Monday, November 28, 2011

Appreciation & Wear of Kim Kyoung Soo's Grey and White Style: The Serving Pot

Hot water gets passed from the cooling bowl to the teapot, from the teapot to the serving pot, then from the serving pot to the cups. After the serving pot is preheated and the tea steeped, the serving pot is the first to receive the gift of infused tea from the teapot. It is the first to receive and the first to give. It reminds us that the tea ceremony is about giving and receiving- about host serving guest.

The serving pot contains the same yin and yang motifs as the cooling bowl and tea pot. Its most noticeable feature is its shape and form.The shape and form of this grey and white Kim Kyoung Soo serving pot reflects both its practical and energetic function.

Warm infused tea passes from the spout of the teapot and through the relatively narrow collar of the serving pot. This opening at the top of the serving pot is a bit smaller than the opening of the cooling pot. The smaller opening is to retain the heat and the qi of the infused tea. The serving pot also has a more distinct bulbous interior than the more open interior of the cooling pot. This more bulbous shape acts to amplify the sound of the pour and give it more of a beautiful echoing reverberation- a feeling of closeness, of being grounded and held, a feeling of safety. More importantly this deeper bulbous shape acts to contain the warmth and qi (taste and smell) of the tea inside. It also reminds us that host should always retain warmth and feeling in every tea meeting.

There is beautiful contrast from the wear of this Kim Kyoung Soo serving pot. The inside of the pot was once as white and pure as the cooling bowl. Now only the crackled top collared rim shows evidence of what was. The choice to leave it covered in tea oil obscuring its pure white inside is simply to not remove qi that has accumulated from all the green tea that has passed through this vessel manifesting as this brown, terracotta coloured layer. Some feel that the presentation of purity to the guest is more important than accumulation of qi- you will see both in Korea.

The most stunning feature of this interior is no doubt the contrasting white flecks on the interior's bottom. These were made by a guest who doubted that there would be white under the thick coat of tea oils. They scraped their finger nail on the bottom of this serving pot, only when the white ceramic was exposed did they believe that such drastic change had taken place. These exposed white flecks remind one to experience that which is beyond the senses when enjoying tea poured from this serving pot.

The form of this pot looks as if it is reaching, stretching from handle to spout a little bit. This represents the relationship between the person preparing tea and their guests. On one end, the maker of the tea has his hand around the looped handle. This looped handle is almost identical to that of the teapot. It too contains ghostly faint, cloud-like globs of glaze.

On the other end is a long reaching spout. It is a bit longer than that of the teapot. It truly gives the impression of stretching from host to guest- of reaching out, of touching with warmth, with tea.

The tea oiled insides interconnect with the oil stains that descend down the exterior of the pot. They reaching down the long spout connecting almost flawlessly to the exposed clay of the pot's base. What is inside is out and what is out is inside. The green tea within connecting with Earth, with the host, with the guest.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011 Ssang Kye Jungjak Semi Wild Hadong Green Tea

Although this tea was brought in directly from Korea, it also is available from North American retailer Shan Shui Teas. Shan Shui Teas brings in some Sang Kye (Ssanggyae) and Goryeo (Koryeo) green tea in the original packaging, for a reasonable markup.

Sang Kye, like other Korean tea producers, also specializes in a variety of wild crafted herbal teas as well. Korean's tea history has a strong relationship with herbal teas. During the Choson (Joseon) Dynasty the popularity of herbal teas surpassed that of green tea, this was in part to Choson's Confucian government distancing themselves from the Buddhist practice of drinking green tea. Even in traditional Korean tea shops today, most people actually still order more herb teas than green tea.

Today we will be having a closer look at Sang Kye's jungjak grade green tea a later picking than the previously posted saejak grade.

After shedding the dense layers of packaging, the dry leaves reveal a greyish-silver green leaves which smell of wheaty-grains and dry wood. They carry a very faint foresty base and vary in size from small to large dry leaves.

The first infusion is prepared on this cool autumn day and delivers dry bark woody light grain initial taste. It turns to a deep forested base then returns with just a bit of tangy berry sweetness that was not afforded in the initial taste. The aftertaste is left in the mouth is a touch grainy and woody with a faint traveling chalky, tangy, berry sweetness. The mouthfeel offers a full chalky coating in the mouth, tongue, and throat in a painting of slight dryness.

The second infusion presents a bit different with more of a deep dry wood and subtle anise-licorice start which is long and stretches into a dry wood and almost (but not quite) sweet forest base. There is still that tangy berry sweetness that turns up in the aftertaste along with dry woody-forest tastes.

The third presents very similar as the second infusion, with the sweeter more subtler notes being more suppressed by dry robust, woody forest notes. The initial taste has strawberry tastes mixed with the soft anise-licorice. These subtle tastes linger for minutes under the dominant dry wood aftertaste among the dry-sticky mouthfeel.

