Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2010 Yunnan Sourcing Bang Ma

This is yet another fine sample gifted by Hobbes in his rather large care package that arrived a few weeks ago. It comes from a trip Scott of Yunnan Sourcing took to the remote village of Bang Ma in Mengku county. The autumn cakes are said to have come from a mix of wild and semi-wild trees. Shall we see what these leaves deliver?

The dry leaves are nice and sweet smelling tobacco florals. The smell dances about in the nose, there is even a sweet-spicy finish to them.

The first infusion pours a pale yellow. Very juicy and sweet berries rush to the taste buds then vanish under slight vanilla into a very thin somewhat sticky mouthfeel. The taste returns in the aftertaste as high notes of berries and florals. The qi is felt immediately dispersing in the upper chest, lightening the heart, one's head feels light and a fuzzy warmth coats the arms, head, and chest.

The second infusion welcomes a sweet very-berry banana floral taste now dispersing into a faint sweet leathery taste. The mouthfeel creeps into the mid throat gripping it softly as it coats the whole mouth- making itself known. The aftertaste has a slight coolness to it, it also has a grainy, chalky, spelt-wood taste that somewhat grounds the sweet notes that are also faintly present in the aftertaste. A slight rubbery taste is left in the mouth. Qi is pretty strong pushing on the stomach slightly.

In the third infusion the sweet initial berry taste has lost some of its sweetness, its banana tastes, and its juiciness. It finishes as sweet soft leathery wood. The aftertaste has bland notes in its base. The qi is quite nice, coating the body in a very soft calm. Mouthfeel remains satisfying.

The fouth and fifth infusions share similar tastes. They both start with sweet berry which has a certain clarity here before falling into leathery tastes. Soon the flavour fades to a rubbery, woody, chalky taste. The aftertaste is a chalky almost bland rubbery, berry, woody taste which is on the whole sweet and fills the last part of the flavour profile nicely.

The sixth infusion shows not that much change from the previous few. This time it has more of a sandy grainy taste and feel. A light, bland, woody taste also fills in the base flavour over which the high notes arc.

The seventh infusion is interesting as creamy, almost tobacco, leathery notes present in the initial taste. These tastes now seem more prominent than the higher notes that once dominated the initial flavour burst. These flavours fade to dry wood with faint underpinnings of fruit. The mouthfeel now is barely in the throat.

The following infusions don't change much at all but are enough to enjoy for a good twelve infusions or so with lighter berry notes still making brief appearances in a fairly leathery wood base. The fairly broad mouthfeel holds out enough for this tea to be enjoyed.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 7

"Who knows the full abundance of tea's true color and fragrance?
Once contaminated, it looses its true quality"

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.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 9- Water Additives- Silver Beads, Mineral Salts, Rocks, & Bamboo Charcoal

You rarely hear talk of people these days using water additives to help harmonize water and tea. However hundreds of years ago it was recommended by the Saint of Tea, Lu Yu, in his famous Book of Tea. Although a bit artificial, it works quite good. The major downside is that it disconnects us a bit from nature and the natural energies of the source. On the other hand, it is probably the most economical and environmentally friendly way to impact the water used for tea. Besides this, it also much greener than having water shipped, either from the edge of town, or worse, across the ocean. In that way the effective use of additives gives back to nature.

The most important benefit of using additives is that it gives the person preparing tea added control over the water. A good teamaster will tweak or change the quantity or type of water additive depending on the type of tea they are preparing and the source of the water they use- often having more than one additive at their disposal at one time. Now, this is truly harmonizing! This added control inevitably leads to a closer relationship with the water used for tea.

Below is a discussion of four different additives that one has come across- silver beads, rocks, salts, and bamboo charcoal.

One encountered a teamaster in Korea that was quite fond of using sliver beads to augment the properties of water. He placed them in his glass kettle and used tap water which was stored in traditional water containers. Although he used the silver beads to improve tap water, likely the use of silver beads could improve any water as the essence of silver is absorbed into the water. In this way these beads act like a less powerful silver tetsubin because the glass kettle is basically just a neutral container. As mentioned in Part 6 of this series, silver is strengthening, sweetening, and purifying and is especially effective at harmonizing with light teas such as green oolong, white, and green teas. This teamaster used these silver beads in preparing water primarily for Korean green tea and matcha and the result was quite noticeable.

