Sunday, January 29, 2012

2010 Woonsang "Gaya Cha" Semi Wild Korean Yellow Tea

This Korean balhyocha is a unique one. It's name "Gaya Cha" is in reference to the one of the legends of how tea first arrived in Korea. As the story goes, a princess from India brought a tea plant that she had acquired in Southern China and offered it to the King of the Gaya Kingdom (for the other possible ways tea made its way to Korea see here, here, and here). This yellow tea from Woonsang underwent fermentation for 2-3 years before release and is a unique spin on the more typical Korean balhyocha out there.

CoreaColor kindly gifted a box of this Woonsang balhyocha, the only western dealer to sell this tea. This tea did not last long in the tea cupboard. Let's have a look at the tea leaves and find out why...

These are not your typical balhyocha leaves. They have deep syrupy-molasses notes that are distinct but thin and light with vibrantly fruity sweet notes of melons, peach, raspberries, and papayas on the high end. These leaves are unique looking and are not rolled at all. They are packed into about 2/3 of the small pot.

The first infusion is prepared with boiling water that spends only a very short time in the cooling pot before plunging over these beautiful leaves. A simple, sweet, apple-apricot taste fills the mouth. A very cereal, rice, and hay aftertaste greets them. There is a very nice wood sap-syrup taste underneath it all. A simple wood bark taste is all that is left on the breath. The mouthfeel is simple, watery, and slightly grainy in the front of the mouth.

The second infusion presents with a juicy apricot-apple-orange, barely spicy, taste. It slowly meets up with a slightly dry-wood-bark, a slippery-sappy woody taste. These flavours stretch out over the profile. The mouthfeel is both watery and grainy and coats the mouth and upper throat. The qi has already made the body light, it feels cozy, warm, and comforted.

The third infusion is of the same delicious fruity tastes but with the wood-bark elements encroaching on the initial taste right next to the fresh, sweet, watery, vibrant fruit. This tea is very flavourful but simple and refreshing without a deep quality to it. It strikes a nice balance between vibrant fruits and woody bark over a watery base which makes this simple balance easy to enjoy.

In the fourth and fifth infusions the dry-bark-wood notes are slightly more dominant than the fruitier notes both in the initial flavour and throughout the profile. The fruity notes develop more of a malted faint molasses quality to them here. The mouthfeel holds its own.

The sixth and seventh infusions are more juicy tasting but lack the vibrancy found in the first infusions. The aftertaste is dominated by dry wood bark.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fire, Water, & the Art of Charcoal: Part 3- The Cultural Charcoal Traditions of Korea

Historically, Korea's use of charcoal for heating the water for tea was similar to its neighbour China. Small portable braziers were often used with small pieces of charcoal that were fanned. This was done outside as the quality of charcoal wasn't as refined as it is today. This method of preparing charcoal must have been practiced until sometime quite recent as it is pictured in the paintings of the late Joseon Dynasty. Throughout history, perhaps through the exchange of technologies with neighboring Japanese, Korea refined its charcoal making. Kilns were set up to primarily supply high grade charcoal that was virtually smokeless and odourless. Korea uses a local oak species to make high quality charcoal for tea often refered to as white charcoal. Nowadays, Korea is the source of much research on the benefits and usages of charcoal. Most of this research is carried out by the Korean White Charcoal Research Institute. The use of charcoal in Korea is wide and diverse and can be seen not only for cooking but also as decorative air deodourizers in most restaurants, in cosmetics found in department stores, and in shoe insoles in sporting good stores. Yet it is rarely seen nowadays to heat water for tea.

Its use today is mainly seen by those rare tea purists, tea shop owners, and teamasters who honour the laterati style of drinking tea or scholar tea ceremony. This style of drinking tea involves drinking tea throughout the day while pursuing noble leisure activities such as study and art. It emulates the life of the Confucian Yangban or scholar class during the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. This style of drinking tea has a laid back fluidity and feel to it and is flexible if any tea guests happen to stop by. The brazier is always placed to the immediate right of the person preparing the tea because the right size harmonizes with yang energy, with action, and with fire. It lies next to the low lying table that is so low to the ground that you must sit on the floor. On cold days it feels as if you are cuddling up to its warmth sitting contently cross-legged in contemplation.