The fourth infusion starts off with dry, almost metallic, wood bark tastes that are in some ways almost floral. This taste is stretched through the taste profile. The subtle nuances that were found in the first infusions are nowhere to be found only to reappear minutes later very faintly in the aftertaste. This aftertaste is primarily dominated by foresty tastes.

The qi of this tea is uplifting absent in the mid and lower body and somewhat more active in the upper body.

The fifth has less of that metallic-wood inital taste but is otherwise much the same as the fouth infusion. It seems to present creamier forest notes than the forest notes presented before. This very slight creamy taste makes the transition to the aftertaste much more smooth in the mouth.

In the sixth infusion more subtle anise sweetness is squeezed out under a bit longer infusions. Overall this tea offers profoundly dry-wood base taste with subtleties that float underneath which make the rather plain taste somewhat interesting.

The seventh and eighth infusions are about as far as this tea goes. Here the woody, dry, and sometimes cereal taste doesn't have much left but a thick dry mouthfeel and maybe a quick glimpse of anise.

As the leaves fall outside
Under cool autumn winds
One enjoys this pot of tea.


Double Peace

Monday, November 14, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 13- More Of My Personal Experience With Water...

Please see my previous post here before continuing to read...

I am not really a big fan of water additives. I have experimented with bamboo charcoal both in an induction kettle and in a clay tang gwan (kettle) as well as in a water storage container before the water is boiled (see article and comments here for my opinion on these things). I have also experimented with silver beads in a friend's kettle, but still have not played around with salts yet. If you have good water to start with there is little need for such things- if it isn't broken, then don't fix it.

When I arrived on Vancouver Island I was surprised that there are actually not that may local options for local water. With a bit of research I found three local companies- B.C. Artesian Springs Water, Mt Doug Springs, and Salt Spring Water Co.

Mt Doug Springs comes from Mout Douglas within the city limits. It was the closest source of natural water but was very, very light- too light for the tea I drink.

Salt Spring Water Co. is from Salt Spring Island, an island between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. They offer a very light soft round water that would be great for lighter teas such as green teas, matcha, and lighter oolong. They also offer water in glass 18.9 L jugs as opposed to plastic. The problem is that they don't ship off Salt Spring Island. I have considered traveling there to get water in the Spring and early Summer to harmonize their lighter, softer water with the lighter seasonal teas I drink at that time, but Summer came and went and I never made the trip.

The water I have used since coming to Victoria has been B.C. Artesian Springs Water. This water is gathered naturally from an artesian well on the edge of a provincial park outside the city. The qi of this water is both somewhat heavy but vibrant. It was once laying deep in the earth but springs forth in activity as it is violently forced out from its dormancy- nature's emotive force. This is the nature of artesian water.

The side of the 18.9 L blue water jug states the following:

Ca 38.20 Parts Per Million (PPM)
Mg 6.06 PPM
Si 10.90 PPM
Na 8.95 PPM
Mineral Salts 165 PPM
Fluoride 0.12 PPM

This water has moderate mineralization and heaviness and has a full mouthfeel. As a result it harmonizes nicely with most teas and is especially nice for moderate to heavier teas, the majority of the tea I tend to drink most of the year.

The guys at B.C. Artesian Springs Water are very nice and appreciate my enjoyment of their water. They drop off fresh water in blue plastic 18.9 L jugs weekly. They insist it comes from the ground just days before. After using the water for a while I found out that a local tea shop located a short walk away called Special Teas also use the same water to prepare the teas in their shop.

I have a ceramic crock which is used to dispense this water. I considered bringing some ceramic water storage containers back from Korea but they are quite expensive, cost lots to ship due to their large size, and the risk of breakage was too high in my mind. However, I do store water in a Kim Kyoung Soo ceramic ceremonial kettle called a "su ju" (pictured above right). I use this as both a collecting jar and a storage container.

Generally I place the su ju quite low and dispense the water from the ceramic crock so as to induce some activity in the water. Water rests in the lidless su ju overnight near the window where it not only absorbs the essence of the night sky but also is softened by the interaction with the ceramic and the open air. I also store water in my ceramic Kim Jeong Hoon tang gwan (pictured above left) overnight as well. I generally fill it no more than half full so it can reach a relatively quicker boil on the hot plate the next morning. Leaving water in the ceramic tang gwan (kettle) also softens it ever so slightly.

When boiling water is removed from the tang gwan with a pyo choo bak I usually use a medium to high pour from the su ju to replenish the water in the kettle. This is done to oxygenate the water and make it a bit softer and more vibrant which is beneficial for the moderately heavy water I use. Of course, all of these pourings of water will be slightly adjusted as the type of tea that one is brewing will always be considered.

