Monday, April 25, 2011

2010 "Zealong Pure" New Zealand Oolong


If you missed the very detailed post on Zealong and New Zealand oolong a few days back please do have a look. If you caught that article and are still curious please continue to read. If you don't care about reading a review on an over-hyped oolong from a novel place you may also wish to opt out. If you simply read anything on tea or are a fan of the blog then read on...

Let's get the kettle boiling on this sunny spring day and enjoy some of this interesting little tea, "Zealong Pure", the greenest that Zealong has to offer...

Before we toss the dry leaf into the pot lets first take some time as the water comes to a boil to appreciate the dry leaf. The odour of these very green stemy balls has a starchy subtle ginger sweetness that is more starch than ginger.


The first infusion is prepared and comes out very light with a substantial milky sweet flavour which turns into airy floral sweetness. This taste disappears on the breath. There seems to be a very soft spicy tone in the taste as well something just lurking beneath the surface. The aftertaste is so faint after the initial flavour presentation that it feels as though there is a void in the mouth- only ghostly bland taste can be found.


The second is prepared and starts off slightly spicy in the mouth with a soft vegital base. The spice drops off fast leaving faint floral vegital notes that bridge the gap to the aftertaste. A very soft melon/ green grape aftertaste is left behind in a blandish base flavour. The mouthfeel is very light, so is the weather outside.


The third infusion has a slightly spicy, somewhat sweet, unpretentious, daisy-like floral quality to it. The aftertaste contains very very light florals even slightly melon tastes. More melon accumulates on the breath as minutes between cups goes by. A light slightly oily mouthfeel continues showing up and is mainly in the front 3/4 of the mouth.


In the fourth infusion, tight honey and faint, but fairly long, florals stretch into a longish buttery aftertaste which slowly evolves into melon. The very light mouthfeel spends most of its time in the front part of the mouth.


The fifth infusion is somewhat buttery but not really sweet and has more of a wood taste all the way though. It finishes a soft, bland melon in the mouth. The sixth infusion holds on to a glimmer of woody honey taste in the initial flavour, but is primarily a bland tasting water.


Peace

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Everything You Need to Know About Zealong, An Oolong from New Zealand, and A Tasting of Their 2010 "Zealong Dark"

What better way to usher in Spring than sipping oolong from a cup? This is what one has been doing off and on for the past few months thanks to some rather interesting oolong purchased from local dealer, Tula Teas, at the Victoria Tea Festival.

Zealong tea has been creating somewhat of a stir around the tea world as noted by Marshal'N on his blog and Nigel Melican in a recent Cha Dao interview. This is mainly because the tea actually is quite respectable. In fact the founder of the company, Vincent Chen, has taken painstaking efforts to ensure the highest quality possible which involves flying in experienced oolong pickers from Taiwan to pick the tea, working with teamasters on a day by day basis to get the production just right, carefully considering which variety of tea plant to grow, and using the highest food certification and tracking available as well as laying the groundwork for organic certification. There is no question that he also chose the location just as carefully.

What is most interesting about this tea is that it is perhaps the only tea of significant quality produced in the Southern Hemisphere. With that said, it is grown far enough south in the Southern hemisphere that the tea plants naturally experience some seasonal fluctuations. These fluctuations naturally occur in opposite months than what we experience in the Northern hemisphere. There are three picking seasons for these New Zealand teas as follows- Spring pick in November, Summer pick in January three or so weeks after mid Summers day, and Late Summer/ Early Fall pick in mid-March.

It is important to note that tea grown in their gardens in the Waikato region, New Zealand doesn't undergo complete hibernation in the Winter season because it simply doesn't get cold enough. But due to lower ground temperatures, shorter days, and less sunshine, their Winter season considerably slows the growth of the tea plants.

The people at Zealong claim that they don't notice any seasonal variations between these seasons and cite three possible explanations- the temperate climate stays warm enough that the bushes don't go into hibernation, the geographical location is 11-12 degrees closer to the equator than Taiwan or Fujian, they don't use quick fix chemical fertilizers (like urea) to stimulate growth and consequently the tea plants grow a bit slower. From what one knows and has experienced about tea, it seems that the first Spring flush should still contain a better pick (even if just slightly better), something that can be tracked through their ISO-22000 HACCP tracking numbers on each bag (this also prevents them from mixing two different lots or picking days together in one bag).