Perhaps the most talked about additive is the use of mineral salts. This is the additive that was championed by Lu Yu insisting that a pinch of salt should be added to the tea water at boil. It is also the topic of a recent discussion and experimentation by modern day tea guru, Lew Perin, on NYC notorious tap water. There are primarily four types of mineral salts that are usually added to tea- sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals all impact the tea in different ways but the ways in which they are combined and the ratios of each create room for seemingly unlimited experimentation. In a traditional sense, salty taste is considered the most yin of all taste (which itself is a yin quality). Salt is said to be the most yin because salts induce salivation- following the concentration gradient a space that is highly salty will attract water (water is yin). It will also improve taste (taste is yin) as well as add softness and depth. Therefore salts directly strengthen the energetic quality of water.

It goes without saying that too much salt has a negative effect and will suppress the energy of water- experimenting to find the right amount with the right type of tea is needed. Water with extremely low proportions of these salts will benefit the tea no mater what type of tea will be used. Most tap water falls into this category of too little salts and minerals. However, if the water that you are adding already has lots of minerals in it, adding more may lead to an overwhelming of the water's essence and will result in bad tasting tea.

One has encountered rocks that rest in a glass kettle a number of times. They are most frequently seen throughout mainland China although Yumcha and Michel from the Tea Gallery in NYC also prefer this additive. Of course you can't just throw in any type of rock you find on the street- usually rocks containing a high mineral concentration are used from locations that are deemed as auspicious such as certain mountains. These rocks impart the qualities of nature, similar qualities that say a ceramic kettle or even mineral salts would. Traditionally, rocks are of the Earth element and therefore act to control the properties of water. They can be used to improve most tap water which usually lacks essence and depth. Water that has been boiled with rocks is best for darker heavier teas and can overwhelm lighter teas if the rocks are too potent.

One has also seen the use of bamboo charcoal to improve the quality of water. Stephane of Tea Masters finds this additive quite effective. Bamboo charcoal encompasses various elements. First, bamboo is of the Wood Element. It passes through the Fire Element as it is charred. Fire returns to earth as ash connecting it with the Earth Element. It shares qualities of all these elements. Charred substances are by nature ultra absorbent, bamboo is thought to be even more absorbent because it has an affinity for water (wood absorbs water), it is extremely dry and absorbs water like a sponge. In this way it is very effective at filtering the tastes and smells of water. Charred substances are truly substances of the element Earth so they are quite naturally harmonizing/ regulating in nature. So bamboo charcoal has some regulating effect- adding good, somewhat softening & sweetening, and removing bad, off tastes and smells. Primarily it removes bad because of its absorptive nature. Charred substances are black and therefore harmonize best with the most yin elements such as water. This additive can be added to the water storage container or directly to the kettle. Its use is more pronounced with tap water and its effect is noticed less with spring water, even taking away some of its essence.


Here are the links to the first 8 Parts of this series on harmonizing water and tea, just in case you missed them. There will be two more sections to come in the near future:

Double Peace

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appreciation & Wear of Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey & White Style: The Water Cooling Bowl

Water first enters the field of the tea table and is poured into the water cooling bowl (Kor: Na Num Sa Bal) from the hot water kettle (Kor: Soo Joo). As it enters the table it does so slowly and mindfully. The water flows from the spout of the hot water kettle like the water trickling down a mountain stream. When it hits the bottom of the water cooling bowl the sound reverberates into a calm mind- quieting the minds of all those present. The goal is to achieve a sound that mirrors a trickle of a mountain spring.

This Kim Kyoung Soo water cooling bowl produces a wonderful sound. As the water meets the hollows of this bowl the sound that springs fourth is amplified by the bowls lip which traverses the rim of the bowl. Kim Kyoung Soo's water cooling bowls opt for a distinctive shape which does wonders for achieving a deep, relaxing, natural sound. The shape of the cooling bowl's lip also allows you to gracefully and carefully pour out the hot water that rests inside without burning the fingers- a technique that takes a bit of practice.

The inside of this lip is pure white in colour, a stark contrast to the grey that covers the outside of the bowl and the patina that covers the once pure white inside of the serving pot that sits on the opposite side of the teapot. This pure white is maintained because only water and never tea enters the water cooling bowl. However the water cooling bowl nevertheless develops a patina. It is a patina of mineral salt that fills the cracked glaze- a reminder of its close relationship with water. Like a winter's frost covering the mountain, so too does the minerals of water cover the fine cracks of the cooling bowl. In this way, imparting it with not only a cooling function, but also a cooling look and feel.
This frosty white patina goes through a breathtaking metamorphosis every time water first comes in contact with it. The once frosty cracks turn light grey as the water first fills the dry bowl. Slowly the grey cracks disappear to white, blending with the rest of the inside.

