Monday, March 18, 2013

Appreciating Beautiful Packaged Samples & A Sampling of 2012 Spring Lao Ban Zhang from Tea Urchin

A few months back one received a splendid looking little package. It was one of the most beautiful presentations of tea one has received to date, sent no doubt by someone who loves his tea. The little touches, but not overdone, packaging of these samples showed care, consideration, simplicity, modesty, and wabi-sabi. The box that shipped was a reused China Post box (Stephane Erler of Teamasters Blog noted that this is in fact a Chung Hwa box with some China Post stamps and stickers on it). Its simple, sleek design of simple animation of a white bird and green background was contrasted by slightly worn corners, patch marks revealing plain cardboard underneath and old stamps and ink marks from previous shipping. It was something that was so common, yet so unique, and slightly exotic but so simple.

Cutting the box open with a single blade box cutter revealed a simple sheet of bubble wrap folded neatly over the samples. The distorted nature of the bubble wrap built the excitement for what was underneath as you could hardly make out the contents. When the sheet bubble wrap was folded back as if turning a page from a book, it revealed a perfectly stacked column of hand folded opaque wax paper envelopes. Each envelope was simply labeled with small printing in black ink on the bottom edge. The nature of the packaging ensured that each envelop could only be viewed as the envelop on top was removed. This resulted in an experience like flipping through the pages of a book, not knowing what would happen next, or in this case what samples would come up next.

So who sent such a beautiful and mindful presentation of samples? No other than Eric of discipleofthetealeaf blog!

The first tea that one will review from these samples is a 2011 Lao Ban Zhang. Only one tong of these cakes were pressed by Eugene of Tea Urchin- the story how this cake was sourced is available here.

The misty opaque of the packaging seems to match the day outside- foggy and overcast. One is in need of a boost this morning and this tea might just do perfectly.

The dry leaves smell of sweet piercing sweetness with a continuous soft pungent trail. A faint, muggy depth is found in the trailing pungent odour.

The first pot is prepared and soft, light, creamy-sweet initial taste carries a slight pungent forest edge. There is a meaty salmon finish that turns into a pure-sweet-light-plum honey sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and slightly viscous in the mouth, in the throat it is most active. A strong coolness develops in the mid-throat. The tea and muddled forest pungency expands the chest, bringing the breath deeper.

The second pot has a soft creamy slight bitter initial taste which turns creamy and very smooth. It develops into a candy sweetness as it stretches over the profile. There are slight creamy-sweet florals that float on the breath especially in the throat. The throat cools and softy swells and expands.

The third infusion is sweet with slight sour-wood-oak tastes underneath which helps add depth to the profile of this tea. The sweet notes emerge from these flavours and stretch into the aftertaste. The sweet tastes are at first bland-sweet then turn into a creamy sweet then they move back to a bland sweet. The tongue now feels like soft, slightly sticky, sand has covered it. The throat feel is deep and expansive. The qi now pushes gently down on the abdomen it has a soft relaxing effect on the mind.

The fourth infusion gives us light, plumy sweetness with oaky-edged muddled forest tastes giving it depth. A very light pungent note appears then disappears under creamy-sweet notes. It still carries a nice cool throat feel.

One then is abruptly distracted from the tea session from a phone call. Feeling activated from the tea and heeding direction from the phone conversation, one was forced to leave the house. Upon returning not even an hour later the session with this tea resumes. Immediately it is obvious that many pots have been made in the hour but no guests can currently be found in the house. So one continues to steep this tea...

The following infusion is way too watery and light- maybe a good four pots of tea must have been made in that hour.

So the tea is put under longer infusions and gives off sweet, blandish woody edges of oak and forests starting to eclipse those light edges. There is a woody-candy-like finish of sweet plum. A cool sensation in the throat still holds. The infusion after this has much the same profile.

A few more pots are made and a cool, slightly menthol muted sweetness is muddled with barely floral-foresty water. A woody aftertaste is left in the mouth.

This tea is put to a few more infusions leaving watery, very light, sweet tastes with undertones of dry-oaky-wood. There is a very faint taste of lingering sweet banana-candy taste under the wood profile.

Although this tea session was seriously disrupted, the tea session was quite nice.