Some other points to clarify about Zealong oolong include differences between the three oolongs they sell and the three different packaging options they offer. They offer "Zealong Pure", "Zealong Aromatic", and "Zealong Dark". These types have nothing to do with picking seasons nor quality and basically indicate the level of roasting/ oxidization that each receive in production with "Pure" receiving the least oxidization/ roasting while "Dark" receiving more with "Aromatic" somewhere in the middle. The people at Zealong stated that it is the teamasters discretion as to which types are produced with each days batch and they consider many variables when making this decision.

Regarding the packaging, it comes in three different presentations and cost ranges. The most sharp, the most expensive, and with the biggest carbon foot print is the award winning black gift boxes that are sure to impress. The second packaging option is called "Everyday Zealong" and is about half the cost of the black gift boxes. "Everyday Zealong" comes in a resealable vacuum bag and is geared to those who would consume this tea on a regular basis in hopes that they wouldn't go bankrupt. The third packaging option is to order it from a local dealer where they receive large bulk shipments of the tea, repackage it in their own packaging, and sell it for about half the cost of the "Everyday Zealong". This packaging option supports local tea dealers and is the cheapest option. The people at Zealong said that there is no difference in quality between any of these packaging options.

There is always benefit to supporting local dealers and since Libby of Tula Teas lives literally just one block away- you can't get any more local than that!

So now that the air is cleared on Zealong, let's try some of their tea...


On a rather dark spring day these dry leaves of this Zealong Dark carry a slight roasted odour that is slightly milky and soapy with very soft cereal notes inside. Although roasted, you can still smell some faint green- a certain freshness about it. Poured into heated yixing the roasted odour is amplified and a sweet citrus pomegranate is also released into the surrounding air.

The first infusion is sweet, light, with an indistinct, very faint, floral and fruit taste that is quite mild in nature. These tastes moisten the throat while stimulating mainly the front half of the mouth. The aftertaste is very faint as well with a taste of sweet green grapes sometimes disappearing on the breath.


The second infusion presents sweetness mixed with muted cereal and slightly woody notes. The wood notes drop off into dryness in the mouth where a distinct sour-sweetness of green grapes remain. The taste of ripe black plum is left on the breath. The mouthfeel is thin and coats mainly the front and roof of the mouth. The sweet and sour finish is distinct-the fruity black plum taste rides upon green grapes in this sweet and sour profile. The aftertaste takes to the breath for quite some time imparting light, woody, cereal notes but mostly that distinct black plum/ green grape fruitiness.

The third infusion starts initially with watery tastes that are a soapy white grape. A very sweet, slightly woody, taste with flashes of creamy butter develop. The sweet fruit notes extend long into the aftertaste with a weak mouthfeel that only pleases the front half of the mouth.

The fourth infusion has more of a cereal honey start with very little sweetness or fruit initially. Then comes short, soft flashes of fruit and sweetness before empty space is filled with some faint floral sweet notes which stretch into a honey sweetness in the mouth. The chaqi of this tea is very mild, very light making one feel just slightly airy and carefree.


The fifth things begin to fade with a predominantly woody taste- the sweet flavours pretty much gone. It slightly drys the mouth before returning with a slight non-specific fruity taste perhaps a banana-grape taste.

The sixth and seventh infusions have buttery, woody, even mushroom notes that sometimes even hint at rose. There is a honey wood aftertaste that is weak with little sweet taste remaining.


These leaves are left to steep overnight and in the morning a thick grainy honey fades into emptiness in the mouth. There is a soft finish of mushrooms and honey.


Peace

Friday, April 22, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- ChaSinJeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea- Final Thoughts/ Discussion


If anyone has anything else they would like to say about ChaSinJeon or perhaps some overall thoughts, please post them here. Late comers, feel free to add to any of the commentary in any of the previous sections.


In a week or two we will start to cover DongChaSong, the most celebrated of Korean Tea Classics, section by section.

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics.


Peace


Monday, April 18, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 7- Modern Issues with Kettles And Consideration of the Heat Source: Induction, Hot Plate, Alcohol/Gas Or Charcoal?


In the last few hundred years there has been rapid advances in science that have revolutionized the way people see and interact with the world around them. These advances have touched almost every aspect of life as we know it- tea is not exempt from such change. Science always prides itself in coming up with ways that make our lives more convenient. It is no wonder then that the biggest changes in the way we prepare tea these days have to do with changes in the most labourous process in its preparation- the boiling of water.

