Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Marathon Has Ended

On the 11th day (Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008), I ended my tasting of a well-crafted 2004 Wuyi Shuixian oolong that was harvested from a 200+ years old tea bush. If my notes are correct, this prolonged session yielded 21 infusions in the first three days, using gongfu brewing method. And 16 additional lovely cups were extracted through long steepings (9 - 12 hours each) over the next 8 days. That brings the total to 37 infusions.

On the 11th day, the tea-water tasted thin and light, yet still fragrant and sweet. The last cup was the ghost of something beautiful...a testament of a great tea and the teamaster's skills.

So, what does this extended tasting session accomplish, someone asked me (and called me "nuts")? I've pondered on that question for a bit longer, and I think as far as highly roasted Wuyi yancha oolong is concerned, I have learned the following...a great Wuyi yancha oolong:

(in no order of significance)
1. Has great brewing durability (the reason why it lasted 11 days for me)
2. Has impeccable balance of its roasty, floral, fruity, and sometimes woodsy characteristics
3. Has good active mouthfeel and a long aftertaste / "echo" (chayun and huigan)
4. Has good chaqi (yin or yang), and
5. Tastes great when lots of leaves is used (more than 1:2 ratio of the teapot's volume, up to 1:1)

Before this tea, my personal preference with highly-roasted Wuyi yancha had always been to use 1/2 a teapot full of dry leaves (compacted by tapping the teapot gently while filling it with dry leaves to settle them down). I had been somewhat averse to using more than 1/2. This was because almost each and every time I used more, I had always been rewarded with overly bitter brews, even with flash steepings. So this tea has changed my perspective on how to gongfu-brew a good quality yancha.

One thing that still makes me wonder is why this very tea brewed in a gaiwan can last more than 7 weeks at The Tea Gallery in NYC. When brewed in a Yixing teapot, however, it lasted only 11 to 12 days for all the participants involved (Toki, Salsero and myself). Does the porous nature of Yixing clay affect brewing durability...perhaps through absorption and oxidation? (Anyone?)

My utmost thanks goes again to Toki for this incredible experience and opportunity by providing the tea in question. I am in the opinion that such an superb tea is something that one only finds when armed with knowledge, understanding, passion and a spirit for adventure. Oh, and maybe lots of cash, too (Toki never revealed the price of this tea).

Related Posts

From The Mandarin's Tea Blog:
1. 7542 '88 Qingbing Ended, Vintage Qing Dynasty Brick Began (Aug. 21, 2008)
2. A Marathon Relay Continues (Sept. 1, 2008)
3. Second day of Kung Fu tasting (Sept. 2, 2008)
4. What is detail Tasting? (Sept. 5, 2008)
5. The Morning After (Sept. 12, 2008)

From Teachat:
1. A post by Salsero

From my own blog:
1. The Marathon Has Begun (Aug. 31, 2008)
2. And It Continues On (Sept. 1, 2008)
3. Into The 6th Day of Tasting (Sept. 5, 2008)
4. Elevated Expectations? (Sept. 6, 2008)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is "Tea Sommelier" a Misnomer?

The use of wine terms and allusions for tea has become more popular in the past few years. While I'm not a linguist, my guess is wine terms are increasingly adopted in tea talk because they have a higher likelihood of being understood by those uninitiated in tea but are more familiar with the wine culture (I'll refer to them as "wine-people" for the sake of brevity). Also, perhaps, wine terms lend to teas a certain charm that wine-people can relate to. Simply put, it's good marketing.

The word "terroir", for example, is brought up in conversations about teas, which like wines, are unique to the place where they were grown in. The French word terroir, after all, was coined by wine makers of old to convey a sense of origin and uniqueness of the grapes and the resulting wines. It is a concept with such universal application that it can be used for everything that grows and exists under the sun. So why not tea.

The most popular wine allusion, probably, is the claim by producers of Darjeeling teas that their products are the Champagne of Teas. I can see the intent, and again, it's marketing. Attaching one's identity with Champagne's venerated image is a good way to relate to a broad range of consumers. Beyond its marketing propaganda, however, I don't quite see any similarity between the two.

There is one wine term that I believe can not be adopted for tea, as it would create a misnomer. The word is sommelier. Tea sommelier just does not make any sense. A sommelier by itself means a "wine steward" or a person who is in charge of the wine provision and the service of it. Is a tea sommelier, then, a person who is highly knowledgeable in and serves both tea and wine? I think those who call themselves tea sommeliers in their profession should reconsider the word's meaning.

Consider the etymology of sommelier:

"Middle French. From somm(er)ier (one charged with transporting supplies), from somier (beast of burden), from somme (burden). From driving a pack animal to drafting wine lists, a sommelier has come a long way. A sommelier is to wine as a cicerone is to beer, though the latter has recently been introduced and is not widespread."

Another version says:

"French, from Middle French, court official charged with transportation of supplies, pack animal driver, from Old Provençal saumalier pack animal driver, from sauma pack animal, load of a pack animal, from Late Latin sagma packsaddle."

I think it's safe to say that a sommelier has got nothing to do with tea in the historical and etymological contexts. Are there any other misapplied wine terms used for tea, or vice versa?

[Edit] PS: In the back of my mind, while writing the post above I vaguely remembered having expressed the same opinion about the use of "sommelier" in conjunction with "tea". Searching for that comment made in the past, I found that Corax of Cha Dao had also expressed the same sentiment in his post "Flavor Hedonics: Pleasure and the Physiology of Taste" dated July 17, 2007. And my agreement to his sentiment was recorded under that post's comment section.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Elevated Expectations?

Last night, after drinking Toki's yancha oolong brew du nuit (steeped from 9am to 9pm), I decided to look for another yancha tea among my stash to do a comparison tasting, sort of. Aha! I found a pack of vintage 2007 Baishuixiang (100 years fragrance -- BSX) oolong, still vacuum-sealed in its little mylar bag.

This tea, among others, was generously given to me by Will and Louise, two of my LA Tea Affair buddies. While visiting Wuyishan last year, they obtained a variety of teas from the local producers and vendors to be brought back to Los Angeles for their personal enjoyment. I am sincerely grateful to them for the potpourri of samples of their acquisitions.

My thinking was to drink Will's BSX and use my recent (and ongoing) tasting of Toki's Shuixian (SX) as a frame of reference for taste, quality and, most especially, firing technique. Granted that BSX tea is not the same variety as SX, I hope they are more or less comparable on the general level, as far as my tasting experiment is concerned.

So, as with Toki's tea, I placed about 3/4 full of the BSX, tightly compacting the leaves by tapping the pot's side gently, into my 80cc 1970's hongni shuipin Yixing pot. With boiling-hot water I flash-rinsed the tea once, and then flash-steeped the tea for 6 infusions. After the 6th cup, I felt that I've had enough impression of the tea for the night (will continue in the morning).

