Friday, March 25, 2011

Section 21. About the Wiping Cloth

"Before and after drinking tea, one should use a cloth made of fine hemp or jute to wipe the cups. Other kinds of cloth are unsuitable because they are easily soiled."

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, March 24, 2011

2004 (A) Xiao Bing From Camellia Sinensis

Much has been said about the famous Canadian tea company Camellia Sinensis from other tea bloggers. Something Smuggled In has claimed that that their aged oolong selection is worth checking out while Marshal'N reeled about the exorbitant prices they charge for their puerh. So it was nice to receive a sample from a fellow tea friend in town, to see what their puerh is all about. This sample comes from a shang xiao bing and is one of their more pricey offerings.

The small dry leaves offers of a wonderful aroma of very sweet creamy apricot in a soft tobacco base. These leaves are rinsed in the very early hours of the morning and the tea session commences.

The first infusion contains juicy creamy slight tobacco that evolves into apricot and mushrooms in the mouth all over top a very malty sweet caramel base. The aftertaste produces a fruity sweetness.

The second infusion initially presents a cool menthol start that quickly transforms into juicy mushroom and creamy pasty sweetness. These flavours evolve into a creamy, slightly sour, mushroom taste. The mouthfeel is such that the whole mouth is a dry tart which plays more at the front but still hits the back and the upper throat nicely. The qi flows into the lower abdomen these first infusions.

In the third infusion sweet malty wood notes present up front before stretching into a slightly soapy floral taste. The aftertaste is dry and woody after a while it has a faint tobacco feel to it.

The fourth infusion has a lively spiciness in its profile of light malty apricot. That malty sweetness returns in the aftertaste.

The fifth infusion looses most of that lively spiciness but is still packed full of juicy malty sweetness. The chaqi of this tea is very energizing and shows little signs of any harshness. There is a slight warm feeling even in its youth.

In the sixth and seventh infusions a wood and peach flavour emerges and is quite noticeable and enjoyable. It presents upfront with the previous notes of malted sweetness. The aftertaste finishes with a fruity, woody, and almost tobacco taste on the breath. The chaqi is warming, friendly, and slightly drying.

In the eighth, infusion woody tastes now seem to overtake the fruity notes with the sweetness still quite apparent. In the ninth infusion wood predominates.

This tea is taken for a few very long steeps and somewhat flat fruity tastes are revealed. The mouthfeel still nicely stimulates the mouth and throat.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

2010 Jagasilk Nirvana Matcha

This matcha was accepted as a gift upon last visit to Jarred and Miyuki's tea bar, Jagasilk. Unlike the previous matcha reviewed from Jagasilk (here and here), Nirvana is not made of organic tea but it still comes from the same area of Uji. This matcha is also a finer grade than their organic offerings. Its label says that it was stone ground on February 1, 2011. With trees blooming outside, let's prepare this fresh matcha in ceremony and see what it is all about...

The dry powder presents unpretentious florals upfront with very ethereal bread notes. The odour is nice and smooth. This powder is mindfully whisked up into a froth.

The prepared matcha is then consumed. Tastes of creamy almond, sweet in the mouth, with a broad grassy start are noted. Bread, yeast, and nut flavours are discerned from its body before turning slightly bitter, sweet, and tangy. Somewhat disperse green notes barely make their way through these tastes. The mouthfeel that results is light and soft.

An aftertaste forms with these sensations, sopped from this mouthfeel light honey and soft florals are detected. Minutes later the aftertaste evolves into more cereal, doughy tastes.

The qi of this tea makes ones body feel light and free, the limbs feel like clouds, the head a floating balloon. Ones mind sharpens then gives in to the peace.

Drinking tea, taking in with it the land, nature, the people. So with them, one drinks their tea in solidarity.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Section 20. About Tea Cups

"For tea cups, snow white is considered the best; pale celadon is next best because it does not harm the color of the tea."

