Thursday, May 28, 2009

2008 Xiaguan “Xizi” Tuocha

One noticed this one on The Half-Dipper a few weeks back. This was a gift from ol' Hobbes.

The elaborate and ornate packaging sets the stage. Removing it from the box and wrapper reveals a healthy mix of dry leaves that smell of creamy sweet, papery tobacco. Just a touch of mushroom is detected as one inhales deeply.

This tea is prepared in the same way one prepares all puerh, the ritual is as much of a treat as the tea.

The first infusion imparts a gentle follow through with light, waify creamy cinnamon-like spice in a nice sweet finish of tobacco. The qi of this young tea is very welcoming right from the get go.

As the go gets, the tea gets going. The honest, pale, slightly orangey-yellow liquid has flavour and energy abound for such a little tuo. Its simple flavour is a good one. Its feel in the mouth is timidly gathered in the middle of the tongue and snatches at ones saliva playfully.

After not too long, the flavour starts to develop an underlying grainy-cereal profile which evolves as the session plays out.

This tea's initial flavour retreats faster than one would like, hiding under the blanket of wholesome grains which stretch all the way into the nose. Infusion times require sharp adjustments if you hope to recapture the fleeting flavour of sweet, creamy tobacco and spice. If you run after it long enough, you can still catch it, if not for just a moment. Certainly, longer infusions don't much increase the bitterness of this tea, so it's worth a shot.

In later infusions ones mind drifts to images of golden wheat fields blowing in the wind, creating undulating waves of gold in a sea of grains. This tea captures this relaxing feeling.

Thanks Hobbes.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

1998 Raon Puerh

The production of this tea was supervised by a local shop owner and his Chinese tea master. His shop was near ones place of residence in Daegu. He offered up a generous sample of this tea when one purchased a tong of his 2008 offering.

One spent a good month drinking this tea off and on...
It's dry leaves are dark brown with touches of a woody raisin smell. The leaves exhibit signs of early spring growth.

This tea is quite aromatic and as soon as the leaves take in the hot water in the safety of a yixing the smell goes from aromatic to intoxicating. The rinse over ones ceramic tea table launches the odour across the tea room.

In the light water of the first quick infusion, a watery purity develops into a pleasant cool malty sweetness. This delicious caramel molassesy flavour shares the mouth with woody notes. It is immediately apparent that this tea has aged quite well.

Later infusions call on a spicy, dirty earthiness to stop by. It goes like this... first comes the pure, sweet, dirty caramel malt, then a slight spice, a spike of nice sweetness finishes with an earthy dirtiness that lingers on the breath.

The mouthfeel is soft but full as it covers all spaces of the mouth. This tea has a hardy spring energy to it- a gentle roughness. It's energy is euphoric- sobering ones body and mind. It imbues a sense of safety, comfort, and rough wisdom.

One drinks this tea over long stretches of time, sometimes over a few days. The cold brews come out a bit smokey. Something that is not even noticeable in the hot infusions. Strange. The cool sweetness and tough earthiness play out again and again, over and over, only waning a bit each time.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Broken Ceramics

One received the last of the packages this week. The tea came in perfect shape. But unfortunately this beautiful tang gwan by Korean ceramic master Uh Sang Myung came in many little pieces despite overly vigilant packing.

Even in small shards it emanates brilliance.
The seemingly useless broken pieces do teach us though. They allow us to take a peak at the clay used for such a piece. They allow us a glimpse at the artist ingenious techniques, things that we couldn't know with a piece intact.

For instance, we can see how the base of the tang gwan is quite thick. As we move up the sidewall we notice it thins out then, as it approaches the rim, it thickens once again. Its form is marvelous.

What is most interesting about this piece is that Uh Sang Myung used red clay at the top near the rim but used a different clay for the main body and base. This is beautifully illustrated in some of the shards that show how the clay slowly picks up a pinky-orange as it nears the rim. Following this progression is like watching as the sun slowly sets before disappearing. Breathtaking.

Above all, these broken pieces remind us what is truly of value in our lives...

When we have lived as much as we are going to, arriving at life's last stop,
is there a single solitary thing that will come with us?
The things I possess right now are not originally mine.
They are only things that have been placed in my care temporarily.

Whether material objects or fame, intrinsically none of it can be my possession.
All these things are just secondary, following me along like a shadow, as I reside here in this space for the moment.

An excerpt from At the Last Stop of Life by Beop Jeong found in May All Beings Be Happy


Monday, May 18, 2009

An Enormous Tea Storage Jar By Shin Hyun Churl

This jar is the biggest one has ever seen! To give you a reference on size, it came up to around ones waist. You could surely store a small child in here or, better yet, a tonne of tea!

This massive white jar doesn't overwhelm though. Its soft natural white glaze beautifully drapes over its ash flecked sides in noticeable but not standoutish globs. Along with the ornate, signature Shin Hyun Churl lotus flower knob and a few ridges that circumnavigate the base, this pieces does its best to balance its massive size and makes some strides toward grace.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Moving Tea

The above picture of cherry blossoms in full bloom was taken through a rain soaked window at the end of March this year in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada. How beautiful they were tossing about in the trees, covered in drops of rain.

This city, the tea capital of Canada, will be ones home for the time being. One should arrive tomorrow, the tea will arrive in about a weeks time.


Friday, May 1, 2009

2009 Margaret's Hope Estate FTGFOP 1 CH (SPL) 1st Flush Darjeeling

One tried a 2007 second flush offering from Margaret's Hope estate a while back and thought it an interesting tea. The write up on Lochan Tea's site on how this estate got its name is worthy of a read. Hopefully the story of this tea isn't as heartwrenching...

The dry leaves seem to contain more chocolate brown coloured leaves and present one with a smell of deep foresty muscatel. Within this, there is a hidden floral sweetness that reminds one of the turning spring.

One mindfully prepares this tea, scooping the leaves out of the foil with bamboo. The sound of the leaves hitting the bottom of the pot further relaxes ones mind. The sound of hot water hitting that same bottom pushes ones mind deeper.

One sips at this tea from little Korean ceramic cups. The first time one brewed this tea using the same perimeters as the other first flushes, it didn't turn out so well. One added less leaf this time. And upon first sip it seems much better. There is a nice full soft coating mouthfeel with very floral taste and backnotes of classic Darjeeling muscatel where last session just held a smokey, bitterness without much taste at all. The colour of the liquor is not so vibrant, a gritty yellow, an 'intoxicated morning after urine' kind of gritty yellow.

The second infusion is good and tastes much like when one brewed it with more leaf but this time there isn't the strong overpowering bitterness. There is still a slight tail of bitterness in the mouth that it is just as noticeable but not as strong. This is a very Darjeeling cup of tea with a nice balance of flower, grape, and muscatel. By the second infusion ones stomach grumbles under the mean energy of this tough tea.

The third infusion is chalky, gritty, and mostly bitter which trumps most of its nice flavor. This tea dies before it even gets going. Unfortunately, less leaf doesn't prevent the inevitable. By the time the third infusion comes along there really isn't much left of this tea.

Nonetheless, one pushes on with this now almost flavorless tea. If anything this tea teaches us to savor what we got while we have it. So when we don't, we'll appreciate it all the more.

This tea would benefit from the old English style of making tea. Its suffering is only agonized by the flogging gong fu session.