Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 Castleton Estate SFTGFOP 1 CL TPY Seond Flush Darjeeling

After all the moaning about Castleton's pure, vibrant, energizing high notes one thought to try a sample from this year's harvest that was kindly gifted with this year's order. What a better time to try this on a cool Summer day. As one soon found out, Castleton's Second Flush still has it...

The large, very light coloured, and fully intact leaves are full of white buds in the mix. They emit light, flowering, fruity, sweet notes which dominate the nose with each breath in. There is a subtle misty forest and bubblegum sweetness found underneath.

These leaves are added to the heated pot and water that has reached boil is poured over the leaves. The first infusion pours a clean, light, yellow-brown. Vibrant, sweet, fruit muscatel taste emerges first then develops into a ghostly coco and light wood on the pallet. The mouthfeel is full and coats the mouth in a fine painting of sensations.

The second infusion presents sour-sweet high notes which come first with noticeable muscatel fruit impressions. The tea liquid is very full in the mouth and tugs even at the upper-mid throat. The taste rounds out leaving a slight bitter-sweet grapey peel aftertaste behind. Qi is vibrant and uplifting and travels smoothly to the head.

The third infusion is light, sweet, long, grapey-muscatel notes which stretch into the aftertaste. They are now thinner in the mouth but the high notes seem more free and clean here. The nose starts running as the light qi floats up into the nose and eyes.

The fourth infusion is light, watery, with slightly floral notes which are overcome by long, bland, coco and flat wood aftertastes. The mouthfeel has become simple here. Ones mind is uplifted over the clean qi from this tea.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 Giddapahar Estate SFTGFOP 1 CL TPY Second Flush Darjeeling

Victoria is a perfect climate to drink 2nd flush Dajeeling tea so one makes the point of picking up a big bag of the stuff every year. It steeps up quick, cheap, and hard to oversteep- perfect for no frills everyday drinking. Last year one asked Mr. Lochan of Lochan Teas to send his favorite tea and he sent a second flush from Castleton Estate. That tea was full of vibrant, fairly complex, pure, high muscatel notes- things which are prized more and more these days in Darjeeling teas. It seems to be a trend worldwide that more young, vibrant, greener, lower oxidized, higher note tastes are being favored over deeper, higher oxidized, and more grounding tastes. This is as true for the oolongs of China as it is for the second flush teas of Darjeeling. Last year's Castleton was no doubt a great Darjeeling tea, that is if you are into those kind of qualities. One prefers much deeper, heavier, more traditional notes from a second flush. That Castleton of last year lacked weight, grit, and heavy qualities, characteristics that one favors in second flush Darjeeling Teas. This was especially apparent as the infusions progressed in the Gong Fu preparation of this tea.

This year one decided to go back to basics in hopes of enjoying a more classic taste of Darjeeling with a large bag from Giddapahar Estate through Lochan Teas. Giddapahar Estate is no-nonsense estate with production equipment that is old enough to be in a museum. Let's take a look at the dry leaves...

The dark mix of leaves smell of rich, smooth, tart currants with some smoothing out in the nose underneath.

 The first infusion is prepared and a tangy, sweet, simple taste develops into something with more meaty, savory undertones and a slight suggestion of unsweetedned bakers chocolate. It leaves behind a meaty, savory, currant flavour in the mouth. The mouthfeel feels full but doesn't cover the full tongue and leaves some patchy spots behind.

The second infusion contains tangy, soft, tart sweetness in its initial profile with some unpertentious fruit notes as well. Characteristic, distant, deeper muscatel notes are sensed. The taste is heavy in nature, like a fruity deep or mid note as opposed to unrooted high notes. The qi is strong, raw, and alerting imparting a slight heavy sensation on the head and pushing slightly at the bowels.

The third infusion has more of a woody undertone with thin currants in the distance. The wood notes have an interesting depth to them. The mouthfeel has thinned slightly now and is a soft grainy texture. The fourth infusion is much the same as above but now more watery.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Appreciation of an Unglazed Grey Teapot by David Louveau and Commentary on Imperfect Beauty

If there is any potter outside of Korea who best embodies the spirit of the Korean potter, perhaps David Louveau could be that potter. Some of his works mirror closely his mentor and Korean master potter, Sel Young Jin. David Louveau fires his pieces in a wood kiln the traditional way, the way of nature, the Korean way. Although David's works are beautiful, they are still a far distance from his master. From a distance his works could certainly be mistaken for Sel Young Jin's.

It is hard to judge imperfect beauty- When is imperfection imperfect and when is it beautiful? This post delves deeper into this question by close examination of a small unglazed teapot which was kindly gifted about one year ago by David Louveau. As you can see it has seen its fair share of use over the past year...

