Monday, September 29, 2008

Uh Sang Myung Vase and Buncheong Tea Bowl

This tea bowl is typical of Uh Sang Myung. Its look and feel radiates a soft natural grittiness.

The vase is dark black coated in a glossy glaze. This vase is three-legged like his famous tea pots.

What do you think of these beautiful works of art?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Should One Grasp the Stars Or the Sky?: Comparing and Contrasting the Highest Grade Matcha From Yame and Marukyu-Koyamaen

One jumped at the opportunity to purchase these two teas at practically cost and thought to write in detail about them.

The Yame matcha is the black can with the gold label. It is the grade above the green lable that was reviewed a few months back. The name of the gold label translates to “Grasping the Stars”.

The Marukyu-Koyamaen matcha is the green and white can. It is the highest of the ten grades that Marukyu-Koyamaen sells. The name Tenju translates to “Grasping the Sky”.
First one should note that both of these teas are of excellent quality and were cherished and drank with the utmost reverence. Both names suggest obtaining some kind of heavenly enlightenment. One can preemptively assure you they live up to their names.

It must also be noted that the Grasping the Sky matcha is twice the price of the Grasping the Stars matcha. They both cost the same although the Grasping the Stars matcha came in a 40 gram tin and the Grasping the Sky matcha came in a 20 gram tin.

These teas were prepared in both a froth, the traditional Korean way of drinking matcha, referred to as 'thin tea' in Japan. They were also prepared in a watery, non-frothy paste, referred to as 'thick tea' in Japan.

The top picture is always the Grasping the Stars matcha and the bottom, Grasping the Sky.

Let's look at these heavenly teas...

The Powder...

Grasping the Stars' powder is bright green and smells of sweet green vegetation. It emits a light, fresh, green, grassy smell.

Grasping the Sky's powder contains a thinner, lighter grains and is of a brighter green than Grasping the Stars. It's odour is less sweet, more rich, with a mild smoothness about it.

The Thin Tea's Taste...

Grasping the Stars thick froth is a pleasure to ones being. Its initial taste is a delicious, cliché but very pure vegital green tea flavour. The flavour is almost overwhelming the taste of subtle citrus which could be detected through the thickness of the froth. A soft sweetness evolves in the mouth seconds later, softening the slight bitterness of the vegital vail.

Grasping the Sky's thick froth is as much a pleasure as the Grasping the Stars matcha. Its initial taste is quite sweet, it becomes richer as the seconds past before sour and bitter tastes emerge minutes after the tea is swallowed.

The Mouthfeel of the Thin Tea...

Grasping the Stars' mouthfeel is thick and a bit chalky. Tis seclusion coats ones whole mouth, throat, and stomach. It leaves one combing the rood of the mouth and insides of the cheeks for minutes afterward.

Grasping the sky feels as though it has a thickness to it but retains a very light airy feeling. It feels lighter and less clumpy than Grasping the Stars matcha. This light feeling is met with a smile.

The Thick Tea's Taste...

Grasping the Stars tastes of strong vegital taste and is not so sweet. About twenty seconds or so after swallowing the thick green watery paste a bitterness emerges and turns a bit sweet.
Grasping the Sky tastes sweet. There is a bitterness there but the mouth doesn't seem to mind as it only compliments the sweetness of this tea. The green taste emerges a few seconds after the tea touches the stomach. It slides over sweetness, also complimenting it.

The Mouthfeel of the Thick Tea...

Grasping the Stars matcha feels slippery and chalky, much the same way it feels when prepared as thin tea but there is more intensity in the mouth.

Grasping the Sky matcha has a thick, coating smoothness that paints bright green from tongue tip to stomach. It paints thick.

The Chaqi...

The Grasping the Stars matcha takes one to a place one rarely goes with just tea alone. Its qi is stellar. The theanine must be off the charts. One feels excessively relaxed after consuming this tea. It approaches like the undertow of a wave and pulls you in deeply. After it hits one almost feels tired yet one's mind is sharper than ever. This qi is like no other. It's time to sit in meditation.

The chaqi of Grasping the Sky matcha is quite lively, active, yet soothing. This chaqi is bound to lift your mind and spirit. It is an energy that builds fast but carries no harshness or ill affects.
Overall, both of these matchas are marvolous, if not a bit too luxurious for one's tastes. One will probably not bask in such extravagance for a while. But it goes without saying that the last few weeks have been pretty damn good!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sample # 1 From Thomas at Tuo Cha Tea (Later found to be a 2007 Xi Zhi Hoa Pu Zheng Yuan Cha )

As you may or may not know, this sample is a complete mystery. Thomas sent four samples that were numbered with a corresponding sheet which told their names. Korean Customs must have gotten a little curious and went through, ravaged the package, thereby misplacing this important paper inside. So one cannot know for sure what sheng puerh bing this tea came from.

