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A Cup of Cultural Cringe

The Devotea - Sat, 05/28/2016 - 22:47

There’s a thing in Australia called the Cultural Cringe, and if you’ve not heard about it, it’s kind of a national chip on our shoulder; an inbuilt inferiority complex when compared to selected foreign cultures. It manifests in many ways, from TV programming to architecture to education. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page, so […]

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Kabusecha Green Tea from Momo Cha Fine Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Sat, 05/28/2016 - 10:34
Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green Tea

Where to Buy: Momo Cha Fine Teas

Tea Description:

Kabusecha, the little sister of Gyokuro, is grown half covered for the last week before harvest which intensifies its sweet components and eliminates any bitterness.  ‘Kabusecha‘ literally means ‘covered tea’ and the leaves do resemble Gyokuro’s emerald green. The taste points in the same direction as well so it makes a great everyday tea for Gyokuro lovers. Its numerous health benefits are only one of the reasons to enjoy it.

Brewing guidelines for Kabusecha

amount of tea / water temperature / brewing time

Use 1 teaspoon per cup (100-150 ml)

  • 1st brew:   70°C / 1 min
  • 2nd brew:  70°C / 15 sec
  • 3rd brew:   80°C / 1 min

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Kabusecha Green Tea from Momo Cha Fine Teas is today’s tea you see here!  Upon opening the bag of tea I found there to be very dark green, tightly pressed and flat, green tea leaves.  It smelled incredibly fresh…much like sweet grass and unidentifiable herbs that are on the sweeter and slightly minty side.  Once I added water I saw the leaves morph before my eyes!  The flavor of the Kabusecha Green Tea from Momo Cha Fine Teas after it was infused was just as impressive – if not MORE impressive – than the dry leaf experience.  On the tongue – this tea is wonderfully clean, crisp, fresh, and sturdy.  It’s a delicious green tea offering from Momo Cha.  Kabusecha Green Tea from Momo Cha Fine Teas is one to cherish and share with friends!

 

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Competition trouble

A Tea Addict's Journal - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 17:23

Many of you know that in Taiwan, they have tea competitions. The basic idea is that farmers would submit sample teas (ranging from 5 jin to 20 jin – one jin is 600g, depending on where, what, etc) for the competition. These got started by 1930 or so under Japanese rule. These days, some allow multiple entries while others only allow single entry per member of whatever association is holding that competition. The teas are judged anonymously, and then after multiple rounds of tastings a winner is declared with multiple winners of lower ranks underneath. Some teas are thrown out as not being good enough (and returned to the farmer). The teas that win a certain grade will then be packaged in sealed containers inside sealed boxes with dated labels, and then they would be returned to the farmers to sell.

The whole thing was supposed to encourage farmers to up their game and create better teas, and top winner for the big competitions, like the Lugu Tea Farmers Association one, could fetch prices of over 30,000 NTD (about 1000 USD) per jin in that special packaging. Compared to a normal price or about 3-4,000 NTD a jin for a top grade Dong Ding tea, that’s a big upgrade. For those 20 jin of tea the farmer is making 10x the normal amount. It also helps his sales for other stuff. Farmers who win the top prize can get a big wooden plaque to commemorate the win, and they frequently hang these in their shop to showcase their abilities. Some have so many they just stack them on the side of room because they don’t have enough space to hang all of them.

So this is all great right? Well, not so fast. There are troubles beneath the surface, some of which were topics of conversation between myself and some tea farmers/sellers that I have talked to in the last week I spent here in the middle part of Taiwan. The first is this: what you see is not really what you get. For example, when you see teas coming out of the competition for the Lugu Farmers Association, does it mean that all the tea came from Lugu? No, not at all. Many entries, if not most, use teas from higher elevation as the base for their entry. In fact, if you use local Lugu tea, you’re probably going to lose because the low elevation tea from Lugu simply don’t stand up to the much higher quality teas from higher areas. The thickness of the tea, the aroma, etc, are not up to normal judging standards. In other words, you can’t compete. So, when you end up with, say, Lugu Tea Farmers Association competition tea, know full well that the tea might be Dong Ding style (higher oxidation and roast) the base tea is probably not from the area.

Then you have the silly part – many (though not all) competitions allow multiple entries. So what happens is that a farmer can enter the same tea multiple times. This has a cost – when you submit 21 jin of tea, they only give you back 20 jin + 200 grams. They take a bit of the extra as a bit of profit, plus whatever entry fee they charged. Today someone told me that he entered a competition with ten entries, all with the exact same tea. Why? Because you never know. With just one entry, if you got unlucky and the 3g sample they picked out from your bag isn’t so great for whatever random reason, then you will get kicked out in a flash. If you were unlucky and got lined up (randomly) between two really good entries, then your tea is going to look bad in comparison. For his ten entries, he said three got rejected and the rest, some scored higher and some scored lower. It’s all a crapshoot to a certain extent. The top prize is going to be excellent, the top few levels are going to be pretty good, but there’s still a fair amount of randomness in there.

As a buyer, there’s definitely some value in these competitions – like I said, the quality of the tea that won a high level prize is going to be pretty good. You also need to pay through the roof for that – it’s going to be expensive, more than the normal stuff anyway. At the lower grades (three or two plum blossoms, for the Lugu competition) they are going to be comparably priced to the normal price for these teas. It’s a bit of an assurance, in some ways.