The differences between the two teas were strikingly noticeable. Although both teas have been deeply roasted, the SX managed to give out an upfront yet balanced sweetness and roastiness. The BSX, on the other hand, was skewed much more towards its roasty characteristics. It had thin layers of green and floral characters underneath all the strong, toasty flavors. Also, the BSX tasted rather chaotic in the mouth: burnt toast, some greenness, a bit floral, but highly astringent. I felt that the qi of this tea was also chaotic, giving me an uneasy feeling overall. The aftertaste lingered for quite a while, though unfortunately, it was sour and drying to the throat. I felt more thirsty than before I drank this BSX.

Should I not put as much leaves when brewing BSX tea? Or has my expectations been elevated somewhat by Toki's tea? If my overall expectations has indeed been elevated, then I reckon that I am doomed to spend a large sum of money whenever I shop for a decent Wuyi tea -- that is if I could find such high caliber teas to begin with.

[My utmost thanks again to Will and Louise! Despite my criticism, I am grateful for the lesson I learned from tasting your tea.]

Friday, September 5, 2008

Into The 6th Day of Tasting...

Today, I enter into my 6th day of tasting Toki's Wuyi oolong, which according to his blog was harvested from a 200+ years old Shui Xian bush, and then fired 4 times between May and September of 2004 by a talented tea master in Wuyishan, Fujian Province, China.

For the first 3 days (Sunday to Tuesday), I brewed this tea with regular gongfu methods until such point that I had to infuse the tea for 15 minutes or longer. From then on, I began to infuse it for hours on end. These are the steps I am taking, as suggested by Toki:

1. After concluding the last short-brew steep, pour boiling-hot water into the teapot up to the rim. Place the lid on, and pour hot water over the lid to "water-seal" the teapot.

2. After about 6 or more hours, pour the tea out (to be enjoyed). Then, pour boiling water into the teapot for about 5 - 10 secs before pouring the brew out into a cup (to be enjoyed). The purpose of this short steep is to re-heat the leaves in order to prepare them for the next extended steeping. The leaves must be as hot as possible. Then, I immediately pour boiling-hot water into the teapot again, up to the rim, put the lid on, and water seal it. I let it stand again for hours on end.

3. Repeat step 2. Increase steeping time as necessary, up to 12 hours.

The liquor from yesterday morning's 11-hour steeping was smooth and flavorful. It no longer had the roastiness and the astringency that this tea exhibited during the first 3 days. Rather, it tasted and smelled floral and subtly complex. I can't find the words to describe it. Somehow, it reminded me of drinking an old, top-notch Cognac.

I wonder if an extended tasting session that goes on for weeks is best (or better) done with a heavily-roasted tea. Since roasted tea had to go through the firing process, I would assume that the end product is "clean"...less bacteria, fungi and other creepy microscopic crawlies. Also, the fact that the leaves are always submerged in water inside a sealed teapot probably minimizes mold growth and other nasties from developing. Further, after the tea is poured out, re-steeping the leaves with boiling-hot water maybe helps kill any chances of unwanted stuff from growing too much, too quickly or at all. Lastly, perhaps the fact that tea has antiseptic properties helps keep it clean and safe to consume for much longer.

These are just hypotheses...I'm not sure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Negative Outlook By a U.S. Tea Wholesaler

I always welcome with delight the latest quarterly catalog from Upton Tea Imports when it arrives in my mailbox. Even though I rarely order from them, the catalog itself is a good read. It is written like a gazette on tea history accompanied with a broad list of tea and accessory selections.

What caught my attention in the Fall 2008 catalog is the short note to the customers on page 3. As a well-established wholesaler and mail-order tea company in the US, their view on the tea industry -- though understandably it may not be free of subjectivity due to their position -- let us peek into the changes and the current condition within the trade. The note reads as such, and I quote:

(Bold format by me)

"A Note to our Valued Customers:

We continue to see challenges in the procurement of top-quality teas from virtually all of the major producing countries. A late start to the growing season was followed by rather warm weather, adversely affecting the quality of the teas from northern India, China, and Japan. With few choice lots being produced, and with sustained pressure on the value of the U.S. dollar, the best teas fetched record prices once again. For the first time we have seen select Assam teas selling at prices formerly attainable only by the best Darjeeling teas!

China Yunnan teas continue to be disappointing. There is hope that the late season will produce better teas than last year's selections, but the proof will be in the samples, yet to arrive."

It's followed by a more upbeat tone...

"But rather than focus on the negative, I must say that we have been enjoying some outstanding new arrivals here at Upton Tea Imports, and we will be receiving several excellent teas over the coming weeks. And even as loose tea prices have been increasing by leaps and bounds, we note that the world's finest teas are still an affordable luxury.

As always, new arrivals are posted on our website as soon as they have been received and checked for quality."

Then it mentions about 3 recent arrivals from Taiwan, which I am leaving out, before the note is concluded.

Altogether, it's realistic but not an inspiring note for tea drinkers, if you ask me.

Left out by the writer of the short note above is any mention of the recent political unrest in Darjeeling (also here) and the effects on the quality of the region's teas. Also, the writer gave no hint as to the causes of Yunnan teas' poor quality, which in the case of Pu'er it was most likely from overproduction, a lack of standard control and the rampant speculation of the commodity. But there are other types of tea produced in Yunnan. What causes the poor quality of non-Pu'er teas from that province remains elusive for now.

As consumers, we are already being pummeled by high gas prices, increasing food costs, weak U.S. dollar, and the poor economy as a whole. Unfortunately, in the scheme of things, what goes on with tea is not at all surprising. We are being forced to pay more and settle for less.

Monday, September 1, 2008

...And It Continues On

Parameter: dry leaves 3/4 pot full , compacted by tapping the pot gently to settle the leaves down. Flash rinse. Gentle stream of boiling-hot water (99-100' C). All time measurement is an approximation, decided by the previous cup's taste and strength.

Day 1: brew # 1 - 4 flash steeped. Brew #5 +2 sec. Brew #6-7 +5 sec.

Day 2: brew # 8 (flash steeped to heat leaves). Brew #9 +5 sec. Brew #10-11 +7 sec. Brew #11-12 +10 sec. Brew #14-15 +15 sec.

...still going strong, ready for day 3!

Per Toki's instruction, keep brewing normally until the tea has to be pushed for up to 3 minutes. Thereafter, each steeping for hours on end will begin.

By the way, I'm not alone -- thank goodness! Salsero is in this, too.

All this tea made me thirsty for some wine...

2003 Saxon Brown Zinfandel
Casa Santinamaria Vineyards
Sonoma Valley
($25, 15% alc.)

Dark purple, almost opaque. Ruby on the rim. Very intense black and red berries, dark cherries, and coffee. Powerful and concentrated, without feeling too heavy. The finish has a roasted oak, coffee and a slight glycerin sweetness. Its high alcohol level (15%) is beautifully balanced by the just-right acidity level, which gives the wine a lively zing and dimension. For a zinfandel lover (me), I love it!

4 stars (vg)

Sidenote: Saxon Brown winery and the Casa Santinamaria vineyards are precious jewels of the Sonoma Valley. The vines in these vineyards are dry farmed, head-pruned and have low-yield (~1/2 ton per acre). Under the talented hands of Winemaker Jeff Gaffner. You've got to love Mr. Gaffner's wines!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Marathon Has Begun...

