Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Jungpana SFTGFOP1 1st Flush Darjeeling

Lochan teas offer quite the writeup on Jungpana, rightly so.

Sniffing this dry leaf from the just opened packet one comes across very sweet smooth high notes that are slightly fruity and flowery. These notes are powerful. There is no greenish or muscatel smell in these very multi-coloured 'anything goes' mix of leaves.

These leaves go in, the hot water follows, out comes the tea.

First infusion results in an exceptionally mellow flowery taste. Back notes suggest a stronger fruitiness in infusions to come. There is something more 'black tea', more oxidized, more 2nd flush, more classic Darjeeling about this one that makes it quite enjoyable.

The next infusions create a yellow liquor that is dark and rich with a sweet honey-grape with flowers taste. It seems to lack an overpowering muscatel or deep forest taste which makes room for these higher notes. The mouthfeel is drying but not overbearing. This tea is mellow, flavourful, and very spring-like.

Because this tea has no deep bottom, unfortunately, it drops off fast. Grainy, dry honey sweetness is pretty much all that is left after just a handful of infusions. While, it was good while it lasted.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009 Thurbo Estate Imperial Delight 1st Flush Darjeeling

One has tried this tea many years back and enjoyed it so.

This estate in the center of Mirik pumps out a lot of good tea and has a larger garden then most to pick from. That could be a reason why tea from Thurbo Estate seems more readily available to tea drinkers.

Lets heat up some water and give it a try...

The leaves smell of dry bittersweet depth with an overarching 'green' character. There is a pungent spiciness that almost burns in the nose. They are a nice mix of whitish hairy tips that compliment greener small leaves.

These leaves are filed into the pot, the hot water is added, sip.... sip...

In the first few infusions sweetness explodes into a grainy, pungent wine-like grape flavours. Spiciness and faint flowers seem to compliment the bouquet of this fine wine... uhmm... tea. This flavour is quite individual, unique for a Darjeeling. The mouth is alerted to a full coating. An energy that is powerful and bright coasts through the body. In an instant you know that this tea is good.

The next infusions bring a grainy, almost melon-grape flavour. It's this fermented taste that lingers under all of this that makes this tea. The staunch mouthfeel doesn't hurt either.

It doesn't take long before this tea really smooths out becoming gentle as it wears on. Conversely, its built up cha qi is likely to push one into distraction rather than concentration. Near the end the distraction is welcomed as no flavor is left to cherish.


Monday, April 27, 2009

2009 Castleton Estate FTGFOP 1CH (SPL) 1st Flush Darjeeling

When one thinks of Castleton one recalls a conversation between Mr. Rowatt, the manager of Goomtee and Mr. Lochan, the founder of Lochan teas. They were snickering about a customer that either did or was going to mix both Goomtee Estate tea and Castleton Estate tea and try to sell it as Goomtee-Castleton tea. That was rather an interesting idea, mixing some teas together to achieve a more complete or interesting taste. Hummm....

Aways, lets try this Castleton Estate exclusive tea produced at altitudes between 980-2300 meters.

The dry leaves are a vibrant, light, foresty colour and are finely scented with very little muscatel, a touch of grape. These leaves seem lighter green than others and the product has a very full leaf look and feel.

The first infusion is prepared and results in a soft dry grape. A green high forest grape. Immediately the mouth is coated. This in itself is as alluring as its taste.

The second infusion explores this dryness and results in a mouth puckering liquid that, in all honesty is a bit over the top. This tea develops a gritty bitterness, with nice dry, high up in the forested Himalaya, grape taste.

In the third infusion everything just comes together. It was one of those tea moments when everything just works. The shallow but alerting cha qi kicks in. Its mouthfeel now becomes full but manageable. The taste is a mix of deep forest and grape. It creates a wild-in-the-jungle grapelike taste. These tastes are light and mingle about with sincerity in the mouth.

Other infusions result in similarly respectable pots of tea. The taste becomes grittier and more wild. This tea does a good job of staying tasty and full but, as expected, becomes a bit more diluted as the session progresses. It finishes nicely quite possibly due to such a good leaf which is evident in the photos.