At the same time though, there are problems. First of all, you don’t really know exactly what you’re getting – unless you happen to be with the guy who made the tea, you’re not going to get to sample it. So you’re buying blind, really. There’s also that price premium, which for a normal drinker is really not worth paying – you can usually get good quality tea for less money if you know what you’re doing. Of course, since all oolongs look similar, it’s quite hard to do in practice, especially when it’s through multiple layers of middlemen and repackaging. People buy competition tea partly for this assurance. Partly though, it’s also for gifting – when you gift someone a box of unopened competition tea you’re basically telling them exactly how much you paid for the tea, since the prices are set.

There’s also the even more confusing competition for things like aged oolong. Here it’s really a crapshoot – you don’t even know what style of tea you’re getting. There are so many possible permutations – original roast level, age, area of origin, etc – none of which will be apparent to you (or anyone else, for that matter). It’s one thing to have aged competition tea from the past that are now old, it’s another to have a competition for aged tea. Unless you can sample from the source (that’s what the extra 200g is for) buying aged oolong competition tea is a fool’s errand.

Friday Round Up: May 22nd - May 28th

Tea For Me Please - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 15:55
Matcha Tea Ceremony Utensils
+Georgia SS wrote a great post this week about some of the essential tools for preparing matcha. I really love the look of her chawan.

Podcast 030: Sharp Tea-Ceré
+Ricardo Caicedo interviewed the brand rep for Sharp about their super cool matcha machine. I've got one of these babies on loan for about a month and I'll be sharing it with you all soon.

How to Eat a Scone Properly
+Jee Choe settles the great scone debate once and for all. It's funny, I know scones should be eaten with your hands but it always felt a bit improper given the formalities of afternoon tea. I'm a cream first kind of girl too.

Japanese Dark Tea Tasting
+Heather Porter was lucky enough to do a tasting of fermented Japanese teas with Noli of Sugimoto. This is a little explored category but I've definitely seen an increased interest in it among my tea friends.

White 2 Tea Bulang Maocha 2005 Shou
Fine Tea Leaves is a blog I recently found out about through a Reddit post. I've really enjoyed reading their posts and am looking forward to more in the future.

Supreme Aged Golden Bud Lao Cha Pu Erh from Dragon Tea House

SororiTEA Sisters - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 15:32
Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Shu (ripe) Pu Erh

Where to Buy: Dragon Tea House

Tea Description:

Lao Cha Tou is formed during the fermentation process. The leaves under heat and pressure will clump together at the bottom of the pile and form nuggets. Cha Tou are little tea nuggets that are a wonderful byproduct of the fermentation process of Pu-Erh tea. This tea can be infused over 15 times easily.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

This was a random purchase from a recent order that arrived today. The pictures show a Pu Erh in little nuggets and the difference in fermentation sounded interesting enough to persuade me into a purchase. Aged tea always interests me; as I think of years gone by and what has happened in that space of time and what the tea must have seen. Though this states aged it does not say a year per say but on the back of the packaging label it say’s that it’s from the 90’s.

Opening the packet I am now face to face with small Pu Erh nuggets, they are highly reflective with a lot of golden tips present. A cluster of earthy brown tones in one little nugget. They are compressed quite tightly, similar to a cake. Each nugget is unique in size and shape but they all contain the same level of golden tips.

On sniff-spection I can detect damp wood, earth, smoke and musk tones. Truthfully it’s also perhaps a little fishy but I think that is down to the age of the tea.

I will be using 3 tea pieces (roughly 4-5g) in a 200ml glass gongfu teapot vessel with boiling water. Usually I like to dedicate a lot of time for Pu Erh but I only have a couple of hours before I have to help my parents with something, so for that reason this will be across six steeps.

Rinse time of 10 seconds due to the size of the nuggets.

First Steep – 1 minute 

The nuggets have not broken apart but after the rinse they are soft and giving off more colour. The tea liquid is cloudy red brown with a sweet and earthy scent. Similar to it’s raw scent but much sweeter and thankfully not fishy.

The first few sips reveal a soft and creamy base with delicate wood and earth notes. There is some dryness but not much. As subtle as it is the creamy effect is a wonderful surprise and very easy to drink. The after taste was earthy and dry clay like.

Second Steep – 2 minutes 

The nuggets are still rather firm but they are softening up, I could easily pull them apart if I desired to. The scent is smokier but still rather soft.

Flavour is still soft but stronger than the first steep. The sweetness has toned down but the cream persists through the light wood, earth and smoke elements. The after taste is dry with a wood flavour. Also an element of malt that reminds me of golden tips.

Third Steep – 3 minutes 

The nuggets are now breaking apart slowly but surely.

This steep is still creamy but the musky earth tone is peaking through a little more than the previous steeps. It’s now a more traditional style Pu Erh but it’s aged very nicely.

Towards the end of this steep it had some sourness coming through toward the after taste which lingered with the musk.

Fourth Steep – 4 minutes 

The sweetness has come forward again among the cream, it’s almost honeyed. But the musky earth is still dry and slightly sour in contrast. It still reminds me of golden tip black tea but much more subtle.

Fifth Steep – 5 minutes 

The sourness has softened and again the tea is losing the slight thickness that it began to get around the third steep. The cream is still the main flavour at this point.

Sixth Steep – 6 minutes

This final steep resembles the first, expect there is an edge of bitterness in the after taste at this point. The cream is the only notable flavour that is left.