The dry leaf is a mix of blacks, orangey reds, mixed with some light white green leaf. The smell of the dry leaves are soft with no particular nuance standing out.

The first infusions of this tea bring about a quick sweet coolness covered by strong dry astringency, tasting of true earthiness- mud and dirt, it carries with it an aftertaste of sour rubber. Somewhere between the sweetness and the rubber is the taste of fruit, maybe plum or raisin, that only reveals itself for a short time before being cloaked in rubber and dirt. The qi of this tea is initially felt in the stomach and creeps out from there.

In later infusions this tea develops a smoothness in the mouth, the rubbery, earthy flavour becomes more subdued and the subtle fruity profile stands out. There is a spiciness that travels up the nose, in the mouth the nuances of flavour are many.

These flavours are excessively enjoyable among the back drop of a mouthfeel that seems to reach its balancing point as dryness seems to slightly dominate a cool smoothness.

The chaqi of this sheng is stimulating but quite relaxing. Its affects are similar to the calming alertness and absolute peace that come along with the consumption of fine matcha. Although its affect is much like a matcha, its feeling is warm and cozy, a feeling often felt in autumnal puerh. After the third infusion one just feels at peace. One really prizes such chaqi in puerh. As the sessions progressed throughout the week this chaqi was still evident.

The flavour and mouthfeel of this tea also really hold on for days after. Thanks Thomas for a tea that seemed to transform from tolerable in early infusions (possibly due to overstuffing the put) to one that was completely enjoyable in all aspects. Do you have any guesses as to which puerh this could be?

Edit: It was later found out that this sample was a 2007 Xi Zhi Hoa Pu Zheng Yuan Cha (2007 Xizihao “Pu Zhan”) sold by Hou De Fine Teas. Find other reviews by Thomas at Tuo Cha Tea and Hobbes at The Half-Dipper.
Double Peace

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Sampling of 2004 Red Robe

The dry leaves carry a rich oxidized creamy odour. The smell is similar to that of lotus leaf tea. Dark browns and greens cover longish shriveled leaves. One is so happy with just the look and smell of the dry leaf.

This tea has a deep rich roasted taste and aroma found in most oolongs of Taiwan. It tastes spicy and slightly acidic like cinnamon and orange and is tasted in the nose as much as it is in the mouth. Astringency courts these flavours under roasted tones. A floralness is also stealthy underlying, but forever present. Its aftertaste is of the roasted variety and stays around for a long time.

As the sessions progress the orangey taste drops off a bit as the roasted, floral, and spicy elements are more apparent.

The qi of this tea is felt as it energizes the lower parts of the abdomen and the shoulders, relieving any tension as one sits cross-legged on the floor, sipping happily from a small ceramic cup with friends.

It is unknown how many steeps this tea underwent because one had to step out for some time, allowing a friend free reign on this tea. Either way, one came back and sealed the pot for the night anticipating a week of good sessions with these leaves.

As the week went on with this tea, one encountered sweet, spicy flavours backed by a taste that seemed fruity, maybe apple or Asian pear. The mouthfeel was the highlight and always treated the tactile sensors of the tongue with reverence bestowing a feeling that was a bit dry, grainy, yet watery. These sensations played themselves out for days.

Thanks Toki for providing one with the materials for such a rewarding session.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Education In the Art of Edo Style

Please read the post A Test In the Art of Edo Style to understand the following...

You readers are a smart bunch! Tea Bowl #1 is of lesser monetary value made buy a much younger and inexperienced, all though extremely popular, artist. Bowl #1 was made by the hands and kiln of Kim Kyoung Soo. So lets look at this Edo Tea Bowl...

The shape of this bowl is a little on the hardy side. It looks a little too bulky for a graceful, soft, and gentle Edo bowl. The main body of the bowl is also quite thick. The high firing of thin ceramics is difficult to do without overheating and cracking the bowl in the kiln. So buncheong style bowls that have thin walls are generally valued higher then those with thin walls. Although these shape characteristics detract from the Edo style, they are also what make this bowl alluring. Edo style aside, this bowl feels sturdy and grounding. One can see how it could be treasured and used under certain circumstances to evoke this feeling.

