Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Kim Kyong Soo Gye Yal: A Potter's Zen Circle

A monk asked Master Isan for a gatha expressing enlightenment. Isan refused saying, "It is right in front of your face, why should I express it in brush and ink?"

The above exchange took place amongst Zen monks in the eighth century and is the first reference to Zen circle art or enso. Enso is a quick circular brushstroke of black ink on rice paper that forms a circle. It is said to have such a meaning that to express it in words is impossible.

The gye yal (Eng. Brushstroke) is a form of Zen circle art. It is the spontaneous circle mark found on the inside or out of a tea bowl. It embodies the same 'no mind' that the black ink of a calligraphers' enso has come to represent.

Contemplating the gye yal is to look deeply into nothingness.


What is this???


Friday, March 26, 2010

2009 Daotea Kim Shin Ho Hwagae Valley Yellow Tea

During the two weeks before and after Spring and Fall Equinox and Winter and Summer Solstice yellow tea has a grounding quality that helps stabalize and center our energies. March 20th was Spring Equinox so one has been drinking lots of yellow tea as of late.

This tea is the second of two yellow teas that Pedro at Daotea sells. This one was made by accomplished tea master Kim Shin Ho. This yellow tea, like the other, was produced using traditional, labour intensive methods, from leaves in Korea's oldest tea area. Other than these production similarities these two yellow teas are quite different from each other and together offer a great perspective on the range of Korean yellow tea.

Let's put our comparing minds to the side, boiling the water, sit cross-legged on the floor, and enjoy this tea...

These small very dark brown crinked dry leaves supply a creamy, sweet citrus smell. These leaves are quite small for a balhyocha. They are probably of early Seajak or perhaps late Ujeon grade.

The first infusion is light, tangy, and sweet. It has a nice full flavour and a touch of a juicy feel to it. This first infusion is consumed and enjoyed.

The second infusion displays an interesting dichotomy of being both juicy and dry in the mouth. As it first hits the mouth it is creamy, then turns dry and woody, then sweet, it leaves a dry sweet and sour aftertaste in the mouth. A subtle spice is left in the end.

The qi of this tea is quite strong one can feel it swelling in the middle jiao- ones thoughts become crisp.

The third infusion is smooth, creamy, citrus-wood taste with a dry sweet and sour aftertaste.

The fourth pours a orangy-yellow. Even more wood tones come out, a mild tangerine flavour is noticed. Things start to slowly smooth out at this point in the session.

The resulting infusions are a manifestation of these woody tones with the subtle juicy tangerine flavour diminishing throughout the session and the wood notes becoming drier and more simple. With this said, this yellow tea has much stamina and is steeped for a total of about 10 infusions with a distinct flavour worth exploring late into the session.

This Kim Shin Ho Balhyocha is closer to the "spicy, fruity, juicy" Korean yellow type while the Kim Jong Yeol Balhyocha is closer to the "roasted, chocolate" Korean yellow type.

Thanks again Pedro for offering these interesting yellows here in the West.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Beop Jeong Seunim Shine On Brightly

The most famous Korean monk of his time, Ven. Beop Jeong Seunim passed away on March 11th, 2010. Undoubtedly, he was one of the biggest influences on the way one thinks about this world, the way one thinks about tea, and the concept of this blog.

A zen monk who lived as a hermit, he is most famous for his articles on non-possession. His most famous essay "Without Possessions" expounds his wonderful world view.

In an interview he gave later in life he said that he felt a bit embarrassed that he wrote a famous book on non-possession but still couldn't give away his teapot. When he died his teapot was one of only 3 of his last worldly possessions besides his clothes and glasses held together with tape.

His only English print book, "May All Beings Be Happy" (2006) has pages that fall out, their corners dog-eared, the white cover blacked from overuse. One always keeps his teachings on possessions firm in ones mind.

Is one wrapped up in the possessing of a certain kind of tea or teaware? If so, has one truly lost the true deep meaning of tea?

Meditating on these things, one continues to drink many types of modest tea from a single old pot.


Friday, March 19, 2010

2009 Daotea Kim Jong Yeol Hwagae Valley Yellow Tea

This tea is one of two yellow teas from Pedro at Daotea. Pedro chose to call it by the transliterated Korean name, Balhyocha. Balhyo means 'fermented or oxidized' in Korean. Koreans love fermented stuff, its no wonder that this tea is slowly gaining mild popularity now in Korea. The health benefits of this tea are astounding, and are also helping it become more widely consumed in Korea (although the majority of Korean people have never hear of this type of tea).

This yellow tea was produced by hand- the traditional method, in the oldest tea producing area in Korea- Hwagae. The information on Daotea's site claims that Kim Jong Yeol gave up his business job in the city for tea farming on the mountains. Let's sit down, boil the water, and experience what his hands have created...

The long wiry dark brown dry leaves have a very subtle blueish tint to them- this is usually a sign of good processing of both Korean green and yellow tea. The dry leaves smell like spicy dried apricots with light buttery and slight milk chocolate tones. Many of these leaves are stuffed into the pot until the overflow out the top. When the boiling water cools slightly, it is transferred into the cooling pot, then into the pot.

The first infusion pours a bright, clean, light yellow. The taste is as soft and mellow as the color of the liquid- soft vanilla, very light body.

