Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 'Yo Reum Hyong Ki' Boseong Yellow Tea Sample

This sample was kindly sent by Chris along with a few other surprises. This tea is from Boseong. Of note, is that it doesn't have the seal of Korean Organic Certification. Boseong has recently captured headlines worldwide for certifying many of its gardens, but not all gardens in Boseong are certified organic, in fact most are not. Of course, this has no bearing on the quality of the tea.

Very dark brownish leaves with a red tinge are revealed when dumped onto a coaster for inspection. Just upon inspection of the dry leaf one can ascertain the taste of this Korean yellow. The smell is light and fruity with black cherry and raisin grape notes.

One pours the whole sample into the pot, enough so that when water is added the leaves expand to completely fill the pot's belly. It is especially important to use lots of Korean yellow tea because Korean yellows have very little astringency, bitterness, and a very light body.

The hot water is poured into a cooling vessel where it waits for a few minutes before it is poured into the pot filled with leaves. The first infusion reveals watery, light tones of juicy fruit- very subtle chocolate raisin. Backnotes linger, even a light flash of vanilla can be noticed in the light, juicy mix.

More boiling water rests in the cooling pot, this time for a shorter period. When that water is put through leaves more of a spicy, cinnamon-raisin notes come out of the thin soup. A soft dryness is starting to develop in the mouth. The chaqi is also very light, somewhat cheery, and slightly uplifting.

The third pot is made a little longer with water closer to boiling. The mouthfeel is just a slight graininess. The light watery raisin spice slowly fades to dry on the tongue and in the breath.

The fourth and fifth infusions are sweet, light, fresh, and are starting to become a touch woody, the spiciness is starting to wear thin.

The sixth infusion is pushed a bit harder with hotter water and longer infusion times. The result is more light fruity raison, dry wood, some grit in the front of the mouth, some spice left to savour. This tea is very simple, juicy, light, and needs constant pushing to make it perform.

The seventh and eighth infusions start to reveal woody, sweet water.

By the end of the session ones mind buzzes with alertness.

Thanks Chris for a chance to experience this tea.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two 'Types' of Korean Yellow (Semi-Oxidized) Tea

Merely from years of experience, there seems to be two types (or maybe classes) of yellow tea (balhyo cha, parhyo cha) produced in Korea. The first kind of yellow is the "Spicy, Fruity, Juicy Type" and the second is the "Roasted, Chocolate Type" mmmm... they both sound yummy!

The "Spicy, Fruity, Juicy Type" have very dark dry leaves, a yellow soup, a very juicy light mouthfeel, and taste sweet, spicy, and fruity.

The "Roasted, Chocolate Type" have dry leaves that look dusky or dusty and have a purple tinge to them, a brown-yellow or reddish brown yellow soup, a silky, slightly stimulating mouthfeel, and taste chocolaty, nutty, and roasted.

It is important to note that these 'types' are not truly different 'types' and that they often share some of the above characteristics to some extent.

One wonders if some difference in production has to do with these different characteristics?

Most people seem to prefer the "Roasted, Chocolate Type". There is something about it that seems more full, well rounded, and complete- higher oxidization. On the other hand the "Spicy, Fruity, Juicy Type" seems to be more refreshing- lesser oxidization. One always enjoys both of these teas to their fullest.

No doubt, a purple oily hue in the dry leaf of green tea usually suggest fine quality. Once a Korean tea master said that only the best green teas will have a purple hue. It is the genus of a teamaster that knows how to fire a tea for a long time without depleting the tea's essence.

Perhaps the same is true for the "Roasted, Chocolate, Type"?


Friday, January 22, 2010

A Grey & White Lee Kang Hyo Buncheong Style Tea Bowl

The look and feel of this grey and white tea bowl is wonderfully reflected under the dim lights of this traditional Korean home.

This tea bowl reflects the zen mind. Its main colour is grey. In Korea grey holds special meaning, it is the colourless colour and at the same time it is the colour of all colours mixed, the colour of nothingness, the colour of zen. All the monks in Korea wear grey coloured robes, even the highest level monks. This was once the colour all monks of China wore after the first century A.D. This is because grey reflects the "don't know", zen mind. It also is the colour of ashes- a reminder of reincarnation.

This grey bowl reflects some of this meaning. Its dull grey colour is made vibrant by its thick shiny gloss. This gloss is beautifully apparent at the bowls foot where blobs pool creating an opaque-white among the spiralling finish. These blobs are also quite noticeable on the grey outer sidewall of the bowl where they share space with little gashes and stones.