Conclusion: It’s subtle in strength but the cream and sweet wood notes carry this into an easy to drink Shu. I prefer Sheng usually for the creamy taste but this equals a very creamy Sheng but without the grass and floral notes on the side. Also the smoothness of this worked in it’s favour for me.

Given that this tea boasts it can be steeped over 15 times I think they must mean via gaiwan as it started to lose colour and flavour around the fifth steep.

Next time I may try and add another nugget and see if it changes once it’s slightly stronger, but the colour of the tea was dark enough and I believe it’s just one that needs to be experimented with. Perhaps a gaiwan steep would bring out more flavour, but it could be even softer. I will try and experiment another time.

For now it was a nice aged Shu and I’m glad I tried it. Also I think the steeping method was probably the best thing for my first try given that it’s so mild. If you are new to aged Pu Erh then I recommend this one as a starting point.

The post Supreme Aged Golden Bud Lao Cha Pu Erh from Dragon Tea House appeared first on SororiTea Sisters.

Blast from the Past: Sharing the Strong, Distinctive Taste of Yerba Mate

T Ching - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 12:00

A trip to the Dobra tea house has a way of gathering all the elements of the day and making them a part of the tea-drinking experience.  We drink beverages distractedly throughout our multi-tasking lives all the time, but a tea house makes the beverage central.  The tea bowls placed in the center of the table give one a place to start, a grounding present moment that slowly circles out to include the world beyond the windows.

It was a gray morning, so cold and windy after days of warm sunlight that it made heads ache in the back and tiredness fog the body.  The wind kept shifting the hair and clothing of the people on the street from one direction to the next.  It was, of course, the perfect day to step inside a tea house, because every day is.

This time I tried a Chinese green tea translated as Dragon Eyes.  It was shaped into tiny pearls similar to Jasmine tea.  I chose it because the description mentioned mountain air, a sweet, bright taste, and the ability to uplift a mood.  The first infusion tasted like hot water (which I love drinking when it’s cold, so I did not mind).  The next two were okay, slightly more flavorful, but absolutely nothing in comparison to my friend’s smoky Peruvian yerba mate.  After taking a sip of his while waiting for the Dragon Eyes to steep, there was no way I could really go back.  I loved how the yerba (Spanish for “herb”) sat on top of the water; it was like drinking from a dark green swamp.   The traditionally carved-out gourd (“mate” meaning “cup”) rested nicely between the palms, almost the way a potter might caringly cup clay in the process of creating pottery.  The bombilla fit between the lips perfectly, almost as if one were playing a reed instrument.  The holes in the bottom of this metal straw allow the liquid to come through without any of the floating herb.

It’s quite fitting that “bombilla” translates as “light bulb” in Spanish, as so many are aware of yerba mate’s ability to awaken and sharpen the mind.  The particular blend my friend had chosen had an aftertaste of tobacco and honey.  I remarked that it seemed dangerous because I felt I could easily drink a lot, and while he agreed, he said that the smokiness made him want to savor it slowly.

As we shared the yerba mate (me drinking hot water in between tiny sips), we wondered aloud about the characters on the street and their lives.  When we went back into the gray wind, walking quietly, I said, “What are you thinking about?” and he replied with a very big smile, “Nothing at all, I am just in bliss.”

Share yerba mate with someone special soon, be it on a day with gray walls of clouds or sunlight warming the skin.

This article was originally posted to T Ching in May of 2010.

MAIN | IMAGE 1 | IMAGE 2

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Four Types of Sencha Tea Leaves

Notes on Tea - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 18:01

It has been almost two years since I first drank orthodox, loose leaf Unro and Hosen senchas. You can read my review of these two Ippodo Tea senchas here. At the beginning of the year I reviewed Ippodo's new line of teabags. One of the teas is a sencha. I also have been drinking bagged green teas from Aiya one of which is a matcha infused sencha. I have not formally reviewed the Aiya teas on the blog but I will say that because it is blended with matcha it has a creamier taste than the Ippodo bagged sencha. Today I am sharing photos of the leaves of these four different types of sencha. All four will be shown in their dry state while only the senchas that were packaged in teabags will be shown in their infused states. You can see the infused states of the Ippodo Tea Hosen and Unro senchas here.


Aiya
Sencha infused with matcha: dry leaves, 1.80 grams (top); infused leaves in 175F water for 90s (bottom)


Ippodo Tea
Sencha: dry leaves, 2.14 grams (top); infused leaves in 175F water for 90 seconds (bottom)


Ippodo Tea
Sencha: Unro (top); Hosen (bottom)

Aren't the differences striking? Hosen and Unro are grades of sencha with Hosen being "upper mid-grade". Based on the price of a 100g bag of Unro, it is a significantly lower grade of sencha. The Ippodo teabags are filled with mecha. The Ippodo Tea website defines mecha as tea buds. A Wikipedia entry describes mecha as a tea made from rolled buds and the tips of early leaves. Aiya says that its sencha teabags contain early spring tea combined with "stone-ground" matcha.


Whatever your cup of sencha, enjoy!

Tea Evaluation and Scoring

T Ching - Thu, 05/26/2016 - 12:00

News about a tea competition results awhile back started me considering what a tea competition evaluation and scoring process might be like.  As my mind works it would be interesting to compare some of the methodology and evaluation processes to the very different but vaguely related process of judging teas against personal preference when drinking them for enjoyment.  I didn’t expect a lot of telling overlap to emerge but did eventually get around to researching the subject.

The real thing.