The form of this pot mirrors closely the style of Sel Young Jin. It is nicely porportioned with its sout body that is slightly pulled by outstretching spout and handle. The handle is more thick at the top then tapers down, another characteristic of Sel Young Jin's pots. Of particular beauty is the rugged, cracked finish of the clay here. It creates a subtle texture in the fingers which imparts a nice natural ambiance when pouring. These imperfections make a pot beautiful, so natural. The small almost unnoticeable scratch into the clay surface on the lid is one such beauty mark, giving the pot a certain personality.

The unglazed finish is perhaps the most noticeable quality of this pot. New, the pot looked to crude and sharp but with many uses the oil from the tea has given it a soft, natural, rustic look which cannot be faked. Only from a good year of use can this look and feel be achieved. The oils and water stains cling to the crevices and edges and create an effect as if the pot is dull but glowing.

Unfortunately, it also brings out the aspects of the pot that are too crude and unfinished, which create a certain harshness that cannot be classified as beautiful. These characteristics are not found on master's pots and are an over exaggeration of crudeness, a lack of tasteful subtly, an overly deliberate attempt at imperfect beauty, or a lack of overall refinement or skill of the potter. On this teapot they are small and quite unnoticeable to the untrained eye but nevertheless they are there. These exaggerated characteristics can reveal the thin line of what defines a potter as a master or a student. There are three aspects of this pot which lack this refinement. And only for the sake of learning, shall one point them out.

First, the attachment of the spout and handle to the pots body is too crude and sloppy. The edges are too sharp and defined where they should be more smooth, naturally transitioning and creating harmony, creating a continuity, a whole, from these separate parts. The spout even shows borders of where the scraping to fuse the parts took place and looks unfinished.

Second, the perforated holes inside the pots spout are rough and unfinished. These are usually sanded down in most pots to create harmony and subtly.

Third the chop on the bottom of the pot is very crude and a bit off-putting. Usually calligraphy or a stamp is used which acts harmoniously with the pot, however this pot has etched quality that seems a bit sloppy and distracting.

With all of this said, one must recant. Overall, this pot is a beauty, its use is a testament of this. Think if one were to purchase a pot in the Korean style but did not wish to pay hundreds of dollars, a pot from David Louveau would be a perfect (or an imperfectly perfect) choice.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 Hankook "Gamro" Ujeon Korean Green Tea

This tea is the finest, earliest offering from Hankook Tea- one of Korea's oldest tea companies. It is officially the only ujeon grade they sell (one recently cleared up some confusion over the "Gamnong" which is a very early saejak not a ujeon). Tea from Hankook grows in some of the Northern most gardens of South Jolla Province, much more North than most other tea growing areas of Korea. So quite naturally, it is picked later than the teas from other warmer tea producing areas. This tea actually comes from the three Hankook Honam Tea Estates and is machine produced in such a way to maintain consistency from year to year.
Mina of Hankook Teas gifted a rather generous sample of this tea she also wrote a nice article about this tea. Let's open up the bag and see what this early 2012 pick has to offer...

The vibrant green dry leaves bring out fresh, green forest high notes with underpinnings of distinct soft sweet strawberries. Deeper forest notes are in the distance. These leaves are added to the warmed pot. When the water has considerably cooled in the cooling pot it is poured over the leaves.

The first infusion is a creamy, terribly smooth, light forest taste with a light, fluffy, meaty returning sweetness. These tastes extend into the aftertaste with a soft, barely detectable, strawberry taste lingering in the distance. The mouthfeel of this first pot is very soft.

The second infusion is prepared and offers frosty-forest-fresh high notes initially. The taste moves into a creamy-sweet, just slightly tart, soft berry taste with some medium-deep forest underneath. Small buds which slipped through the pot's filter hole bob about like fish in the serving pot. The mouthfeel is full in the mouth with a bit of saliva pooling in the middle of the tongue. The aftertaste turns sweet as the brief, soft, tart-berry flavour quickly disappears leaving sort of creamy, medium deep forest notes that are neither deep nor overly fresh.

The third infusion displays soft, sweet-creamy forest smoothness which arrives first before transitioning to rolling floral aftertastes and ghostly soft berry suggestions. There is that faint berry-tart taste which is barely detected in the mix. The qi is quite relaxing and cools the hands. The mind calms over this mild chaqi.

The fourth is soft, light, foresty with simple muted floral notes which are stretched out in the aftertaste. There is also a frosty burst of sweetness which arrives in the aftertaste as well. The mouthfeel is full and resides in the mouth and edge of the upper throat.

The fifth is a predominant monotone woody-flattness. This washed out taste takes over with some subtle floral tastes in the aftertaste as well as a very slight lime note. The mouthfeel now becomes course. The tea session comes to an end.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Drinking Loose Korean Green Tea as Prepared in the Seon (Zen) Tea Ceremony

A Korean Buddhist Seon monk years ago had performed this ceremony. One carefully recorded the details of it but very rarely practice this type of tea ceremony. The tea ceremony you normally see photographed here on MattCha's Blog is an every day tea ceremony, scholar's tea ceremony, or powdered tea ceremony.