The clay of this bowl is of lesser quality. For some reason beyond my knowledge the clay used for this tea bowl doesn't share the clay of a quality Edo bowl. Perhaps the clay is expensive, or is difficult to find or obtain, or maybe it was just a creative decision by Kim Kyoung Soo to use a different clay. Either way the clay used is on the duller side where as the muted pinkish-orange is the most sought after. The best place to view the clay of a tea bowl is on the unglazed foot. Here a greyish hue can be seen from this bowl.

The glaze of this bowl is thick and glossy not quite ideal for the muted calm of an Edo bowl. This thick style of applying the glaze is somewhat of a characteristic of Kim Kyoung Soo and can be seen on his other bowls pictured here, and here. So again, one wonders if it was done deliberately.

The foot of this bowl doesn't resonate the look or feel of the blooming Mae Hwa. Firstly, the globing technique doesn't engulf the exposed clay and make it come alive. Secondly, there is something about the shape of the collared-like foot that, once again, exudes a certain huskiness to it.

Either way, given a certain mood, this bowl could really enhance your experience with tea and even be chosen over the other two.

Tea Bowl #2 was made by the hands of artist Chan Han Bong, a ceramic master and mentor of Kim Jeong Pill. This bowl is beautiful in its shape, colour, and glaze. The shape seems in proportion, and conveys a sense of grace and balance. This bowl feels quite right in one's hands. More than any of the three, this bowl conveys a sense of safety and security. The colour of this bowl is soft, muted, and at peace with the rest of the bowl. The glazing is of excellent quality on this bowl. The glaze lightly coats this piece allowing cracks to share its air with the tea. The soft white glaze looks like the soft clouds of early morning, that pulls and bases the colour of the clay, the colour of a soft sun rise. As one peers inside the tea bowl one can see soft white slowly converging upon the shallow of this bowl. What a wonderful effect. The foot of this bowl is also quite beautiful as air holes creep their way down toward the foot. The unglazed clay beneath the glaze resembles the branches of the Mae Hwa and the white blobs the full white blossoms. What a wonderful tea bowl.

Tea Bowl #3 by Jung Jum Gyo was chosen as the favorite of the three by all those who left a comment on the blog. Consequently, it is also one's favorite and also the most expensive of the three, more than doubling Chan Han Bong's Tea Bowl in price. So, what makes this tea bowl so special?

The shape of this bowl is wonderful, it exudes a feeling a grace, maybe even shyness. Its shape looks and feels elegant, but not showy. The walls of this bowl are also thinner than the other two, validating the feeling of gracefulness. The outside body of this tea bowl displays three rings that jut out slightly from the bowl. These three rings are quite valued on tea bowls and give the hand that cradles the bowl maximum contact with the bowl and a sense of unimposing security. Creating a bowl that contain these three rings while still conveying a sense of subtly and naturalness in form is no easy task. Jung Jum Gyo did a great job pleasuring the hands on this bowl.

This bowl's colour seems to radiate such natural pinky-orange softness, the most beautiful of the three. It's thin glaze can barely contain the peaceful glow of this bowl. The small cracks in this bowl supply the bowl with ample air as well as beauty. On the foot of this bowl, the glazing seems to portray 'the skin of the Mae Hwa'. The size of the foot seems a bit smaller than it should, but it makes up for it in its form. The shape of this foot is an excellent example of what a good Edo foot should look like. Unlike the foot of Chan Han Bong's bowl, the outside collar of this foot first juts in before jutting out. The collar is small and retains a sense of grace without looking clumsy and jolting like the foot of Kim Kyoung Soo's Edo bowl. This bowl simply has too many beautiful features to not be chosen as the most beautiful of the three!

Thanks again for your comments. You guys passed the test with flying (but subtle pinkish-orange) colours!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stretching Tea: A Detailed Sampling of Mystery Puerh, The Marathon Tasting

This is a continuation of the post Stretching Tea: A Detailed Sampling of Mystery Puerh, The Initial Tasting. One decided to take this sample as far as it can go by using a brewing technique outlined by Toki on his blog.

The day after brewing eleven infusions from the leaves of this sample. It was time to sample the cold brew that was sitting in the pot for about twenty hours. Perhaps due to the fact that one didn't do so many initial steepings this tea turned out quite red in colour. Its taste a bit bitter with very strong metallic and mushroom still in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel very dry but pleasant and was felt in layers in the mouth.

The hot few second infusion was very yellow like the colour of a young puerh. The flavour was soft and muted, so light with metallic, wood, and very little mushroom. The mouthfeel was faint. The chaqi was calming, relaxing, and balancing.