...a tea tasting marathon session, that is.

I am conducting my first drawn out, detailed tasting session, which may last for weeks (one tea) if I do it correctly. The tea is a vintage 2004 high-roast Wuyi oolong of undoubtedly top pedigree.

Today I brewed the tea for 7 times. It was lovely and full of energy! The vibrancy of the 7th cup left me with little doubt that this tea can endure the long haul. I'm reserving my tasting notes for later.

We hit the beach in the afternoon. It was cloudy and a bit chilly, though the water was nice and warm.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Durable Morning Tea

While reading the woes of the world and the bleak financial news on the papers this morning (not to mention Sen. John McCain's puzzling choice for VP), I sipped on what most likely the 20th infusion of 2005 Yichanghao "Ji Pin" sheng pu'er (Houde). Maybe it was the 19th or the 21st brew...I lost count. This last cup was steeped for a good 12 to 13 hours from the evening before. Its aroma and taste were still enjoyable, and the tea was drunk at room temperature.

For a vintage 2005, the dry leaves of this Yichanghao look interestingly darker than most other -- if not all -- 2005 sheng pu'er I have or tried. The beeng gives off a mild whiff of floral and straw notes. It made me wonder: is this one of those '04 - '05 Chang Tai tea that went through, as Danny Samarkand mentioned on CHA DAO, a "slight pre-processing fermentation"? [click here for the excellent 2nd installation on proper storage consideration for pu'er teas, written by Mr. Samarkand and MarshalN, as well as the ensuing discussion in the comment section, which touched briefly on the subject of Chang Tai teas]. Unless I misunderstood Danny's meaning, this '05 Yichanghao fits his opinion: the leaves are darker compared to similarly young teas, and the liquor is orange.

A very pleasant fragrance emanated from the tea liquor, which reminded me of straw, bamboo shoot, and of sweet smelling flowers. It's so fragrant that it almost felt unnatural for a young raw pu'er. Again, it made me wonder: is this more oolong or more pu'er? I couldn't be exactly sure.

The taste was smooth and astringency was hardly present, unless I pushed the steeping time exceedingly long. It's sweet-ish in the mouth and throat from the get go (as in no ku -- bitterness that turns to sweet sensations that one might expect from some young pu'er). The chayun and the huigan were all rather weak, but the overall package was very pleasant, actually.

On its chaqi: I felt a certain energy flow that first warmed my lower back and then it moved towards my stomach area, shoulders, chest and neck. The effect was calming and relaxing.

Conclusion: For a young pu'er, it is already approachable and ready to be enjoyed. I would think that anyone who hasn't acquired a taste for young raw pu'er should find this tea pleasant [enough].

Ageability, however, is hard to predict. There was not much strength or concentration of taste, aroma, chayun and huigan, all of which are necessary attributes that every candidate for a long-term storage should possess (or so I read). Certainly not lacking, however, is its good brewing durability. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what this tea has in store a few years from now. I should think that an investment in a few beengs could be warranted...some for immediate enjoyment and a few for a bit longer down the line.

Good compression -- not too tight or too loose. The wet leaves are healthy and intact.

What do you, dear readers, think about its aging prospect given my long-winded descriptions above?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Beautiful Morning Tea

I make it a point to obtain some freshly produced Oriental Beauty oolong every summer. This seductive tea is one of my favorite seasonal indulgences. It's quite easy to fall in love with it. The best example that I ever tried made me swoon in adoration as she sang all the low, mid and high notes in symphony.

I think the mark of a superior Oriental Beauty oolong is the presence of acidic nose / taste (the high notes -- fruity, sweet and sour) that is the signature of summer, insect-bitten teas. At the other end of the scale, the high degree of oxidation should lend the tea its mid and lower notes (honey, floral, caramel). When all is well, the effect can be euphoric.

This 2008 summer harvest is among my recent purchases from Houde. I seemed to have underestimated the leaves' density in dry form, and as a result may have used too much leaves this morning. To compensate, I employed flash steepings in the beginning and add mere seconds to later infusions.

Floral and honey notes are more prevalent here, with only a hint of the high sweet-sour notes, which I was craving after. There is a slight bitter undertones, too. I still need to "play around" with it. For now, it lacks the higher notes. Next time I will use less leaves and longer steeping time to, hopefully, coax out its fruitier personality.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fresh Morning Tea

The Yeoman Warder (a.k.a. Beefeater gin) from last night played a drum in my head. It was imperative that he left immediately before I leave for office. So I resorted to the fresh Baozhong (spring 2008 harvest, Pinglin township, Taiwan), which was generously included by Guang among my recent purchases.

Floral and silky smooth. A wonderful morning refreshment. The Yeoman still lingered, though much calmer by now. Ready or not, it was time to brave the 405 freeway, again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ngaben Ceremony at Besakih Temple

Note: Besakih Temple, Bali, Indonesia. Ngaben (cremation) ceremony per the Balinese Hindu religion. Ending procession began from the restricted upper area of the temple passing into the public area. Quite fortunate to witness it as this doesn't happen every day (such solemn ceremony is not staged or open to outsiders).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Crab's Feet Pu'er

Drinking tea in a Guangzhou (Canton) teashop, one is bound to be shown many novelty teas by the shopkeeper. I was a newbie at Pu'er back in 2005 (still am today). It was in November of that year during a visit to the old city when I first got introduced to Crab's Feet Pu'er at a teashop on Yue Hwa Road.

I was a soft target: a tourist, even though I wear the skin of a Chinese man. Furthermore, my command of the Mandarin language was flaky, probably the level of a native 3rd grader at best. I got by, though barely. A conversation ensued, more or less, as such:

"This crab's feet tea is popular with the Taiwanese people," the lady shopkeeper said.

"Oh, how come?" I asked.

"They find the taste appealing, and the crab's feet supposedly have good medicinal properties for the stomach," she explained.

"What is it, actually?" I inquired curiously.

"It grows on Pu'er trees as a parasite. It gives a slight suān (酸 -- sour) taste to the tea. Here, let's try it, shall we?" I didn't have "parasite" in my Mandarin vocabulary at the time, so I went "huh?"

She then broke an ample amount from the beeng and brewed the curio with a gaiwan. I still remember her rather well to this day because, in addition to being young and pretty, she was very adept and gracious with the gaiwan. Watching her hands move about and pour tea out of the gaiwan was quite hypnotic in itself.

I was a very soft target.

By the time I left the shop, I owned 2 beeng's of this Crab's Feet Pu'er, which according to my records I paid RMB 150 per (~ USD $19 at that time). Back in Los Angeles, I chucked them, along with some other pu'er I obtained during the trip, in my off-site cellar cabinet. They have been sleeping in cool darkness ever since until their retrieval yesterday.

