Thursday, May 28, 2009

我的春2009 阿里山高山烏龍茶到了

Yesterday I recieved my shipment of Alishan High Mountain tea (阿里山高山烏龍茶) from my friend Charlies in Shizhuo, Taiwan (石桌台灣). Charlies told me that this tea was picked on May 2nd and finished on May 3rd, then he baked the tea for about 2 hours and packed it after cooling on May 5th. His tea bushes are "soft-stem oolong" (軟枝烏龍)*, and were planted by his father 24 years ago.

Three photos taken at Charlies' tea garden and beautiful homestay!






I wasted no time opening the box and brewing up a bowl of this new oolong tea. The sweet fresh aroma of high mountain oolong instantly transported me back to Charlies' pristine mountain home. The tea exceeded my expectations with its heady fruit-sugar aroma and notes of apple, tangerine rind and pine needle. It has a thick smooth body, lingering sweetness, and a touch of mellow comfortable roasting.

Here are a few photos from yesterday's 8 wonderful infusions:








This oolong tea is now for sale! I currently have about 9 Taiwanese jins** of this tea available. It is packed into half-jin bags. The cost is $9.50 per ounce or $80 per 300 gram bag. A half-ounce sample is available for free (one per customer) upon request, but people outside of Seattle will have to pay $3 for shipping. I am only selling this tea to customers in the USA (unless you ask me very nicely... then I might consider an international sale). Payments can be made via cash, paypal or check. The tea can be shipped (add $5), delivered or picked up depending on your individual needs. Please email me at blackdragontea@gmail.com if you're interested in buying some of this excellent high mountain tea. 謝謝您!

* According to Houde Asian Arts: Soft-stem oolong is the original oolong species introduced to Taiwan from Fujian, China in the mid 19th century. Today, only a few farmers still grow soft-stem oolong out of nostalgia or special orders from clients. Many tea farmers have moved to heartier cultivars such as qingxin (青心),jinxuen (金萱),or four seasons (四季).

**A Taiwanese jin is 600 grams or about 20 ounces.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

June Tea Classes at Teacup

I am excited to announce Teacup's tea class schedule for June 2009!

On Thursday, June 4th I will teach "A World of Tea." This class will discuss all the major categories of tea and provide many samples. Learn how to identify the type of tea just by looking at the leaves, and understand how processing and region affect different teas.

On Thursday, June 18th I will teach "Introduction to Black Tea." In this class, we will learn what to look for when you buy black tea and how to brew a perfect cup. We will also taste several famous styles of black teas from China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. We will also look at leaf grades and leaf sizes and how they affect the brew.

These evening classes will go from 7:00 to 8:00 pm and cost $2 per guest. They require a RSVP (it's usually OK to RSVP even on the same day!) You can RSVP anytime by visiting, calling or emailing the Teacup (206-283-5931), (teacup@seattleteacup.com), or by emailing me at blackdragontea@gmail.com. I will let you know as new classes are scheduled, and please feel free to suggest a class idea on a subject you'd like to learn more about. I hope to see you soon at a class!

Here are a few photos from my (super fun) class "Green tea 101"


Nine green teas:


A plucking from my tea bush:

Monday, May 25, 2009

I'm a lucky guy

Two weeks ago my friend Chris returned from his latest trip to China. While in Hangzhou (杭州), he fulfilled my request for some delicious new spring 2009 Dragonwell (龍井) green tea!

I'm a lucky guy because...


...I'm drinking this!


You did good Chris!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

South Seattle Tea Estate - Part 2

On the morning of May 14th, my wife and I brewed up all 3 grams of the two-day-old homegrown tea that I described making in my previous post. I am still not quite sure what style of tea I made, but after tasting it and observing the leaves, I've decided to call it "Seattle White Peony" (西雅圖的白牡丹).

The dry leaf has a fairly even mix of oxidation and green bits. It is (if I do say so myself) a gorgeous looking tea.