A good session it was with this tea from Castleton Estate.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

2009 Goomtee Estate FTGFOP 1 Clonal, 1st Flush Darjeeling

One visited the Goomtee Estate and was blown away by its majestic beauty at heights of around 6000 feet above sea level in South Kurseong. A beautiful place to raise tea.

Today one samples Goomtee again. The dry leaves are a diverse mix of light colors and darks with some hair and others not. The smell is of strong fruity grape with high bitter notes and soft muscatel background.

After this tea is carefully prepared, the first infusion flaunts flowery top notes with sweet juicy grape. The flowery aroma dominates the mouth and the mind. A full mouthfeel is immediately felt from the first sip onward. This tea is nicely coating with slight muscatel dryness lingering around.

In the next few infusions an engulfing dryness allows for more flowery notes in strong grape. Sometimes the grape is more prominent then the flower. There is much the same grape taste as the white tea from this estate. In fact after looking at the notes from this sample one really questions whither it isn't the same sample.

The faint Muscatel tones fade in later infusions leaving light cheery spring flavors. This tea is very 'spring', very contemporary Darjeeling, very hip.

In the end this tea left one with faint grape on the roof of the mouth before disappearing hastily into mouthfeel. Actually, near the end it was mainly just mouthfeel and a lingering energy that make one feel warm and very much alive.


Friday, April 24, 2009

2009 Giddapahar Estate FTGFOP 1 CH (SPL) 1st Flush Darjeeling

This tea from Giddapahar Estate is picked at an elevation as high as 4864 feet in the scenic hills of South Kuseong. One had a beautiful visit of this estate back a few months ago while they were producing their first tea of 2009, most likely the very tea one will sample today...

The foil pack reveals a scent of green sweet foresty muscatel. There is a wonderful deep stinkweed-like flowery smell- a good kind of stinkweed (if one could image that).

Prepared, this tea first comes on quite nicely with a nice full deep muscatel that rides on the coattails of pure, very sweet not-to-grape high notes. This initial very sweet taste permeates the saliva while riding about in the mouth. The vibrant yellow of the liquor is like the sun on a spring day without clouds. A wonderful sight indeed. Wonderful sights are matched with wonderful feelings in the mouth, soft and fuzzy.

The following infusions confirm that this tea is deep and foresty, sweet but not so much flowery if only a bit in the nose, and results in a nice dry muscatel coating in the mouth.

Later as black teas loose their grips under the exhaustive exercise of gong fu, this one holds its own as the taste transforms. The sweetness here becomes creamier and more well rounded as opposed to watery and weak. The sweetness comes first, then mild muscatel, followed by a hardly flowery finish that is airy. The muscatel notes seem to be the first to really drop off. Lacking these stronghouses, room is made for more subtle berry then fruity grape undertones. There is something to be said about this teas enduring smooth, sleek Darjeeling sweetness.

Under a stern alertness that only black tea can bring about, one exhausts this enjoyable tea.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

2009 First Flush Darjeeling Marathon

With a collection of samples from Rajiv at Lochan Teas of the very first Darjeeling pickings of 2009(many of which are special premium picks), one thought to share some detailed tasting notes on these teas with you the reader. Expect a post a day for about a week on these teas.

One decided to brew them 'Korean Style' using a large yixing pot in the tradition of gong fu style, not at all the tradition way these black teas are consumed. The infusion times started at 30 seconds and increased progressively. Just off boiling water was always used. One found that this method allowed one to see how these teas unfolded and also tested the limits at which these teas still remained flavorful. This method seemed to really put the bitter, flowery, and fruity elements on the spot. The use of gong fu with a large yixing pot was part habit; one has never preferred the less intimate grandpa cupping style of tea drinking, part convince; the pot that one wanted to use for this tea is still packed up, and part practicality; one needed a large pot because often family and friends were around.

Hopefully you will get something from these notes. Perhaps they will give you a better idea of what first flush teas you may be wishing to purchase. Or perhaps they will give you better insight into the individual character of each of these famously old estates. Enjoy them for what they are. Please feel free to add your comments if you've tried any.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sam Do Tea Bowl Style- A Look At The Ju Sam Do Subtype

This style of tea drinking bowl can be traced back to June 6th, 1565 where it is described in written records by the Japanese. The name ‘Sam Do’ or ‘Three Islands’ refers to the three islands in the south of Korea where the Japanese first stumbled across this style. It most likely erroneously alludes to two islands and part of the peninsula which was mistaken as being completely surrounded by water.