The white mineral patina can also be found on the spout where water is poured from the cooling bowl. The contrast with the grey glaze is stunning as white sneaks over into grey. The outside of the cooling pot has the pictograph of the wind through the clouds facing the person preparing the tea and a pictograph of the moon facing the person receiving the tea. In this way water maintains its natural balance here.

The use of the water cooling bowl teaches us patience- nothing we can do but wait can cool the water as it rests in this bowl. In fact when this bowl is turned upside down its shape resembles that of a snail- this is no coincidence. The raw unglazed clay is also exposed here, grounding the bowl at its base.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Feminine Or Masculine- A Tasting of 2005 Changtai Bulang "Mr. Old Chen's Tea"

This tea that was cleverly named after the head of Changtai Factory in an attempt to market the brand as a high end puerh factory to Hong Kong during the beginnings of the puerh tea craze. There are a number of dealers still selling this cake for a very reasonable price so one can't help but think that their attempt failed.

One received this rather generous sample from Hobbes of The Half Dipper. There was a rather amusing discussion that took place in the comments section his post on this very tea a few months back. The conversation was between Nicolas of Le The et le Chemin on whether this Bulang was unusually feminine in nature, at least for Bulang puerh. Could it be? A soft feminine version of the rather masculine Bulang?

Let's boil the water, open the sample bag and find out...

The dry leaves emit mild florals and a very light sweet scent. They are very multicoloured with many still covered in hairs if you look a little closer.

The first infusion is prepared and yields a buttery creamy taste with slight florals and soft pine wood that stands out over a very watery bland base flavour. The inial tastes compliment the mild sweet tastes, a very mild sugary sweetness, which returns in the mouth. The aftertaste is of simple dry pine and faint mushroom with a watery-sugary simple base to support it.

The second infusion is prepared much like the first but comes out a bit different. This time a straw-tobacco sweetness is up front in a watery bland base that makes the mouth salivate as flavours of sweet fruits and florals dance in the aroma but don't really materialize in the mouth until late in the aftertaste. Here they are ghostly but long and enjoyable and share space with a deeper, but even more elusive, pine and mushroom base. Menthol notes sometimes share room with in the initial tobacco taste especially as the tea cools slightly. The mouthfeel is full and somewhat tight on the lips and mouth but juicy and smooth in the throat.

The third opens with a flowery, spicy, watery sweetness which retains the light spicy notes as a simple light sugary sweetness returns. The aftertaste contains the high notes of light fruits and florals for a decent time in the mouth- very light but flavourful... feminine. The mouthfeel shows its breadth here stimulating the full mouth and throat in a thin, pasty dry coating that seems just right with such light notes trapped here. The qi is very weak, light, listening to the body and mind and then moving freely throughout. It is sofly energizing and can be most felt in the midbody neutral or very slightly warming things there.

The fourth opens much like the third, light sweet and spicy notes, but this infusion develops into more of a juicy wood base. Very light florals and fruits return but carry a gummy sweetness. The aftertaste further exploits these cheery lingering flavours. The qi moves more into the chest making one feel a touch lofty. It also gives the head a floating into the clouds feeling.

The fifth and sixth infusions open spicy, sweet, and a touch zesty. They turn somewhat tangy before dropping to light florals and fruits in a watery base. A hardly noticeable light hay-wood base supports the inital tastes then it drops off for the lighter notes in the end of the flavour profile. There is an off bland note in the mix moderating the flavour. A simple pine wood taste is most noticeable. The mouthfeel remains whole.

The seventh presents a simple front of spicy wood turning into a light dry wood base. The high notes which added depth and uniqueness have all gone. Some sweetness returns to stay in the aftertaste.

The following infusions hold the line here. Sandy woody notes dominate with ghostly hints of flowers and fruits in the far distance. The aftertaste still attempts to woo with lighter notes just underneath the mouthfeel but not quite coming into fruition.

And so one drinks a few more pots like this enjoying the simple pine wood flavours and decent mouthfeel.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey & White Pots and Cups: Part 3- Pictographs, Characters, Symbolism, and Feng Shui

You will notice that standing out from the mundane grey colour is that of a white symbol placed on the side of each piece. Each of Kim Kyoung Soo's grey and white pieces has either a symbol or traditional Chinese character. These symbols have deep meaning. In fact the symbols on Kim Kyoung Soo's grey and white pieces are not really just symbols, they are actually the very first forms of Chinese pictograph writing known as Oracle Bone Script (see here for pictures of the below characters)- the most simple and natural form of writing in Asia. As a result these ancient pictographs reminds us of tea's long history while also encouraging us to prepare and enjoy tea in a simple and natural way- the Korean Way.