Thanks Eric

Eric's (discipleofthetealeaf) Tasting Notes


Friday, March 15, 2013

2012 Jeong Jae Yeun Wild Jiri Mountain Hwang Cha (Korean Yellow Tea)‏

This tea was kindly gifted by Arthur Park of Morning Crane Tea in a recent order. Arthur is famous for giving Dong Cheon a firm presence in North America. This year he has vowed to bring in some smaller artisan productions from the Jiri Mountain growing region. This is the first of such productions and is currently for sale through his blog site.

Arthur claims that this Jeong Jae Yeun hwang cha is true wild Jiri Mountain balhyocha. It produced before Buddha's Birthday is a favorite of Korean potter and friend Park Jong Il. It certainly sounds promising. Let us boil the water and see what these wild leaves have in store for us...

Appreciating the dry leaves reveals light airy fruity notes that are immediately released as the bag of tea is cut open. The black coloured, fig and fruit smelling dry leaves are long and straggly. The give off a stereotypical bready smell that often accompanies balhyocha.

The first pot is prepared and gives off very light, juicy, almost floral notes that fade under juicy-peachy notes. Faint juicy-wood notes shore up the aftertaste over more juicy fruit tastes. The mouthfeel is soft, simple, the middle of the tongue is slightly dry. The back and front of the mouth salivate. Qi is gentle warming and gives the body a nice warm glow of warmth.

The second pot is prepared and very juicy, smooth, soft spicy slightly fruity simple taste spreads throughout the mouth. The mouthfeel is very smooth and juicy. The aftertaste contains suggestions of bready notes. The taste of this tea is very pure and clean. The qi is very nice soothing and warm.

The third infusion is a little more spicy in the initial taste. It forms one of the interestingly simple spicy-peachy-persimmon tastes. The taste is carried on a soft, slightly chalky, nicely juicy mouthfeel. One feels the relaxing influence of this tea. A subtle woody-bready taste is left lingering on the breath.

The fourth infusion is very smooth now with a rich taste with flavours similar to the last infusion. There are juicy-fruity notes left on the roof of the mouth. It is slightly dry on the roof as well.

In the fifth and sixth infusion a mellow fruit taste predominant with light-juicy-woody notes underneath. There is a slight spicy, but even slightly cool, menthol edge that disappears in the profile- very nice. The mouthfeel is light and full with dry and juicy patches making things interesting in the mouth. The upper throat has a lightness to it now.

The seventh infusion shows mild signs of fatigue as the main flavour is now faintly fruity with more woody-bread notes base holding up the light flavours. The mouthfeel remains soft and full.

The eighth infusion is treated with hotter water and longer steeping time and pushes out woody, juicy tastes. The cooling woody-menthol-like finish in the mouth is enjoyed. The mouthfeel remains light and full.

The ninth infusion is put to an overnight steeping. In the morning a thick, syrupy  fruity wood tastes with slight tangy maple syrup finsih is left in the cup.

After drinking this tea, one is looking forward to what Aurthr Park is offering in 2013.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Another Sam Do Style Tea Bowl By Korean Master Chon Han Bong

Chon Han Bong (Cheon Han Bong) is one of Korea's best potters. Especially magnificent are his Sam Do Style teabowls. One had the opportunity to drink many bowls of matcha (Kor: malcha) from his Sam Do bowls and the experience is always memorable. It was an unexpected treat when Greg Demmons brought one of Chon Han Bong's Sam Do Style bowls over to drink matcha from. After our tea meeting he left this bowl behind for me to inspect with a closer eye...

The eyes are drawn to the streaky, thin, gye yal (brush mark) which skirts across the outside wall of the bowl. The eyes see what the fingers feel- senses are in harmony as one holds the bowl in cupped hands. The gye yal offers the fingers soft bumpy ridges with which the fingers embrace. The sharp gye yal fades invisibly into the upper and lower side wall, its border is ambiguous and hard to define leaving the mind in an expansive state. The side wall of the bowl above and below the gye yal are only defined by the subtle sensation below ones fingers. Near the rim it feels of soft grainy sand under the glaze. Near the foot it feels of slightly courser grainy sand under the glaze. The colour of the outer sidewall also dramatically changes as the bowl is rotated counterclockwise in ones hands. One side is pink-reddish and slowly the more greyish-blue side is revealed as the bowl is rotated. These colours offer a wonderful contrast, warmth and cold, sunrise and sunset, yin and yang.

