Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A First Attempt At Pottery

I admit I haven't got much here to share, but as the results of my "bisque firing" (read: drying in a 400F toaster oven) of this little coil pot are in and much better than expected, I'm a bit excited by what right now seem like nearly endless possibilities for future exploration. This little jar no more than ten centimeters tall is made of local clay I dug out of a wet, marshy area near my neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. Given that I have no real knowledge of pottery, let alone experience of any kind, I'm quite enthused to have produced something from this field mud that will stand up on its own. Currently it's still very rough, but my plan is to put a clay slip on it to smooth out the surface and fill in some small cracks before firing it (a bit more) properly. The end goal for this pot is to use it as a short-term storage jar for tea, using its unglazed walls perhaps to tone-down the fire of over-roasted oolongs, or mellow out musty pu'erh. Just how different teas will really react to it as a storage environment, however, remains to be seen, and that I will eventually find out relies heavily on the assumption that the clay will stand up to further processing, something I can hardly be sure of. Needless to say, there will have to be more trial and plenty of error, but this small success has left me feeling encouraged and optimistic towards finding out what can be done with basic, backyard pottery methods.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Aged Hualien Oolong - 1987 from Camellia Sinensis

Origin: Hualien, Taiwan
Year: 1987

Today I tasted a sample of one of Camellia Sinensis' aged oolongs generously provided to me by Director's Cut from a selection of teas he picked up on a recent trip to Montreal. Knowing that my brewing is generally better during solitary sessions when I don't have to worry about guests, he offered some of his aged oolong for me to try on my own. Today being one of those cool fall days that doesn't quite merit turning the heat on, I opted to treat myself to a session with something special (this is a sample I've been holding onto for a little while to do it justice) that would also serve the purpose of warming me up.

Thicker and juicier, thanks to just what I do not know.

Even in the cold autumn air the dry leaf exhibits an abundance of sweet perfume which only intensifies as it's tipped from my wooden tea-scoop onto the warm clay of a preheated yixing teapot dedicated to aged oolongs such as this. Steaming water soon follows, the gurgling of water jostling the leaves a gentle prelude to its transformation into tea. The infusion is poured out and the aroma spills over the rim of the faircup and makes its way to my nose. The concentrated aroma flowing up from the porcelain of my sniffing cup is immediately of sweet caramel, eventually acquiring a more floral character which, as the cup cools and becomes more refined, gives the impression of what candied flowers might be like.

The liquor is thick and syrupy with no astringency and little dryness in the first few infusions. Interestingly, this tea doesn't have any clear roasty characteristics in smell or in taste, but rather a remarkable clarity and balance. I can't seem to find any sore thumbs with this tea, even the aftertaste emerges gradually and smoothly, leaving a clean mineral feeling on my tongue.

The infusions pass with seamless and gradual gradations from one to the next; the tea's character slowly becomes subtler, thinner, and more homogeneous, though some of the tea's original complexity can always be recovered with an extra-long steep. As the aroma fades into imperceptibility and I become more familiar with the tea's characteristics, I begin switching out my set of porcelain cups for Petr's wood-fired teacup, finding that the latter lends an extra hearty roundness to the liquor. I've found that this is something this cup will do for any tea I've tried it with so far, proving to me the great effect the composition of even relatively non-porous teaware can have on tea. 

Throughout the session the tea's warming chaqi from years of re-roasting builds in my centre, comforting me and making me comfortable on this cool fall day.