The moon is seen as a half circle with a line inside. The moon is a strong symbol of yin energy. Cups are the teawear that is the most yin, as a result all of Kim Kyoung Soo's grey and white cups have a moon pictograph or character on them. This is also why cups are always placed on the left of the person infusing the tea- left is also yin in nature. And so things stay in harmony with nature.

The sun is seen as a full circle with a dot inside. The sun is a strong symbol of yang energy. Many of Kim Kyoung Soo's white and grey teapots have a sun pictograph or character on them. It is in the tea pot where the energy of yin and yang- the Dao of tea coalesce. As a result the opposite side of Kim Kyoung Soo's grey and white pots have a moon pictograph or character on them. The side of the teapot with the sun on it always faces the person preparing the tea- they are the doer, the maker, the facilitator, and as a result, are more yang. The side of the teapot with the moon on it always faces the guest- they are the receivers of tea, and as a result, are more yin. The teapot rests in the middle of the table where yin and yang energy is balanced. And so things stay in harmony with nature.

A pictograph of wind through the clouds is also found on Kim Kyoung Soo's pots and tea caddies. Wind is yang in nature and is a symbol of action, a yang quality. The wind pictograph is found opposite the moon pictograph thereby acting to balance yin and yang. And so things stay in harmony with nature.

The grey and white tea caddies also have yin and yang symbols on them- one on the lid and the other on the jar. They have either a sun and moon or wind and moon pictograph or character on them. Balance is to be achieved when tea is stored. If stored improperly it will either aquire an imbalance of yin energy or yang energy thereby degrading the tea. The tea caddy rests in the middle of the tea table, above the teapot, where yin and yang energy is balanced. And so things stay in harmony with nature.

The grey and white serving pots and cool water bowls also have both yin and yang pictographs or characters on them. The cool water bowl sits to the right of the teapot and the person making tea, a yang position and the serving pot sits to the left of the teapot and the person making tea, a yin position. They too act to balance the energy of the tea contained inside. And so things stay in harmony with nature. And so when all pieces are in harmony with nature, they are in harmony with the person preparing tea, and the guest drinking tea- this is the Way of Korean Tea.

It should also be noted here that these symbols are more than just symbols but they represent the true energetic influences of the traditional Korean potter, living on the mountain, firing their pottery under the sun, moon, clouds and winds of the mountain sky. The potter therefore imparts this energy into their work. When preparing tea with Kim Kyoung Soo's white and grey teawear we are reminded of this and encouraged to embrace the harmony of the potter, the harmony of nature, the harmony of the Dao.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 6

"Although the great Tang dynasty enjoyed every kind of delicate food, the only plant recorded in the Qinyuan Garden was Purple Beauty."

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, June 15, 2011

Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey & White Pots and Cups: Part 2- Form

The form of Kim Kyoung Soo's grey & white pots and cups is simple. If you glanced quickly at these pieces the form would perhaps not grab you. If anything, the bland colours would catch your eye and the shape would simply escape attention.

The pots all pour nicely- there are probably pots that pour smoother.
The cups have a fluted edge that sends the tea into the mouth nicely- there are probably cups that bring out more flavour.
The tea caddies have lids that cover the caddy sufficiently- there are caddies that have lids that probably fit better.

These pieces are modest in their form and function imparting modesty to those who prepare tea with them. The form has a certain simplicity to it that doesn't stand out. Because it doesn't stand out, it stands out.

It is no wonder that ones grey and white Kim Kyoung Soo teapot is perhaps the only Korean piece that has not yet received a comment here on this blog despite making frequent appearances.

In the spirit of the historical Korean mountain potter, these pots are made quick and without much thought. The form is a manifestation of this natural simplicity that takes place when man is working within the rhythms of nature, carefree and simple.

The end product is a reflection of this potters mind- simple and humble.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey & White Pots and Cups: Part 1- Colour

Grey is the colour of all colours combined. Neither yin nor yang, black nor white, it embodies the Middle Way. A mind dwelling in "nowhere', mind entrenched in Zen, a mind unpretentious in nature. It is a colour that does not flatter. A colour derived from ashes, that which we will all return to in the end. As a result, it is the colour of the robes of Korea Zen monks- embodying this spirit of nothing. Kim Kyoung Soo's grey and white teawear also embodies this spirit.

