Monday, February 28, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing The Right Water For Tea- Part 2- Mineral Content of Water

The mineral content of water is perhaps the most important characteristic to consider when attempting to harmonize a type of tea with water. Water contains particles which come from the Earth. Traditionally we say that Earth controls Water. In this respect Earth, and the minerals it contains, strongly influence the energetics of Water. If Earth (minerals) are too abundant, Earth's energy will dominate the Water, thereby clouding Waters essence. If Earth (minerals) are absent, Earth's energy cannot support the Water, thereby making the Water weak and lacking essence. This is natures way.

Let's look at how the mineral content effects the energetics of the water.

No/ very few minerals. This type of water has no body, because water is the body of tea, it must contain body (yin) itself. Water with very few minerals has no body to support the tea's spirit. This water is not appropriate for tea. Distilled and filtered water fits into this category.

Little amount of minerals. This type of water is yang in nature. The water is somewhat light and it harmonizes best with lighter teas which generally have more smell than taste (white, green, greener oolong). Yang type water is appropriate for these teas as the light water's body rises supporting and harmonizing to the rising nature of these lighter teas. When light water is infused with tea, a lighter coloured infusion results.

Moderate amount of minerals. This type of water is neither heavy nor light and it harmonizes best with neutral teas such as balhyocha (Korean yellow tea) and Hunan black tea. Water with a moderate amount of minerals can curb extremes, supporting us in attainment of the Middle Way.

Larger amount of minerals. This type of water is yin in nature. The water is somewhat heavy and it harmonizes best with heavier teas which generally have more taste than smell (puerh, more oxidized oolong, hong cha, aged teas). Yin type water is appropriate for these teas as the heavy water's body sinks deeply inward supporting and harmonizing to the deepening nature of these heavier teas. When heavier water is infused with tea, a darker coloured infusion results.

Too much minerals. This type of water has a body that is weighed down, because water's body is consumed by particles it is restricted and the water's qi cannot move freely. Water with too much minerals overwhelms the tea's spirit weighing it down. If these minerals are very excessive the water will develop a taste and smell. This is because the clear qi of water is bogged down by turbid things, in this case too many minerals. Only water with no taste and smell is appropriate for tea. This water is not appropriate for tea.

The terms "little amount of minerals", "moderate amount of minerals", and "larger amount of minerals" are rather vague and are not quantified by numbers. One never uses measuring devices nor pays too much attention to the PPM (parts per million), TDS (total dissolved solids), or degrees of hardness. Discovering which water is which is something that comes with experience.

The types and diversity of minerals is also a factor. There are some undesirable minerals or chemicals in water that should be as low as possible which include Chlorine (See Marshal'N posts here and here) and Sulfur. Both of these elements add an undesirable odour to the tea. Also the wider the diversity of the minerals found in water, the more variety of smells and tastes of the resulting tea. A variety of elements allow for more interactions to take place with the enzymes of the tea. If the body is engaging, the spirit will engage, the result is interesting tea!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing The Right Water For Tea- Part 1- Introduction

The importance of choosing water for tea is not stressed as it should be. It truly is the most important element other than the tea itself in preparing tea. The writer of this article is as guilty as everyone else as there is only one lonely article written a long time ago about water here on MattCha's Blog (here). It seems as of late there has been a recent focus on water on two great new tea blogs Listening To Leaves, and Le The et le Chemin. With this recent focus as well as the discussion and reflection on water discussed this week and last week in the book club, it seems timely to publish some posts which focus on choosing the right water for tea. Over the following weeks the topic of choosing water will be extensively covered in several posts that will delve deeply into this very important and often overlooked issue.

When selecting the right water for tea these factors should be considered: the type of tea you are preparing (Does the water harmonize with the tea?), the mineral content of the water (How heavy is the water?), the source of the water (Where does the water come from?), the season you are preparing the tea (Does the water harmonize with the season?), and the type of qualities you wish to extract (Do you want to pull out deeper, heavier notes, more taste or lighter, ethereal notes, more smell). The type of vessel you are using to store your water and the kettle you are using to boil the water also has an effect on the water as well as boiling and pouring technique and even additives such as mineral salts, bamboo charcoal, stones, and silver beads. Lets tackle these topics one by one before putting them all together.

Firstly and most importantly, there is not one type of water that is best for all teas. This magical water doesn't exist! Therefore different types of tea will have an optimal type of water. Unfortunately, having a variety of different optimal waters for each type of tea you drink is a bit unrealistic, expensive, space consuming, and not that practical. In this case, a variety of storage vessels and kettles, tweaking technique, and perhaps the use of additives are important in influencing the properties of water to match a broad spectrum of different teas. In a practical sense, you should be trying to find a type of water that suits the majority of the tea you are drinking.

