Monday, May 30, 2011

A Wonderful Article on The Buddhist Way of Tea In Korea

Please give this wonderful article by Martine Batchelor (here) a read. Bev of Listening To Leaves pointed it out in the comments here on MattCha's Blog (thanks again Bev).

It offers brilliantly translated quotes of the most prolific modern Buddhist tea masters in Korea including one's most influential that passed away last year- Beop Jeong Seunim. It covers everything from how tea first got to Korea to detailed explanations of the Korean tea ceremony. The article specifically looks in detail at the Buddhist Way of Tea in Korea.

A must read for any tea lover!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 3

"Heaven, immortals, humans, ghosts, all esteem it highly, for they know that by nature it is true and admirable."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

2010 Jagasilk Crane Flies Above the Clouds Matcha

This 10g can was a very generous gift from Jared and Miyuki owners and operators of local flavour Jagasilk. Their web page describes this tea as "the highest grade we have ever cupped at JagaSilk". Like other matcha they sell (see here, here, and here) it also came from a freshly ground monthly batch on April 20th of last month. It is another cloudy spring day, this decadent matcha is sure to fly one past these grey clouds.

The water is taken off boil, the can is opened, the bag snipped open. The odour that catches ones nose is of high very sugary sweet notes with a generic ripe fruit, almost floral, smell. These light odours present amid a deeper nutty base.

The tea is prepared in ceremony and is taken that way in three sips. As the fluffy-light froth slides over the tongue, a sweet raw sugar cane and predominantly nutty taste captures the mouth. The taste of creamy almond milk embraces taste buds. The sweet start cannot quite turn over slightly floral and fruity notes that seem intuitively, if not very faintly, there- lingering in such sweetness.

The creamy sweet almond milk taste slowly grows in depth in the mouth becoming thicker as the flavour develops on the tongue. A thick, sweet, almond taste is left in the mouth for quite some time afterwards. One is left feeling happy and in a state of moderately relaxed concentration. Worries slip away- its a sunny day in ones soul.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 2

"The flowers are white and pure as the powdery skin of the immortal who lives on Mount Guye. The flower stamens fragrantly blend the sandalwood and river-gold of Jambudvipa."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

1980s Wang Zi Loose Leaf Sheng

This tea was briefly discussed in the comment section of the post on a 1997 7542 from Essence of Tea here on MattCha's Blog. So is it "old and simple" or "flat, without personality", or something of the contrary? Surely this tea, as any, deserves a bit better than these blanket statements, so lets have a look...

As the kettle kicks steam into the air one takes time to appreciate the dry leaf. They are straggly, very stemy, leaves that emit prune odours with a woody backdrop. They carry a faint dusty smell of old leaves.

The first infusion is prepared. Dirty-earthy, malty, muted prune-chocolate tastes are upfront with a sweetness that disappears. The earthy tastes are left to dry the throat. The mouthfeel is a bit sharp and gripping with a certain roughness in the throat and mouth. The aftertaste carries notes of hazelnut and wood, slowing vanishing into dryness until just faint whisperings are left on the breath. From the first pot the chaqi starts warming the face.

The second starts with much the same flavours but drops off fast leaving dry earthy wood in the mouth. The mouthfeel is a touch sharp and dry. When too many leaves are added you can even find it scratching slightly at the back of the throat. The face and head are filled with warmth and flush under such influence. The qi is sensed on the sides of the face and head- especially in the temples.

The third infusion barely sweet wood notes that have just very fleeting coco notes not nearly as present as in the preceding infusions. The taste evolves into a slightly sour fresher wood taste before turning dry. The more leaf is used, the drier the finish with less leaves resulting in quite a comfortable dryness. The mouthfeel is thin, dry, and travels deep into the throat. The chaqi warms the whole body but is especially apparent in the head.