This post looks at the properties of relatively newer materials used to make kettles and the changing heat source used to heat all kettles and tetsubins- modern or traditional. Specifically we will look at how the relationship between water and tea is impacted by the properties of these new materials and how changes to the heat source affects the water used to prepare tea.

Although glass has been used for thousands of years, only recently has it been used as a material for a kettle. This is likely due to the recent advances in science that have made glass relatively more durable and able to withstand higher temperatures as well as making it much more affordable. Glass is extraordinarily neutral in nature. In fact, it is likely the most neutral material ever produced. The neutral nature of glass is a strong quality of the Earth element, of which glass is a part of. It is true that glass is produced from quartz sand, so it is in harmony with the Earth element. Earth is said to control the Water element- glass holds the properties of water constant, protecting it from being degraded but conversely adding nothing beneficial as well. What you put in is what comes out- glass is transparent. Its transparent nature allows for the qi of the water to remain the same as it was before it was placed in.

Because glass is neutral it is a great kettle to use if you wish to enjoy water in its unadulterated form. If you already have very good water you may wish to go this route. Those who boil water in a glass kettle reflect a purity of mind and certain transparency to guests. When we boil water in a glass kettle we can clearly see the progression of the boil from bubbles that are crab's eyes, to shrimp eyes, to fish eyes, to a string of beads, to drumlike waves. A glass kettle allows the tea maker to use sight (inner evaluation) to classify boiling water by these stages. By removing the kettle at a certain stage of boil a certain nature of water is retained- each nature harmonizing best with a certain type of tea. Even though glass is quite a respectable material for a kettle it is rarely used outside of China and Taiwan. Yumcha from The Tea Gallery uses it quite effectively though even if she has admitted to breaking more than one. The lack of durability is glass' downfall.

Stainless steel is probably the most common material used to make kettles these days. It is cheap and durable. Chromium is the major active metal in stainless steel lending it most of its properties. It is chromium that reacts with oxygen making a passive rust proof layer. Therefore this material is resistant to tarnish and rust and is very easy to care for. Being composed of metal it is, of course, connected to the Metal element.

Stainless steel doesn't strengthen, lighten, or sweeten water. In fact it will actually over power and degrade the water boiled in it. It is the case of the Metal element overpowering Water- its properties over take the properties of water. The result is water which has a metallic taste and smell. It should be noted that there are many grades of stainless steel and that better quality stainless steel kettles will have less of an impact on the water but will nevertheless negatively impact the water. Water boiled in stainless steel kettles should therefore never be used to make tea.

Don't think there is much point of mentioning plastic- its materials will leach into the water giving it a plastic taste and smell. Plastic kettles are not healthy and should not be used to make tea.

Once you have selected a kettle or tetsubin the method you use to heat your kettle has a strong influence on the properties of the water and will influence the final infusion. The source that heats the kettle/tetsubin is important as it energetically represents the Fire element in the powerful energetic reaction between Water, the substance of the container (Earth or Metal), and Fire. The four most common sources are discussed below.

Induction heat boils the water when an alternating current is passed through an copper coil located in the base of the heating device. This alternating electric current produces an oscillating magnetic field which leads to an electric current being produced in the kettle resting on top of the heating device. Please see Hobbes' classic article on the details of this heating method here. This method essentially heats the water by way of magnetics. The bonds that hold water together are polar so it is safe to assume that this method may very subtly impact these bonds (or at the very least influencing the minerals that make up the water?), degrading the water's essence.

Induction heaters have many benefits though as they bring water to a strong boil quite fast. A strong, even, quick boil is the ideal when it comes to boiling water for tea. It preserves the essence of the water and creates the most vibrant depth of flavour when making tea. Induction heaters are also quite energy efficient and can be safe in some situations because the actual units emit no heat itself.

The downside of using an induction heater to boil water for tea is that most kettles/ tetsubins including glass, ceramic, iron, and silver are incompatible and are at risk of breakage. Induction heaters also disrupt the tea environment, not only because decent amounts of magnetic energy is sent into the surrounding areas, but also because induction heaters are quite noisy with blowing fans, whining sounds, and electronic beeps taking away from the natural ambiance of the tea session. One need not mention that the magnetic radiation emitted from induction cookers are probably not good for our health.