It is important to use the principle of harmony when selecting water for tea. You should select water that has similar energetics to the tea. If water is the yin aspect (the container, the body) of tea it should at least be on the same page as the tea, the yang aspect (the spirit) of tea. If the type of tea doesn't harmonize with the water (or water with the tea) the full potential of the resulting infusion will not be realized.

A very general classification system of tea should be discussed first. We must determine whether a tea is a lighter (more yang), a balanced/ neutral, or a deeper (more yin) type of tea. Lighter teas are usually picked in the spring, are greener, have less/ no oxidization or fermentation, are cooler, and have more smell than taste. Balanced / neutral teas are harmonizing, balancing, and comforting, are yellow or brownish in colour, are frequently aged, have neither strong tastes or smells. Deeper (more yin) types of tea are darker, are oxidized/ fermented, are warmer, and have more taste than smell.

Generally speaking, lighter teas harmonize better with yang type water, balanced/ neutral teas with balanced/ neutral/ medium bodied water, and deeper teas with yin type water.

Determining what type of tea you are brewing is the first step in selecting the right water for that tea.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Economics of Darjeeling Tea and A Tasting of 2010 Castleton Estate FTGFOP 2nd Flush

The price of Darjeeling tea continues to rise from year to year. This price increase is due to a variety of causes some of which include erratic whether conditions (which include both rain when dry weather is needed and dry weather when rain is needed), increased popularity (increases in not only traditional markets such as Europe but also in China, Korea, and Japan), and political uncertainty (the ramping up of tensions amonst the Gorkha minority in their presuit of an independent state which includes all of the Darjeeling tea growing region). The result effected this years 2010 production which was one of the lowest in history. The second flush, the topic of todays post wasn't exempt from these effects.

On a day that is particularly cold, economics, production, and politics are put aside and the only thing on ones mind is a tea that can warm. Spring which pushed in early was given one last nudge as winter has griped the island over the last week. A local said that this is the normal progression of Spring here on the island, there is usually one last Wintery blast somewhere mid-Febuary. This is natures way of change, a bit of a struggle between Winter and Spring before spring pulls steadily ahead. Teas that ground in balance such as Korean yellows, aged oolong, or Henan Black tea won't do the trick on this blustery cold day. A hardy Darjeeling second flush seems like the perfect remedy for the cold that has gripped the land.

The second flush that one goes for is from Castleton Estate, a rather generous sample was gifted from Lochan Teas with a purchase a few months back. Watching squirrels play on snow covered branches outside, one scoops out some dry leaf from the bag and takes in the sensory experience...

Bringing the scoop full of dark brown, red-tinged leaves close to have a sniff, high juicy fruit notes are predominant even before the scoop nears the nose. These fruity notes are so apparent that they dominate the odour of the dry leaves with just a suggestion of deeper notes underneath.

The water boils, the pots and cups are warmed, the leaf is placed in the pot. The first steeping commences.

The taste that results is sweet pears and oranges and very slight grape right up front. They evolve into deeper notes slowly but are then propped up again. These fruity notes fade into slight chalky coco that lingers for a while on the breath. The mouthfeel is thick and pasty resulting in a nice feel throughout the mouth. Even the lips are slightly puckering and sticky. This sensation is left in the mouth a long time after imparting a pleasant aftertaste.

The chaqi is warming, the whole body lights up with a cozy warmth. This chaqi is not at all harsh and even induces a clear mind. The chaqi is quite warming and doesn't discriminate between limbs or body sections resulting in a very satisfying warm comfort on this Winter day.

The second infusion is light, sweet, with slight licorice and florals presented first before melding into a tangy, bitter, orange-like sweetness. The aftertaste slowly comes on and has a soft orange-raisin flavour to it. Even some soft coco is detected. Once again, it lingers on for quite a while. The mouthfeel remains thick and pleasant, the chaqi warm, soothing, and strong.

The third infusion is once again light and fruity with slight licorice tastes but is lighter, fresher, and more cheery with less depth than last infusion. A slight coco returns in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel covers the full mouth but its thickness is diminished. Its chaqi continues to warm.

The fourth infusion is prepared and a light, cheery, fruity broth with thin faint coco is still found. These tastes later turn into a fresh honey fruit which stays in the mouth. Things have weakened but there is still enough to enjoy.