One prepared a session a while ago which developed an even harsh or overwhelming qi sensation in the head where a fuzzy sensation on the forehead and tightness behind the eyes developed. Sometimes the mouthfeel was on the verge of being too rough. These negative qualities lead one to simply remove some of the leaves from the pot which resovled such problems. These leaves were reintroduced later in the session. One thing is for certain- these leaves pack a punch as far as chaqi goes.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth infusions are all pretty much the same with a light, sweet, wood start sometimes even with flashes of coco. These tastes evolve into a sour woody taste before turning quickly into dry wood. The aftertaste is short and dry faint wood which is still somewhat sharp but much less harsh. The qi sensation is of strong warmth even pushing one into a sweat as the whole body ignites in warmth. The sixth infusion starts to show signs of a lovely spiciness in the initial flavour as well as in the aftertaste but is on the whole very uncomplicated in the mouth.
These spicy wood initial flavours seem to crest in the seventh infusion. These tastes transition into a plain wood aftertaste here.

In the eighth and ninth infusions the mild sweet wood flavour presents upfront with now just a ghostly spice that disappears before you can catch it. The taste turns to a slightly sour raw wood before quickly fading to dry. There is very little change in this simple comforting tea. As the infusions go on things just weaken and so the leaves submit to an overnight infusion even before the tenth steeping.

The next morning very light flavours emerge such as an earthy-spicy-cherry taste that evolves into dry wood and makes the mouth feel sticky and dry.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2010 Spring Gao Shan Luanze Li Shan Oolong

Spring is here, flowers are blooming, the air is filled with fresh aromatics of spring. Drinking high mountain spring oolong is certainly a wonderful way to harmonize the light, playful turning of spring. One had sampled the 2010 Fall Gao Shan Luanze Li Shan Oolong from Teamasters a few months ago to relieve nasal congestion and vowed to enjoy this 2010 spring sample with a clear head (and sinus). So on a cloudy, rainy, spring day one opens this sample pack and hopes that it will bring some cheer to an otherwise gloomy day. With this Teamaster's offering of hand picked, low ozidized, 2200-2300 m elevation Li Shan oolong- things are certainly looking up!

The dry leaves deliver a grassy scent which turns floral with high sweet notes under a veil of faint roasted tones. It carries a smell of soft supple richness under smooth high tones. One was so mesmerized by this odour that a picture of the dry leaf was completely forgotten! The smell expands as the rolled balls contact preheated yixing and hints at honey florals to come.

The first infusion comes with light soft muted florals. There is a slow moving sweet juicy tangerine taste that stretches into the aftertaste. The mouthfeel is full and soft.

The second infusion has a light creamy start which evolves into a sweet, mellow, almost tangerine, taste. It feels very round in the mouth finishing with a smooth creamy nuanced fruit taste. Florals are left on the breath minutes later amongst a mouthfeel which has definite staying power. The chaqi is evident as a mild light headed euphoria sets in.

The third infusion starts with the same slightly sweet and creamy start. The taste is full and supported by faint deeper fruits that linger just below the surface of this tea. It finishes sweet and juicy with that same full satisfying mouthfeel. From it develops a rich melon fruitiness with faint florals following and wallowing in the mouthfeel.

In the fourth and fifth infusions the mouthfeel is most obvious as it is noticeable as soon as the liquor touches the mouth. Soft smooth flavours, creamy flavours of bananas and flowers finish juicy and with more melon fruit notes. The mouthfeel continues to support and nurture these fresh tastes. There is a very non-acidic orange taste that stays on the mouth for quite some time. One takes some time to fully take in the fresh spring odour the leaves emit from the warmed pot.

In the sixth and seventh infusions the light, smooth, slightly creamy non-specific fruity and floral notes continue to greet you at the start. They are now somewhat diminished but still ride on enjoyable mouthfeel. The initial smoothness develops a tapioca smoothness as tastes of banana, pineapple, and florals occasionally pop into the forefront.

The eighth infusion sees the nice mouthfeel supporting no prominent flavours so the session is brought to a close.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 1

"The thickly-growing leaves struggle with sleet to stay green during the winter, its white flowers blossom splendid in autumn, bathed in frost."