This is how one harmonizes water with tea.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 12- My Personal Experience With Water

Early in this series on water Bev of Listening to Leaves asked about my personal experiences and journey with water. I had promised her to address it in a post, the last of this series on harmonizing water and tea. As I began typing I realized that the post was quite long and will therefore be separated into two sections that will be posted within days of each other...

In Korea the bottled mineral water called "Sam Da Soo" is considered the standard for tasting tea. It is a very light rain water that is naturally filtered through the natural volcanic soil on Jeju Island. This water is very soft yet still has a subtle soft mouthfeel. It is great for harmonizing with very subtle green teas, the tea I was consuming the most at that time. I used this water for years before switching to a local source that was bottled in those 18.9 L blue jugs from a mountain spring near my residence (they can be seen here in an early post on water and tea). This local water was moderately heavier and had a broader mineralization.

The reason for the change was threefold. First I was uneasy with the amount of waste that I was creating as I went through many 2L bottles of Sam Da Soo weekly. Secondly, I hoped to consume water from a more local source that would be much fresher and vibrant than the bottled water from Jeju Island and would also harmonize best with the local climate. Thirdly, I started drinking more deeper, darker, heavier teas that harmonized better with heavier more mineralized waters.

The heat source I use to boil the water is taken from the teamasters I had learned from in Korea. The most serious city dwelling tea masters generally have at least two sources of heat. The first is induction heat. It is quick and brings water to a vigorous and rapid boil without depleting its essence. The second is infrared charcoal heat or electric heat from a braizier. The third is often a glass kettle or stainless steel kettle that is heated on a gas range stove.

In Korea, life is fast and often people drop by with little notice. A quick boil is often required so that guests are not waiting hours for a cup of tea. So in many instances in real life induction heat creates more harmony among guests and is a good option. My experience with induction heat is that it retains much of the vibrancy of the water because it brings water to a very quick boil and then automatically turns off as to not deplete the essence of the water. Often other methods boil too slowly or end up over boiling the water which leads to water that lacks vibrancy. Although induction kettles likely deplete or alter some of the natural properties of water, the benefit of the quick boil and auto stop outweighs the loss.

Currently, I don't use an induction kettle since my last one broke earlier this year. All of the induction kettles that I have gone through in Korea and the one I purchased in Canada have been glass kettles with a stainless steel base. The last one I bought in Canada was a Black & Decker JKC660BC 1.8L Glass Kettle- don't think it lasted a year. The glass kettle has the benefit of being able to see the stage of boil which is beneficial when deciding when to remove the kettle from boil.

I decided not to replace the induction kettle for five reasons. First, I am somewhat concerned about the constant exposure to its electromagnetic field. Second, I want to utilize the benefits derived from the use of my ceramic tang gwan (kettle). Third, I hope to slow down the pace of tea drinking so as it is more reflective and meditative, more true to its original form. Fourth, I seem to go through one induction kettle every few years and it is beginning to be wasteful. Fifth, I have a normal, run of the mill, stove top glass kettle that I heat over my gas range which I use if I need a quick boil.

It is pretty much unanimous amoung teamasters that infrared heat generated by natural hardwood charcoal gives birth to the most optimal water for tea. My experience with the use of charcoal heat confirms this classic observation. It generates water that is vibrant and full of Qi, that is deep and penetrating in nature, but is also very soft. I continue to use charcoal heat when time permits or when having guests. Getting the charcoal to Canada has proven expensive and difficult though.

I use an Uh Sang Myung ceramic stove and since its matching tang gwan got destroyed when shipped to Canada it has since been replaced by one by Kim Jeong Hoon. The ceramic tang gwan gives the water properties that I have stated in this article and generally harmonize best with the tea I normally drink and matches the aesthetic of my tea space. Because I drink a variety of different teas, I feel that this is the best option as it benefits both lighter and heavier teas. I have experience with iron tetsubins as well, I feel they are also a great option- especially if you are drinking more heavier teas. I sometimes feel that I could get a little more out of my old puerh tea if I had one of these. My experience with silver is limited as I have only had tea made for me in silver and have not played around with it myself. Stay away from stainless steel as it always carries a bad taste even after years of use.

The type of heat source that I use the most nowadays is from a hot plate. I purchased a Cadco Portable 1500w Electric Single Burner Hd Cast Iron Range (note the warning about using containers constructed of ceramics or glass... hahaha). It is nice because I can either use my glass kettle or my ceramic tang gwan (they haven't exploded yet!!!). It gives off nice heat that creates a natural ambiance which I feel is invaluable to my tea experience. It also adds a touch of metal to the feng shui of my tea space which is otherwise lacking. It takes a bit of time to bring water to a boil- this is both good and bad. It is good because it cultivates patience and a more natural tea experience. However, if not used properly it might exhaust the water a bit.