The second infusion continues to exude this smooth, light, watery, fresh nature. The vanilla taste is mixed with soft chocolate tones.

The third infusion, the mouthfeel is light and mossy in nature and fills out more of the mouth. The colour of the liquid becomes more of a brownish yellow. The taste also tries to develop some depth. The predominate taste of vanilla lingers on the breath.

The fourth infusion becomes just slightly woody but still predominately vanilla. Hiding chocolate notes seem to waver. The mouthfeel, also a bit more full, is still very soft and smooth.

The fifth infusion, the woody flavour starts to dominate. In the sixth and onward there is just sweet, light, woody finish. The qi of this tea is soft and calming especially in the middle jiao.

Overall this tea displays a very mellow, soft, and smooth feel, taste, and qi, the whole experience is quite calming. One has tried many Korean yellow teas throughout the years but this yellow is one of the softest and smoothest.

Its medicinal use of calming the stomach and aiding in digestion has been especially helpful the last few days as family is visiting and one has been eating outside the normal diet. The company also really enjoyed this tea commenting also on its smooth and light nature.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Victoria Tea Festival: Dao Tea (Finally A Good Korean Tea Dealer In The West)

Firstly and most importantly: Dao Tea is a company out of Vancouver that sells good Korean tea for a very good price.
Okay... on with the intro...
One actually encountered Dao Tea on the second day of the 2010 Victoria Tea Festival. The extremely personable and passionate owner of Dao Tea, Pedro Villalon, was proudly brewing up some of his teas. Pedro specializes in Korean and Chinese tea that is personally sourced right from the farmer.

Pedro spent last year's growing season in Yunnan and Korea making relationships with the farmers. His first year in business, some of the Chinese farmers took advantage of this rookie entrepreneur and were up to some of their old tricks. With that said he still managed to get some not bad teas considering. The Korean farmers were much more transparent.

Pedro has done something that no dealer in the west has managed to do- get good Korean green and yellow (Balhyo) tea and sell it for prices that are comparable with prices in Korea. All of the Korean tea available at Dao Tea is hand processed by masters from the oldest and most optimal tea growing area in Korea, Hwagae Valley.

Good work Pedro!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

2009 Asamushi Sencha- Ashikubo Gold Lightly Steamed Traditional Sencha

This tea, another sample from Chado Tea House, is a type that one has never tried before- a Fatsu-Mushi (traditional lightly steamed) Sencha. Apparently, the lightly steamed method of production was the only way Sencha was produced until the longer steamed method was discovered in the 1970s. This sample is from just outside Shizuoka in Ashikubo.
One tares open a small sample pack and spills some of the unbroken dry leaf into the bambo scoop. It smells very fresh, light, lime- there are creamy notes tucked away in the freshness.
These leaves wait in the pot for the water to cool. When it is just right the first infusion is prepared. The taste is light, creamy, and smooth with slight buttery-vanilla notes. Velvet mouthfeel slides over the tongue. A sweet taste emerges in the end. Wonderful mouthfeel.

The second infusion is prepared and again is a mouth-filling experience. The sweet creamy start the takes a turn to slight creamy vegital which fades to slightly bitter rubbery sweetness that stays on the breath as the rubbery notes are shed until the aftertaste is just chalky and sweet.

The third infusion is prepared just as careful as the first. The rubbery notes now intertwine more with a buttery sweetness. The aftertaste is earthy and tastes like wood.

The following infusions mouthfeel is pretty much all that remains. The other creamy-rubber notes are mostly faded away but one sits honestly with a few more pots. Gazing out on the bright sun cast upon the wilting cherry blossoms outside, soon the wind will leave only bright green shoots to ponder.


Friday, March 5, 2010

2009 Sumibi Meijin (Imperial Silver) Sencha

This tea was one of the samples kindly sent by Chado Tea House. Their web page claims that special care has been taken by the producers of this tea and that this tea has won a gold medal Monde selection in the years 2007 & 2008 (thought those medals were reserved for beer and wine?).

One hasn't partaken in sencha in quite a while...

The foil packet is snipped open, releasing the deep, fruity, fresh scent of the sublime dry leaves into the air. These dry leaves have a depth to them that almost remind one of a very young sheng puerh that one had a while back. Delicious.

From the clipped corner of the foil pack one pours some of these green thanes into a warmed pot. And when the boiling water has cooled enough in the cooling pot the water goes into the teapot- embracing the leaf.

The tea is rich, smooth, full in the mouth, sweet with no vegital grassiness- just a smooth, mellow, almost bridging on roasted taste. These first sips are not at all dry in the mouth but full and fresh.

The second infusion is more of that nice smoothness but more full in the mouth. It starts slightly tart on the lips and in the mouth and finishes sweet, buttery, and deep.

The full mouthfeel has staying power along with a subtle yet deep sweet aftertaste.

This green tea is superbly mellow even in the third infusion. The flavour of this tea dives deep for a sencha a far cry from those light, grassy senchas that we all know quite well.

The qi of this tea is very light and travels without being noticed. It does however have a deep but very subtle affect on the mind. One has been drinking this tea in the early evenings without having any issues falling asleep.

This sencha remains mellow but is noticeably grittier in the fourth infusion. In the fifth, this tea noticeably fades but retains it mellow flavour and feel and due to its depth can be enjoyed a bit longer that lighter sencha.

Thanks for this experience with your tea Fumi and Peter.