These bowls are marked with white. Most, but not all, have short slashes of white just inside and/or outside the lip of the bowl. These dashes give the bowls a feeling of movement and depth. At the bottom of these bowls there is a rather short simple, even cut ‘Haes Moo Ri’ style foot. These pieces are often heavily glazed.

There are many subclasses of ‘Sam Do’ bowls the most popular and probably most spectacular being the ‘Hwa Sam Do’. ‘Hwa’ means flower so these bowls are ‘Flowered Three Island’ Bowls. They carry this name because there are white flowers that are stamped onto the bowl using a stone or wood carved stamp. Quite often there are thousands of these little white flowers that cover the inside and sometimes the outside of these bowls creating a wonderful blossoming effect.

These bowls, like many others from this early time, were coveted by the Japanese. Today, however this style is not in vogue, and is quite a rarer sight.

This bowl is a different subtype of the sam do style- 'Ju Sam Do'. All 'Ju Sam Do' bowls, from a far distance , look completely identical. Only upon close inspection can you notice the subtleties that divide amateur 'Ju Sam Do' bowls from the 'Ju Sam Do' bowls of masters.

This wonderful example of the ‘Ju Sam Do’ style is by buncheong master Kim Jeong Oak. This piece looks quite respectable in shape and form. When cupped in the palms of the hands this bowl feels wild and uncut as flesh senses the criss-crossing white divots.

The flowers are not overdone in this piece and linger near the bottom. They serve to balance and give elegance to the many white slashes that hover above. The cloudy glaze around the foot of this bowl hints at its genius, a last attempt at turning simple and wild into soft stable sophisticated beauty. You can feel the movement and balance in this bowl from top to bottom, from rough to refined.

Doesn’t our restless mind also follow this progression after taking time in our busy days to drink tea?

Surely drinking matcha from this bowl would bring about such an affect.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Enjoying the Mundane: 2008 Tam Chan Southern Vietnamese Oolong

One picked this one up in Hoi An. The company’s broken-English website lets us know that this oolong was produced using organic methods on a 400 hecter patch of land in the Southern Lam Dong Province at an altitude of 800-1600 meters above sea level. Let’s check out this tea

The dry leaves are a mix of light medium and medium green tightly rolled pellets most of which contain a yellowish stem wrapped tightly into the pellet. These leaves smell very green with a quiet, fresh hay over flowers-in-a-greenhouse smell.

One prepares these leaves in a Kim Jeong Pill buncheong set using near boiling water. As leaves and thoughts unravel, this tea presents a nicely milky green flavour, slippery smooth in the mouth as much as thin. Sometimes this tea teases at a dry green floral taste but presents itself dimly in the nose instead. Some sessions that use longer infusion times completely drowned out the floral, leaving one questioning, “Where is that floral oolong taste that everyone loves?”

This tea presents very little in the way of sweetness. It spends its energy striving for a full feeling in the mouth, which it can’t quite actualize.

Although this insanely cheap tea doesn’t excite, it keeps calling one back. Its very nature of plainness and everydayness is its strength. Its mild energy taps about in the guts as one sits in meditation with this tea. Enjoying this tea is to enjoy the normal everyday, seemingly mundane things that normally pass us by in a day. As one sips this tea one enjoys such things to their fullest. One enjoys this tea.


Friday, April 17, 2009

A Wood Fired Na Noom Sa Bal (Serving Pot) by Lee Tae Ho

This is the only wood fired piece by Lee Tae Ho that one ever came across. Its wood kiln created micro details make this piece a little treasure. The closer you look, the more you get pulled into this world of imperfect fine detail. These pictured beauty marks add unpretentious sophistication to crude molten surfaces. The unearthed brownish red outer exudes both nature's look and touch in a way his gas fired pieces could never hope to replicate.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

2008 Yong Pin Hao Lan Xiang Wild Arbor

This sample was kindly sent by Hobbes and is the first infant shang peurh consumed after ones recent round of digestion problems. It's a big test but, finally those cravings are quenched. Let's see how it goes...