I have found that to maintain the vibrancy of the water a few simple steps can be followed. First if less water is placed in the kettle it will boil relatively fast and will retain its vibrancy. Then simply add more water to the kettle every time you pour some out. This way the water always remains vibrant. Make sure that you always have water in the kettle if you are using this method else you will damage your kettle. Remove the kettle from the hot plate if you are not using the water to ensure that the water isn't over boiled.

(to be continued...)


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2010 Yunnan Sourcing Nan Nuo Ya Kou

This tea is another Nannuo puerh from Scott at Yunnan Sourcing. He has beautifully captured life in Ya Kuo village on his blog post when he traveled there to secure the raw material for this tea. The story sounds nice, how about the tea?

After opening the sample pack kindly supplied by Hobbes, the smell of rolling rose and wildflower florals and forest-like pungents fill the nose and the mind. The light notes are vibrant, light, and uplifting.

The first infusion pours a bright yellow. The initial taste is clear, vibrant, and creamy with strong hints of returning wildflower sweetness and a touch of cardamon spice. The aftertaste is of somewhat sweet pungent forest. The mouthfeel is soft and round, coating the mouth and upper and mid-throat.

The second and third infusions contain a noticeable pungent base which stretches across the profile with graceful creamy depth as the taste smoothly transitions to sweetness. It finishes somewhat floral, gummy, and sweet- this taste lingers for some time in the mouth. This tea presents a nice balance of deeper, heavier, and pungent gritt balanced with a vibrant, pronounced floral sweetness. The mouthfeel coats the mouth and mid-upper throat- a bit of saliva globs into the lower throat, a nice sensation there. The qi is warming and revitalizing, pushing mild euphoria at times. It is powerfully calm.

The fourth infusion starts with mild spicy, pungent taste that picks up more woody notes and has now lost some of its vibrant floral qualities. The floral taste is strong in its returning, gummy, fresh-greeny-wood-grassy, sweetness. It shows subtle signs of being more grainy with an underlying heaviness and fullness to it. The aftertaste fades to sweet wild floral tastes in the mouth. The flavours of this tea are vibrant and distinguished with enough interesting depth.

The fifth and sixth starts with woody notes pairing with soft florals these tastes slowly fade into the aftertaste and are joined there with pungent tastes. When the floral sweetness dissipates, a woody forest taste is left lingering in the mouth as well as a very light bland taste. A gentle sweet floral taste pushes past this light bland note after it has lingered for just a short bit. There is lots of action in the mouth here.

The seventh infusion sports a soft wood base with a sweet and tangy, soft fruit finish. The mouthfeel gets a touch dry here but remains robust and full.

The eighth and ninth infusions present with a sweet fruity floral taste which becomes bitter and woody. It then slowly reverts to sweet grass and faint floral fruits. The bitter-wood taste becomes more prominent in later infusions but still seems counter balanced by those light, fruity, floral tastes. This balance continues to play out as the tea stretches into a few more satisfying pots.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

2010 Hai Lang Hao "Ba Ma Gong Chun" Nannuo Shan

This is another sample from Hobbes produced under the guidance of Hai Lang. Scott from Yunnan Sourcing offers a description of this tea which explains that its from the Northern area of Nannuo Mountain.

When the dry leaves are examined they offer up a nice fruity, light, smooth mix of furry colours. These leaves exhibit a sour, nose tingling pungent-floral ordour that is quite stimulating.

They submit to a quite rise then a short first infusion which offers very spicy-pungent floral notes presenting first and fading into a pungent and floral sweetness with a certain gummieness appearing. The aftertaste is a continuation of these tastes held together with a soft sticky mouthfeel.

The second infusion offers less spicy florals which slide into a bubble-gum sweet aftertaste. The aftertaste is of this soft, thick, soupy, sticky gummy type. It is most notable on the lips and tongue but coats the whole mouth. The sweet bubble gum floral aftertaste lingers.

The third infusion is much of the same but a very light bitter-bland rubbery taste emerges slightly under nice florals in the finish. The returning sweetness tries unsucessfully breaking through these tastes.

In the fourth infusion this bland aftertaste has wiggled itself into the inital profile as well. It presents as a bland-floral taste, still slightly pungent. The aftertaste is still gummy, fruity and sweet and makes its way on to the breathe. The qi of this tea stagnates in the stomach slightly, it mildly alerts the mind.

The fifth infusion delivers more light spicy-pungent floral sweetness as well as a bitter-bland taste that shares room with fruit and flowers in the aftertaste. This infusion is relatively sweeter than the infusions that came before.

In the sixth and seventh infusions the brackish somewhat grittier bland bitter notes encroach more on the fine florals and lighter tones. The tea now leaves a rubbery bland taste in the mouth along with some lesser noted florals. The qi is on the whole soft and doesn't assert itself over ones mind.

This tea continues in this direction for the following infusions with more of the bland-muddled floral-fruit taste taking over.