Tea ceremonies in Korea are either performed for guests, for ancestors, for yourself, or for Buddha. They are either in the form of a mediation, performance, and/ or offering. Seon tea ceremonies are done both as a meditation and as an offering. In fact the Seon monk that performed this tea ceremony did it strictly as an offering to Buddha and did not imbibe any of the tea. He was in deep meditation while performing and a serene peace surrounded the whole ceremony.

It should be noted that just because a Korean Seon monk performs a tea ceremony, does not mean that the ceremony is a "Seon tea ceremony". It can instead be an everyday tea ceremony, a scholar's tea ceremony, or a powdered tea ceremony. What makes a Korean tea ceremony a "Seon tea ceremony" is that it includes certain elements. First is must embody the principles of Seon. The Seon tea ceremony is done to deepen mediation and as an offering of tea to Buddha. Second, the hands in this ceremony are placed over the dan tian in the form of Korean Seon meditation. Other tea ceremonies place hands over the theigh or over the dan tian following the manners of Confucianism with the left hand over the right if you are male and right hand over the left if you are female. Most other recognized tea ceremonies of Korea follow the principles of Confucianism. Third, all of the Seon tea ceremonies that one has witnessed begin by placing the tea implements out over a modest coloured matting. Fourth, there is usually chanting, silent prayer, or silent meditation involved in the ceremony. Fifth, after the tea is prepared in the Seon tea ceremony it is always lifted with both hands above the head, a gesture of offering whether the tea is consumed or left as an offering.

Today it seems fitting that one perform such things. The tea of choice 2012 ZeDa Saejak, especially fitting because it seems to perform better under a touch warmer water and because this tea is completely hand picked and produced by a single Korean monk from the tea fields surrounding his hermitage. No video of this ceremony exists and it has not been previously reported on in English. Please sit down with a cup of tea and a clear head and share in the peace of this ceremony...

First a modest grey cloth matting is mindfully laid out and the tea implements are placed out as seen in the first photo. One sits in Seon to meditate for a while. When a rolling boil of water is heard from the brazier, one comes out of this meditative state and a gourd laddle, a pyo choo bak, is used to pour the boiling water into the ceremonial kettle called a Suju. This kettle is placed over a tea warmer, a candle is lit, and placed under the ceremonial kettle. Fire meets Earth and Water. The bamboo scoop and white hemp cloth are then removed from the tea bowl. One's clothes are arranged and mediation continues for a few more minutes in Seon as the birds chirp outside the window on this overcast and cool summer day.

The suju is picked up and brought over the tea bowl. Slowly the water is poured into the bowl. The white inside of the tea bowl flowers with water spots as the hot water seeps into the small imperfections of the bowl. After enough water has filled the bowl, about one centimeter of depth, the suju is placed back at top the tea warmer.

One once again sits in meditation for a few minutes with ones hands in Seon as the heat penitrates, warms, and purifies the bowl and mind. The bowl is then grasped with both hands and is brought to the dan tian. The bowl then angled such that the water almost reaches the distal edge of the bowl then the water is brought around the bowl almost touching the edge clockwise. When the water once again reaches the distal lip of the bowl, the water is discarded into the dirty water bowl, the tae soo gi.

The pure white hemp cloth is then slowly unfolded, ones mind follows shortly afterwards. It is then placed over the bowl.

The tea caddie is grasped with both hands and pulled to the dan tian. The lid is removed, the subtle odour from the tea released, and the lid is placed in the spot where the caddie sat on the grey matting. The bamboo scoop is picked up and placed over the lip of the tea caddie and two scoops of leaves are removed from the caddie. The leaves are placed on the white hemp cloth. The lid is replaced and the caddie is put back.

The suju is picked up once again and brought about a foot over the tea bowl. The warm water is poured in an outward spiral pattern starting in the center of the bowl and very slowly spiraling outward. As the warm water embraced the leaves a wonderful subtle green forest odour is emitted.

The suju is placed back on the warmer and the hemp cloth is folded up so as all the remaining tea liquor can drain. When the last dew-like drops have seeped out, it is placed aside.

The soft green colour of the liquor in the bowl is admired. The bowl is grasped with two hands and lifted up to the head in offering. The tea bowl is brought to the lips and the tea is imbibed.

The taste is soft, subtle, fresh green forest with pine nut nuances. The mouthfeel is full in the mouth and has a light, smooth-fuzziness to it. The aftertaste has a soft frosty, barely sweet, edge with subtle creamy-floral tastes.

The qi pushes ones mind just a touch deeper in meditation.