Then the pot was filled with boiling water and left to infuse until it was revisited the next day.
The tea was brewed in this manner for days. Each day yielded something slightly and sometimes unnoticably different than the day before. As the days went by the taste became more metallic especially in the cold brew, and the mushroomy profile ran out. The hot infusions were always quite a bit softer and less flavourful then the cold. The energy of this tea also considerable weakened until becoming undetectable. The feeling of the tea in the mouth was the most pleasant experience of dragging out this tea. Its complexities in the mouth, toungue, and throat were always welcome.

The tea seemed to peek at around the fourth day. Where the tastes of mushroom, metal, earth, and wood tasted right together and the mouthfeel of smooth, dry, and astringenic was the deepest.

The resulting infusions slowly degraded until on the eighth day the long session was stopped. Really one should have probably pulled the plug on the fifth day.

Anyways this longer session was beneficial for many reasons. Firstly, this technique yielded better results than just leaving the leaves in the pot overnight and adding fresh water the next day, the technique one had previously used for brewing tea for up to 3 days. Secondly, it harvested a relationship of patience between the tea and drinker. This patient mind is not only useful when drinking tea but also in the broader context of our lives. Thirdly, brewing tea this way allowed one to savor the cold brew immediately after one awoke in the mornings. While preparing the coals in the brazier and waiting for the kettle lid to shake, the water coming to a boil inside, one could meditatively enjoy the cold brew. Forthly, it allowed for a more celebrated way for the tea to exhaust itself. In Korea many people enjoy their teas until they are completely spent, their sessions push even green teas into the double digits. One feels this is the most appropriate way of exhausting good puerh leaves.

Many thanks Toki for suppling the leaf for this experience.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stretching Tea: A Detailed Sampling of Mystery Puerh, The Initial Tasting (Later found to be a 2005 999 limited edition from Menghai)

Toki sent this sample, one doesn't exactly know what it was. It came in a foil bag and was the only sample that he sent that was unlabeled. One thought to brew it over a span of a few weeks as recommended by Toki. The notes below are a rather detailed account of one's experience with this tea.

The smell of the dry leaves were subtle, complex, and overly appealing. The deep, dry puerh smell is almost metallic. The sample was left in the open air to breathe for a few days before steeping.

The tea was rinsed, prepared, and readied to be experienced.

The first infusions left a soft metallic, mushroom, fruit flavour that seemed to change in the mouth. The mouthfeel is phenomenal, it strokes the tongue, making it purr on contact, the liquid softens the tongue, drying the tongue. The aftertaste is deep mushroom at the back of the throat. The qi of the first pot is nice, happy, it radiates from the mouth and throat spreading into the shoulders and neck. The tea's energy asserts a calming top down effect as it creeps from the base of the skull down the spine.

The second infusion was less metallic, the mushroom taste strikes first leaving one struggling to name this fruity taste that sneaks into the aftertaste, the flavours are light and not overpowering. The mouthfeel seems softer in the throat, dryer in the mouth, if only one could walk allong one's tongue right now, what a happy place to be! The chaqi has now really taken hold. The mind is calm as if sitting for hours in mediation, calm euphoria, ones world slows down, energy radiates forth, one's head feels slightly lighter than one's body which feels almost as light. This tea is really taking one for a ride!

The third infusion tasted similar to the second yet there was more earthiness to the aftertaste. The feeling in the mouth continued to be pleasant and dry.

A rumbling stomach reminded one that they should take a break to eat. Homemade sugared peanuts were used to quell the swirling unbalanced energy of one's stomach reacting to an early morning's hunger. Even the nuts seemed to taste much better, basking in the aftertaste of the tea still on one's breath.

One resumed the session with still half a pot left to drink. The sweetness in the mouth after the sugared nuts masked the taste of sweet notes in the brew resulting in a woodiness, with camphor with a slight metallic tang.

As I drew more water the earthy mushroom aftertaste lingers and pleases one deeply.
The chaqi from the tea in one's body caused it to reach a breaking point at the start of the third session. It warmed under the cool breeze of a late summer morning almost to the point of sweating then retreated bringing a cool freshness to ones body and mind.

The forth infusion seemed to mellow out but not nearly as much as one's mind had. The taste contained sweeter notes that came out more reminiscent of plum, minty freshness is so slight, still mushroom like aftertaste. The mouthfeel is watery but drying, the tongue welcomes this dichotomy. The tea's energy is pushing one's body to feeling quite cool.