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, March 14, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing the Right Water for Tea- Part 5- Storing Water

Traditionally, spring water collected for tea always maintained a connection with the earth it was drawn from. The longer this connection with the earth is maintained, the more fresh the final tea. In the past, long, narrow, cylindrical earthenware containers were used to collect water from natural sources. These containers very much resemble antique milk cans in shape with small fluted openings on top and two eyelets on each side for which rope was strung to ease the sometimes long journey home with a heavy load of fresh water. These vessels were primarily unglazed or with just the outside glazed with full exposure of the clay to the water collected inside. This allowed for complete interaction between water and earth. This whole process brought the tea drinker closer to the earth, the water, and the nature world.

After making the trip home with this water, it was immediately emptied from its collecting jar and into a ceramic storage jar. To this day these collecting vessels are still used in Korea, sometimes if just to transport tap water to storage containers. Either way, the important connection between earth and tea is reestablished. The result is better tea.

The storage vessels they used were often glazed inside and out but were still quite breathable. Breathability is important when you are storing water. The water must be able to breathe else it will not maintain its vibrancy, and will be no good for tea. This is especially true if the water will sit for a long time. If it cannot breathe, the water will suffocate, its qi will be depleted. Water in nature breathes, and so it should in storage. Long ago they covered the opening of water storage containers with silk to maintain this connection with nature while keeping debris, dust, and sunlight from spoiling the water nurtured inside.

As water sits it becomes stagnant and its qi slowly scatters. So it is very important that the water you use for tea is either stored for a short while or stored properly. If stored properly the connection with the earth (the clay of the storage vessel) and nature (the breathability) will ensure that not only the qi of the water is maintained but that it is enhanced. This is due to the minerals in the clay of the vessel influencing the water. The older and more used the water storage vessel, the better the end results. Essentially the storage container pulls away any off tastes and odours in the water and imparts it with the elements of the clay- lightening and softening the water. Remember that clay is of the element Earth and that Earth has a moderating effect on that which it influences.

The most dramatic results are that of tap water- which is really stripped of its essence but is then nurtured back to health. It could be quite economical to simply use tap water and store it for tea in these storage jars. One teamaster in Korea did just that. The difference is astounding. Of course he used many other ways of influencing the qi of the water which will be discussed in the following parts of this series.

Because water is always interacting with the storage vessel, the raw material of the vessel is important in the maturation of the water. Glass vessels are rather neutral and don't enhance the character of the water inside. However, they also don't negatively impact the water. With that said, if water sits in a glass storage container for long enough, its qi will gradually deplete.

Nowadays almost all water containers are made of some sort of plastic. The materials for plastic will leach into the water, negatively impacting the final product. The idea of storing water is to maintain its connection with the earth and with nature. Plastics leach a range of very unnatural chemicals into water thereby degrading its qi.

The large blue 20 gallon refillable water cooler jugs are classified as #7 plastic containers. Some of these containers have been found to leach Bisphenol A into the water. Bisphenol A (BPA) is currently banned in all children's baby bottles in Canada and the EU and is increasingly being scrutinized by the government in other containers. These containers are inappropriate for storing water.

If you purchase mineral water in one of those clear plastic bottles, it may be BPA free but it will still interact with the plastics of the bottle. Checking the date the water was bottled will not only limit the exposure to the plastic but will also ensure that your water is fresh. Of course there is also the environmental consideration of the disposal of these plastic bottles.

If you do use the large blue 20 gallon jugs ensure that the water in them is fresh and consider using a old ceramic crock to dispense the water in them. This will at the very least start into motion the renaturing of the water, establishing its connection to the earth once more.

The best material for the storage container is of course, clay. Ideally the best clay would be that closest to the source of the water. This would ensure that the water's connection with the earth is maintained. If an earthenware water jar is from the same location as the water its effect is increased. If that water is used to brew local tea, its effect is once again compounded. However, most times the earth is simply not appropriate for making these vessels. If earthenware water jar is made of materials closest to where you live it also has benefits, because it will bring the imported water closer to harmony with that of the drinker- this should also be considered. If the vessel is older it will have a vibrant qi of its own, and will not only nurture the water faster but will do so more effectively.