Overview

Obvious enough, but evaluation for a tea competition would involve a few basic steps:

  1.  a consistent brewing methodology for evaluation, under carefully defined and controlled conditions
  1.  a set of review criteria, categories against which the tea would be evaluated (taste, color, body / mouth-feel, etc.)
  1.  a scoring system to enable judging which teas are evaluated as superior (although it seems conceivable that a tiered pass-through process could replace numerical scoring)

Really there would be a lot more to it, related to all sorts of controls of conditions, example integrity controls, methodology to ensure consistent judging related to throwing out some “outlier” results, and so on. I suppose this is a good place to mention that I have absolutely no experience with such a process, which is why researching this subject appealed to me.  The prior categories and functions might benefit from restatement from someone with more experience and training, but that was one goal, to consult and summarize research sources.

I attempted to consult “tea experts” in one place such a request would make sense, in a tea professionals oriented LinkedIn group, but that didn’t get far, so hopefully some gaps get flagged once this is published instead (the Cunningham’s law idea).

The ISO standard

If there is such a thing this must wrap it all up, right?  Not so much.  ISO 3103:1980 does cover how to brew tea consistently for evaluation, though, described as such:

The method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, containing in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water, pouring of the liquor into a white porcelain or earthenware bowl, examination of the organoleptic properties of the infused leaf, and of the liquor with or without milk or both.

It is headed in the right direction, but the Wikipedia excerpt–a sample of partial detail summary, mind you–shows why it just didn’t get there (also noted by the Tea with Gary blog awhile back):

The pot should be white porcelain or glazed earthenware and have a partly serrated edge. It should have a lid that fits loosely inside the pot…

 

If a small pot is used, it should hold a maximum of 150 ml (±4 ml) and must weigh 118 g (±10 g).

 

2 grams of tea (measured to ±2% accuracy) per 100 ml boiling water is placed into the pot.

 

Freshly boiling water is poured into the pot to within 4–6 mm of the brim. Allow 20 seconds for water to cool.

The water should be similar to the drinking water where the tea will be consumed.

 

Brewing time is six minutes….

If the test involves milk, then it is added before pouring the infused tea.

 

Milk added after the pouring of tea is best tasted when the liquid is between 65 – 80 °C.

It’s not as bad as it looks.  One possible way to go is brewing all the teas exactly in the same way and tasting around the broad difference in how personal preference brewing parameters would vary, and my understanding is that this is still essentially a common approach (maybe just not always using this set).

Tasting using milk might seem odd but I have it on good authority that some prominent tea purchasers do exactly that–judge teas in an altered final consumption form.  A tea mentor (of sorts) once suggested that it’s best to drink tea cooler to taste it, around 60° C, and I’m not certain about any optimum but of course he is right in principle (per my own experience, at least).

More developed standard references

There must be a lot more, but Google did identify a few for a starting point.

The World of Tea site reference actually includes the ISO 3103 process as one alternative, and suggests using both that methodology and a second review based on more conventional brewing parameters, partially defined as such:

Tea Type Temperature Time for First Steeping Green Tea 160F/ C 1min  (Yellow and White teas omitted) Oolong Tea 190F/ 88C 1.5min Black Tea 205F/ 96C 1min

The article goes on to suggest evaluating the following criteria, along with reviewing leaf appearance:

1.What color is the liquor?

 

  1. What does the liquor smell like? (How does it change from steep to steep?)
  2. What does the liquor taste like? (How does it change from steep to steep?)
  3. How many steepings can the tea withstand and still produce acceptable flavor?

So far so good; reasonable brewing and evaluation guidelines.  I’d hoped for a bit more on scoring (maybe some summary of the rating process), but regardless of what a reference set up would be, it would be hard to really improve on a subjective overall evaluation that compared teas directly.  Direct evaluation of limited samples might just be limited when attempting to judge a large number of teas, or to combine multiple judgments from different judges.

This also seems like a good place for an aside about how limiting the number of factors evaluated would also limit the completeness.  For example, that methodology suggested review against liquor color, liquor smell, taste, and the number of steepings: four factors (and a good start).  A more general Tea Vicious reference on how to evaluate teas suggests some others (only partially cited, with their section on methodology omitted entirely):

  • How does the inside of the mug lid smell?
  • Does the aroma linger? Which part of it lingers longer? Which shorter?
  • Does any part of the aroma remind you of another substance?
  • Does any part of the taste come first and some other later?
  • What do the different parts of the taste remind you of?
  • Which part of your tongue gives you the sensation of the taste?
  • How does the taste stay?
  • Does the taste change during the process of tasting?
  • What is the texture of the tea liquor?

That would be way too many criteria for judging a lot of teas against each other but the general concepts of feel and finish (aftertaste) might be retained.

Maybe it’s just as well to cite a bit of two other references, and then wrap this up.  One from Tearroir provided an example of the type of scoring system I’d expected:

Each tea receives a base of 60 points, and we award each tea up to 40 points based on the following categories:

Color and appearance of tea pre-brew: 5 points

Aroma: 5 points

Flavor and Mid Palate: 10 points

Mouthfeel and Finish: 10 Points

Overall quality level: 10 points

The engineer side of me loves this approach.  Based on how I evaluate teas myself, related only to preference, I’m not so convinced a lot wouldn’t drop out in trying to weight groupings like these though, that it might fail to fully capture how a few strengths or weaknesses can really determine impression.  I just tried a Hong Shui tea with an amazing range of great flavor characteristics and a slight sourness issue that corresponded to how the feel was presented, so even the break-down might not be so simple.