On the tea's wrapper and the inner ticket, the characters 螃蟹脚 (pángxiè jiǎo) are written, which literally translates as "crab's feet". I am not quite sure why some refer to it as crab's "claw", because as far as I know (and that's not much, mind you), the character jiǎo () literally means foot / feet. Toki of The Mandarin's Tea blog has pictures of this parasitic vines growing on an old Dancong tea tree.

The tea is a vintage 2002 made by Spring City Tea Factory in Menghai. As you see from the pictures below, the beeng was compressed with leaves of different colors. The orange-brown things, which are more like stems than leaves, are the crab's feet.

The tea itself was ordinary tasting. It had sour plum and dried wood notes. Overall its taste was rather boring, lacking any character or depth. Its brewing durability suffered, too, when its taste began to subside significantly after a mere 5 rounds or so. Had I been offered this tea today, I would never have bought it (except if the shopkeeper was Gong Li, perhaps).

Curious about the crab's feet, I separated the orange stem-like substances from the compressed tea and was able to obtain enough for a tasting experiment. I brewed the small amount of the crab's feet in just-boiled water (98-100' C) for about 2 minutes. The liquor was almost colorless with a light tinge of orange. It almost had no taste at all. What it had, however, was a creamy mouthfeel and aftertaste...almost milky (edit: umami is the word I've been looking for to describe the taste of the crab's feet liquor). It's quite interesting by itself, actually. However, it did not taste sour at all, as the shopkeeper had claimed. I should note again that this pu'er seems to be mixed only with the stem-y part of the crab's feet, and it does not contain any of the leafy parts. Maybe it's the leaf of this parasitic vine that is sour tasting?

Conclusion: For this particular Pu'er specimen, I think it serves the purpose of satisfying my curiosity, but largely a waste of time and money.

Light and Shadow

(Light, shadow, and a girl running)

Note: taken at the J. Paul Getty museum on Sunday, August 24th, 2008. About 5pm. The running child: Sophia, my ever hyper daughter.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Centipede On a Stick, Anyone?

Caught this NBC segment today of Al Roker and Chef Ming Tsai snacking in Beijing. Makes me think that I should be on a strict centipede diet in order to lose a few unwanted pounds...because I wouldn't eat any of it! I'd chew down most of the stuff there without a second thought, although I'm a bit hesitant about the scorpions. Not the centipedes, though...uh uh, no thanks. *shaking my head*

These are all kid's meal compared to the things this guy has eaten.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Promising Prospect -- 2001 Mengku Yuanyexiang

The one tea that I've been drinking quite often lately is the 2001 Shuangjiang Mengku Yuanyexiang (YYX), thin paper version. It is now 7 years of age, which supposedly marks the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd stage of its fermentation process. At least that's what they say, although I haven't really grasped the theory behind this concept.

The more I drink the YYX, the more I feel how promising this tea has become as it ages a bit more. The redness of the liquor and its clarity is great. The taste is complex, lively and "active". It may not be as smooth as an older sheng, but I think given enough time it will acquire that characteristic eventually. One can only hope. What I like best about this tea, though, is the way it makes me feel after drinking it -- it rejunevates and focuses my mind, and it soothes the stomach, too.

The cake / beeng that I've been breaking from has been stored in a closed book cabinet at home with an un-capped bottle of water to help with the moisture level. Generally, however, the storage environment at home is much drier than the off-site cellar where I keep most of my wines and teas. This makes me wonder if the several cakes of YYX (thin and thick paper versions) that I keep off-site have progressed differently than the ones I have at home. I should like to fetch some and do a taste comparison soon.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Greek Feast, 2005 Amethystos & 2006 Kouros

Whipped Caviar Tarama, Yogurt Tzatziki, Eggplant Melitzanisalata, Fassolia Beans, Manestra Pasta, Kalamaria, Dolmathes, Keftethes, Spanakopita, Pastitsio,…

These were some of the wonderful Greek dishes I had with my family in the later half of yesterday. Not exactly a traditional Independence Day fares, which usually involve lots of BBQ’s, beers and red Californian zinfandel. Let's just say we celebrated the 4th of July the Greek-American way at a popular local Greek restaurant not more than 5 minutes from where we live, called The Great Greek.

A bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champage got our appetite going as a starter beverage. And then a red 2005 Amethythos and a white 2006 Kouros accompanied the sumptuous Greek feast we had.

The non-vintage Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is a nice standard fare Champagne…toasty, yeasty, with fine bubbles. It hit the spot well.

The 2006 Kouros, a white wine made from Rhoditis (aka: Roditis) grape variety, is from the southern part of Greece near Patras. This wine tasted dry and a bit citrussy, which went very well with the first course dishes of Greek salad, various creamy, whipped dips and other meze. It reminded me of a simple but pleasant Californian Sauvignon Blanc table wine. 2 stars (quite good).

The 2005 Amethystos from Adriani, Drama, is a blend of local Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Limnio, an indigenous Greek red wine grape variety. This wine apparently was aged in large, 225 litre French Limousin oak barrels for a year before being released. Lots of blueberry, some earthiness, talcum, and a bit of good funk. The tannin is quite pronounced, and the oak soft and judicious. Quite delicious. 3 stars (good, recommended).

I ended the meal with a plate Galaktobouriko, which personally was a bit too runny and salty for a dessert. A cup of super concentrated Greek coffee with a side of sticky sweet compliment called Loukomi ended the meal.

But what is a Greek feast without some live music and dance…

Friday, July 4, 2008

1950's Shui Xian Oolong

Happy 4th!

Something special deserves its own moment. When it comes to a unique tea, it means finding a calm and casual window of time to savor it. The morning of July 4th was such that I decided to open a small package from The Tea Gallery containing 25gr of 1950’s Shui Xian oolong. I’ve been meaning to try this old tea out since it arrived 2 weeks ago, but a calm enough morning has been a rarity these days.

Upon opening the packet, I dived my nose into the mylar bag and took a few short, successive sniffs. There wasn’t much to nose about, however. Whatever mild scent present was reminiscent of old parchments with a hint of something sweet.

The leaves were quite broken, with about equal amount of larger-sized ones and the small bits. Five or six decades of handling and storage tend to do that to lightly rolled tea leaves. There were also about an equal amount of brown and black leaves in the mix. The black ones have some sheen about them.

This was to be the oldest Wuyi oolong that I’ve ever tried to date.

I filled my small, thin-walled 75ml Yixing pot half-full of dry leaves (1/2 full is a personal preference when it comes to Wuyi teas). I did everything carefully, as one would when handling something so old and fragile. I poured the water gently, in small stream, aimed at the rim of the pot’s opening so as not roil the leaves within.

The pre-rinse was done in a flash, and the resulting liquor was muddy, dull dark-brown…not pretty, but it reinforced the perception of its antiquity somehow. I drank the pre-rinse and it felt clean, light and airy, with a taste of old parchments (again). It was very smooth, though not much else.

The next infusion yielded a less muddy tone, and subsequent infusions thereafter would yield redder and clearer tea soup. By the second brew (third, including the pre-rinse), I suddenly felt quite woozy. The force was strong with this tea, and so I stopped to take a bite of sustenance before proceeding further.