One prepares this tea with a faded white early blooming azalea that jumped spring too early, was picked to early, and now clings to faded white blossoms. It has lost the ability to develop the bright pink pigments of spring. One reflects deeply from the lessons learned from nature, calm and comforted by the warmth of this tea.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Section 17. Well Water Is Not Appropriate For Tea

"The Classic of Tea says: "Mountain water is superior, river water is less good, and well water is the worst"

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.


Monday, February 21, 2011

The Types of Tea and Their Chaqi: Darjeeling Second Flush

One read a tea blog somewhere that proclaimed that only tea from China, and Japan (and Korea) has cha qi. This statement could be further from the truth especially when looking at the tea produced in Darjeeling. Some would argue that this could be because the tea in Darjeeling is produced using the Chinese variety of tea plant, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis rather than the Assam variety, Camellia sinensis var. assamica. This again, is ridiculous. Recently there has been a cold snap on the island and one has been drinking a lot of second flush Darjeeling reflecting on these things...

Darjeeling tea is known for its warming properties. These warm thermal properties of second flush Darjeeling are due to a variety of factors. Most of the warmth develops as the green tea leaf is oxidized. Oxidization induces warm thermal energy. The once green, cool properties of the plucked leaf undergo a process where heat is generated as the leaf oxidizes. The result is a dry leaf that is dark often with a reddish tinge to them, a liquor that is red-brown, and wet leaves that are coppery brown. All of these colours contain the colour spectrum of a dark red. Red is the colour of summer. Early Summer, late spring is when these leaves are picked. As a result they contain in them the heat of summer. Red is the colour of the Heart, therefore this tea is especially good for preventing heart conditions (see here and here and here). Because these leaves grow slowly at such high altitudes often among the high misty mountain tops they generate more heat, more yang. These leaves also contain in them dark colours. Darker colours indicate depth, like the depth of space or that of a deep ocean. In this way the qi of Darjeeling second flush is warm and deep, qualities that are often sought to balance the cold depths of Winter, or simply when we feel cold.

The taste of Darjeeling Second Flush also is an indication of its qi. Hong cha is sometimes known for its rather bitter taste, especially when production dictates heavy oxidization. Bitter tastes are descending in nature and have a special relationship with heat in the body as it is often associated with the communicating transfer of heat from the upper (yang) parts of the body to the lower (yin) parts of the body and conversely from the lower parts of the body to the upper parts of the body. This is especially true with second flush as it contains both the colour red, warmth, and darker colours that represent depth. Bitter tastes also descend deep in the body.

However if it was a strong bitter taste, its properties would be too harsh and would simply have a draining effect on the body, thereby depleting our qi. This is not the case because there is balance between Taste and Smell. The deep bitter taste anchors the warm qi downward and the light smell of florals and fruits lift it up. There is good movement of energy, a communication between upper and lower imparting heat there.

The bitter descending taste is also moderated by a fruity, often muscatel, sweetness. Sweet tastes strengthen and ascend, remedying much of the harsher effects of the bitter taste while circulating the warm thermal energy.

Second flush Darjeeling is processed in a way that a large surface area of the leaf and the enzymes released in production are quickly exposed when steeped in hot water. The release of its energy is quick and often dramatic and powerful, usually resulting in fewer more powerful infusions.

The nature of Darjeeling second flush is such that Middle Way is therefore maintained as Yin (descending, deep, dark, more taste, and bitter) is masterfully balanced in the cup by Yang (ascending, light, red, floral odour, and sweetness). The balance and harmony of this tea along with its characteristic cha qi is why Darjeeling Second Flush is even prized by the teamasters of Asia, least those with an open mind.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Section 16. Grades of Spring Water

"Tea is the spirit of water and water is the body of tea."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

2011 Victoria Tea Festival Overview

Making it through the quick moving line up and through the front doors, one was greeted by the tasteful bonsais of the Silk Road booth. Although the design was much more natural in feel, it was apparent from just the first glance that there were less exhibitors than last year (about 10-15 fewer?).

One navigated past the crowded exhibition hall without spotting any surprises upon first walk through. There were some great conversations had with the different exhibitors though. This year one spent most of the time chatting with the local Victoria dealers that one hadn't got to spend time with before, that was nice.

Expect some posts in the next month or two covering Victor of Tea Farm and his interesting tea growing operation and Libby of Tula Teas and her oolongs. One had a great conversation with the almost 90 year old Yunnan native and exhibitor about her 200 year old puerh tea brick at the May Ip Lam Gallery exhibit. Even met up with another puerh tea lover in Victoria, who would have thought?

