the same time powerful characteristic of this gaoshan tea was it's trademark high-mountain chaqi. While the cooling properties were duly noted early on during the tasting, it was only towards the end of the session that a remarkable calmness became more obvious. The qi was never overpowering or in your face as it can sometimes be with other genres, but rather has a more subtle centering effect on the drinker. As this tea was provided courtesy of DC's personal stash, he was able to relate previous experience with this tea illustrating this effect: at the end of a hectic day the tea left him with a feeling of calmness, providing an interesting contrast to today's lazy Sunday session which managed to dispell a feeling of lethargy stemming from not doing anything all day up until then. However, this is not to be mistaken for an energizing, early morning tea as it clearly did not have this effect on us.

Looking into my tea strainer the quality of the leaves that make up this tea is obvious: barely anything's been filtered out. The tightly rolled leaves are whole almost without exception, about two thirds of them being three leaves to a stem (rather than lone leaves). As World of Tea's mid-range (or better yet, mid-mountain) Alishan Oolong, at about $20 for 50g it is a thoroughly enjoyable and economical way of exploring gaoshan as a genre.
Co-authored by Eugenius and Director's Cut

Introducing Director's Cut

Well, it's only been four days since this blog went live, and already this blog has acquired an extra part-time set of taste buds! A friend of mine who I drink tea with fairly often expressed an interest in the blog, but he lacked a suitable pseudonym for the purpose. To that end, he shall hereafter be referred to as Director's Cut (or DC for short) for his intermittent habit of providing a running commentary on passing events (a real-time equivalent of the director's cut of a movie, or so the joke goes). So, be prepared to see some of his input in future posts from shared sessions (and perhaps even some original content on occasion).

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Semi-Wild Baozhong - Spring 2011 from Teamasters

Tea: Semi-wild Baozhong from Teamasters
Origin: Wenshan, Taiwan
Harvest: April 24, 2011

A beautiful day for a beautiful tea. Today was warm-ish outside, so this afternoon before the gentle rain  started I decided to pair the wonderful atmospheric conditions with a gentle, slightly cooling tea: a baozhong. Specifically, this is the semi-wild baozhong I received earlier this week from Stéphane Erler; safe to say this is not my first session with this tea. It is, however, the first session that will form the basis of a "review" for this blog. Here goes nothing!

I brewed this tea with a relatively small amount of leaf in a 100ml porcelain gaiwan. My initial infusions were quite short, but in spite of this a smooth, creamy fragrance opened itself to my nose followed by a somewhat more leguminous beany note in the aroma cup from the first infusion. The second infusion held a small amount of the floral notes common to more oxidised oolongs, but these notes were fleeting. In the next infusion the aroma peaked with fruity rather than floral notes trapped under the lid of the gaiwan which left behind a pleasant tingling sensation. In subsequent brews the aroma continued to diminish and I focused more on the taste and abundant mouthfeel of this tea.

For the most part the aromatic qualities of this tea were echoes of its taste and feeling in the mouth which I can only describe as silky smooth. The tea coated the inside of my mouth and left behind a fresh and sometimes minty feeling which lasted longer and longer as I made my way through the infusions. Over the first few infusions a flavour profile developed which was strikingly similar to sunflower seeds; this flavour seemed to originate from a blending of the initial creamy taste and the emerging leguminous note which never seemed too prominent.

Leaving the lid off resulted in a cooler brew.
 As I focused less on my note taking and more on simply drinking the tea hot and fresh out of the cup the chaqi became much more apparent, stimulating my salivary glands and leaving my mouth tingling lightly. It was at this point that a dryness began to emerge in the tea's finish which was at first not unpleasant but later became accompanied by a feeling of roughness in the back of the mouth which acted as an unappealing anticlimax to the tea's otherwise unblemished smoothness.

As I took the above picture the tea continued to steep in the lidless gaiwan, and when I finished drinking the resulting infusion I noticed that the roughness and astringency in the aftertaste was gone! In the next infusion I experimented with leaving the lid on as I usually do, and sure enough this resulted in a rougher cup. In each of the infusions that followed I left the lid off and each brew was perfectly unblemished into the double digits. I suspect this is due to the water cooling off more quickly once poured in, resulting in a gentler and therefore smoother infusion. Although this was never a problem before because my old plastic kettle cooled down fairly quickly and made progressively cooler infusions unless I made a point of reheating the water, my new ceramic kettle holds heat much more effectively rendering me in charge of ensuring that the leaves in question receive increasingly gentle treatment as they lose their robustness over the course of a session.

Upon examining the spent leaves noticing an abundance of twigs is inevitable. A byproduct of this tea's semi-wild nature? Perhaps. In any case, the last long, cool infusion of this tea gave up the ghost with a creamy mouthfeel, a tingle on the tongue, and a hint of bean. Delicious.

Addendum on June 19, 2011: On revisiting this tea with more leaf all aspects of the tea were amplified, which proved very satisfying as far as the taste and aroma were concerned (this time strong floral notes emerged in the aroma, peaking in the third infusion) but also brought out the persistent roughness that this time I was unable to successfully manage as I had before. I suspected that the stems were the source of this unpleasantness, so I picked through my gaiwan and removed them in between infusions, saving part of the last infusion for comparison, though as it turned out this was hardly necessary. Along with the twigs the roughness made its exit from the brew.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Endings and Beginnings

With the last steeping of a fresh baozhong from Stéphane Erler today came what is, in short, an idea. Where exactly this blog will go in the future (or if it will go anywhere; I hope so) I can't say for sure, but I do have an inkling. This will be as much for me as for you, whoever you may be. This will be a place for me to accesibly organise my own tea journey, and hopefuly connect with others on theirs. Will I review teas, ware, and other such mundane material things? You bet. Will I time my steepings and precisely measure the thickness of my teapots? Absolutely not. I don't claim that my way is the right way or even a particularily good way, it's just what I'm doing and what I'm learning, and as such even the things that I post here as "reviews" will be more my own thoughts than any kind of arbitration on quality. To me, tea is a way to escape the confines of the idea that there is such a thing as a "right way" to do things, and to get closer to the idea that all of life is an exploration. It's an opportunity for me to de-stress and think in solitude or talk and laugh in good company. In some ways I view tea as a microcosm for life in general, and so I look at it as being as much of a philosophical experience as a gustatory one. If that seems far fetched, then I hope you'll stick around because in a some ways it does to me too, but it's an idea that intrigues me and one I intend on exploring with as many people as I can. This is a journey of good tea and good thought, so, dear reader, you down for some cha dao?

Spring 2011 Semi-Wild Baozhong from Teamasters (tasting notes to follow)