On the third brew, suddenly this tea seemed to have awakened from its long slumber. The liquor became tastier and the aftertaste more pronounced. Though I wouldn’t regard it as complex tasting, in its simplicity and straightforwardness hid something pleasant, and that is the chaqi and its ability to leave a lasting aftertaste. With each sip, after the liquor slid down the throat smoothly, the ghost of it produced an intense salivation effect that left a long, sweet aftertaste. It’s a wonderful sensation altogether.

As with the pre-rinse, all subsequent infusions remained light, airy and extremely smooth. Its subtle perfume was not found in the liquor, but rather on the bottom of the empty cup...there lies a treat for your nose!

The packet of 25 grams doesn’t go a long way. There is only enough left for 1 more session. Is it worth the price? Insofar discovery is concerned, I think so.

4 stars (VG. Good chaqi and lasting aftertaste)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

1998 Shu Pu'er Tuocha From The Tea Gallery

First off, Olé España!!! Finally!!!

This tea sample came from The Tea Gallery in New York City, a brick-and-mortar tea store which only recently inaugurated its online store. Congratulations! We in the tea blogosphere have known about this establishment for quite some time as the quasi-headquarter of New York City's teaheads, such as Toki.

I must generously give my thanks to Dae, of The Tea Gallery, who was most courteous and patient with this first-time customer’s incessant questioning about the shu pu’er at hand (we had a lengthy, multiple exchanges of emails due to our confusion with another shu tuocha).

On to the tea.

Dry: decent-sized leaves with lots of stalks in the mix. Earthy-red-and-black in color, with a clean appearance and absent of mold or any hint of it. It gave off a fresh, clean, woody smell. One could see (and smell) that the tea went through the pre-requisite wo dui process to have been classified as a shu, but perhaps not all the way through. Also, it was apparent that this 10-year old tea had been well-stored.

Brewing parameter: 1/3 full of dry leaves in a 125ml Yixing pot. Mineral water, boiling-hot temperature, 5 sec. wash, 30 sec. rest. 10s, 15s, 30s, 45s, 1m, 2m…then brewed with warm water for 4 hours.

Liquor: clean-tasting, thick body, pleasantly woody, and smooth. The first 2 infusions had some silky-smooth astringency (from the stalks?), but this characteristic dissipated thereafter to give a pristine mouthfeel. There was hardly any fault with this shu pu’er, though in itself was quite ordinarily pleasant. Its taste profile hardly changed from one infusion to another. Lasted for about 6 - 7 infusions.

Overall: a thoroughly pleasant and faultless shu tuocha pu’er, if rather charmingly ordinary and straightforward. I have no complain about this tea. I enjoyed drinking it.

3.5 stars (good / very good)

On another I visited the various gardens at The Huntington Library in San Marino. Below is a snapshot of the tearoom in the Japanese Garden.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

George Michael -- 25 Live Tour

Just returned from George Michael's concert in Anaheim. Great show! He is in perfect form, commands a great stage presence, and his voice carries its timeless charm, as if unaffected by years gone by and drugs. In fact, he sounds much better in person than on the records. Not many artists can do that. Bravo! Personal favorite song of the night: Praying for Time.

Some pictures from the concert (a bit grainy due to camera set at ISO 1600):

Also spotted within a stone's throw from us were comedian Kathy Griffin and the oh-so-very-sensual Dita Von Teese, the famous burlesque artist (she's the ex-wife of the oh-so-very-freaky Marylin Manson).

In the glass: 2004 Kahurangi Estate Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand. Lots of stewed strawberries, graphite, lively acidity. Another satisfying Pinot Noir from New Zealand.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where is Hobbes?

(click to enlarge picture)

Funny Bumper Stickers

I think most bumper stickers say stupid things. But once in a while I see some funny and witty ones, like this one that I saw this morning on the 405 FWY on my way to work -- stuck on the butt of a beat up Toyota.

[Update] Which reminds me (in fairness to both parties) of another one that I saw quite a while ago:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is the Story Behind This Tea?

(Click picture to enlarge. L - R: Dry leaves ; Dry -- close up; Wet leaves)

What could you tell me about this tea...its origin, its original name, its tradition, its production method, its brewing method, etc.? The only information I have is where this tea was grown (Mirik, India) and that it is classified as a white tea. I would very much love to know more beyond the mere basics.

For now, all I know is not only the leaves look immaculate, but it also tastes pure and simply beautiful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

California Girls and a Malibu Merlot

(Santa Monica Beach, about 5:45pm)

Yeah, we went to the beach again to cool down. Lots of people today.

Afterwards, we rented The Golden Compass, the one with Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig and other big names in it. I decided to uncork the 2004 Semler Merlot from Malibu to go with the movie. This is one of the bottles that I purchased while visiting Malibu Family Wines' tasting bar a few weeks ago.

TN: A pleasant, if simple, everyday merlot made from grapes grown in the Saddle Rock – Malibu AVA. There is a certain indistinctiveness on the nose. I think “muddled” is the word that wine critics often use to describe such indecisiveness of aromas. In the mouth, low acidity makes the wine feel rather flat. Primarily of blue and black berries, and secondarily of pleasant earthy tones. The tannins started out coarse and sandy, and improved into a fine, dusty feel with some airing. Medium to long finish.

Overall: A simple-tasting merlot that is quite pleasant and mellow, but unremarkable. It’s a nice everyday wine to enjoy with red-sauced pasta dishes or pizzas (maybe popcorn, too). For $24/bottle, however, there are better Merlot alternatives in this price range to be had from Napa Valley or the Washington State.

2 stars (quite good) -- for both the wine and the movie, coincidentally.

Weekend Dim Sum & 2 Indian Teas

Going to a dim sum usually means a time out with the family, lots of dumplings, chicken feet (love 'em!), and light conversation over many cups of tea. Whenever we do that, I prefer to bring my own tea leaves from home to be brewed in lieu of the restaurant's, which is more often than not lower in quality (passable, but...).

This morning, I brought along 2 tea samples that I received from The Simple Leaf (thanks Nikhil!). One is a single estate green tea from Darjeeling that is sold under the code name "Chloe". The other is called "Black Frost", a black tea from the Nilgiri Mountains in the Tamil Nadu state, South India.

I simply asked a waiter to bring two pots of hot water. Pre-rinsing the leaves, however, was a challenge without a lidded bowl, so I skipped that part and just tossed a handful of leaves straight into the pots. Now and then, I asked for more hot water to be added into the half-full teapots when I saw that the teas were getting too concentrated and starting to taste bitter.

Chloe, the green tea, is a rather different and interesting sort of Darjeeling for me. As far as I can remember, it's the first green tea I've had from Darjeeling. It’s subtle with spicy, minty qualities. An introverted sort, if you must, for one who has a sexy French name. The Black Frost, which I am partial of, is smooth and slightly malty with a bit of natural sweetness. In contrast, Black Frost is the extroverted masculine type. Of the two, I thought Black Frost was the more versatile one with the foods today.