Finally, the technique for drawing water from these water storage containers should be considered. How you draw the water will subtly impact the qi of the water. You should use gentle and graceful motions to draw the water from the storage vessel. This not only imparts the qualities of reverence for the water but also helps quite the mind for the tea session. Also it will not stir up the sediment which will settle at the bottom.

Water is usually skimmed from the top of the container. This water has had the most interaction with air and nature and because it floats on top it is imparted with the softest, lightest qi, the most yang. This water harmonizes best with lighter teas. If you wish to get a heavier water you should scoop deeper into the water storage jar, but not too deep as to stir up the sediment at the bottom. This heavier water will harmonize with the heavier teas. The tool you use to scoop the water should be bamboo such as a Japanese hishaku or a gourd such as a Korean pyo choo bak. These scoops ensure the connection with water is maintained, bamboo and gourds are also light in nature which harmonize with the water they scoop from the container. A wood scoop is also acceptable, metal should be avoided.

Most 20 gallon jugs drian (have a spout) from the bottom. To combat this place the kettle lower as to create a large stream, this adds movement and gives the water some lightness and vibrancy before boiling. Likewise, if water from the tap is used run the taps for a minute to encourage the elimination of stagnant flat water before filling up the kettle. This will ensure that the water at least has some vibrancy to it.

Most people don't consider the storage of water and how breathability and stagnancy impact the water used for tea. The breadth and quantity of the information above strikes at the importance of this often overlooked issue when preparing tea.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Victoria Tea Festival: Tula Teas

On a recommendation by Pedro of Dao Tea, one visited Libby of Tula Teas at this years Victoria Tea Festival. This exhibitor was actually here at the 2010 Victoria Tea Festival but one had overlooked them thinking that they sold herbal teas exclusively. As it turns out Libby, the owner of this few years old local company, has a passion for oolong. She even visited Taiwan this year to personally source some tea.

This year everyone was talking about her oolong. The fun-loving Libby was creating a lot of stir about an oolong she sells that is grown and produced in a very unconventional place, New Zealand.

Like most people, one was surprised at the quality and picked up a bag of each for fun.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Section 19. On Tea Utensils

"Sangzhu the Sage (a pseudonym for Lu Yu) used a silver cauldron for making tea. Finding that too luxurious, he later used a ceramic cauldron. Since this however was not durable, he finally reverted to using a silver cauldron."

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, March 10, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing the Right Water for Tea- Part 4- Seasonal Influences

When attempting to harmonize water with tea we should also consider the impact of seasonal trends (astrology) on the water we select. If we are getting the water from a natural source we should be cognizant of the season we retrieve the water. Modern conveniences have lead people to become out of touch with the rhythm of the seasons and how it energetically effects us and the world we interact with. Afterall, if we need water we just turn on the tap.

If water is to be retrieved for tea it should be done in the spring. The water that comes from the mountain spring or from the rain during this season is thought to be lighter and more abundant in qi. The water is abundant in qi because this same spring water nurtures the new spring growth, including that of tea. The water is thought to be light because the spring season imparts rising energy into it. This water harmonizes the best for tea because tea is green, contains rising energy, and is in the form of a leaf- it is tied to the element Wood. It is the same water that nurtures the budding tea leaf and so is energetically connected to it. This has been the recent topic of conversation of Section 17. Well Water Is Not Appropriate For Tea.

As Toki of The Mandarin's Tea commented in the past, painstaking efforts were taken to collect the dew from the leaves of willows and lotus during Pre-Ming to harmonize with Pre-Ming Long Jing green tea in Hangzhou. This water was seen to be the softest, it is light enough to float atop the leaves in the morning, and it is the same dew that nourishes the spring Long Jing buds. Traditional Chinese theories thought that dew was the result of the abundant pure yin energy of the moon dispersing over the night. This is why the energy of this dew was deemed the best water to harmonize with their tea.