The main focal point of this bowl is the thick gloopy white gye yal (brushstroke) located inside the bowl. This thick white stroke is apparently done in a spontaneous moment of zen where the potter uses what ever materials he can find nearby and lays one on the tea bowl. This gye yal is quite thick. Of particular note is the separate glob that splattered away from the main stroke pictured on the right side) of the bowl. This splatter is balanced coincidentally by the end spot on the other side of the bowl(pictured on the left side). Beautiful.

The shallow of the bowl stands out as it remains grey with the 5 unglazed marks from the stand in the kiln. In the center of the gye yal it creates a beautifully natural affect.

The look of this bowl with tea in it is astonishing as the exuberance of the green froth is amplified by the thick white of the gye yal. The feel of the bowl in your hands is a calming rough under thick gloss.

Drinking tea from its innards, you can taste a little bit of zen.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2009 Giddapahar Estate 2nd Flush Darjeeling FTGFOP1

Winter time is the perfect time for Hong Cha (red tea, black tea). In the winter the bitter flavour of hong cha and its strong, quick rising yang energy is perfect to warm your soul on a cold winter day. According to the theory of five transformations, drinking bitter flavours in winter allows ones energy to descend before it is stored throughout the cold winter.
One always has a few pots of hong cha over the winter especially on the cold days. Today is one of those cold days.

The tea of choice is a second flush from Darjeeling. It is an offering from Giddapahar Estate- one of the gardens visited last March. The dry leaves smell of nice light ferment- a dry, not too grapey muscatel. They make up a mixture of reddish browns and whites in the predominately dark brown-green mix. These leaves are put in a big yixing and hot water follows.

This first infusion shoots off a sharp, brisk taste of light, dry, faint fruitiness that peeks out before ducking away. The saliva from the mouth, lips, and tongue retreats under light dryness. Even fainter sweet fruit tones are left on the breath.

The second infusion is prepared. In it is dry, mainly woody, raisoney notes that peer through a nice juicy bitterness that softly saunters by. The mouth seems void of all saliva, leaving sweet notes way down the throat. The feel in the mouth is valued for its uniqueness.
At this point in the session one succumbs to the hot active chaqi. The head heats first then ones core soon follows- the face flushes. Mind is pushed into alertness. On a blustery cold winter day this affect is wholeheartedly embraced.

The third steeping brings an expected lighter, less sweet, fruity body that is almost completely eclipsed by woody dryness. The mouthfeel reflects the wood in the mouth.
The fourth infusion is a touch salty, mainly woody, with a bit of tang.


Note: Check out this link to the Polish Wine Guide's review of this tea.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2006 Wild Lincang Shang Puerh

This tea sample was sent from Stephane of Teamasters a while ago. One checked his online store but apparently this wonderful cake is all sold out... a real pity. One was reminded about this sample a few months back when Hobbes from the Half Dipper did a tasting of this tea (which turned out to be a retasting).

The small, all too familiar, sample pack suggested using half the sample. After the pack was cut open and the soft sweet smell of the dry leaves was taken in, one opted to use the whole sample. One carefully separated some of the leaves from the tightly compressed hull section sample then laid them in small old yixing. With the water boiling at a soft rumble, the tea kettle now hung over the small pot. The leaves were rinsed. Then the first pot was prepared to enjoy.

This first light infusion hits the lips- light, sweet with just a touch of a pungent spice in its finish. This first infusion already shows signs of an expansive mouthfeeling as the whole mouth and throat is gently caressed with each sip. The qi too is quite evident from the first sip. It warms the middle jiao like a lightbulb being turned on in the innards. The warmth slowly resonates throughout.

The boling water is added to the leaves once more. A flash of juicy depth turns sweet then slowly stretches into a crisp alerting spice which lingers on the breath and warms the soul. The mouthfeel coats lips, full tongue, and throat in light pasty chalk. This tea is good... quite good.

The third infusion is prepared. Behind the overly enjoyable mouthfeel a subtle bitterness is now noticed. The taste becomes more pungent and its depth begins to be revealed.

In the fourth infusion one notices tangier notes; the fifth, the spicier notes give way to a longer sweet notes which really extend staying on the breath for as long as it wants; the sixth, more of a crispness; the seventh, a nice light fruitiness is noticed. All of these infusions are enjoyed under the steady backdrop of extended sweetness, far reaching and fully stimulating mouthfeel, and sedateively euphoric qi.

In the eighth, ninth, and tenth infusions the flavour is not as broad or long as it once was but it is just as deep. Spicy complexity hidden in sweet, a drier malty taste, and a mouthfeel that only seems to get better as the session progresses is savored.