(click to enlarge pictures)

In fairness, 1st and 2nd flushes Darjeeling teas do have pleasant acidity that makes them great companions of foods, especially spicy ones. Chloe, being a green Darjeeling, however, has completely different characteristics than its 1st and 2nd-flush relatives.

Reviewing the restaurant bill at home, I wonder why they still charged me $3.20 for my own teas!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

"From Garden to Gaiwan" -- U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event

News and accounts of the U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event held on Thursday, June 19th have started to trickle in. Regretfully I couldn't make the journey, but my tea tray and one of my Yixing pots were there. Lucky them.

(Brian S. Kirbis, the researcher - host of the event. Photo by Will Yardley, posted with permission.)

Blogs that have chronicled the event:

Tea Nerd -- by Brent Hughes

LJ Puerh Community -- posted by Davelcorp

...still awaiting for Jason's version of the day in his blog.

2007 Winter Dancong "Huang Jing"

This is a Dancong oolong that is different -- in appearance and taste -- than all Dancong's that I have tried in the past. If I didn't regard Guang, the proprietor of Houde Fine Tea, as trustworthy, I would have thought that he is trying to profit from the fallen leaves in his yard. Such is the appearance of the leaves as you can see in the pictures below (with 25¢ coin as a rough scale). They are bold, open and unrolled with different shapes, sizes and colors. Quite a fascinating appearance, actually.

This tea yields a medium-yellow to light-orange liquor color, depending on the water temperature and steeping time. The aromatics is subtle and pleasant when brewed carefully, which reminded me of various yellow fruits (peach, mango, pineapple). It's also a touch floral and honey-like in the nose. All these pleasant aromas can become overwhelmingly concentrated, however, when the tea is over brewed, though it hardly ever gets bitter.

Light to medium-bodied, with sateen-y smooth astringency. For a medium - light roasted tea, it does not exhibit much of any roasty characteristics.

Very good and delicious. Pure and precise in taste.

Details from Houde's online store:
2007 Winter Dancong "Huang Jing"
Origin: Wu Dong, Feng Huang County, Guang Dong Province, China
Fermentation: 35%
Roast: Medium-light wood roasting

Product page (while still available)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Refuge From The Heat

The heat today during the daytime was incapacitating. The digital thermometer inside my car clocked in at 113' F (45' C)! As I'm writing this (11pm), the has my area at 91'F (33' C). Too much of a good thing.... And there is going to be more of it since today is the first official day of summer season for Southern California.

There was no mood whatsoever for any tea or red wine (I ran out of white wine at home...need to replenish the wine fridge). So I took refuge from the heat by staying mostly at home and with some beers.

One of my all-around favorites is the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s nicely malty, hoppy, with a full body taste. Pretty excellent.

Grolsch is an occasional favorite of mine. It’s a rather light lager from Holland. It's got a good toastiness to it and also a bit of hoppy-ness that's refreshing. Good for a hot sizzling day such as today. It's not as good as Pilsner-Urquell, another favorite, but certainly better than most mass-produced domestic beers.

TN: 2001 Muga Reserva, Rioja

Purchased when released (~2004, $21). Cellared at constant 57' F (offsite).

Muted, almost absent of any nose, and acidic tasting immediately after being uncorked. Suspected that wine was defective or dead, but decided to decant. Improved over 3+ hours of time in the decanter and in the glass through airing. Looks like it was "sleeping" or going through an awkward period. Black and blue berries emerged over time, with soft and judicious oak as its frame. However, the wine remained disjointed and angular. Will leave half of a bottle in the decanter for a re-tasting in 24 hours. Will update tasting note.

[Update]: A day later...the wine remained out of balance and acidic. I'm attributing this to bottle-to-bottle variance. Will try another bottle in the near future and compare tasting notes.

("Muga, 2001, Haro - Rioja, España")

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It Hurts to Laugh

My stomach and sides have been hurting lately. It's from laughing too much, thanks to David Sedaris and his new book "When You Are Engulfed in Flames". I'm still reading it...and enjoying it tremendously.

Here's a joke in a Russian gazetta, translated for me by my bro-in-law. A lesson in optimism.

A man came into an E.R. with a big knife stuck in his bloody back. Everyone gasped in horror and rushed to help him.
Doctor: "You must be in a lot of pain!" (panic)
Man: "Only when I laugh."

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Great Cup of Black Coffee

Had a pleasant lunch today with a couple of friends at the Coast, one of the restaurants inside the charming Shutters on the Beach Hotel in Santa Monica. The weather was perfect! I ordered the fish and chips, probably because I've been rambling about everything British ad nauseam in my previous post. Since we had to return to our respective offices rather shortly, we didn't drink any alcohol.

Towards the end of our meal, I asked for a cup of black coffee as the mood striked. The coffee was very fresh and delicious and I kept telling my friends to get some, too. It came with a crystallized sugar-on-a-stick that can be sucked like a candy lollipop or stirred in the cup. A nice touch. There was something relaxing about that coffee's taste and smell which complemented the charm of the place, the conversation and the view of the sandy beach right outside.

I never was one who would encourage others to switch from coffee to tea. Those who do tend to have an agenda along the line of promoting or selling tea. And I think today I was reminded of how a good cup of coffee can give a very pleasant gastronomic experience. As Cookie Monster said, though, coffee is only a "sometime" drink for me.

U.C. Berkeley Pu'er Tea Event

A few tea friends I know (some from the L.A. Tea Affair group) will be at tomorrow's Pu'er event at the U.C. Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. Too bad the event is happening on a week-day and I can't leave work and family. Hopefully we will get to read the account of the day, the people, the teas and the overall reception from one or more participants. Some pictures would be nice, too. If any participant is willing to share your stories and / or pictures from the event, you are more than welcome to post it here.


From Garden to Gaiwan:
the Journey of Pu'er Tea
June 19, 2008, 6:00pm

After centuries of travel along the "Ancient Tea-Horse Route", pu'er tea is undergoing a renaissance that is enlivening the palates and the imaginations of tea aficionados within China and abroad. From 'natural' landscapes of cultivation, to 'cultural' practices of consumption, what are the issues that inform our understanding of this commodity?

Brian S. Kirbis, a researcher who has spent the last two years examining the biological and cultural transformations taking place within Yunnan's tea industry, will present a multimedia event centered on a Bulang village in southwestern Yunnan. Following the presentation will be a gongfu-style tea tasting, allowing participants to experience a variety of pu'er teas.

As space is limited, a reservation is required.

Date: June 19, 2008
Time: 6:00pm
Location: The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
103 Kroeber Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720
Nearest cross street: College Ave.
Admission: $3 for Museum Members, UCB Faculty, Staff, Students and Seniors (55+)
$5 for General

Photo by Kap Cris on Flickr

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An Outdated Wine Menu and a Snobby Fromager

My wife and I were at the Patina restaurant again at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, and we were reasonably disappointed with the wine selections and the cheese service. (Patina was awarded Michelin 1-star and it is a member of Relais & Châteaux).