Steeping in the gaiwan:


Using a 4 ounce gaiwan and 180 degree water, we were able to get 3 good infusions. The tea soup had a light honey-yellow color with a brisk fresh smell. Its unique flavor notes include lilac, rosemary, sweet corn and dry wood. I also picked up a bright grassy taste that reminded me of some first flush Darjeelings. Although it was a refreshing brew, it lacked body and had a slightly weird aftertaste but it was definitely not bad for my first tea making experiment.

Tea soup:


I always get excited when I'm eating homegrown fruits and vegetables, and now I have found the same to be true with tea. I would love to hear some stories from other tea makers, whether you are a pro or just a hobbyist like myself.

The spent leaves:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

South Seattle Tea Estate - Part 1

Situated among rosemary, sage and four types of blueberries, the south Seattle tea estate is very small. In fact, it currently covers only one square meter of land and contains just one tea bush! The bush, named "Leafer," is of unknown varietal and was purchased for just $12 at the classical Chinese garden in Portland, OR. I believe she is now about 5 years old.

Harvest Time:


Just picked!


At 2:00 pm on May 11, 2009, I hand harvested a small batch of tender new leaf and bud sets. These leaves were then withered indoors for 5 hours before a few minutes of gentle hand rolling. After this rolling step it was oxidized overnight (about 9 hours).

After about three hours of withering
(taken as the sun is just starting to set):


Withered about five hours
(taken as the sun has almost set):


At 6:00 am on May 12, 2009, the tea was electric-oven-baked at 250 degrees for 10 minutes. This spring's crop yielded 3 grams of finished tea (enough for one serving).

At 6:20 am, I examined my freshly baked tea. The long twisted leaves are a beautiful mix of jade green and reddish brown. It had a sugary-lilac fragrance throughout its withering phase, which it still has, but now it's less intense, with an added gentle toasty aroma. At this point the leaves have fully cooled so I've put them in a clay jar to wait until Thursday when I'll have time to drink them with my wife!

My finished tea
(taken during the soft grey light of Seattle dawn):


To be continued...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Puer Tasting with Guang Lee

Over the last few years I have purchased some wonderful puer cakes, a few tea books and subscribed to the Art of Tea magazine through Guang Lee's online tea company, Hou De Asian Arts. This company is an excellent source for Chinese and Taiwanese teas. So when I heard that Mr. Lee would be hosting a focused puer tasting at this year's World Tea Expo, I knew I had to attend.

The tasting drew about 30 guests, some of whom were very new to puer tea. Before the tasting I met a cool lady named Karen from Ontario, Canada who is also an experienced tea taster and educator. I chose a table with Karen and a great mix of other tea lovers.

Guang Lee started the presentation by showing slides of puer tea production and giving us lots of great information on its history. Then we began to drink the five selected puer teas.

Here are my tasting notes:

1. 2007 5th International Aged Puer Party Memorial Cake, uncooked
(I actually own one cake of this tea which I purchased from Hou De at the 2007 World Tea Expo in Atlanta, GA. Here is a photo of it.)


Aroma and taste = This is a lively and herbaceous tea with a lingering sweet smokiness. It warms up your throat and it is at once rosy, spicy and fruity. At one point apple cider came to mind.

2. 2007 Jing Mei Tang “Si De” Cake, cooked
Aroma and taste = walnut, chicory, wood.
Body and mouth-feel = Although it was brewed a little light for my taste in cooked puer, I could tell it is a great tea with a very smooth and pleasant liquor.

3. 2004 Chan Tai Yi-Chang-Hao “Ji FengYuan” Cake, uncooked
Color = Surprisingly dark with a rich reddish hue.
Aroma = Lightly grassy, with a hint of coffee and wet earth.
Taste, body and mouth-feel = Great sweetness with a delicate buttery note. Less crisp and pointy... more round and mellow (which I loved.)

4. 2001 Ming Yuan Hao “YehShengChiaoMu” Cake, uncooked
Color = Orange-red (lighter than tea #3)
Aroma and Taste = Peppery and lively. Karen detected a hint of nutmeg and I would agree. Also, a delicate apricot-like fruitiness.