This consideration is of course for a light bodied tea that will be consumed in the Spring/ Summer. Light water from a high mountain spring also would have similar qualities. The season that you are actually preparing the tea has a different optimal water. In the Winter when the bodies yang energy descends deeply a more heavy, more yin, heavier type water is appropriate that may not necessary come from the higher altitude mountain springs. This is especially true if you are also harmonizing your tea, a darker tea, with the season.

One wanted to note here that the water with the most yin characteristics is not the best water for tea even though water is the truest manifestation of yin in the nature world. Water that is collected in winter, is heavy, dark (black, dark blue), stagnant, has no mineral content, and is collected deep within the earth would be the most yin manifestation of Water, the truest form of water.

This water is not suitable for tea for two reasons. Firstly, It is an extreme manifestation of yin (yin within yin, or over exuberant yin). It has no balance, a therefore cannot harmonize with nature. This water has departed from being open to harmony to perhaps a state of being pathological in nature because it has a tendency to overwhelm. On the other hand water that has some yang characteristics is more balanced, more in harmony with that which it interacts in nature. Qualities such as lightness, softness, rising, and active (yang qualities) give water balance. It can be referred to as Yang within Yin. Water is yin but within it is yang.

Secondly, water that shares these yang qualites is much more in harmony with tea. All tea is a leaf picked in spring, is light, has rising nature, and is green so water with some yang qualities quite naturely harmonize well with all tea which is generally yang in nature. Water is said to be the mother of Wood. All tea is said to be energetically attached to the element Wood. If the mother cannot be flexable to the needs of its son/daughter then how can it nuture its growth?


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing The Right Water For Tea- Part 3- The Source of Water

The source of water (feng shui) is an important consideration when selecting water for tea. The source of water dictates its content because content reflects its source. Remember that water isn't man made, all water comes from nature, carrying with it natures signal. Therefore the source of water can tell us a lot about the content, properties, and qi of that water.

Water can either come from a natural or artificial source. Depending on where the water comes from certain things have to be considered. If the water comes from an artificial source you will want to consider how it is treated, how it is delivered to your house, and if it is filtered. Once water is treated its essence changes. If treated with chlorine it is imparted with an odour and taste. This water is not suitable for tea. Conversely, if the water is treated with ozone the essence of the tea isn't degraded. Tap water is water that is active because of its movement through pipes to your kitchen. The movement is good and stirs and activates the qi of the water but most cases this is overshadowed by taste and smell and the removal of important minerals from the water. Many people filter the tap water before they use it for tea. The problem with this is that other important things besides taste and smell are also removed from the water.

Water from natural sources have not been degraded or stripped of its qi and therefore is optimal for tea. What natural source we chose can be a difficult decision. We should first consider the waters proximity to where we live. Ideally the water should either harmonize with the tea or harmonize with the drinker. It will harmonize with the tea if the water is from the same geographical location as the tea. It will harmonize with the drinker if the water is from the same geographical location as the drinker. Unless you are living close to the actual area where your tea is grown, economically it makes no sense to acquire water from this source. It makes much more sense to acquire water from a local source. The closer the source is to where you live the closer it will harmonize with you. This also can be very practical as the closer the source the cheaper and less time consuming it will be to acquire.

The source of the water is an indication of the qi of water. This has been the topic of recent discussion of Section 16. Grades of Spring Water and Section 17. Well Water Is Not Appropriate For Tea of the translated tea notes of Zhang Yuan. One will reprint ones notes below:

"Water from a mountain-peak spring is pure and light" - The higher up or higher the mountain the spring is found the more yang or energy is contained in this water. It is though to be very active (yang) water because it has come from a source so low to a place so high. It is thought of as pure because it is closer to heaven, also because it has not been contaminated by anything by flowing downstream. It is considered light because it has the ability to climb, or float up to such great heights, also maybe water that comes from the high mountain is less likely to be as hard. This type of water has strong pure yang energy.