With the wine, it’s not that they don't have an expansive list. They do. In fact, their Bordeaux and Burgundy selections are in the hundreds or more. But we were in the mood for a bottle of great German Riesling to go with our light fish entrees. The German selections, consisting of only a few names, some of which are respected producers, occupy at most 1/4 of a page in their very extensive wine menu.

Our first choice was the 2004 Dr. Robert Weil Kiedricher Grafenberg Riesling, but they could not find it in the cellar. The same thing happened with our second choice, a Zeltinger Sonnenurh Riesling from a producer that I can't recall. The polite sommelier apologized and gave us a rather perplexing excuse: the German wines were selected by the previous Sommelier when they were still at the old location on Melrose Avenue, and that section has not been updated since.

Didn’t they move from the old location and into the Walt Disney Concert Hall 5 years ago? And isn’t the current Sommelier supposed to be responsible for what’s in the wine menu – and in the cellar – today?

The sommelier, however, graciously offered us a 2006 Gunderloch Kabinett as a replacement for the first two that they did not have. This wine would have been fine, but we were in the mood for something classier than Gunderloch’s bottom-of-the-line bottling. I declined the bottle.

So I chose an Alsatian Riesling by Zind-Humbretch from his Brand vineyard, instead. When the sommelier came back to the table to show me the label before uncorking the bottle, lo and behold it’s not what I have ordered! Wait a second here, I told him, I ordered Humbrecth’s Brand, not his Rangen de Thann. So again, he apologized and said the Brand was not available, too. Tired of probably sounding like a wine snob to the neighboring patrons, I told him that we’d go with this bottle. It’s a phenomenal and excellent wine by all account, but Alsatian Rieslings were never one I’d prefer with fish dishes. It’s too heavy and overwhelming with the lighter fares.

Fast forward to dessert, it was time for some of Patina’s well-regarded cheese selections. My wife and I love cheeses, but we are ones who never pay any attention to their names, types, where from, what from, etc. But we remembered one name that we liked from when we visited Patina the last time: Humbolt Fog, a California cheese.

The lady Fromager arrived at our table with her cart full of the day's cheese offerings. For some reason, we found her to be extremely snooty, as if the fact that we did not know what cheeses to choose was her license to be snobby. When we mentioned Humbolt Fog, she replied with an air of disdain that she did not carry any mass-produced cheeses. Only small production cheeses, she said. Well, she must not be the same Fromager who attended to us last time. Fine.

So I ordered 2 blue cheeses, one from Spain and the other from Italy (don’t remember the names and don’t really care), 2 soft goat cheeses and a hard French cheese. They were all delicious, despite the service.

All in all, though the foods were good, we left the restaurant feeling rather disappointed with the overall dining experience. A $400 dinner-for-two should not have felt like this. Seems like the talk out there about Patina no longer being a leading L.A. restaurant is true.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bottle Shock, The Movie

Got this news off of Jamie Goode's excellent wine blog.

It looks like Chateau Montelena, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and probably the California wine industry in general is about to be in the limelight with the upcoming release of a wine-themed movie titled "
Bottle Shock". It's based on the 1976 "Judgment of Paris" taste-off that brought Californian wines head-to-head with the heavyweights of the French wine world. "Bottle Shock" got mixed reviews at the Sundance Festival, and its existence is not without controversy. Steven Spurrier, the mastermind behind the 1976 event, is apparently threatening to sue the people behind the making of Bottle Shock.

I wonder what positive and/or negative impact this movie will bring to the California wine industry (and French's, too, for that matter). The last time Hollywood came up with "Sideways", that movie did two great things: it placed Pinot Noir and Santa Barbara wine country in the conscious mind of the general public, and it helped push Merlot out of trend (thanks to Miles' opinion of it).

What is bottle shock as a wine term?

What is the 1976 Judgment of Paris?

(Thank God for Wikipedia!)

Fishy Mud, Anyone? 2006 Menghai Dayi V93 Shupu

I remember thinking what a nice shu pu'er the 2005 Menghai Dayi V93 was. That was about a year ago. As of this morning, I only had about 10gr of it left, and now it's all gone. The precursor that lead to the finishing of that last bit was the arrival of several tuo's of its younger sibling, the 2006 Dayi V93 (batch # 602).

It was a harsh lesson learned once more. Never assume just because last year's version was excellent, the same should be expected of the next attempt.

Drinking the 2006 V93 was like downing mud in which dead fish had been preserved before. It's probably subtler than my description, but definitely in the same ballpark. For discovery's sake, I endured 6 torturous infusions before giving up. That's when I started to doubt my opinion of the 2005. Maybe fishy mud was something that I liked last year?

(Pictured: 2006 Menghai Dayi V93 Shu Pu'er)

So I brewed that last 10gr of the 2005 V93 after I had had enough of the disgusting sludge. The difference was nectar compared to, well, mud! The 2005 was woody, fresh, clean, creamy and had a slightly sweet aftertaste (huigan). I kept brewing it until all that was left was thinly colored water. I enjoyed every infusion that I could get out of it. The smell of the wet leaves reminded me of root-beer, as it did last year. My stomach felt soothed and cooled, and my mouth was rid of any bad taste.

So what is wrong with the 2006 V93? Is it only with batch # 602? Will time transform it into a swan? I have a sinking feeling that it's crap and forevermore will be so.

I wonder where I can get more of the 2005 vintage from.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Meeting of Teaheads in L.A.


It's been a rather long time since I last met my LA tea friends and MarshalN. My nearly year-long absence from the tea (and wine) blogospheres and various tea meetings placed me in a role of one who tries to catch up. There were news and events of personal and tea-related nature that I only learned from these folks last Sunday. I felt a certain sense of reconnection from seeing them again. So to say that it was a special day for me is an understatement.

In attendance were: Will and Louise (our generous and gracious hosts), MarshalN (our guest of honor), Danica, Jason (aka: Bears), Davin, Nick and myself.

After the ice breakers and introductions, we dived straight into the teas. I tried my best to pay attention to the teas being tasted, but I must admit that the company and conversations were the highlight of this meeting, at least for me. The camaraderie was instantaneous and kept getting better as we exchanged stories, jokes, and news over sips of fine teas. We may not come from the same culture and background, but tea brought us all together in friendships. This was what I've been missing for nearly a year.


(Danica taking the helm with the green teas. Davin, on the left, and Jason observed)

The teas: fresh Anji Baicha, fresh Long Jing, 20+ years old Taiwanese oolong, 1980's Baozhong, Wuyi Gu Shu Cha ("wild tea tree"), and Wuyi Da Hong Pao (that I missed because I had to leave early).

The 20+ years old Taiwanese oolong and the Wuyi Gu Shu Cha were quite special. The former, brought by MarshalN, was special in a way that it allows me to learn a characteristic of old oolong's that I never knew before. The smell of the dry leaves reminded me of dried plums or berries that have been dried up for Chinese medicinal purposes. MarshalN mentioned chenpi, or dried tangerine peel. I guess it could be that, too. The taste of the tea itself was decidedly medicinal (oriental) to me. The term "Chinese herbal chest" comes to mind. As expected of such an old and highly roasted tea, it kept giving and giving. The herbal aromas were much stronger in its first 4 or 5 infustions. As we went on brewing it, the tea did not lose much of its full body, though the aromas became subtler. Most of us seemed to prefer the subtler, later brews.