Feel free to join the online book club at anytime by simply purchasing Korean Tea Classics. Dong Cha Song is 17 stanzas in length, we will go through each stanza week by week. Jump in and join the discussion as you please.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 8- Scaling and Other Issues With Kettles and Tetsubins

It is known that leaving scale to develop inside your kettle/ tetsubin will improve the taste of the water and the tea steeped with this water. Nowadays scale gets such a bad rep but long ago teamasters prized the scaling on their tea implements deeming its formation as necessary to ensure the harmony between water and tea. The white precipitate adhering to the inner walls of the kettle was likely an indication of the qi of the water interacting with the qi of the boiling vessel. Essentially it reveals the connections between Heaven and Earth. The colour white is considered the colour containing the most heavenly qi. A white substance that appeared in their kettle after use was therefore considered a good and maybe even auspicious sign.

It is true that such scaling doesn't occur overnight. Just as it takes years to cure a tea pot, it also takes years to develop a nice layer of scale on a kettle. Hobbes from The Half Dipper has been documenting the scaling of his iron tetsubin here, here, and here. This is another reason why scale is prized in kettles just like a nice patina on a tea pot is also valued.

It was mentioned in Part 6 of this series that the boiling of water is one of only two instances in the preparation of tea where three of the Five Elements converge. From this perspective the emergence of scale is caused when the interaction of Fire and Water takes place within Earth or Metal. The Fire Element is thought to strengthen Earth as the water boils for tea. The minerals in the water are Earth and when under the intense heat of the fire they are thought to be strengthened and form scale. Conversely, the Water element is thought to control Earth. When water that was boiled begins to cool the minerals of the water are isolated and are left behind in the kettle/ tetsubin.

Scientifically, these two methods of scaling can also be defined. When scaling occurs due to water that is heated, it is due to the minerals in the solution having retrograde solubility. When scaling occurs due to water cooling, it is due to minerals in the water that have normal solubility. The mineralization or heaviness of the water plays a role in the scaling of a boiling device.

The chemical make up and porousness of the materials of the boiling vessel also influences the amount and type of scaling that will occur. The chemical make up of the vessel impacting scale development is referred to as chemical reaction scaling and occurs often as metals act as catalysts in the reaction to form scale. The porousness of the boiling vessel also plays an important role in the formation of scale. A more porous vessel such as ceramic would allow the formed precipitate something to anchor itself to where as a very smooth material such as glass would simply allow the formed precipitate to exit the boiling vessel into the tea pot.

Heat plays an very important role in the chemical reactions that take place. The qualities of the heat source such as the intensity, evenness, and speed of the boil therefore affect the development of scale.

The formation of scale is due to an interaction between the heat source, the mineral content of the water, and material and properties of the boiling vessel which is containing the solution. This is true for both modern scientific and traditional theoretical points of view.

Either way what develops is scale. Scale is thought of as a manifestation of the Earth Element. Earth is harmonizing and regulating in nature and therefore imparts certain regulating properties to the water. Essentially it removes the harsher edges of the water and augments the softer qualities. It is true that an increase in metallic impurities such as sulphur as well as valued trace elements increase scale development. Therefore a chemical buffer is created which moderates and harmonizes the properties and chemical make up of the water (see Hojo's commentary on water).

The white colour of the scale connects the tea maker (Man) to Heaven and Earth. It also is an indication of the general strength of the reaction between Elements and an indication of the qi of the water. Scientifically, the presence of oxygen also impacts the development of scale. Historically, many parallels between Oxygen and Qi have been drawn. The oxygenation of water speaks to the source, how fresh and vibrant it is, as well as how it was stored and poured, therefore all of these factors will impact scale development.

The topic of using the kettle or tetsubin to store water should be mentioned here as well. Most metal kettles/ tetsubins such as those made of silver and iron should never be used to hold water unless it is to be immediately boiled. If water is left in these kettles they will tarnish and rust and the metallic taste will leach into the water. However for kettles and tetsubins made of earth or glass this is not the case.