Hot plates or electric burners boil the water when the electric current in the element encounters resistance which results in heat being given off. The kettle/ tetsubin rests on top and is heated accordingly. The water bonds are not negatively impacted by boiling with a hot plate and the essence of water is retained.

Hot plates and burners are relatively inexpensive and are safe for all types of kettles/ tetsubins. They create some natural ambiance as heat is released into the environment. The downside is that they are not as energy efficient as induction heaters and can get quite hot. They also boil water at a moderate pace. If a hot plate is used to boil water for tea it should be partially heated up first before the kettle is put on so that the water can come to a boil more quickly.

Alcohol burners/stoves such as the ones at Lin's Ceramics (see page 33 & 34 of their catalog) or gas burners/stoves boil the water with a direct flame. The kettle/ tetsubin that is placed over the flame is heated directly. Like the heat from a hot plate, alcohol/ gas heaters do not negatively impact the water.

Alcohol/ gas burners create a very nice natural ambiance as they impart the environment and the water with true Fire. True Fire adds balance of the Elements in a tea space and thereby creates harmony when preparing tea. Problems however are created if the alcohol/ gas burners burn too hot or too weak. If the burners burn too hot they can potentially damage the kettle/ tetsubin. If the burners burn too weak the water will not reach a quick boil and the essence of water will escape leaving you with a flat tasting tea. Most often alcohol stoves are too weak and gas stoves are too strong. You should be aware of the power of this type of heat source and consider the type and quality of your kettle and tetsubin carefully before use.

Hardwood charcoal boils water as the glowing embers release infrared thermal radiation due to the powerful release of energy in the dense hardwood. This radiation heats the kettle/tetsubin and the water inside. The heat from hardwood charcoal is penetrating and deep and boils the water in such a way that shortens the water bonds and alkalizes the water (see Steve Owyoung's comment here). In this way water can be enhanced by use of hardwood charcoal.

Boiling water with hardwood charcoal connects us to nature and slows our minds down (see this article in The Leaf). The ambiance created by the true Fire of hardwood charcoal is unmatched as it also deeply penetrates our body and mind. If done properly, it will boil water quickly, deeply, and evenly and will bring about a more vibrant, deeper tasting tea. Tending the charcoals is truly an art in and of itself and is often considered the most important aspect of preparing tea.

Using hardwood charcoal is very time consuming, expensive, and can be messy but it is very rewarding. If you use hardwood charcoal it is important that you get high quality charcoal that is odorless, smokeless, and burns clean less you be smoked out. Always remember to crack the window as well to vent the small levels of carbon gas that can build up with continued burning. You also must make sure that your kettle can withstand the heat given off from hardwood charcoal. Silver kettles and some ceramic or gas kettles may not withstand the heat.

Peace

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Epilogue


"In monasteries they are accustomed to drinking tea in the manner of Zhaozhou but nobody knows about The Way of Tea. I have copied this so that those who come later can read it."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.

Peace

Sunday, April 10, 2011

1993 Menghai "7542"


One has been enjoying this sample purchased from Nada of Essence of Tea off and on throughout the winter. Today, on this blossoming spring day, the last of it is poured into a warm pot. But before it is relinquished to yixing the odour of the dry leaf is taken in deeply. It emits a smell of faint talcum and rose and faint fallen leaves. There is almost a lick of coco in the dominant, dusty, dry storage smell which is the most notable tone here.


The first infusion presents with rich maple velvet sweetness upfront which fades into dry wood cherry, perhaps maggony. This flavour is thick in the mouth and contains a certain tangy-sweetness which is mainly present in the inital burst of flavour. The whole evolution is vibrant and sweet. The aftertaste is malty that fades into wood notes and suggestions of coco. The mouthfeel is velvety and thick throughout and ends slightly dry and fuzzy especially the back of the tongue and cheeks.

After the first few cups the chaqi is immediately apparent with the forehead getting a bit clammy mild heat waves throughout the body from inwards to out, then back again, from down to up and back again.

The second infusion is prepared and a sweet malty-caramel creamy cherry and slight rose walnut burst flows into mahongany wood. The sweet taste is carried throughout leaving a slight woody menthol like taste on the breath. The mouth is still velvet, slight dry though, and thick as it starts reaching down into ones throat- pushing some saliva into one's mouth minutes later. The face flushes, a sign of the chaqi. The forehead gets soft and clammy, as does the mid-upper back, chest, and even upper arms as the qi flows in a wave undulating over one's body.