(MarshalN, the guest of honor, in-charge. Nick, right, sports badass sideburns -- totally cool, dude!)

Unexpectedly, however, this old tea was highly astringent. I asked if astringency (rough, pucker-y texture in the mouth and on the tongue) is commonly found in aged oolongs. Apparently, yes. I have always assumed that the older a tea gets, the smoother it should be. My expectation for a silky-smooth mouthfeel was clearly misplaced. This was an education for me.

The Wuyi Gu Shu Cha was decidedly delicious, although unfortunately, I had to leave the party after the second or third brew in order to tend to my daughter, who suddenly developed a fever. This is a tea brought over by Will and Louise from their trip to Wuyi Shan, China, last year. This sample was sourced from a vendor whose teas Corax (of Chadao blog) was so impressed with during his visit to the same locale (
click here to read Corax's account of meeting the vendor, Ms. Yu). By the time I had to leave, we had (only) been drinking for about three and a half hours.

Also worth noting was the use of a certain mineral (volcanic?) rocks placed in the fairness cup. Danica and Will swore by the rocks' potent contribution in softening the water, and thus the tea. MarshalN was skeptical at first, but later on admitted to a certain softening of the old oolong he was brewing when the rocks were involved. I remain largely a skeptic, but willing to be open minded about it.


(Will, the host, hosting. Jason and Davin conversing.)

Before I left, MarshalN generously gifted everyone a small earthen Japanese tea cup, each with a unique shape and design in earthy tones. In return, I gave MarshalN a box of
Jawa Oolong made from tea leaves grown and harvested near my hometown.

We, LA Teaheads, seem to get the grace of meeting MarshalN only when he is in town on some family occasion. That, unfortunately, does not happen often enough (the last time he visited our metropolis was more than 2 years ago). We tried, though unsuccesfully, to convince MarshalN to move to LA permanently. No way, he said, he won't and can't stand the driving in LA. Oh c'mon, MarshalN, the first two weeks may be tough! After that, you wouldn't think much about being stuck on the 405 freeway for 2 hours, each way.

This meeting was also chronicled on
MarshalN's blog and on Bear's Blog.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Some Sugar With Your Tea, Papa?

The two greatest natural assets that Southern California has are, to me, its weather and the Pacific coast. And today was a great day to enjoy them with my wife and our princess. To combat the slight late afternoon wind chill, I brought along my tea set and a canister of high-fired Taiwanese Dong Ding oolong1.

The romantic notion of having a peaceful and enjoyable tea session at the beach, however, did not quite come true. Being a loving parent sometimes mean knowing not to be an idealist (fortunately, maybe, I have never been one) and knowing which battle to choose. Today the princess had the upper hand and she relished her triumph fully.

My girl: Papa, can I play sand with your teacup, please?
Me: Nooo! (too late)...oh well, I guess papa and mama will have to share a cup now.

(a little later)

My girl: Do you want some sugar (sand), Papa?
Me: Please nooo! (too late, again)

1The tea was a highly aromatic and excellent Spring 2007 Fenghuang Dong Ding oolong purchased from M. Stéphane Erler. We did manage to have a few infusions before she courteously sprinkled some "sugar" into the tea. Must be grandma who taught her that!!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Say What?

I had a business phone call this morning with someone in Worcester, Massachusetts. Throughout our 15-minute conversation, I kept pronouncing the name of the city as wor-chess-ter (the business entity we were discussing about adopted the name of the city as part of its name, and so it had to be mentioned many times). Towards the end of the call, the guy on the other side sheepishly told me: "Well, just to let you know, but the correct way to pronounce the name of our town is woss-ter, as in woss-ter-sheer sauce." Feeling silly, I thanked him for correcting me, and I mentioned that I have had to learn the hard way to pronounce some US cities the way the locals do.

So I learned today how to correctly pronounce Worcester and Worcestershire. I feel like a better cook already. Some others that I had to learn directly from the locals:

Lodi, CA (low-die. Previously pronounced by me as low-dee)

New Orleans, LA (naw'lins or new'awlins. Previously pronounced new-or-leens...made sense, right? Europeans should refrain from pronouncing it as new-or-lay-yon or new-or-lay-ans if they want to avoid voodoo curses.)

Newark, NJ (noork or nyoo-rk. Previously pronounced new-ark)

Buttzville, NJ (beau-ville. Previously pronounced butts-ville...who would have thought otherwise?!)

On the other hand, no one from New Jersey would say new-joi-see, except for my law professor and jerks from New York.

Any more tricky city names in the USA or other English-speaking countries that I should know how to pronounce like the locals do?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Summer 2006 Guei Fei (Concubine) Dong Ding Oolong

I've been finding myself in the mood for Taiwanese Dong Ding oolongs these past few days. Rummaging through my tea canisters at home, I found a few Dong Ding oolongs from Stéphane Erler of Tea Masters that are long overdue for revisitations. Tonight, I decided to brew the Summer 2006 Guei Fei (Concubine) oolong from Fenghuang, Dong Ding, Taiwan, which I have never noted before in this blog.

Tasting Note: The tea soup was medium amber in color and it has crystal clear clarity. The base perfume was of deep floral notes, accompanied by a fruity and acidic high notes that are commonly found in Oriental Beauty oolong. I thought the high notes reminded me of an unripe green mango or, to borrow Stéphane's accurate description, "sour pineapple." The mouthfeel was rather thin. This tea left a fruity and acidic aftertaste long after it's swallowed.

As noted in Stéphane's blog, this tea was still in the experimental stages, and therefore, its quality may be inconsistent from one vintage to another. I thought that given the amount of high oxidation that this tea received during its manufacture, it was worth comparing it to the 2006 Dong Ding "Hong Shui" (Red Water), which I noted quite some time ago. So I brewed the two teas one after another (with an hour of rest in between sessions). I found the Hong Shui to have a deeper and heavier overall perfume while lacking the high notes found in the Concubine tea. The Hong Shui, however, had a certain sweet, gingery warmth to its characters, which reminded me of entering a cozy home when gingerbread cookies are baking in the oven.

Notice the side-by-side picture of the wet leaves (left side is the Hong Shui): they are quite similar in appearances and colors. The green part of the Hong Shui's leaves is a bit greener than the Gue Fei's, which is closer to being black-green. I wonder if it's caused by varietal/clonal difference, the degree of sunlight exposure or human factors such as processing techniques.

Congratulations, The Half-Dipper!

Hobbes -- Tea Blogger of Note
June 2, 2008

Congratulations to Hobbes on earning a well-deserved recognition in the Hall of Blogs of Note for his The Half-Dipper! Those of us who follow Hobbes' blog know too well that he pens a tea blog extraordinaire (and that it's not about a cartoon tiger who likes to dip itself halfway in a bathtub full of tea). Hobbes...I salute you and thank you for your continued excellence.