Lastly, the North American Tea Championship, related to the World Tea News / Academy / Expo, provides another good example of evaluation methodology, which they summarize as such:

Each submission into the class is evaluated blind and through organoleptic analysis of the following characteristics: dry leaf, brewed color, brewed aroma, brewed flavor, brewed mouth-feel and brewed harmony. An overall numerical value on a 100-point scale is then calculated based on the ratings of each characteristic above.

Nice!  They just don’t mention how the actual scoring is calculated, but they did include a fascinating description of how they make judging more consistent by throwing out inconsistent / outlier scores (and you really should read that if you happen to love statistical sampling process).  A sample of brewing parameters makes it clear they go with brewing methodology closer to ordinary brewing:

Category Type Temp Minutes Weight  Special Assam Origin Authentic Boil  5 2.5g Breakfast Blend Origin Authentic Boil  5 2.5g Bai Hao/ Oriental Beauty Breakfast Blend Boil 2/4 2.5g Steep open bowl; 2 infusions; 3 cupping bowls per tea Chai Masala Chai Boil  3g Add 20% warm milk/sugar mix

That partial citation of “Signature Famous Teas” doesn’t do parameter choices review justice, but it’s probably enough to add that green teas are cited as between 175 and 180, depending on type.  Interesting to also note World of Tea went down to 160 on their guidelines for green tea brewing; make of this difference what you will.

That last reference didn’t really seem intended to give the full details of the methodology and evaluation process but it’s nice they passed on that much.

Conclusion

I had intended to circle this back more to a comparison against how people drink and evaluate teas for enjoyment but it seems as well not to do much with that.  It’s just different.

It’s interesting to consider how flaws in tea might factor into these approaches, or how individual positive aspects might be rated versus a balance of aspects in a tea, but it also seems as well I that don’t muddle the review here too much with my own speculation.  Besides, with more expert input or research about this much content, I could always write up a “part two” post and ramble on in that one.  And scoring systems never went far in these references; lots more room to add to that.

The post Tea Evaluation and Scoring appeared first on T Ching.

Matcha Tea Ceremony Utensils

Notes on Tea - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 18:01

Most people enjoy a good matcha latte but I also appreciate usucha or thin tea which I make at home. Koicha or thick tea is not something I make frequently though I guess the first step of preparing a bowl of thin matcha is making a matcha paste that you thin with more hot water. Mutsuko Tokunaga, author of New Tastes in Green Tea, lists four utensils necessary for cha-no-yu or tea ceremony. The tools are chasen or tea whisk, jawan (chawan) or tea bowl, natsume or tea jar, and chashaku or tea scoop. I do not own a natsume but the other three utensils are part of my teaware collection. The description for each utensil is excerpted from Ms. Tokunaga's book.


Chashaku | Tea scoop

"This is a slender tea scoop used to remove tea from the natsume tea jar....Its origins are thought to lie in the similarly shaped medicinal spoons of the Chinese Sung dynasty (1128-1279). With continued used, the bamboo chashaku takes on a beautiful patina and greater character."


Jawan | Chawan | Tea bowl

Two types of tea bowl are used for matcha--the flatter, open shaped bowl for summer and bowl with a thicker lip and vertical walls used in winter." I think my chawan, also a Mizuba Tea Co. purchase, is a winter bowl.


Chasen | Tea Whisk

"The bamboo tea which has a delicate outer circle and a separate inner circle of thin bamboo fronds that work well to blend the water and powdered tea. Sweeping the whisk all around he bowl creates an appealing froth, which also serves to make the tea milder." This chasen was purchased from Mizuba Tea Company. It is my second whisk; my first was a gift from Ippodo Tea.


A sieve is a useful tool for matcha preparation. I left mine, a simple one used in baking, in New York. I have not been using one here in VA but I recently borrowed one from a neighbor.

Do you prepare matcha at home? I wrote about how I prepare matcha here and how usucha is prepared at the Ippodo Tea shop in NYC here. What's in your matcha toolkit?

New Tastes in Green Tea by Mutsuko Tokunaga was provided for review. Stay tuned for more about this Japanese green tea book as I honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

3 Leaf Tea Wild Pu'erh Buds

Tea For Me Please - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 16:00
Country of Origin: China
Leaf Appearance: small, pine cone-like buds
Ingredients: puerh tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: glass gaiwan
Liquor: very pale yellow

Ya Bao is a bit controversial in the tea world these days. There's a raging debate as to whether it is puerh or white tea. Some say it's not even tea at all. My vote is for white tea (due to the way the leaves are processed) but I've heard good evidence for each argument. In this case I'm listing it the way the vendor does, if only for the sake of consistancy. The leaves looked pretty similarly to other teas of this type that I've tried. They always seem to remind me of fuzzy little pine cones. At first sip it seemed like there was nothing there but then a sweet vanilla aftertaste took me by surprise. A few infusions in there was even a hint of spice in the background. The directions for this tea were more western style but I definitely think gongfu'ing it is the way to go. There's really no chance of overdoing it. Towards the end of the session my infusions were over a minute long. That might not seem like very long but it is when you're using a 100ml gaiwan. Ya Bao is one of those teas I don't find myself drinking often but when I do it always seems to hit the spot. This one is comparably priced with Verdant Tea and most of the other ones that I've found on the market. I'd recommend giving it a try if you're curious about Ya Bao.

