Monday, March 23, 2009

Dong Ding Green Jade Tea

I recently scored some Spring 2008 competition grade Dong Ding Green Jade Tea (凍頂翠玉茶) from an online "garage sale." The tea came packaged in a gift box with two 300 gram cans of tea inside. The box and the cans are covered with Chinese words, which I viewed as an educational challenge (instead of doing crosswords or sudoku puzzles, I translate Taiwanese tea packaging!).

The box:

The box has a white sticker at the top which acts as a seal for competition purposes. It says: 2008年春季比賽茶展售會 ("2008 year spring season competition tea event"), 凍頂翠玉茶 ("Frozen Summit Green Jade Tea"), No. 973317 (an item number used for competition purposes), and 南投縣茶商業同業公會 監封 ("Nantou county tea trade guild's strong seal"). Any of you more accomplished Chinese readers are invited to correct or improve my translations.

The can:

The can has the same text as the box, but on the bottom in big gold characters it also says: 優良獎 ("good prize").

Notice the ring-pull at the top of the can, that feature as well as the vacuum packed bag inside were designed to keep this tea very fresh.

The bag:

The bag says: 南投縣茶商業同業公會比賽茶 ("Nantou county tea trade guild's competition tea").

OK... so I have finally gotten to the tea! Here it is. It is very pretty with large plump forest-green rolled leaves and a fresh roasty smell.

The dry leaf:

Dong ding (frozen summit) oolong is a famous product of Nantou county in central Taiwan. Classic dong ding tea, such as this one, has a higher oxidation level and more firing than many newer Taiwanese teas. Because of this, dong ding tea usually keeps its great taste and full body for several years. Some are even intentionally aged and will become better if they're properly stored and baked. I am not worried about this tea changing too much over the next few years so I plan to take my time with it.

On Sunday morning, my wife and I enjoyed 8 great infusions of this competition tea. It delivered a thick smooth body and buttery-caramel aroma. Throughout our relaxed tea session I picked up notes of toasted almonds, honey, ripe apricot and fresh brown rice. Several infusions had time to cool as we played with our 13-month-old daughter. These room temperature cups had a very clean sweet-apple flavor.

Although I'm not sure how this particular tea did in last year's competition, I am personally very pleased with this dong ding and look forward to cupping it again. Perhaps I'll have my next session in about a month to celebrate this tea's first birthday.

Beautiful tea soup:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday tea tastings at Teacup

For five years I have hosted a free Chinese gong fu style tea tasting from 1:00 to 2:00pm almost every Saturday at the Teacup here in Seattle. I will continue this fun and valuable service but now I have two changes I need to make. Starting Saturday, March 28th, I will be requiring a RSVP. You can RSVP anytime, even on Saturday morning by emailing me ( or calling me at work (206-283-5931). Also, the tea tasting will now cost $2.00 (plus tax) per guest. You can still try to "drop in" on the tasting at 1:00 pm but there is a small chance we will be too full. Thank you for your understanding. I really hope to see you at a Saturday tasting soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A member of the League has fallen!

Many of my readers are familiar with the "League of Pots." The League is a tea brewing superhero team that uses my house as its headquarters. Last week, while fighting the forces of evil and defending the weak, Sara was critically injured by an ill-tempered monster named "Galgo" who shoots tornadoes out of his mouth. In the end, several other members of the League were able to destroy Galgo but they returned home with very heavy hearts.

Poor Sara

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vegan Taiwan - Gallery #1

If you're a vegan (like me) and you really love to eat, then you should go to Taiwan! The food there is awesome. (Warning: the following photos may make you hungry.)

"Cold fruits" juice with cherry tomatoes and tiny limes.

Just-add-water noodle soup from 7-11.

Veggie Dim sum (素的點心)!

Fenqihu (奮起湖) train lunch box served in a bamboo box.

Microwavable 7-11 lunch box.

Nourishing noodles with vegetables and mushrooms!

Steamed taro bread (饅頭) and fresh soy milk (豆漿) for breakfast.

Hotel breakfast with congee (粥), toast, veggies and tofu (豆腐).

Seasoned black rice and jicama salad.

Green herb risotto with mushrooms.

Noodles and roasted veggies.

S H A V E I C E !

A vegan lunch box with lots of tasty faux meat.

A vegetarian banquet with: tea oil noodles, sauteed greens, fried tofu,
bamboo, peanuts, faux chicken, potato soup and sweet bean roll deserts.

Sauteed bamboo with mushrooms and chilies.

Fried tofu with greens and chilies.

A quick lunch from a Buddhist buffet.

Fresh pineapple-carrot-bitter melon juice at a night market.

Wild mountain berries and fresh mountain "passion fruit-tomato".