Those who practice this style use braziers that are larger than Chinese tea stoves and sometimes even larger than Japanese styles. This large size is used to support larger sized charcoal than both the Chinese and the Japanese. There is no formulaic size for Korean charcoal used in Korean style braziers however Korean oak is always used (such as the pieces pictured above). The nature of this style dictates that the charcoals are continuously burning so there is kind of an unspoken rhythm between the teamaster, water, and fire. This rhythm involves always being aware of the strength of the fire and continually adding fresh water to the kettle or tang gwan to maintain the waters vibrancy and removing it from the fire when necessary. It also involves adding more pieces to the fire at the right time to maintain intensity. In essence the teamaster becomes one with these elements, with nature, and with the Dao. There is little that is more comforting than to spend a day drinking tea next to a charcoal brazier and a teamaster which knows this rhythm.


Disclaimer: Using any flammable substance such as charcoal comes with some level of risk. MattCha's Blog takes no responsibly for any harm done by readers of this blog. Please use common sense and take reasonable safety precautions when using charcoal. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation if burning charcoal inside.

Double Peace

Fire, Water, & the Art of Charcoal: Part 1- Introduction

Fire, Water, & the Art of Charcoal: Part 2- The Cultural Charcoal Traditions of China

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fire, Water, & the Art of Charcoal: Part 2- The Cultural Charcoal Traditions of China

The use of charcoal to boil water for tea is quite different in each of the traditional tea drinking cultures of China, Japan, and Korea. To understand how these tea cultures use charcoal you must first know a bit about the tea cultures themselves and their style of drinking tea. Each tea culture uses a different type of charcoal that is produced using very specific traditional techniques and is made from a very specific and deliberate local source. The type of charcoal used by each tea culture harmonizes best with the style of tea stove and kettle and the distinct tea ceremony of each country. The way these specific charcoals are prepared follows from their tea culture, the type of charcoal, the tea stove/kettle, and unique cultural traditions of each country. The following will look at the unique charcoal traditions of China, Korean and Japan. Due to length, each distinct tea culture will have its own post.

Currently, in China many consider Chao Zhou's tea culture to be the most preserved. Marshal'N's recent translation of Lin Yutang's Importance of Living gives us a good idea of how charcoal is used in Chinese tea ceremony typical of the Chao Zhou style. There are a few relevant points that pertain to charcoal that should be noted from this description. Note how the tea stove is placed under the window and how is fanned. It is placed under the window because typically the charcoals that the Chinese use tend to give off a bit of odour and maybe a tinny bit of smoke. This smoke is thought to improve the overall taste and energetics of the water, and increase the energetic connection between fire and water. In the Chao Zhou tea ceremony the tea stove is actually placed 9 steps away from the tea setting. This is done to create harmony as strong odours or smoke from the charcoal could irritate guests. Chinese charcoal is always fanned. This is done for a variety of reasons which include the quality/ type of charcoal, energetic reasons for imparting wind, as well as to control the strength of the boil.

The Chinese use a wide range of materials to make their charcoal. Often hardwoods are used. An excellent description of this charcoal is found on a translated paper on Chao Zhou gong fu found in comment #8. It states: "Chaozhou people make tea with charcoal made from the burls or twisted grain of hardwoods. The charcoal must be fired completely, so that no sap remains, and should retain a pleasant smoky scent. When tapped it should have a crisp sound, and be a deep black color. This is good charcoal to make tea with." The highest quality and most sought after charcoal in China is black olive pit charcoal. That same article goes on to say, "Even better is olive pit charcoal. Black olive pits are stripped of the fruit and fired until there is no more smoke. "It is noble like a refreshing breeze, when used to make tea, the flame is live and even, not too strong, nor too weak." This olive pit charcoal is the most precious and rare." This article doesn't mention the energetics of this type of charcoal. It is produced from a local black olive different than the black olive commonly known to those in Western cultures. The colour is energetically significant because black signifies the purist "yin" nature and is also the energetic colour of water. Olive pits are also considered yin in nature because olives are oily and therefore contain in them a connection to water. Seeds, pits, and beans are the form of food that is most energetically connected to water. Therefore all of the energetics of olive pits guide the heat given off by this type of charcoal to naturally connect to the water which it heats.