"water from a spring at the foot of a hill is pure but heavy"- It is still pure because it came from the mountain, a symbol of purity, and divinity. Also as stated above it has not been contaminated by anything flowing down stream. It is considered heavy because it doesn't have the ability to climb, it is weighed down and flows from the mountain at a low altitude, also maybe water that comes from the foot of the mountain is more likely to contain more mineral deposits and salts (it is heavier). This type of water has strong pure yin energy.

"water emerging amidst the rocks is pure and sweet"- It is pure because spring water from rocks is closest to its source, it is sweet because rocks are considered the truest Earth. Earth's taste is sweet. This type of water is more yang in nature, but it most in harmony with Earth.

"water emerging from sand is pure and cold"- It still remains pure because sand acts as a filter, also because sand sinks to the bottom and doesn't contaminate the water which is drawn from the top. The water is considered cold because sand sinks and is small and course it is therefore considered to be yin in nature. This type of water is more yin in nature.

"water emerging from soil is bland and plain"- It is bland and plain because soil leaches out the waters minerals. It also has the potentiality to be impure. This type of water contains no essence.

"water flowing from yellow rocks is good"- Yellow is the colour of Earth. Yellow rocks indicate water that is most in harmony with Earth.

"water draining from dark rocks cannot be used"- Dark (Black, or even deep blue) is the considered the most yin colour. Dark colour rocks indicate that water contains too much yin energy and not enough yang and therefore will not be active enough to bring out the essence of the tea.

"flowing water is better than still water"- Flowing water is active, yang, while still water is inactive, resting, yin. Active yang type water is best to bring out the essence of tea. Still water has not the energy to do so as effectively.

"water emerging from a shady place is better than a sunny place" - Shady places are more yin, sunny places are more yang. Sun causes the water to accumulate algae, therefore water should never be exposed to light.

"Mountain water is superior, river water is less good, and well water is the worst" - Mountain springs have more potential energy, and yang, as they are located high above. Streams have less potential energy, but still flow pretty strongly, and have a current. Well water contains the least qi, vitality, or yang as it contains no potential energy, is still, and lies low. Well water contains the most yin energy.

"if no river water is nearby and no mountain with a spring of water, one should use only water stored from the plum (monsoon) rains of that spring season since its flavor is sweet and harmonious; it is the water that makes everything grow" - if you are going to use rain water, the rainwater that harmonizes the closest to the energetics of tea is spring rainfall that occurs just as the first blossoms of spring are emerging(or the first tea buds). This water is thought to have abundant qi because it nourishes the abundant spring growth. From a astrological perspective, it shares the same energy of the tea that is also fed by these same rains as they sprout from the tree in early spring.

"Water from melted snow is clear but feels heavy and dark." - the qi of water from pure melted snow (collected in the winter) is "heavy and dark". This is due to this water harmonizing with the energy of winter which is the most yin time of year. It has the least daylight hours, so is dark. The water is considered heavy because it comes from the snow which is dense and heavy and cold in nature.

Overall these passages speak to tea in general but are more specific to green tea or other light teas. If you are trying to harmonize the water to a heavier, darker tea. Water from a spring at the foot the mountain or from an artesian well is also appropriate. If you are trying to harmonize the water to a medium, neutralizing, or regulating tea, water from the middle of the mountain is also appropriate.

It is also very important to consider the environmental cost of the water you use for tea. If the source is far away and you must ship the water long distances the environmental impact is enormous. This completely contradicts the reason we chose that water in the first place, harmony.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Section 18. On Storing Water

"The jar for storing water must be put in a shady room, it should be covered by silk gauze, so that it absorbs the essence of the stars and dew then its divine quality will not be lost, its spirit will always remain."

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.