Fried rice and lotus root soup with fried tofu.

Green tea and fresh juice cocktail served in front of an indoor waterfall.

M O R E F R E S H F R U I T !

These are just a few of the wonderful things I've eaten over in Taiwan. Some other delicious things, that I don't have photos of, include: You tiao (油條) (fried dough sticks), chou dofu (臭豆腐) (stinky tofu), aiyu (愛玉) jelly, and vegetarian mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) and hot pot (火鍋). As you can see, the vegetarian food in Taiwan is almost as good as the oolong tea!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Man from Sichuan

During my first winter as a tea seller, back in 2001, I had a curious encounter with an old man from China. It was a slow afternoon at the Teacup and I was the only person in the shop when the man came in to poke around. I greeted him casually by saying, "Hi. Let me know if you have any questions." He nodded at me while browsing our selection of teaware and then he gravitated to our small selection of Chinese tea pots and gaiwans. As he examined a pretty white gaiwan (蓋碗) with nine peaches on it he turned and asked me in heavily accented English, "Do you know how to use this?"

I picked up another gaiwan and provided a quick explanation of gaiwan tea brewing while pretending to pour tea into another cup. The man then said, "Yes... I know... but do you really know how to use this?"

That one threw me... so I replied, "I'm sorry sir, what do you mean?"

"I will come back tomorrow and show you." He answered and then said, "good bye" and headed for the door.

As I tidied the teaware on the display shelves, I was left to wonder what he was talking about and if he really would come back tomorrow.

The following day I had nearly forgotten about him until he approached me at the counter.

"I'm sorry I have to leave today," he began. "That is my wife outside," he said, and pointed to an older woman standing outside the front door under an umbrella. She smiled at us and gave a quick, casual wave. Then the man said, "I wanted to give you these," and he handed me three photographs.

I said, "Thank you, sir," and took the three mysterious photos from his hands. I looked at them briefly but I still wasn't sure what any of this meant.

Then the man said goodbye and headed to the door.

"Goodbye" I called back to him... but the door was already closing behind him.

I then examined the three photos. On their backs, they were numbered 1 through 3 in the top right corner and they each had carefully written English text describing the pictures on the front. It was also noted that they were taken in May of 2001. This morning, I went to Kinkos to scan the photos so that I could share them on my blog. After each picture, I will provide the text exactly as written.

Photo #1

Enjoying mid-morning tea and "symphony" of bird music in the Poet DuFu Museum, Chengdu, China. Sign says: Bamboo Forest Tea Garden. Well patronised by locals.

Photo #2

In the Poet DuFu Museum's Bamboo Forest Tea Garden. Teacup language between patron and server, from top left clockwise:
-Cover leaning on cup = Too hot, Wait.
-Cover sitting upside down = Needs water
-Cover sitting upside up = Don't remove, will be back.

Photo #3

More teacup language, left to right:
-Lid, saucer, cup lined up as shown = Tea is no good
-Inverted lid on cup = bring bill
Patrons enjoying mid-morning tea and "symphony" of bird music in the Bamboo Forest Tea Garden in the Poet DuFu Museum, Chengdu, China. DuFu was/is a very revered poet to the Chinese people and the Chinese scholars worldwide. Thermos replaces traditional tea pot in this instance. Note bamboo furniture and chess board on table top.

I'm not sure if the man was from Sichuan 四川 (the province in which these photos were taken), but I am sure he was Chinese (I just thought that would be a cool title for this post, plus I'm pretty sure that woman on the far right in photo 2 was the mans's wife). I often wonder if the old man went around giving these educational tea photos to everybody he met... or if I was the only one?

In my very first blog post I said I would only post photographs that I or a close friend or family member had taken, but I thought I could make an exception to share these photos, because they were given to me directly by this man, whom I presume was the photographer.

Of course I was honored to be given these three precious photos and I keep them safe with all of my other "treasured tea artifacts." I hope you liked this true story and that this information comes in handy if you ever need to communicate with your tea server in Sichuan!

Also, in the one in six billion chance that you are "The Man from Sichuan," or if you think you know this man... then please email me, I'd love to thank him again for the gift!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Teacup and J-Tea

Last Saturday, my friend Josh Chamberlain (the owner of Jtea in Eugene, OR) came up to Teacup to pour tea for some of my friends and clients. Teacup has sold many of Josh's Taiwanese oolongs since we first met him over 5 years ago and I consider him to be one of my early inspirations to study Mandarin and to travel in search of fresh tea.

Josh and I:

The guests:

Before the tasting we selected four of Josh's excellent teas to present our guests. We cupped (in this order): Four Seasons Oolong tea (四季烏龍茶), Dong Pian Oolong (冬片), Charcoal Baked Dong Ding Oolong tea (凍頂烏龍茶) and Lishan High Mountain Black (aka Red) tea (梨山高山紅茶). All of these teas were made in December of 2008 and imported by Josh during his most recent tea-buying trip.