The fifth and sixth infusion pushed out more tangy, minty, metallic tastes. Overall there is a composition of tastes in this tea that are composed like a chief preparing a feast, each flavour playing a part in its whole. The qi causes one's body to become hot almost to the point of sweating before receding once more.

The seventh and eighth infusions it becomes apparent that the cool, earthy, metallic tastes are more prominent and evolve in ones mouth along with undertones of mushroom. The mouthfeel is changing only slightly, almost unnoticeable from infusion to infusion. The qi is slowing things down both physically and mentally. One's heart slows as one slips deeper into meditation with this tea.

A friend interrupted and asked if one had anything for an upset stomach. One sat them down for tea and we drank together.

Through the ninth, tenth, and eleventh infusions the mushroom taste recedes even more as the metallic tang seems to now dominate with undertones of wood, maybe camphor. The mouthfeel had become more smooth, silkier.

One's friend's stomach problem was balanced by the calm qi of this tea. There was no more uncomfort or pain. And although this tea session could have lasted many more infusions, after three hours of drinking tea it was time to bring it to a close and take advantage of this wonderful day. One prepared the tea for a session tomorrow, floating from the tea one went for a walk with a good friend.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Kim Kyoung Soo's Baekdu Mountain Buncheong Style Tea Bowl

This tea bowl's gritty, rocky skin takes one's senses to a place far away. As fingers traverse the outer body of this bowl the eyes follow. The colour- earthy, rusty browns, with patches of greeny-yellow is reminiscent of the earth sure to cover a mountain. As one views into this bowl a range of rocky mountain peeks of white completely encircle a lake of overly watery Yame Blue Label matcha.

This is not the scene of any ordinary mountain, it is of the holy Baekdu Mountain, the very mountain where, it is said, the Korean nation was once born. The lake of tea in which one sips from now mirroring the pristine lake which rests in the volcanic summit of Baekdu. With every sip, one sips from a holy place.

Where is this place?


Friday, September 12, 2008

A Test In the Art of Edo Style

If there is a buncheong tea bowl style that is most stereotypical of Korea, the Edo (Ido or Jung Ho) style is it. It is unknown when exactly this Korean tea bowl style first emerged although people speculate that it must have appeared around the late 1500s or early 1600s. Some of the most expensive bowls in the world are Edo bowls from the 1600s.

The Edo style tea bowl is distinguished by its distinct shape. This shape allows for hands to easily and gracefully cup the sides of the bowl. Its rim and main body are such to allow the tea inside to gently and ever so softly depart from the shallows of the bowl embracing the tongue and mouth like a warm hug from a loving friend.

The Edo style is also characterized by its Edo clay. Good Edo clay should resonate a pinkish-orange glow like that of a loquat fruit. This clay is only found in the southern kilns of Korea. Like watching the sun rise slowly on a slightly overcast morning, its affect is profound yet subtle.

The glazing style of Edo tea bowls also define its style. The body of the bowl should be thinly glazed so as to allow for many small cracks. These cracks in the glaze allow the Edo clay beneath to breathe, thereby influencing the taste of the tea. The many delicate cracks help remove the harsh edges from the sometimes overwhelmingly bitter powdered tea., softening it.

The foot of a Edo bowl is undoubtedly unique. It displays a technique referred to as 'the skin of the Mae Hwa'. The Mae Hwa is a flowering tree with wondrous white flowers, it is the first to blossom in the Spring in Korea (click on this link to see a post featuring the falling Mae Hwa). This technique leaves thick white blobs of glaze barely covering exposed clay around the foot. It should look as though the foot is covered in flowering branches of Mae Hwa in the early spring.

Overall, the Edo style tea bowl, perhaps more than any other style of tea bowl, exudes naturalness, safety, and calm. For these reasons this style is highly prized by the Japanese, a perfect fit in the tranquility of a Japanese tea hut.

Just like the post on Gimhae style, these three bowls pictured are by three different living artists. Each bowl contains its own beauty, a part of the artist who made them. Two of these bowls were made by ceramic masters and are worth a ridiculous amount of money, the other by a younger, less experienced, but extremely popular artist is worth much less.

So again, just like with the post on Gimhae style, one thought to test your ability to discern valuable Edo tea bowls.

Instead of guessing which bowls are the expensive ones, today you will guess as to which bowl is the least valuable. Can you guess as to which bowl is made by the young artist? Why do you think its the least expensive of the three?

And just as before, Which is your favorite out of the three? Why do you like that one?

One will post a reply in a week or so. It was so interesting to read your responses on Gimhae style, so please, let it rip. Remember, it's just for fun!

The three bowls pictured together are from left to right: #1, #2, #3