Wild Pu'erh Buds sample provided for review by 3 Leaf Tea.


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Whitepaper from World Tea Expo chock full of information

T Ching - Wed, 05/25/2016 - 12:03

I routinely read the World Tea News as a way to keep current with industry news. I was delighted to learn that they have put together a White Paper that highlights their upcoming Expo.  For those who will not be attending next month, however, it offers a glimpse into topics that interest tea drinkers around the globe.

Two items that caught my attention were written by Shabnam Weber. “Specialty tea is the No. 1 growing item in the beverage category. Because the two largest demographics, baby boomers and millennials, are both turning to tea as their beverage of choice.”  I find it fascinating that both boomers and millennials are choosing tea to meet their needs on multiple levels. Another tidbit that Shabnam notes is that “the only thing you can sell in your restaurant that will make more money is olives…by the piece. That’s right. Tea has the highest profit margin of any single item you can sell.”

Moving along, there’s an insightful piece by Charles Cain highlighting the “Five Keys To Success In Retail”, an interesting interview with Maria Uspenski from The Tea Spot on “Tea As A Healthy Lifestyle Product”, and of course our own favorite chef Robert Wemischner reminds everyone that “Tea Is Way More Than A Beverage”.

Although this initial White Paper focuses on those presenting at the Expo, future papers will provide valuable information for tea lovers who get an opportunity to hear about information that had been previously reserved for those in the tea industry. I very much appreciated them making this information available to the public.  This is truly a win/win scenario.  The general public gets industry insider information which fuels their love of tea.

Keep on drinkin’ my friends.

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Book Review: 'Tea with Milk', A Picture Book by Allen Say

Notes on Tea - Tue, 05/24/2016 - 19:01
Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o hmhco.com)Are you familiar with Allen Say's picture books? The stories are not just for children. I first learned about Allen Say in a round-up of his books written by Danielle Davis of This Picture Book Life. Here's an excerpt from that post,
All Say’s books are rooted in a certain time and place. In specificity. They are beautiful, realistic watercolor paintings accompanying unadorned text. They are straightforward and they always seem true. They have compassion for their characters. They reflect on the past in a way that is satisfyingly bittersweet.
Image: Allen Say (c/o hmhco.com)
Since then I have read a few of Say's books; I borrowed them from my local library. One of my favorites is Tea with Milk. I think you could have probably guessed this! I wanted to share the story here because as I noted, I like the book, but also because the book is a lovely story about Japanese American and Japanese culture. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

The protagonist of Tea with Milk is a girl named Masako. Her parents call her Ma-chan and speak to her in Japanese. "Everyone else called her May and talked with her in English." May lives in San Francisco until she completes high school. Then her homesick parents relocate the family to Japan. No one there calls her May. She no longer eats "pancakes and muffins" or drinks "tea with milk and sugar" at her friends' houses. In Japan she has to attend highs school again where she is considered a foreigner or a "gaijin". She takes flower arranging, calligraphy, and tea ceremony lessons at home. Her mother plays matchmaker. Frustrated with this new way of life, Masako leaves home and travels to Osaka wearing "the brightest dress she had brought from California." She finds employment in a department store in the city but finds it dull. She is offered a new job in the same department store after she helps an English speaking family but for this role she has to wear a kimono. I won't write anymore because the rest of the story is worth you reading on your own. It does involve tea with milk and sugar and another move and the creation of a family.

Image: Image: Tea with Milk, by Allen Say (c/o amazon.com)
One thing I found humorous is the current Japanese green tea, especially matcha, craze in the U.S. juxtaposed against Masako's desire for tea with milk.

Speaking of Japanese green teas, I will share my matcha making tools on the blog tomorrow.

P.S. You can see all of Allen Say's books here.

Weather and Tea

T Ching - Tue, 05/24/2016 - 12:06

Cludy Munnar Panorama, Kerala, Western Ghats, India

I’ve recently noticed articles on how climate change is affecting the production of tea.  First, I noted an article on Assam’s tea production being affected, then saw others about other tea-producing areas as well.  One of them stated that it could affect tea production by a cut of over one-half sometime in the future.

Since I have no background or knowledge in the area of climate and weather and know there is a debate going on, I’ll confine this to what I’ve read about how tea may be affected should we experience the climate changes predicted in the articles.  If you haven’t read anything on the subject and want to learn more, please Google “climate change and tea production” and you will find more than enough reading material to keep you busy.

There are many ways climate can affect tea production.  One problem can produce another. Assam growers have noted an increase in pests due to the dry conditions.  From a BBC story,

“The change in precipitation, particularly, will be very critical,” says Prof Arup Kumar Sarma of the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, who recently carried out research on Assam’s tea gardens and climate change.  Our study shows that this region will be having a longer dry period and the peak flow of the monsoon will also be increasing.  That means we will have very extreme rainfall.”

From Climate Central:

“A report from Climate Central in 2015 found that “tea growing regions could decline in some parts of the world by up to 40-55 percent in the coming decades due to the results of a changing climate.”

From the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, this pdf is fairly detailed on the overall worldwide picture. Included in the stats of this report are China and Kenya.  Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea in the world.

With the state of the world, in general, these days and the uncertainty of the future, none of us need something else to think about.  And none of this may affect the future of tea businesses and tea lovers reading this, but it is just another indication that we live in a dramatically changing world, one that will affect everyone in some way, to some extent.  It spurs me to think more about how what I do affects the environment.

image

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What is a teakend? A weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms, of course!