Out of the presentations, the Japanese Tea Ceremony by local tea group the Urasenke Nagomi Tea Circle was well done and even included a sampling of specially ordered matcha that Silk Road brought in exclusively for the event which contained flecks of gold. It was served a touch too watered down, a little too flashy, but none the less was enjoyable.

All in all, when around such great tea loving people, you can't help but enjoy yourself.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2010 Jagasilk Organic Dragonfly Matcha (Produced By Harimaen)

This matcha was purchased at the local stop, Jagasilk. It is the highest organic grade they carry, a step higher then the Organic Butterfly matcha consumed last month. Their webpage claims that Harimaen Estate, the garden they source their tea from, is the oldest and highest quality organic production in Uji. Certainly it is fresh- the label says it was stone ground on Dec 20th. Let's cut open the bag, boil the water, and prepare this tea in ceremony...

And so the bag is cut open and small particles react with air- one's nose takes in the scent of the powder. There are deep blackberry fruit notes with a savoury sweetness. Nutty notes are also picked up but are faint. The depth of the odour is noted. There are roasted bread smells as well as the scent of sesame seeds. There is a lot going on.

The mind is quieted. Movement upon movement, the tea is whisked up and thanks is given.

Taking the matcha in three sips first reveals an initial sweet burst that is followed by nutty, slightly roasted, sesame tastes which evolve in the mouth. The mouthfeel and throatfeel creep across mouth and throat respectively but with a smooth stickiness and slight grittiness that makes for somewhat of a layered sensation in the mouth.

The aftertaste that emerges is a creamy smooth marijuana taste with a somewhat soft 'green' taste. It develops into a malty- yeasty taste that is reminiscent of a good ale. Mellow but alerting qi.

Starts off sweet, finishes sultry. What a evening for a matcha like this.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Section 15. Tea That Has Deteriorated Must Not Be Used

"If one drinks deteriorated tea, the stomach becomes cold, so much so that one's energy is depleted and bad effects accumulate."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sam Do Style Tea Bowl by Korean Master Chon Han Bong: A Look at the Rae Bin Sam Do Subtype

The Sam Do Style, or Three Island Style of tea bowl has a long history in Korea. The Rae Bin Sam Do style can be traced all the way back to the early 1400s and is one of Koreas classical styles. Like the Hwa Sam Do style and Ju Sam Do Style it has a very distinct look, or cannon, that is followed. Essentially they are trying to replicate the essence of a traditional bowl with only subtleties of each potter coming out in the final product. The idea is that the harmony of the elements, of nature, of the earth & fire is what is admired in the final product. The potter is below or under his product- the bowl his hands helped create. Of course, we cannot talk of this bowl without mention of Master Chon Han Bong- he is a brilliant potter and one of Korea's true masters.

This beautiful white slipped Rae Bin Sam Do style bowl is winter in feel while hinting at spring. So today, as winter rains fall and spring around the corner, it seems like the perfect day to examine such a wonderful piece.

The focal point of Rae Bin Sam Do style bowls is most definitely the calligraphy in the bowl's pool. The whole bowl seems to emanate around this centering feature like the island that this style of bowl was thought to come from. Here in the center we can also see the colour undernieth. It is the earth, the earth of the island. Its boundary is well defined by a white circle. From this calligraphy, from this white circle, the energy of the bowl is transmitted.

Squiggly lines emit from the center covered in a thin white that is blotchy, not completely covering the colours beneath. These squiggly lines represent the water, the waves that surround the island, the waves of peace that undulate in rhythmic motion that put us at ease when drinking tea from its innards.

The squiggles reach outward to the rim that is marked by notches, often a defining feature of the Sam Do Style. These notches are to thought to fill space with that which is beautiful but not pretentious. The notches that collar the inside rim on this bowl remind us to fill our lives with that which is beautiful but not to be braggarts, flamboyant, or pretentious but rather modest- happy with the simple things we fill our life with.

Of note on the inside rip is a finger print, a blotch, a human touch. Often blotches connect us to the human element of a tea bowl besides adding a measure of asymmetrical beauty. This blotch is especially beautiful and done quite tastefully.

The outside of the bowl is coated in a thicker application of white. Only when you flip the bowl over to admire its foot can you get a real feel for the contrast the white slip gives to the bowl. You also notice the ghostly layers white with thinner application in some areas and thicker in others where it coagulated then drizzled down the side. As the white nears the foot it thins into natural patterns with blotches of the base, green/blue brown colouring, showing through. These blotches add a relaxing element to the piece like watching a slow moving cloud in the sky.