In the third infusion the initial sweetness has lessened and is more of a champhor, malty, more diffuse, sweet taste that works its way into a dry woody flavour. Dry hay and cereal notes are found in this pot but are less apparent than the malty-champhor tastes. The aftertaste is woody and dry with faint, barely there, caco notes floating in the distance. The mouthfeel is slightly dry and gripping and less velvety and smooth initally but gets replenished mintues later as fresh saliva coats the mouth. The warmth of the tea now migrates mainly to the head.

The fourth infusion presents with with some of those velvet malty-sweet wood notes but this infusion has cherry wood, camphor, and earth beetroot tastes. The sweet tastes bridge to wood and a slight menthol aftertaste is left in the breath and on the mouth. In the middle of all this are fruity notes that are not so strong but are noted along with a flash of spice which appears in this infusion as well. The mouthfeel is much of the same, it kind of cools the throat as the saliva retreats then returns again. The warmth makes its way to the lower extremities.

The fifth and sixth infusions share much of these delicious tastes. What is noted in these infusions is a more prominent, relatively fresh, cool camphor evergreen, grassy wood nuance that is sometimes a bit spicy and presents mainly in the aftertaste and returning sweetness. The middle of ones body is the receptor of warmth. It warms the stomach here rising to the upper portions of the body and trickling down to the lower thorax and lower limbs.


In the seventh and eight infusions the previously mentioned subtle woody spiciness also pops up in the initial tastes. The slight fresh cool everygreen-menthol returning taste is less apparent- in these infusions a coco taste is faintly recognized in the spice.

The ninth and tenth infusions present with a plumy sweet wood initial taste that transitions slowly and gradually into a modest wood flavour. Flashes of these very soft fruit notes peek out then vanish into sweetness. Floral notes are even spotted in this initial sweetness. The aftertaste is sweet and long in the mouth, all of it is under the umbrella of dry wood tastes. The mouthfeel has thinned only slightly.

In the eleventh infusion, the sweet almost creamy start flashes plumb and cherry and even a touch of almost greenish fresh tastes before fading gracefully into wood. The plum comes back with a subtle floral in the breath. The mouthfeel is dry with a returning soft moist feeling.


The twelfth infusion still has much to offer with light sweet fruity notes still quite prominent and a mouthfeel that still stims the mouth in much the same way it did at the beginning of the session but now it is much less rich. One runs out before this tea does and so it is put into a series of hours long and overnight steeps to pull all of its aged goodness out.

The tea is taken through four more infusions like this resulting in sweet distinct plum-florals in a cold but oily rich broth. The fifteenth infusion was of note where sweet strawberry notes had the backing of enough mouthfeel to be throughly enjoyed.






Peace

Friday, April 8, 2011

Section 23. The Rules Governing Tea


"When all is careful, dry and clean, the Way of Tea is truly achieved."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.

Peace

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 6- A Look At Silver, Ceramic, and Iron Kettles and Tetsubins


The type of kettle or tetsubin used to boil the water for tea has a profound effect on the water and therefore on the resulting infusion. There are only two moments during the preparation of tea where three of the Five Elements directly interact- while boiling the water and while steeping the tea. The boiling of the water is more yin and the steeping of tea is more yang. In the most basic sense they comprise a whole and result in the final product of tea.

These two instances are the points in tea preparation where there is the strongest exchange of energy. So in many ways these two points have a very strong relationship with timing (astrology) because over exposure to one of the three elements will create unequal balance and lead to inferior cup of tea.

The elements that deal with the boiling of water are Water and Fire. Water pertains to the water (of course) and Fire pertains to the heat source. Between them in the cycle of elements is either Earth or Metal- the materials of the kettle or tetsubin. Earth and Metal also lay between the water and the heat source when preparing tea. As such the interactions between these elements should be carefully considered when trying to harmonize water with tea. Metal is thought to strengthen Water (producing cycle) and Earth is though to moderate it (controlling cycle).

Silver is the colour white and is absolutely lustrous, this makes it the purist of all metals. It is light in nature and is therefore full of yang energy. In the cycle of elements Metal is thought to empower Water. The pure light energy of silver does just that. Much has been written about the benefits a sliver kettle and its effects on water throughout history and even on the blogasphere (See Marshal'N posts on silver, Stephane's post on silver and this wonderful article by Aaron Fisher). Even the Saint of Tea, Lu Yu, recommended its use (as discussed here in the bookclub) and the Japanese mastered the art, some of the most well made come from here.