Barb's Tea Shop - Tue, 05/24/2016 - 01:05
Barb and Rachel-Rose at Sweet D's in Linden
The grand dame of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess, delighted fans when she asked the question, "what is a weekend?" As a member of the aristocracy, Violet Crawley, like those in her social circle did not have a job, and consequently did not comprehend - unlike the band Loverboy - what everyone else is working for.

But what about the two days after Friday when they are devoted only to tea?

We at Barb's Tea Service would like to introduce a new word to the English lexicon: "teakend" -  a weekend filled with tea events and tea rooms. It's a term whose time has come! and it perfectly describes how we spent this past Saturday and Sunday.

At the Schoolcraft Community Library, with Director, Faye VanRavenswaayOn the road again, BTS presented two Downton Abbey-inspired teas this weekend. On Saturday, we were at Schoolcraft Library, in a lovely little town near Kalamazoo, at the invitation of library Director, Faye VanRavenswaay. It's a wonderful community and we enjoyed spending time on the west side of our home state.

Refueling with amazing peanut butter pie at Chocolatea
After our tea presentation, we took a short drive to Portage and paid a visit to Chocolatea, a tea venue with a lot going on. Like its name implies, there's chocolate and there's tea, but there's so much more (as if that wouldn't be enough!). They sell a variety of goodies aside from chocolate truffles. There's brownies, cookies and peanut butter pie!

Paying a visit to the Tudor House in downtown Kalamazoo
Then on to downtown Kalamazoo where we found the Tudor House. This tea store was featured in the September/October, 2014 issue of  Tea Time Magazine's (as was the author of this blog!) when the magazine  highlighted Michigan tea venues.  A welcoming store with so many varieties of loose tea, you could spend an afternoon trying to decide which ones to take home.

Getting set up at Sweet D's with Rachel-RoseWe stayed overnight in Kalamazoo, enjoyed a leisurely morning at our hotel and then headed back east and center of the mitten state. About a half hour past our state capital, there is another quaint small town of Linden, where we had our second Downton Abbey presentation. Here we were guests of Dee Birch, owner of Sweet D Confections and Tea Room. The tea room is beautiful - full of period charm and vintage tablescapes. Dee provides an afternoon tea that is delicious and generous in portions. You will never go away hungry!

Dee Birch, Debbie and Marie and Rachel RoseMany attendees dressed in Downton Abbey fashion and we enjoyed meeting every single lady who came for tea.

We traveled many miles, met so many wonderful folks at our tea events and loved every tea room along the way,

We'll make each stop its own blog story, but wanted you all to be the first to know. . .

What is teakend? It's absolutely awesome!


Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea from Teavivre

SororiTEA Sisters - Mon, 05/23/2016 - 19:38
Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green Tea

Where to Buy: Teavivre

Tea Description: Growing area: Tiantai Mountain, Zhejiang, China Season: Spring Tea Harvest date: March 23, 2016 Dry leaf: Uniform flattened tea leaves, mostly bud with unopened tiny leaf Aroma: Sweet floral, chestnut Liquor: Pale yellowish green Taste: Smooth, sweet and brisk; no hint of bitterness; aftertaste of this tea is pleasant lingering Tea Tree species: Jiukeng tea tree species Tea garden: Cangshan Organic Tea Garden Caffeine: Low caffeine (less than 10% of a cup of coffee) Storage: Store in airtight, opaque packaging; keep refrigerated Shelf Life: 18 Months This She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing tea comes from Tiantai Mountain, located in Tiantai County, Taizhou, Zhejiang Province. The average elevation is above 500 meters, with Cangshan(elevation of 1113.4 meters) at east, Taizhu mountain (elevation of 1019.6 meters) at west, Dalei mountain (elevation of 1144 meters) at west, Huading mountain (elevation of 1098meters) at north. Cangshan Organic Tea Garden is located in north of Tiantai Mountain in Zhejiang. With the flourish vegetation, cloudy and misty surrounded, this pleasant natural ecological environment is a great place to produce best teas.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea from Teavivre is today’s tea of choice for me and it’s a good one!  This is a mighty fine Dragon Well that is for sure!  Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea from Teavivre is sweet, clean, crisp, and has a pleasant, satisfying linger and aftertaste.

Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea from Teavivre is delightful as a hot cuppa or a cold one.  I bet this would also be a good green tea base for those who like to mix and mingle teas and flavors.

The best part?  This Organic Nonpareil She Qian Dragon Well Long Jing Green Tea from Teavivre has NO bitterness what-so-ever!  It’s a very forgiving green tea, too, so if you over infuse you won’t have to worry about a bitter cup!  This is a great tea for those new to green teas as well as those who have loved green teas for YEARS.

 

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Snapchat for Tea Lovers

Tea For Me Please - Mon, 05/23/2016 - 16:00

Social media has always been a huge part of my tea experience and my latest obsession is Snapchat. That's right, it's not just for teenagers! The main purpose of Snapchat is to share live, in the moment pictures and videos. It's a bit more off the cuff and less polished than Instagram. The other major difference is that your posts can only be viewed for 24 hours. A warning: viewers can take screenshots so you should still be careful about posting anything you wouldn't want to have out in the world. Content posted to your story (the Snapchat equivalent of a timeline) is viewable by everyone who follows you but you can also send them to directly to someone rather than posting publicly.