5. 1993 Nan Jian “Phoenix” Tuo-cha uncooked
Mouth-feel = Starts soft then yields a sweet "peak" in the middle of my palate, but that sadly does not linger.
Aroma and Taste = Cassia, ginseng.

I learned a lot at Mr. Lee's focused puer tasting, and I was exposed to some awesome new teas and flavors. I left this tasting with a great puer high. My body felt light and tingly and this comfortable buzz lasted most of the day!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Korean Green Tea Tasting Notes

I learned quite a bit from attending Yoon Hee Kim's Korean green tea tasting at this year's World Tea Expo. Yoon Hee is a great speaker on the subject of tea and it was clear that she is very passionate about promoting Korean tea traditions. I liked that she stressed the importance of using all five senses during a proper tea tasting to fully understand the flavors as they "peak" and "blossom." At one point she said, "Don't be afraid to get your nose wet," which I think is excellent advice for any tea taster (assuming the tea is not too hot!) She also expressed sadness that we didn't have time to try multiple infusions of these great teas and that she was not able to brew them in proper Korean teaware. However, she did provide real glazed tea cups so that we could avoid the paper-cup-taste that would have otherwise tainted our delicate greens.

One of the many standouts was learning these three steeping terms:

Hah tu - First add the leaves and then pour the water over them. This is how we commonly brew our tea in the West. For Korean tea this method is recommended during cold weather.
Joong Tu - First fill the vessel half full of water, then add the leaves, then add the remaining water. This style was the preferred method for several of Yoon Hee's teas. It is used to control the temperature and the infusion of the leaves. This method may be more common during mild weather.

Sahng Tu - First fill the vessel with water, then add the leaves. I had heard of this method used for Bilouchun (碧螺春) and Dragonwell (龍井茶) when brewed in a glass during hot weather but I have never tried it myself.

For this tasting, we used For Life brand teapots with steel basket infusers. We proceeded to taste six teas. The names of the teas and my tasting notes are below. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take any photos at the World Tea Expo, so you won't be able to see the leaves and liquors.

#1 Sah Wohl Organic Ujeon (brewed Joong tu style)
Aroma = Bright, crisp and very fresh. Taste = Buttery, delicate and sweet

#2 Gamnong Jakseol
Aroma = Roasty, popcorn, warming, crisp. Taste = Refreshing, dry, reminded me a little of sencha.

#3 Misty green organic second flush Saejak
Aroma = Woodsy, nutty, reminded me a little of bancha. Taste = full body, forest, grass

#4 Early Summer Joongack (brewed Hah tu style)
Aroma = fuity, ocean, spice. Taste = thick body, brothy, sweet dew.

#5 Chigarok Hwang Cha (an oolong)
Aroma = wood, rose, wine. Taste = rich and dark, reminded me slightly of keemun.

#6 Bountiful Earth HyunMi Nokcha (blended with toasted rice and steeped for 4.25 minutes)
Aroma = strong and roasty, nutty. Taste = cereal, genmaicha.

All of these teas were really amazing but if I was forced to rank them I would choose this order: 1, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6. The sublime flavor of tea number one still lingers in my memory.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Scooters!

I'm a scooter fan. Back in Reno when I was a teenager I used to ride my Yamaha Razz all the way across town to my job as a line cook at Einstein's Quantum Cafe. I still remember the "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" sound made by its little 50cc engine. After I moved to Seattle my uncle bought an Italjet Torpedo. We shared it for a while and then I bought it from him. Over the next few years I put over 6000 miles on that bike (my good friends Heidi W. and Matt S. helped too). Last year I donated the Italjet to an animal rescue charity. It was pretty sad saying good bye, but the old bike needed a lot of work at that point and I didn't have the time or money.

Me and my better half leaving our wedding on the Italjet*:

I read somewhere that there are over 10 million scooters in Taiwan! You see them zipping around everywhere. Loaded down with people, animals, groceries, building supplies or other miscellaneous things. Here are a few Taiwan and Seattle scooter pics just for fun.

Outside a Korean restaurant in Taipei:


Shooting the breeze in Southern Taiwan**:


People mover**:


Rounding the bend... hey wait are those scooters or motorcycles?