Silver strengthens water because it is the purest metal. Silver imbues water with a light quality because silver is light in nature. It sweetens water because silver has strong yang qualities- it is light, shiny, and pure. The sweet flavour is yang in nature and is thought to strengthen. Silver is a sign of purity. Not only does it purify the water but also it helps cultivate the pure mind of those who boil water with it (In Steve Owyoung's translation of Lu Yu here).

Water boiled in silver kettles harmonize best with lighter teas such as white tea, green tea, and lighter oolong. The water boiled with a silver kettle doesn't restrain the light rising energy of these teas and augments their subtle, light nature. Silver kettles bring out more yang characteristics such as smells and sweet subtle tastes, qualities that are prized in these types of teas.

The downsides of silver is that it cannot withstand long periods of high temperatures and although it conducts heat quickly, it also looses heat relatively quickly. Silver can easily tarnish just as a pure mind can be corrupted. Silver is a very luxurious metal and should be only used for special occasions and for special guests otherwise it can impart those who prepare tea with pretentious attitude.

Ceramic kettles are composed of earth and carry with it the qualities of Earth. Earth is thought to carry harmonious, balancing, and neutralizing properties that are neither yin nor yang in nature. Water springs forth from the earth and therefore has a close relationship with it. Earth is thought to control Water, afterall, the rocks of the mountain once contained waters true nature. Reuniting water with earth helps to bring it stability, thereby strengthening the connection to its original nature. There are a growing number of tea bloggers out there that are using ceramic or clay kettles/tetsubins such as David and Phillipe, who use Taiwanese based Lin's ceramic kettles, Imen, who uses a Chao Zhou style kettle, and Stepahane, who has experimented with a zisha kettle, and the author of MattCha's who uses a Korean style ceramic tang gwan. Traditionally places such as Hangzhou (see Steve's Comment) and much of Chao Zhou (Teamasters Blog and Tea Obsession) in China, Korea (MattCha's Blog), and even Japan (Gongfu Girl) have used such kettles.

Ceramics harmonize water rounding the bad edges of the water and augmenting the good. This is the function of Earth- keeping things in harmony and balance. If the water has manged to pickup strange odours and tastes, a ceramic kettle will round off these unpleasant characteristics. The porous nature of clay acts as a sponge and filter- removing these undesirable qualities. On the other hand, if the water is flat and lacks vitality, a ceramic kettle will regenerate the lost vitality. The exchange of minerals, substances, and energy of the clay will leach into the water. If the water is too heavy with a mineral content that is too high, it will remove some of its weight. Conversely, if the water is too light with a mineral content that is too low, it will augment the water with weight. In this way Earth is said to control Water by bringing it closer to its true natural state, the way it was when resting amongst the earth and rocks before it was extracted.

Earth is grounding and centering in nature. Not only does it even out the water but also it helps ground and center the minds of those who boil water with it, cultivating the Middle Way. Boiling water from a ceramic kettle can also connect us to nature.

Water boiled in ceramic kettles harmonize best with most teas. Almost all tea will benefit from the harmonious nature of water boiled in ceramic kettles. Very deep dark teas such as aged high quality puerh and very light subtle teas such as first pick, early spring, premium quality green teas are best not brewed using water from a ceramic kettle. This is because the water from a ceramic kettle has subtle moderating properties, centering the deep yin nature of an old puerh and the light yang nature of the lightest greens. Earth is moderating in nature. This is only for the purest of tea though, most old puerh and early spring green will actually benefit from water boiling in a ceramic kettle.

The downside of ceramic kettles is that they can easily break if care is not taken. In this way, they cultivate a mindful practice when preparing tea.

Iron is a deep lustrous grey colour and is quite heavy. These deep, heavy characteristics give iron a strong yin, sinking quality. Metal is thought to empower Water. The heavy, deep nature of iron does just that. Its deep yin nature strengthens the true yin nature of water. Iron gives water a certain full, round quality to it- a diffuse, subtle, or deep sweetness is also added to the water. It makes water more heavy in the mouth with an enhanced mouthfeel. Deep full flavours are yin in nature. There is still some diffuse deep sweet tastes (yin within yang) because Metal strengthens Water. Iron tetsubins are very durable and often reasonably priced which makes them practical. Many tea bloggers use iron tetsubins (Hobbes, Stephane, Marshal'N, Zero The Hero, Aaron Fisher, Toki). They follow good company as Lu Yu must have appreciated these characteristics because he also used a iron tetsubin and reccomended its use for everyday tea.