The chop to is tactfully balanced with a small uncovered patch, revealing the clay below. It suggests modesty of the potter. The balance it creates with the chop is quite breathtaking especially with a such a thick layer of white defining its perimeter.

The division and contrast created by the distinct white boarder that cuts the foot in half is stark and is the focal point of the bowls bottom. Staring at its division reminds us of the division between Heaven and Earth. The sky, water, and island. The yin and the yang. The Dao.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

2011 Victoria Tea Festival

Next weekend is Victoria's Annual Tea Festival held at Crystal Gardens. So far things look similar to last year. The usual quality local suspects will be there selling Japanese tea such as Jared and Miyu from Jagasilk and Peter and Fumi from Chado Tea House. There will also be the very influential tea shops Silk Road and Murchie's taking up large swaths of the main floor. This year a new player entered the scene here in Victoria, Teaopia, bringing with it a large chain style tea shop in the downtown core. They will be here this year sponsoring the presenter stage which is always good for at least a few interesting tea related presentations.

What perhaps will be most interesting about the 2011 tea festival is the last minute exhibitors that don't appear on the program. Last year some of these exhibitors were some of the better places to stop at such as Pedro at Dao Tea, and a few Chinese tea booths that one should have probably spent more time with. There are sure to be some surprises this year as well, like DoMatcha which shocked one with their gimmicky but high quality matcha.

The event is first and foremost a charity event, its primary goal it to raise money for a decent local cause. It must be taken for what it is, not a major tea festival in Asia, not even a tea exclusive festival, but never the less a fine tea festival. It is the tea that brings people together for a common good.

Isn't that what drinking tea is about anyways?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Section 14. Losing Tea's True Nature By Contamination

"Tea of itself has true fragrance, colour, and taste."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1980s Menghai "7572" Puerh

One usually doesn't consume much shu puerh, indulging only occasionally during the hot summer or once in a while for meditation. Today one has a craving for some old shu.

This sample was gifted by Daniel at The Chinese Tea Shop in Vancouver, who stocks a nice variety of cakes. It is of the classic 7572 recipe. This recipe was one of the first to be pressed into a cake by Menghai in the 70s. Let's boil the water, take in the moisture kicked up by the kettle, and enjoy some classic shu...

The smell of the dry leaf is pretty generic- the dusty, stale, must of a long storage. Faint dry wood notes predominate. The tea is placed in yixing and a rinse pushes out more of the smell of storage.

The first infusion reveals an initial burst of sweetness under the strong heavy characters of this tea. A velvety mouthfeel is full of creamy but sharp coco notes. The aftertaste is slightly fruity with a nice grain character to it. Minutes afterward creamy chocolate is carried with the breath. The mouthfeel further evolves into a mild comforting dryness which coats the mouth.

With creamy chocolate echoing in ones mouth the second infusion is prepared. It starts off with a slight sour-sweet burst lying in the thick oily soup of coco and decomposing wood. There are very medicinal notes that hide under other flavours then fade away. The mouthfeel is malty, thick, oily, and finishes slightly dry. The chaqi moves downward warming the lower cavity and comforting the stomach.

The third and fourth infusion start once again with a sour-sweet kick. There are raisin-like and medicinal notes here but they are smooth and meld into creamy coco on the breath. The mouthfeel remains viscous with a slight dry finish. It really gloops over the mouth and paints it in a thick coat all the way to the throat. The chaqi is quite heavy and burrows deep and downward. Ones hands and arms feel almost cool in juxtaposed with the light, soft warming feeling down below.

The fifth and sixth infusions have much more woody notes up front along with thick creamy coco notes that dominate the creamy taste of this tea. Thin dry wood stretches into chocolate in the aftertaste as well. The mouthfeel is very full but slightly less oily. The chaqi is compounding and bringing elevated alertness. One quiets here in the present.
The seventh, eighth, and ninth infusions maintain the core creamy, smooth coco, velvety taste with a progression to more dry wood notes in the aftertaste. The woody flavour is a creamy, velvety wood much more than it is drying. One takes a break from this tea and goes for an evening walk before returning to the table.

The tenth infusion comes once again with more woody, dry notes within the creamy coco base which is becoming more and more ghostly as the session progresses. Slight plum now accompanies wood notes.
The eleventh and twelfth infusions are long and slightly dry. Milky wood notes and many sweet, fruity hints are in there as well. The mouthfeel has lost its oily core but applies a thin fuzzy coating over the mouth and throat.

This tea is taken for a few more long infusions late in to the night before being put to rest with an overnight steeping. In the morning, one is greeted with cinnamon, mainly musty storage, and deep medicinal tastes.