There is a silky richness about the taste and feel of this tea that doesn't even waver very late into the session. As a result this tea is enjoyed for many, many infusions over the span of a few cloudy rainy winter days.

Thanks again Stephane.


Friday, January 8, 2010

A Woman In A Male Dominated Field: A Look At Seung Jin Ah's Cups & Pagodas

Throughout Korean history pottery (and most other fine arts) was always left to the men- this was true throughout Japan and China as well. Today although much has changed as far as gender equality in Korean and throughout the world, the top potters of the country are still predominately male. This to me seems a bit odd in a country where the many ceramic cafes are almost exclusively filled with women.

Even though the top master potters are all men, there are some up and coming women who are producing beautiful works. Seung Jin Ah is one of those potters.

Seung Jin Ah, like most women potters in Korea, doesn't produce traditional pieces. The production of traditional tea bowls seems almost entirely male dominated. Although her pieces are more contemporary than traditional, she still lives a traditional potters life. She lives on the mountain and spends her time building, maintaining, and firing in her self made traditional wood fired kiln.

Her cups and pagodas are especially unique. Although they have the grittiness of being wood fired they are elegant and cute. The cups and pagodas alike are marked with black flecks of ash and small black scorch marks that have fallen on them in the kiln. They are lightened by beautiful tinges of pinkish orange, like the flash of natural colour- sunrise.

The pagodas are a bit darker in colour than the cups. The darker colour of these mini pagodas resemble that of the washed out stone of the real monument. Those monuments that adore most every temple in the country.

In the hand and on the lip the quaint cups feel gritty and, although small in size, are solid and proper. Overall, the texture and look of these pieces remind one of early morning sun on the beach or on the soft rocks of the mountain.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tea Supports Spirit, Spirit Supports Tea

The tea one drinks supports one spiritually.

Ones spirituality teaches one about tea.

The world spins,

the seasons change,

One drinks tea.


Monday, January 4, 2010

2009 Ssang Kye Saejak Grade Semi Wild Hadong Green Tea

Ssang Kye is one of the most popular producers of green tea in Korea. This is partly because of the care they take in production. The tea is picked and processed carefully by hand and every step is overseen by a world class tea master.

These dry leaves, after being liberated by layers of beautiful tea packaging, smell of deep, heavier roasted, nutty notes. The scent of the dry leaves is very deep- somewhere in the depth hide fruity notes. These leaves which were picked and produced on April 18th of this year are especially fragrant.

This tea is enjoyed in ceremony. The sound of boiling water signals the start. It is poured first into the cooling bowl. The grey cracks in the belly of the cooling bowl that are formed when new water is added slowly melt into a uniform white. The water is moved from that bowl to the tea pot and from the tea pot it is poured into the serving pot, then the cups. It waits there.

The near boiling water enters the cooling bowl once again. It waits there for quite sometime. Steam slowly snakes into the air- evaporating into mist. One takes this time to calm the mind even further. The water waiting in the cups is eventually discarded.

One fishes the small dry leaves from the bag and guides them reverently into the tea pot. After the water has cooled to below 70 degrees one pours it over these leaves.

This first infusion is much like the initial scent- roasted, nutty, and deep. Also light sweet and salty notes are apparent and brilliantly balance the taste. A slippery dry viscus coat slides over the tongue and mouth with each sip. There is a whisper of fruitiness in its depth.
One prepares the next infusion, waiting until the water cools to the proper temperature before filling the pot. More evergreen notes come out of the deep base of roasty, nutty green tea. Spicy notes are also detected and enjoyed. The mouthfeel is right- lightly filling the tongue and mouth, drying it slightly. The liquor is a clear, crisp, mellow slightly yellow green.

The third infusion is prepared. Dry and sweet are left covering the mouth and is suspended in the breath before trailing off. This tea is deep- every sip is like sipping the forest from which these leaves come.

The flavour of this tea really moves in the mouth. This is apparent in the fourth infusion when a splash of evergreen and lime turns quickly into more woody notes. There is a subtle persimmon spiciness that leans into dry. The fullness in the mouth really makes this tea. The qi is crisp, clear sedative and exciting. It brings gentle peace.

The tea begins to thin out in the mouth in the fifth infusion with mainly lime and wood notes which finish drier, thinner.

When hotter water and longer infusion times are used late into the session. There is still some flavor and vibrancy left in these leaves but wood, dryness, grass, and lime notes, those typical of green tea, are mainly pushed out.

You can only push so far. This tea tells you when its finished as there is nothing but that typical 'pondiness' left in the cup to enjoy.

Edit: This tea was initially posted as an "Ujeon" but has since been changed to a "Seajak".