Iron is also a relatively reactive substance, infusing the water with minerals (see HoJo's thorough article here). Water boiled in iron therefore carries some of this element into the body. Because iron is heavy in nature, water boiled in an iron tetsubin sinks to the deepest levels of the body. It is even said that iron can reach the deepest, blood level of our body (deep yin), nurturing it. This is how iron is strengthening. It literally strengthens our blood of which iron (and oxygen, its yang component) is a major component. Iron is therefore said to be strong and enduring in nature. Not only does it strengthen the water but also helps cultivate strength and mental endurance of those who boil water with it. The heavy nature of iron is thought to suppress elevated moods, emotional outbursts, tempers, and other boisterous behaviors. These states of mind should be reined in during the calm mindfulness of a tea session. Water boiled in an iron tetsubin helps bring us down, into the moment with tea.

Water boiled in iron tetsubins harmonize best with darker, deeper teas such as red tea, black tea, darker oolong, and puerh tea. The water boiled with an iron tetsubin sinks harmoniously to the deeper levels with these teas, guiding them deeper, and augmenting their deep, rich nature while sweetening them slightly. Iron tetsubins bring out more yin characteristics such as deep, rich, full tastes and mouthfeel qualities that are prized in these types of tea.

The downside of iron tetsubins is that they can easily rust. Even strong minds can waver, if they are careless. Iron is also very heavy in weight especially when full of water. Those who are weak can be overwhelmed by the heavy weight of these tetsubins. This can lead to jerky movements restricting of the qi of the person preparing tea and interrupting the smooth flow and ease of interaction in the tea room.

The next part will look modern issues with the kettle/tetsubin and other factors that should be considered when using a kettle/ tetsubin to harmonize water with tea.

Peace

Saturday, April 2, 2011

2010 Orchid Fairy Twig Wuyuan Green Tea



Depending on where you live, it is the time of year when it kind of feels like Spring but the new Spring teas have not yet been picked. It is also the time of year when the green tea from last year is dwindling and what very few greens are left don't manage to taste as fresh as you remember. Being so close to the new tea season, it is hard to rationalize new purchases of 2010 green tea. So it was quite nice receiving a box with this sample and others of last years favorites of Ginkgo at Life In Tea Cup.

This completely hand processed tea is from 800 meters atop Wuyuan mountains in Jiang Xi province. Upon taring open the package, the dry leaves emit a smell that is crisp, fresh, soft, sweet with light tones of cucumber and sugar. The quality of this tea is apparent right from the beautifully hand rolled twisted needle shape of the dry leaf.


The water is brought to a boil then is left to cool. When the water is ready it is added to the prewarmed pot now full of leaves. This first infusion is soft, smooth, and slightly creamy with fresh barely menthol and sugar aftertastes. This tea is light in the mouth but coats it in a light misty satisfying cover.

Slightly warmer water is used for the second infusion where creamy, sugary sweet approaches and then turns into a creamy, sugary, slight evergreen taste. The aftertaste returns as sweetness with a faint outline of something cool and green. The mouth feel fills out nicely.


The third infusion brings deeper, cool evergreens but mainly sugary tastes that hint at a starchy-roasted qualities but retreat into crisp, very sugary aftertastes. The qi is uplifting, light, relaxing, and cool. The soft but full mouthfeel satisfies long after the aftertaste has slowly faded away.

The fourth infusion sees snowy smooth sweetness melding into a relatively rougher body for seconds before presenting light pineapple fruit hints appearing in the aftertaste.


The fifth infusion is prepared. The result is a cool, crisp, not as sweet, burst that turns into a cool sensation in the mouth. The tea develops a relatively stauncher body of pine needles and tree bark. The mouthfeel is becoming just the slightest bit drying and the aftertaste is short but still sugary- almost minty. This infusion has much more noticeable cool qualities to it.

The sixth and seventh are more minty-evergreen in taste which hold on throughout the whole taste profile of these infusions. There is a certain crisp, slightly menthol, coolness still laying under this body.


This tea is taken for a few more infusions. The mouthfeel continues to support these tastes even as things weaken and become somewhat harsher.



Peace