The small size of olive pit charcoal seems like the perfect fit for the small Chao Zhao tea stoves. The olive pit charcoal is considered one of the four treasures of Chao Zhao tea ceremony and provides perfect harmony to the small sand stove and clay kettle. The Tea Drunk Forum article states, "Chaozhou gongfu cha stove, clay kettle, and olive pit charcoal all complement eachother. Olive pit charcoal requires a clay kettle because so that the fragrant smoke can filter into the water and improve the water quality. The olive pit charcoal is hard to light, and requires the small clay stove, and the olive pit charcoal is a perfect fit for such a small stove."  Here you can see why olive pit charcoal is the perfect type for the Chao Zhao set up.

Fanning olive pit charcoal is done to further harmonize the energetics fire and water. Traditionally, goose feather fans were used and are considered one of the eighteen essentials of Chao Zhao gong fu. The significance of using the feathers of the goose are interesting to consider. The goose is considered one of the most yin types of animals and one of the most yin of all birds. It is observed from nature that the goose spends much more time in water than other birds and that it has a very close connection with water. In fact when observing a goose taking flight they expend much energy to distance themselves from the water. The ancients thought that this was because they have a certain affinity to water that is hard to separate. They are also considered yin because their meat and feathers are very oily. Due to this strong connection to water goose feathers are used.

Fanning actually connects water and fire though the climactic energetics of wind. All of the Five Elements has a related climactic energy- Fire is quite naturally heat and Water is damp and cold. Wood is wind. Wood is considered a bridge that connects the elements of Water and Fire. In nature it is observed that wind strengthens fire and gives it vitality. Although olives are considered a manifestation of the Wood element, it could be said that it is not as strong as real wood so the use of wind fortifies this relationship. Fanning gives the person making tea the ability to influence the strength of the boil. It allows for a quick boil so that the waters essence is not lost over a long slow boil. The goal is always a quick boil over charcoal that is not abundantly strong.


Disclaimer: Using any flammable substance such as charcoal comes with some level of risk. MattCha's Blog takes no responsibly for any harm done by readers of this blog. Please use common sense and take reasonable safety precautions when using charcoal. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation if burning charcoal inside.

Double Peace

Fire, Water, & the Art of Charcoal: Part 1- Introduction

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Woonsang Introduction and A Sampling of 2010 Woonsang Saejak Jiri Mountian Semi Wild Green Tea

Woonsang is one of the famous tea producers in Korea, its teamaster, Mrs. Kang, is one of the top in Korea.  Woonsang has been around since 1986 producing extremely good Korean tea in the most traditional of ways.  Woonsang (aka Jirisan Tea Company) means "clouds" in English and is a reference to the serenity of heavenly Jiri Mountain where all the tea is completely hand picked and produced.  What makes Woonsang particularly interesting is that it is the only old famous tea producer in Korea which only sells camella sinensis teas with absolutely no herbal teas offered.  One has very fond memories of drinking Woonsang saejak green tea, the 2006 harvest was one of the best.  It ended up winning some awards that year.

For those outside Korea looking for Woonsang teas, they can be purchased from Coreacolor.  These teas come packaged in the original packaging so its freshness is guaranteed.  The kind people at Coreacolor sent a complimentary box of Woonsang's balhyocha and piggy-backed a small sample of saejak from the kind owner's personal tea box.  It turned out that this tea was improperly stored in his desk.  Fortunately, when ordering from Coreacolor you will never have this problem because the tea is always in its original packaging.  The qi and mouthfeel of this tea was still excellent though.  Thought one might as well post on this session with this Woonsang saejak anyways...

These dry leaves are very small and medium-light-green coloured.  They smell of very fresh, minty-florals with lingering after-the-rain forest odours.  These leaves are full of ethereal notes.

The first infusion pours a yellow-green and tastes pondy, sweet, and floral with distinct woody floral notes stretching a bit in the long aftertaste.  The mouthfeel is thick and coats the mouth in a pasty coating which reaches the throat.

The second infusion supplies thick woody-pond notes that arrive first in the mouth.  These tastes are followed by sweet, long, thick goopy florals.  These floral notes are low not high like most fresh saejack.  There is very little sweetness found in this tea.  This mouthfeel is thick but not suffocating.

The third brings dry wood and pondy-forest notes presenting first.  This infusion has a stronger dry wood and pond taste and less floral finish.  The floral notes are low, almost rich, and linger in the nose.  The mouthfeel dips into the mid-throat and nicely coats the mouth.  The qi is strongly relaxing, it soothes the stomach and chest.  Ones vision becomes crisp and clear.