Looking through the plastic baggie ones eyes are already pleasured by the healthy chunk of very loosely compressed leaves, some of which are the fuzzy baby variety, others seem bigger but not too big. It looks like some very nice spring growth. The smell of these distinctly different leaves is of tobacco lost in a sweet mysterious musk.

These leaves are effortlessly freed from the chunk and stuffed into yixing where very hot water brings them to life again.

The first infusions invite soft acidic and mild bitter grapefruit-like high notes to challenge creamy woody tobacco low notes. The 'wild' natural grapefruit sourness is that which would only be expected from arbour trees. There is lots going on in the mouth with this one, but no chaos or confusion, an easy transition. In all of this there is still a certain gritty, wild, toughness about this tea that doesn't overpower, only adding to its whole. The mouthfeel is unpretentious, when given attention it deserves a nod as it does a nice job of coating fully the tongue, mouth, and throat in softness. Its cha qi is very noticeable from the first infusions on.

Middle infusions bring more creamy and tobacco and less acidic and grapefruit. Later ones fetch more sour high notes. This teas flavour is nice throughout.

This tea is a dichotomy of sorts. It is creamy and smooth yet wild and rough, a plethora of rich low notes and acidic vibrant top notes. Its mouthfeel is full but not distracting, and its energy is edgy yet smooth. Its cha qi is amazing. Ones body takes cues from this dichotomy and is nudged into balance inducing long bouts of meditation. This tea makes one glow. It doesn't seem to cause any ill affects to ones systems. Although one can sense its mild edginess nothing happens. Nothing happens...

On this gloomy day where grey skies give nothing but rain, one feels completely energized and relaxed.

As infusions push on the liquid becomes more mild and a bit minty and rubbery before not much is left of these smallish and very stemy spent leaves.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Economics & Ceramics: Wood Firing Vs. Gas Firing and The Story of Lee Tae Ho

Not all ceramics are made the same. One of the biggest factors affecting the price of ceramics is whether a piece was fired in a wood burning or gas kiln.

Pieces from traditional wood burning kilns carry some value in Korea just because they employ methods that are 'traditional' and 'natural'. These factors also permeate all faucets of tea culture in Korea. The natural details created by pieces fired in a wood burning kiln such as flecks of ash, a rougher surface, and warping due to uneven heating are also highly valued. These details are not created by the hand of the artist but are imprinted by the hand of the wood burning kiln. These are factors that the ceramicist can't completely control. So in this way a measure of good luck is required to create a good work with a wood fired kiln. These pieces are valued by our eyes, but more so, our touch.

Gas fired works struggle to recreate the natural surface of ceramics. Not only is the process mechanized, art created in the gas kiln also exudes a certain 'artificialness' to it. The glossy finish and smooth, sleek look often characterize gas fired pieces. Although, to the western mind, these adjectives may sound like they should increase the value of a given work, in the wabi sabi tradition where perfection and symmetry are seen as unnatural, these pieces aren't so sought after.

Also costs of production must be taken into account. Wood burning kilns are expensive and labour intensive to make, but are much more expensive to actually run. Wood isn't cheap, especially in Korea. And especially when you consider how much lumber you would need to properly achieve the firing temperature. In gas kilns achieving, maintaining, and controlling the firing temperature is as easy as a turn of a dial, in wood burning kilns this is an art in and of itself. It takes not only more money to fire ceramics but much more time also.

In todays tough economic climate, one wonders if lesser known Korean ceramicist are switching from traditional wood firing to cost effective gas firing? Certainly one has heard of talented struggling ceramicists making the jump from wood burning to gas firing before.

One stumbled across some colourful teaware in a Daegu shop some time ago. Unable to determine the artist in question, one asked the store clerk who had produced such interesting, natural works. He went on to tell how the owner of the store discovered Lee Tae Ho.

As it goes, Lee Tae Ho had been artist for a while, but unable to crack the market, he only managed to make enough money to get by. His pieces were created from the naturalness of the wood fired kiln so naturally he charged appropriately for such works. At one point he realized that he wasn't getting anywhere selling these more expensive wood-fired pieces, in fact, he was barely making it day to day.