At the bottom of this bowl is a simple "haes moo ri" style foot that is characteristic of Chon Han Bong's Sam Do teabowls. The simple style and execution of the unpretentious and smooth cut foot is exactly opposite what is found on the rest of this bowl. This technique of a simple foot is done for a few different reasons. Firstly, it allows for the focus of the bowl to be elsewhere. Secondly, it offers an element of contrast. Thirdly, it reminds us of the unpretentious and simple life.

Conversely three marks of beautifully imperfect beauty grace the outside wall of this bowl. Two blotchy fingerprints are found near the foot and connect us with the potter. These fingerprints give the bowl a feeling of being in the present while connecting us with the past. These marks on the bowl are just as unique as the fingerprints themselves. These prints break and muddle the continuity of the gye yal of the side wall. Like a monk breaking though his koan it jolts us into a relationship of what this bowl is. There is a beautiful patch of thicker white glaze on the edge of the foot and another smaller slightly thicker greyish white blob on the sidewall near the foot. These blobs of glaze give the bowl more life, more uniqueness, more strength. If you look closely you will also see a faint gye yal fade into the rim of the bowl. It certainly encourages you to look inside...

When gazing inside the bowl your focus is immediately drawn to the characteristic Sam Do Style stamped flowers in the shallow of the tea bowl. These flowers are especially interesting and contain three elements which make them especially beautiful. First, the flowers seem to be haphazardly scattered and often overlap. This element conjures the image of the potter acting in a carefree fashion, and gives the bowl a free feeling. The flowers also fade in and out and do not always offer a complete imprint. This feature also has the same effect as above. The flowers are also covered by the five stack marking that occur in the wood kiln- also a very free feeling effect that brings into touch with the potter.

Other interesting aspects of this exceptional bowl include the seemingly random blotches of ghostly white. These both offer contrast while bridging and harmonizing the colours of the patterns and marking and the base colour.

The small divots that encircle just above the flower stamps act to give the bowl movement. More importantly they influence the whisking action of the matcha creating micro turbulence and in the end a better bowl of tea.

If you look close enough at the characteristic Sam Do style white diagonal white dashes you can even see mico cracks in the glaze. Also of note is how the double lined upper border of the inner sidewall fades from two lines into one. It does so so harmoniously and so subtly that an untrained eye would easy miss it, lost in the complex patterning of the Sam Do Style.

This bowl is an overall beautiful visual and tackle experience...

Did I mention that it makes good tea.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Korean Tea Get-together In Canada

This is what it looks like when two serious drinkers of Korean tea get together and drink Korean tea for a few hours. It starts to look a lot like a Korean tea shop!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2012 Jinggu Yue Guang Bai (Silver Needles)

This tea is produced in Jinggu, Yunnan by the Zhang family and is sold by Pedro's O5tea. O5tea also sells White Moonlight and Yunnan Golden Curls from the same tea farm, produced by the same family. This sample was gifted by Pedro months ago. Jess from Une Cachette Pour La Coeur asked for a post on this tea, so with the last of the sample, here we go...

On a cool cloudy winter day one quietly prepares this tea. The dry leaves are fairly hairy and smell of soft frosty sweetness with honey-pungent and distant floral notes.

The first infusion comes out very faint, icy, and tasting of light frosting. There is very slight suggestions of malt and orange peel in the background. The mouthfeel is soft and slightly fuzzy especially on the middle tongue. Minutes later a faint cantaloupe melon and apricot taste is left on the breathe.

The second infusion offers up a soft, frosty icing sugar initial taste that pops pure sweetness on the tongue, making the back of the mouth salivate just slightly. The pure icing sugar taste is very soft and long.

The third infusion is much the same as the second but now the mouthfeel is much more expansive- coating the mouth and throat. The qi cools the body slightly and brings an almost unnoticed carefree calm.

The fourth infusion has more soft, malty-oxidized notes barely peeking out, otherwise it is much the same profile. The fifth infusion gives us very light, sweet, and now, slighly oxidized tastes.

The sixth and seventh infusions are light and offer up a slightly sugary taste there is even a light spicy note that appears now as well. The mouthfeel is more viscus here in the later infusions.

Link to Jess' (Une Cachette Pour La Coeur) post on this tea.