Although glass won't impart negative qualities into the water, because it is transparent any light will degrade the water. Leaving water in a glass kettle is not really recommended. Some tea masters claim that leaving water in a ceramic kettle overnight before boil will reinforce the harmony between the boiling vessel and the water and lead to a better tasting tea especially for those teas that harmonize best with ceramic kettles. In many ways water that rests in a ceramic kettle/tetsubin is enhanced the same way that it would if it were stored in a water storage container. Conversely, others feel that freshly poured water into the kettle is somewhat more vibrant than water which has been left stagnant.

Lastly, it may also be worth considering where the material of the kettle/ tetsubin comes from. If the material is from the same area as the water that will boil inside of it and from the same area as the tea that will steep in this water, quite naturally, greater harmony between the tea, water, and kettle/tetsubin will be achieved. The result will be a much more satisfying cup of tea.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

1997 Menghai "7542 Orange Mark"

This sample was sent compliments of Daniel at The Chinese Tea Shop. The dry leaves have a faint sour fruit odour to them as well as a very unnoticeable dry storage smell. When the water is boiled it makes its way over the dry leaf, embracing it, rising it. Then the first infusion is prepared...

It delivers a very soft, buttery, slightly floral upfront taste that is not so sweet. It has a somewhat greeny wood, earth base to its flavour. It slowly turns into a very soft and creamy caramel. The aftertaste has very light, not that full, barely earthy, caramel taste. The mouthfeel is soft like moss in the mouth.

The second infusion comes on with a soft, creamy, earthy mineral taste. There are light undercurrents of caramel with very subtle returning floral plummy sweetness. The aftertaste develops into an earthy almost plummy taste in the mouth. Spots of subtle coolness come up as a cool barely floral menthol on the breath. A throat feel develops as a mossy sensation dwells in the top middle of the throat. The third infusion is very much like the second. The chaqi that develops is mild, tranquil, and calming with just a slight warmth sauntering about through the body.

The fourth infusion presents with that creamy buttery smooth start with a taste that is not that powerful nor sweet. It turns into a mineral, almost coco, taste before adding a lingering caramel sweet note that lingers in the aftertaste. This tea is soft and smooth all the way through from mouthfeel to flavour, smell and qi.

The fifth and sixth infusion show more of its greeny wood base as the initial flavours of mild creamy earth carry almost no sweetness. There is a faint floral plum caramel taste in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel supports the overarching smooth feeling of this tea.

The seventh infusion carries a mineral-earthy-wood initial taste which has lost most of its creamier tones. The taste shuffles to dry wood with an almost unnoticeable coolness to it. The aftertaste turns into a flat dry wood.
In the eighth infusion light green wood tastes are mostly noted. There are back notes of caramel notes that are hardly sensed and trickle into a dry wood taste. There is also touches of mineral and spice that are faint and mostly present as the first tastes are registered.

The infusions that follow contain a very light plummy wood taste that fades away on the breath. The next few infusions share very light flashes of spice and soft smoothness but all fade away quickly to a green woody taste. The mouthfeel here is isolated to the front of the mouth. This tea fades away fast and by the twelfth infusion it is just a memory- these tasting notes and a touch of plummy water.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Call For Participants- An In Depth Study of DongChaSong- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea

DongChaSong is the most famous of classic Korean tea texts because it, for the first time, lays out The Korean Way of Tea. This text is important as it differentiates the Korean Way of Tea from that of China.

This text is beautifully written by Cho Ui (1786-1866), the Korean Saint of Tea. It contains a poem of 17 stanzas as well as Cho Ui's notes on each stanza- this is a very common style of writing especially among Zen monks that came years before Cho Ui. The translations in Korean Tea Classics offer more depth as it contains detailed footnotes that follow each stanza and reply. We will add other layer in our discussions over the next 17 weeks.

Please join us by purchasing Korean Tea Classics and commenting as we go through each section week by week. The first section will be covered next week and there will likely be a month break as one will be off the grid for a period of time this summer.

Those who are interested in more of Cho Ui's background may wish to purchase Ch'Oui Uisun: A Liberal Son Master and an Engaged Artist in Late Choson Korea.