The store manager heard that Lee Tae Ho was having an exhibit so went to check out his work. She was perhaps a bit shocked to find out that his exhibition was at his 'new' home, an old abandon building, not the typical art gallery. On display he had many inexpensive gas fired pieces that almost pass as wood fired pieces.

Pictured are some interesting pots by a truly 'starving artist'.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sinouk High Mountain 'Smoked Green Tea' From Korman Village, Phongsali (Lao Mao Cha)

This tea was picked up on ones journey for less than a box of cheap bagged tea on a supermarket shelf in the west. The foil pack reads, “Prepared by hand and smoked in a bamboo-formed stick, this tea has special lasting fragrance and taste”. Hmmm... Let's find out.

Using scissors to snip the top of the foil pack allows the beauty of this tea to be revealed. If one bought this tea only to sniff its dry leaves, it would be money well spent. Its odour is quite unique for a tea. It smells like none smelt before. These leaves smell like a hickory smoked mountain forest, a bit of mesquite sweetness covered with musk all under a layer of smoke. These dry leaves have that 'Korman forest' scent that one experienced with another sample from the area. They smell somewhat like some of the better smelling 'smoked tea' found in Phongsali's market.

As one peers inside, past exciting odours, one sees dry leaves forming a tangled web of long, thinly rolled leaves that sport a variety of muted greenish colours all the way from the more brown to more green spectrum. There are no small leaves here, all are of the medium to medium large type, almost exclusively unbroken.

They are placed in a large yixing pot and near boiling water is added. Initial smoky nuances dissipate into respectable puerh sweetness. This tea is very 'shang puerh'. The liquid is a pale clouded whitish yellow. Smoke hints at tobacco in the mouth for a few seconds after swallowing, but shies away from making it to the nose. In fact this gritty timid feeling doesn't want to leave the safety of the front of the mouth and tongue.

Its taste is lightly smoky peurh, mixed with the thin misty fields that surround the mountainous village of Korman as well as subtle minty-licorice. These soft flavors are like the workers in the dense foggy fields of Korman, if you don't pay attention you are sure to miss them. Just as you spot one in the blinding fog it seems to disappear once more, in an instant never to be seen again. These ghostly flavours are only found in perhaps an infusion or two as this tea looses its legs fast. A very common puerh taste is drug into the mountain scape distance. This tea lacks stamina and putters out quickly.

On the upside, this tea can be enjoyed without the strong edginess of a young shang. Unlike infant shang puerh, this tea doesn't shake up the guts. Its qi takes a bit of time to kick in, but when it does, it gently alerts gathering more on the sides of ones core than becoming stagnant in the stomach. Although, this chaqi is very light one enjoys its movement in the body.


Friday, April 10, 2009

One More Interesting Tang Gwan (Tetsubin) By Kim Jeong Hoon

One loves the blooming lotus flower knob and how the rusty metal handle is arching low over the full sized body of this pot. If you look closely you can see the auspicious coy fish broadsided by the handle, feeding on the spout. Kim Jeong Hoon really pulls off an interesting pond motif here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chigi No Shiro Matcha

This tea is the third from the bottom from Marukyu-Koyamaen. One found these notes from Korea and thought they were worthy of a publish…

The powder smells green, fresh, and, well, quite typical for a newly opened can of matcha, not that one would ever get tired of that invigorating scent. Actually, when more time and a clearer mind is spent with this powder, a faint underpinning of berries and potato were detected- a weird combination indeed.

One whisks slow, faster, then slower once again. Ones eyes enjoy the resulting bubbly froth. This time the tea is exquisitely produced. When consumed it presents a creamy body under dry woodiness, very subtle berries. Bitter berries like wild American choke cherries. A mouthfeel is present that dries up the mouth and lips. A mild tart taste is left in the mouth. Very nice.

When this tea isn’t made as good, it flaunts greenness with a slight smokiness that is found in the lower grades of Marukyu-Koyamaen. These sensations interrupt its full fresh green tea taste.

If you’re up for the challenge, this tea can really impress.