The fourth and fifth infusions begin the same as before with that a bit off pondy, dry-wood taste.  There is no sweetness left in this tea, a soft bitter wood is revealed in the taste profile.  The sixth infusion has an initial taste that is chalky, powdery, with that low floral taste lingering low in the mouth.

The seventh and eighth infusions contain a muted sweetness with floral under thick, chalky but faint pondy-wood base.  Some spicy notes appear in the aftertaste.  A rubbery taste starts to appear.

A wonderful session none the less.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Experimenting With Peasant Teas

This tea comes care of Pedro of Dao Tea.  It was sent to him by Kim Jeong Yeol of Korean tea producer Butea and was never intended to be for sale to the public.  It is tea picked from his organic gardens in Hwagae Valley during the month of June, 2011.  Kim Jeong Yeol, in the spirit of Korean ancestors, tried some experimental techniques to try to get use out of his summer growth.

He chose to produce some variations of chung cha which translates to "oolong" in Korean.  Ones experience with these types of teas they are a very crude, simple, almost puerh-green tea like.  This tea is just that.  As mentioned in the intro to Korean peasant teas, its production consists of cauldron roasted kill green, hand-rolling, wither, cauldron roasted kill green, hand roll, sun drying.  He experimented with loose and compressed ddok cha versions of this tea.  In the end he wasn't completely satisfied with either of these experiments.

Below are some notes on my session with the loose chung cha.

Dry leaves are very very long and sweet mix of multi-shade green leaves with stems.  These leaves have a monotone fruit cherry-jam scent with very little forest base holding it together.

The first infusion pours a vibrant yellow.  The taste is very watery with an empty initial taste.  The aftertaste contains ghostly tastes of sour and sweet cherries which disappear into a very  faint flat wood taste.  The taste is distant and mellow.  The mouthfeel is very weak.

One adds more dry leaves into the pot and prepares the next infusion with boiling water that rests just a minute or two in the cooling bowl.  This second infusion has the initial taste of vibrant spicy hollow water turning slightly dry in the mouth.  These tastes disappear into a very simple spicy apple-plum tone.  The mouthfeel presents in the front of the mouth with a watery, grainy, slightly dry feeling.

The third has an initial taste of spicy-dirt-wood-bark taste is empty feeling with no layered base to support it, it just lingers as a simple, single note in the mouth.  A ghostly simple cherry aftertaste appears.  This tea is monotone and very simple but not tasteless.

The fourth infusion is less spicy now, it comes with a smooth sweet cherry initial taste with a base flavour emerging as very slight dry-wood-bark taste.  A simple, slightly dry and softly course mouthfeel supports these sweet tastes.  The qi is felt in the temples and has a bit of a heavy feeling on the body.

The fifth and sixth infusions present a soft, creamy, barely sweet, floral taste that ends with a soft spicy-floral sweet aftertaste.  These tastes don't seem to be anchored by a base but are simple and enjoyable.  A very faint, flat, sweet fruit taste is left in the mouth.

The seventh and eighth infusions contain simple, bland, but distinctly honey notes.

See here for a post introducing The Tradition of Korean Peasant Teas.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Tradition of Korean Peasant Teas

If you think that the farmers that scatter the rual south of Korea are drinking the finest first pick Ujeon grade teas in the teaware of old ceramic masters, you are wrong.  Most farmers and labourers in tea producing areas choose to sell their best teas for cash or give it as gifts and sometimes drink more modest teas prepared in a very simple way.  Koreans are very practical people.  Throughout history Korea has gone through periods where the price of tea was beyond the reach of the average person, this is especially true for the finer Korean teas.  Even today, Korean tea is quite expensive.

Today Koreans who don't or can't purchase the finer teas can easily enjoy inexpensive Korean tea the way that the world's common people enjoy it, in a tea bag.  The tea bag is a relatively modern invention of the last century.  In the hundreds of years before the invention and use of teabags these Koreans resorted to peasant teas.

There are two practical considerations that have lead to the development of peasant teas in Korea.  The first is to not waste good quality tea.  The second is to make use of lesser quality leaves.