White, by its nature it submits to heaven- it is the purest of all. It brings us clarity of mind, of thought, of being. In ChaShinJeon it states that snow white is considered the best to appreciate the full depth that tea has to offer. And so Kim Kyoung Soo's grey cups are often glazed inside with the purity of such a colour.

The combination of grey on the outside and white on the in teaches us that we should remain humble with our interactions in this world while striving for purity within. This lesson is sitting as a reminder on our tea table. Full of tea, we take it in deeply.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Korean Tea Classics Book Club- Dong Cha Song- Hymn In Praise of Korean Tea- 5

"A remarkable tale tells how Emperor Wen was cured of a headache by it."

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, June 11, 2011

2005 Yichanghao "Zhengpin"

In the mail yesterday came a large box of puerh samples care of Hobbes of the famed Half-Dipper. Basically, it is what was leftover from every sample he has tried over the past 3 months or so. If anyone follows The Half Dipper they know that Hobbes samples a lot of tea- expect lots of puerh reiviews over the next few months or so.

The first one that stuck out was this sheng puerh from the Changtai factory, a tea reviewed just days ago by Hobbes. This sample is a puerh that Daniel of The Chinese Tea Shop had sent him but yet a tea that one has not yet tried. So lets open up the sample bag and see what its all about...

The dry, dusty, shoelace looking leaves of mainly brown were placed in the warmed teapot and rinsed. The first infusion yields a rich creamy sweet start carrying a malted creamy finish. In the taste under the creaminess is a layer of sour wood and even cooling eucalyptus finish in the mouth. The aftertaste is woodsy and fairly dense with a touch of sweetness. The mouthfeel is quite satisfying with the mouth and tongue tingling just slightly from having the mouth's saliva retreat into the throat.

The second infusion starts off with a greenish wood start leaning into a woody, sour, almost lime-like flavour in a woody forested base. The aftertaste is crisper than the first infusion with freshly sawed lumber tastes floating above rich wood notes. Even after just two pots the qi of this tea is strongly euphoric and relaxing. Listening to the birds chirp outside, life couldn't be better.

The third infusion presents with sandy grainy sweet, slightly metallic, wood- there are light vanilla notes in there as well. All these tastes turn into malty, grainy, sweet wood. The mouthfeel is very satisfying stimulating even the middle throat slightly. The aftertaste is somewhat creamy malty wood that both shows some sharpness and richness. The chaqi is relaxing on the mind and lightens the body. It nudges at the stomach just slightly.

The fourth infusion reveals a sweet, tight wood start. Its mainly malty wood body stretches throughout the flavour profile and where it is quite obvious. The finish of crisp wood, a touch of spice among pine, is welcomed.

The fifth infusion shares a mild, a bit creamy, malty, newly sawed wood initial taste. There is a grassy raw throatiness to things here. It finishes as simple crisp wood in the mouth. The mouthfeel is somewhat drier now.

The sixth and seventh show a juicy sweet wood taste with movement to something deeper before resorting back to simple sweet wood in the mouth. The feel in the mouth remains solid.

In an attempt to shake the last few infusions of solid but simple tastes, this tea submits to a handful of hours long infusions which reveal vibrant berry and plum flavours intermixing with pine. There is still depth in the mouthfeel of this tea during these infusions.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The State of The 2011 Korean Tea Harvest

This year was another tough one for Korean tea. It was marred by a colder than seasonal Winter and Spring with frost impacting most of the harvest in Hadong (and even Boseong), pushing back the harvest. The result was the destruction and damage of much of the early spring growth resulting in extremely low yields, somewhere around 50% lower than last year! The result has been higher prices for tea that is already relatively expensive.

Pedro of Dao Tea claims that the price of leaves bought directly from the farmers in Hadong are approximately 200% higher this year than 2009. Fortunately, not all of these price increases have been passed down to the consumer in Korea although there are slight increases on the shelf price. Those who are trying to bring Korean tea to the Western market will be hit the hardest paying the brunt of the difference as Korean tea farmers are demanding more dollar for less tea and see bulk sales as the way to recoup their loss. It makes sense considering that the demand is still relatively high but there is simply less tea to be had.

As far as the quality of the 2011 harvest, most say that it was unaffected. Korean tea farmers take pride in their harvests and are ensuring that the quality remains high. HoGo (aka Tea Off) was recently on the ground in Hadong sourcing some original Korean ceramics (see here for some of the pieces that he has brought back for sale). He felt that the ujeon harvest was not as nice as previous years, he is definitely not alone in his criticism.

This years Korean tea has not yet arrived on the door step so we'll have to wait and see.

Watch for updates to the List of English Online Korean Tea Vendors in the months to come.