There's some neato features like geofilters and all of those funny faces you see your friends posting on Facebook. To access these all you have to do is press on the screen over your face until you see a white grid briefly appear. After you take a picture get creative by adding text, emoticons or drawing some artwork. One of the coolest things about Snapchat is that your profile picture is actually a QR code that people can use to add you.
Don't forget to add me!It can be hard to find people to follow at first since Snapchat doesn't have a discovery feature like other social platforms. I recommend downloading an app called Ghostcodes. Add yourself to the directory and search for people who share your interests.

Basic Snapchat Etiquette
-Skip the TMI (Too Much Information). We don't need to see EVERYTHING you do every day.
-Don't send a picture or video directly to someone that you are also sharing publicly to your story.
-Turn off the sound in videos if you are taking them in a very loud place.
-Don't snap and drive. Seriously! I'm always amazed by how many people do this. It's just not safe and probably illegal in most states since you shouldn't be using your phone while driving.
Tea People to Follow
teaformepleaseI created an account (teaformeplease) for the blog a while ago but only recently started diving in. I've been mostly using it to share "behind the scenes" stuff that I'm not sharing elsewhere. It'll definitely be a fun way to share my experience at World Tea Expo!

white2tea
+White2Tea is one of my favorite puerh vendors. They have an eccentric and fascinating Snapchat account. Expect lots of late night sheng sessions, music and insights into sourcing puerh in Yunnan. You might even catch glimpses of the mysterious Two Dog.

quantitea
Quantitea is a fairly new tea company that specializes in tea flights. I've been living vicariously through the snaps taken on their most recent sourcing trip.

notesontea
Fellow tea blogger +Georgia SS posts about her tea and foodie adventures. She's spending some time in the D.C. area so it's nice to do some vicarious sightseeing too.

ohhowcivilized
+Jee Choe seems to always be on the go (and finding the yummiest treats along the way). I'm really enjoying getting a peek into the tea sommelier certification classes that she is taking.

teahappiness
+sara shacket is just getting started on Snapchat but I'm really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with.

besstic
I think I may have actually found someone who drinks even more tea than I do. Check out besstic's snaps for lots of tea with a touch of humor.

Are there any tea people that I should be following? Let me know in the comments!

Enjoying Tea Outdoors

T Ching - Mon, 05/23/2016 - 12:30

As Summer approaches and the temperatures warm, many will say it is too hot for tea. For me, it is one of my favorite times of the year to drink tea.  One of my favorite ways of drinking tea is outdoors while enjoying nature.  While it is possible to fill a thermos with tea and take it outside, I like to brew my tea outdoors gongfu style.  One of nature’s greatest gifts is the tea leaf, so it is fitting to enjoy the tea in nature as well.

To brew gongfu outdoors is not as difficult as it sounds.  On the contrary, it is best to simplify the process as much as possible.  Leave the tea pets at home; your tea pets will be the birds and other animals around you.  Bring a cup that is larger than your brewing vessel.  This way you can leave the cha hai at home as well.  I also like to bring a ‘cheaper’ gaiwan that I will not be heartbroken over if it gets broken in transit.  Leave the fancy yixing wares at home as well!  I also like to bring a dish towel or, ideally, a microfiber dish mat with me to lay everything down on.

Bringing hot water is the trickiest part.  I bought a vacuum seal travel thermos that keeps water scalding hot for hours.  Zojirushi makes a 20-ounce thermos that is perfect for keeping water near boiling for a long time.  Right as I am leaving the house, I will boil water in my kettle, give the thermos a hot rinse to get it hot, then add the boiling water.  I like to preheat the thermos so that the water that I will use for tea will be as hot as possible when I arrive at my destination.

What teas are best for outdoor drinking?  This is where some thought needs to be put in.  You do not have precise temperature control outside, so a tea that can withstand near boiling water is best, but also one that will still taste good when brewed with cooler water as the session nears its end.  It’s also best to pick a tea that has whole leaves and does not have dust.  I don’t want to worry about bringing a strainer with me, so I prefer to bring larger leaf teas with me.  Lastly, look for a tea that will be good for 5-6 steeps.  I also don’t want to bring an expensive sheng puerh with me that normally gets over 10 steeps because I will only have 20oz of water with me.  I have had the most success with brewing oolongs such as Taiwanese Oolongs or roasted tieguanyins.  They seem to be very forgiving teas that are refreshing as well.  The floral notes in oolongs also pair perfectly with the surrounding trees and flowers outside.

Listening to the trees in the wind, waves crashing against the shore, and the birds singing is one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy tea.  Away from TV, Facebook, and work, sitting outside and enjoying tea in the outdoors really lets you stop and focus on the beauty of the tea.

“Let us have a sip of tea.  The Afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle.” – Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea.  

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Star Trek's Captain Picard On Earl Grey Tea

Tea Guy Speaks - Sun, 05/22/2016 - 15:00
I've never been a fan of the liquid perfume that's better known as Earl Grey tea, but of course we all like what we like. Here's a short clip in which Captain Picard, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, professes his fondness for it. Which leads to the obvious question - what would Kirk drink?

Adagio Teas - Best Tea Online

Star Trek - Klingon Tea Ceremony

Tea Guy Speaks - Sun, 05/22/2016 - 14:00
It's a tea ceremony of a decidedly different sort and it's enacted here by Star Trek: The Next Generation's resident Klingon, Worf. For more about the ceremony - which does not use tea as we know it - look here.

Adagio Teas - Best Tea Online

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