Tea in Korea is picked according to seasonal markers.  The most subtle teas are picked in the early spring (ujeon grade) and become deeper with a larger leaf as they are picked later into spring and summer (in this order: saejak, jungjak, daejak).  Loose summer teas are rarely picked and sold because they have lost much of their complexity at this point.  However, they are still perfectly drinkable, often organic or semi-wild, tea.  One method of preparing these later picked spring/ summer leaves is by producing chung cha.  Chung cha is produced by a very simple technique which involves roasting the freshly picked leaves in an iron cauldron to kill-green, hand rolling, allowing short time to wither, second roasting, then sun drying.  This crude technique is very similar to the way puerh tea is produced.

Sometimes later picked spring and summer leaves are used for ddok cha especially coin type ddok cha.  This is because the later picked leaves have a deeper, hardier quality to them that are in some ways better for aging than the more subtle picks of Ujeon and Seajak grades.  These less expensive leaves can also be stored for a longer time when they are compressed into cake forms.  This allows them to be enjoyed at a later time, after the higher quality tea has been consumed.  Very simple, peasant style ddok cha can also be produced by freshly picked, but leftover, tea leaves that have not undergone the rather labour intensive production of green tea.  Even cruder forms of peasant style ddok cha can be made by using up old stale green tea that is left over from last season.  These finished but stale loose green tea leaves are steamed, pulverized with a wooden mallet, pressed into cakes, and then left to dry.  It is important to note that the ddok cha that is available for sale in Korean teashops is not produced in this style but rather from high quality, fresh, seajak or jungjak grade leaves.  The ddokcha for sale in shops is produced using a very deliberate and refined method of production.

Ddok cha is not the only type of peasant tea that Koreans make with older stale green tea.  They may also crush this old green tea up in an attempt to oxidize the tea, then they store/age it as balhyocha.  They also re-roast green tea, especially higher quality but stale green teas.  The re-roasting is done just before the tea is consumed to awaken the qi of the tea.  One has seen this re-roasting done over a ceramic device than looks very similar to a tea warmer.  A small, wide-angled, cylindrical-cone shaped ceramic cup is warmed by being placed in the ceramic holder.  The ceramic cone rests in the holder directly above a tea light or small oil lamp.  When the ceramic cone shaped cup is warm the stale green tea is placed in the cup.  It is removed from the heat and shaken to mix it up and give it an even roast before being placed back over the heat source.  This tea is roasted in very small batches, just enough for one pot.  The awakened green tea is placed in the pot either immediately after the roast or after it has sat out for a short while.

As you can see Korean peasant teas are inexpensive teas that undergo simple even crude production.  Nowadays these teas are quite rare especially outside the rural tea producing regions of the south, even few tea people in Korea are familiar with them.  However, they are an interesting but rarely discussed part of Korea's tea culture and history.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pink Label Pal Yoh Yame Matcha

Think a lot of traffic gets directed to MattCha's Blog in search of matcha related information.  Although you won't see regular posts about matcha, one still consumes many bowls of matcha in both the Japanese and Korean matcha ceremonies on a weekly basis.  A 40g tin of matcha is emptied every month or so.  One ends up consuming much of the same matcha which has already been featured in posts on this blog.  These include offerings from Yame's Pal Yoh, Uji's Marukyu-Koyamaen, and even tins from solid local brand Jagasilk.  Thought it would be interesting to revisit a matcha that one has consumed the most over the last few years, Pal Yoh's Pink Label from the Yame region of Japan.

What is amazing about matcha is that it rarely changes very much in taste from year to year.  This speaks to the keen skills of Japanese tea master blenders who go about great lengths to ensure a consistent tea experience from batch to batch and from year to year.  Originally this Pal Yoh's pink label was featured in a 2008 post.  Besides the harvest year, the biggest factor that has changed in the preparation of this tea would be the water used.  The following notes are from a 2012/01/01 expiry dated can that one has been drinking up over the last month.

The powder emitted from the freshly opened tin carries very sweet cherry notes and creamy distinct florals which dominate the profile.  The smell is tangy and vibrant.  This tea is whisked up in ceremony and imbibed.

It offers a solid creamy, rich, sweet start.  Deep, creamy, sweet oak wood base turns into a distinct lingering floral taste.  Minutes later fruit notes fill the saliva.  The woody oak base lays firmly underneath these floral notes.  A full not-that-heavy mouthfeel that results is satisfying.

Meditating mindfully, ones body feels light and free from the alerting and clarifying chaqi.