Josh brewing tea:

The Four Seasons and the Dong Pian were both lightly oxidized oolongs. Though these two were grown below 1000 meters they have very good body, long lasting aftertaste and a rosy-sweet aroma. The Charcoal Baked Dong Ding poured a delicious and warming brew that had people sighing with pleasure as they sipped. Our last tea was the Lishan Black. It had big, black leaves that were slightly twisted and very beautiful. It poured a dark red color and had a roasty, winey aroma. All of the teas were very well received. If you're in Seattle and you get a chance, please stop by the Teacup and try some of these teas. We should have some in stock for a little while. Or feel free to contact Josh through his website or blog, as I'm sure he'd love to tell you more about his teas.

Thanks so much to all of you who made it to the tasting. I had a great time and look forward to doing more of these special tasting events. Also, big thanks to Josh for finding some great tea, driving it up to Seattle, and expertly preparing it for all of us.

Here is a close up of that tasty Lishan Black:

Oh... and Shu Shu was there too!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Black Dragon Tea Bar's Email List

Did you know I have an email mailing list? I use it to send my friends and clients information about Black Dragon Tea Bar and Teacup. I also use it to invite people to my special tea tastings and to advertise great teas when I have some for sale. If you want to join my list please email me at

If you are not sure about whether or not you, or somebody you know, should join my email list please use the flow-chart below to help you decide:

#1 Do you like tea?
Yes - Continue to #2 / No - You should not be on the list.

#2 Do you live in or around Seattle Washington?
Yes - You should be on the list! / No - Continue to #3

#3 Do you like traditional, unscented, Chinese and Taiwanese teas?
Yes - You should be on the list! / No - You should not be on the list.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Last month, my Chinese teacher's parents were in town. During their visit we all met for tea at Seattle's Teahouse Kuanyin. I was surprised and honored when they gave me a 300 gram bag of He Huan Shan high mountain oolong tea (合歡山高山烏龍茶)! According to the package this tea is winter 2008 tea. Before this generous gift, I had never heard of He Huan Shan (合歡山), but that does not surprise me, because you can study Taiwanese tea your whole life but you'll never learn everything.

After doing a little research I learned that He Huan Shan is located near Lishan (梨山) in central Taiwan. Its main peak is 3,416 metres (or 11,207 feet) high and it is one of only a few peaks in Taiwan to receive snow. He Huan Shan tea is generally produced between 2000 and 2400 meters which is considered very high elevation and excellent for oolong tea.

The dry leaf:

I have been enjoying this tea immensely. It has a very clean taste. My wife, who has a great palate for high mountain tea, likened the flavor to Lishan high mountain tea (which is often our mutual favorite). She said it was buttery, fruity and had good hui gan (回甘) which means lingering sweet aftertaste, and I would absolutely agree. The aroma of a freshly poured, steaming hot cup of this tea will start off with a milky, malty, vanilla aroma but as it quickly cools the aroma will completely change, morphing into a much brighter "apple candy" and "sugar cane" smell. The color of each infusion is a deceptively light yellow and the taste is quite unique. Some flavor notes that I picked up in my last session included: alpine meadow grass, toasted grains, and sparkly yeasty beer. This particular Taiwanese tea, unlike some other high mountain oolong teas, does not seem to have any floral notes, which can be a very nice change of pace if you're not craving a flowery brew. I have recently been brewing this oolong in Desmond and if Desmond is filled about 1/4 full of dry leaf I will easily get 15 great infusions!

The color of the 3rd infusion:

In closing, I'd like to thank Cindy (my Chinese teacher) and her parents, Henry and Mei, for giving me this excellent tea! If you ever get a chance to try some He Huan Shan high mountain tea don't hesitate!

The big leathery leaves after 12 awesome infusions:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Shu Shu's Mandarin Lesson #3

Hi everybody. It's time for another Mandarin lesson with me Shu Shu the tea dragon!

Today's phrases are:

早安 = Good Morning
早 = zǎo (rhymes with "wow") = morning
安 = ān = peace

你舒服嗎? = Are you comfortable?
你 = nǐ = you
舒服 = shūfu (pronounced "shoe foo") = comfortable
嗎 = ma (pronounced "muh") = this particle makes the sentence a question

謝謝老師 = Thank you teacher
謝謝 = xièxie (sounds kind of like "shayshay") = thank you or thanks
老師 = lǎoshī = (lao rhymes with "wow" and shi sounds like "sure") = teacher

Shu Shu says: "I really hope he pours that hot tea on my head!"