Parked outside an old Taipei house:


Who opened the gates?


Taipei intersection:


Another Taipei intersection:


Parked outside of Song Shan temple metro station:


Josh and Boo in Tainan:


Aerial shot from Mucha metro station:


Seattle newly weds on August 7, 2009***:


So long for now...***


*Photo by my cousin Julie.
** Photos by my buddy Darald.
*** Photos by my friend/wedding photographer Heather.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

My World Tea Expo 2009

On Saturday, May 2nd, I arrived at the Mandalay Bay (in Las Vegas, NV) at 7:30 am. I walked past many expensive restaurants and provocative sculptures until I found my destination: the World Tea Expo (North America's largest trade show devoted entirely to the tea industry).

After I picked up my swag bag at the registration desk, I brewed myself a small cup of black tea from a tea station in the hallway. Then I made my way over to a large meeting room to attend my first seminar, entitled "2009 Tea Trends Report," which was presented by Lynn Dornblaser of Mintel International. Her market research confirms tea's continued growth and even suggests that tea is nearly recession-proof because it (among many other things) "offers escape from worries" and "it’s a small indulgence that is easily affordable." Lynn reminded us of the importance of trust and value. She also suggested a trend towards more environmentally-friendly packaging and organic teas. Beyond reporting market trends, Lynn's presentation provided many useful statistics and some suggestions for coming up with new products. I wasn't particularly surprised by any of the tea trends, but they were still nice to hear.

Afterwards, I made my way to a focused tasting of Korea green teas presented by Yoon Hee Kim. My colleague Alan from Teacup was also in attendance, as was my former-high-school-science-teacher-turned-tea-friend, Greta. We all greatly enjoyed this wonderful tasting of five Korean green teas and one Korean oolong. I will post my tasting notes in a couple of days.

After the tasting, I met my boss Elisabeth for a first walk through the exhibition hall. We spoke with some of Teacup's important vendors and discussed Teacup business.

Then I met up with my good friend Arthur, who had come up from Santa Fe with his dog Alex to attend the Expo. Alex is a service dog in training, so she was able to enter the exhibition hall with us. But first, lunch... I was so glad I packed a sandwich because a meal in a Las Vegas hotel starts at $20 and can go as high as $50 (plus there are hardly any decent vegetarian options).

After lunch, Arthur, Alex and I spent a nice afternoon sampling many fine teas. We sat in on a presentation on Taiwan tea tours by Thomas Shu, which was very entertaining. He even serenaded us with his rendition of a traditional tea plucker's song. We also drank a lot of delicious Japanese teas including sencha from Sara's Tea Caddie and matcha from Aoi and Do Matcha.

The next day began with a much anticipated Puer Tea tasting presented by Guang Lee of Hou De Asian Arts. I will provide my tasting notes of the five awesome puer teas he served us in an upcoming post. (Spoiler Alert: I left this tasting feeling comfortably buzzed with a nice tingle in my finger tips.)

After the tasting I had an hour to kill before the exhibition hall opened up so I went down to play some blackjack. I won $75, which I later used to buy a beautiful tea travel set ($40) and to fill up my father-in-law's gas tank ($35).

This is my awesome new tea travel set:


It all fits in there perfectly!


A gaibei, a decanter and six little cups!


Back at the Expo, I focused on making connections. I met with many people and was able to promote Teacup, BDTB, and my blog. In the afternoon I stopped to watch a presentation by Aoi on matcha production, and a "tea cocktail" competition. I also discovered some new teas and practiced my Mandarin. All in all, it was a productive and educational experience.

Alex, Arthur and I:

Arthur and I at a Taiwan Tea Presentation by Thomas Shu:


My friend Greta and I outside the exhibit hall:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Shu Shu's Mandarin Lesson #5

Nihao tea friends! Shushu T. Dragon here with a special video Mandarin lesson! Brett wrote and recorded the folk song, Uncle Ken did the video editing, and I was the handsome dragon model.

video

We hope you enjoy it!
(You can also view this video on my youtube channel.)