Monday, August 31, 2009

Zen Garden - 禪園

We had a pond in our backyard. It was already here when we bought our house back in 2004. We thought it was pretty cool, but it was always difficult to clean and maintain. Plus, we wanted to make our backyard safer for children... so over the last couple weeks, we drained the pond and filled it in with dirt. Our plan was to build a zen garden, and yesterday we nearly finished the project! Here are a few photos my wife took of our newest backyard garden.








Sunday, August 30, 2009

2008 Awazon Puer Cakes

A few days ago, I received a small order of Awazon (阿佤山)* puer cakes (普洱餅茶) directly from the source. I have ordered from this tea company several times in the past and I am always very happy with their prices, quality and service. The two teas I imported are 2008 Awazon "Jingmai Ancient Tree" Organic Sheng Puer cake and 2008 Awazon "Manjing Ancient Tree" Organic Sheng Puer cake.

Jingmai (景迈) Cake


Naked Jingmai


Manjing (芒景) Cake


Naked Manjing

This afternoon, my wife and I cupped both of the teas together using two small gaiwans, each with about 5 grams of dry leaf. I steeped them about 10 times before I was "waterlogged" but I'm sure they had a few more brews in them.

The wet leaves have a very pleasant aroma. It was not very smoky with an earthy, wildness that reminded me of raking leaves. My wife mentioned a "dried fruit" aroma, and I would certainly agree.

The Jingmai always yielded a slightly lighter, crisper and fruitier broth, while the Manjing's was consistently stronger, woody and more robust. My Jingmai notes included: "honey, clarity, and apple," and my Manjing notes included "floral, cedar, and peppery."

The next time I brew these cakes, I will take more time to savor their thick full bodied tea soup and I will brew them a little lighter because they are very young and lively.

Cupping the teas on a sunny Sunday afternoon.


While I definitely plan to keep a few of these cakes for my own puer collection... I would like to sell some too! I currently only have six cakes of each tea available (so they may sell out quickly). The cost is $5 per ounce or $40 per whole 357 gram cake. 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 wonderful organic puer tea. Thank you!

My daughter examining the puer cakes.

Or, you may choose to buy directly from Awazon in Kunming (昆明) China. In that case, please tell them that you read about their tea on my blog. 謝謝您!

*The Awazon tea factory uses the spelling "zon" for 山 (mountain). The standard pinyin is "shān."

Monday, August 24, 2009

League of Pots #019

Code Name: "El Greco" (希臘人)



Material: Black Clay
Height: 8 cm
Length (handle to spout): 13 cm
Volume: 175 ml

Brews: Sheng Puer (生普洱)
Specialty: Wild leaf, old tree, aged sheng puer.
Story: El Greco is the teapot that I bought during my first trip to Fenqihu, Taiwan (奮起湖, 台灣) back in 2006. I wrote about the day I bought El Greco in this old blog post.
Super Powers: El Greco is a code and language master. He can speak, read and write any language fluently and has never come across a code he couldn't break!

League of Pots #018

Code Name: "Black Peony" (黑牡丹)



Material: Ceramic
Height: 8.5 cm
Length (handle to spout): 15 cm
Volume: 200 ml

Brews: Any kind of tea.
Specialty: Chinese white teas.
Story: I purchased Black Peony at the Capitol Hill (a neighborhood) Value Village (a thrift store) five or six years ago. He was only $6, which included a matching tray and six matching cups!
Super Powers: Black Peony is a demolition and explosives expert. He has the amazing ability to self-detonate and reform.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Orcas Island

This week my wife, daughter, sister, brother-in-law and I spent some time on beautiful Orcas Island in the San Juans. We rented a cozy little condo in Eastsound with a fantastic view of the bay. Here are a few pics from the trip.

The crew on top of Mount Constitution


The view from our deck




Hiking


Playing in a cool Labyrinth!


Great photo by my Sis


... and for all of you fellow theics who may be curious about the teas we drank on the island, here is a list: Winter Lishan Black and Four Seasons Oolong from J-Tea, High Grade Spring 2009 Tie Guanyin from New Century, and Teacup's legendary Organic Assam from the Rani garden. Good Times!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Regarding this blog

I started this tea blog in September of 2008 to help promote my tea related business projects. The blog has grown to include tea education, tea reviews, occasional silliness and many personal stories. I have learned a lot about myself and tea by blogging and find it to be a very rewarding hobby.

All of the writing and photos in this blog are my original property. Please ask me first if you want to use any of my content.

I promise to always fully disclose my connection with any tea or vendor that I review. Because I am an active part of the international tea industry, I will have some personal biases. Sometimes I even review things that I am currently selling or that my friends are selling. I strive to keep all posts "bias free." But my readers should be reminded that all of my reviews (teas, products, vendors etc.) are simply my opinions and are no better or more valid than your own opinions.

I welcome all constructive comments or concerns about my content.

Thank you,
Brett Boynton
blackdragontea@gmail.com

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blending Oolong: An Experiment

One month ago during an oolong class that I taught at Teacup, I fielded a question from my friend Michael about the possibilities of blending oolong teas. Michael, who already has a great understanding of both tea and coffee, did not seem surprised when I answered something like: "Quality oolong tea should not be blended. These teas are made in small quantities by skilled tea artisans, and the fact that they are produced in one place and at one time adds to their value and allure." For the most part, Michael agreed with me, but there were certain flavors he liked about the Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶) that he could see pairing well with certain flavors in the Formosa Silvertip tea (台灣銀毫茶)*. We also discussed the importance of blending for many fine black teas and coffees.

Over the next several days I thought about what Michael had asked. I wondered what would happen if I brewed up a pot of tea using half Wenshan Baozhong leaves and half Formosa Silvertip. Would it be greater than the sum of its parts? The next time I saw Michael I decided we'd find out together (for the sake of science).

Spring '09 Wenshan Baozhong


Summer '08 Formosa Silvertip


I brewed an equal blend of 文山包種茶 and 台灣銀毫茶 using a small ceramic teapot. The aroma was light, bright and pleasant and the tea soup was an odd shade of orange.

The Tea Soup


I did three infusions with similar results. Each time the flavors were muted and boring. Wenshan Baozhong's classic buttery-flowery notes were overshadowed by the stronger Formosa Silvertip. The resulting cup tasted like weak Formosa Silvertip with some brisk, peachy, woodsy flavors. On their own, these two Taiwanese oolongs have good body and aroma but in this blend they seemed to canceled each other out. The quality of the individual teas did become more apparent after the liquor had cooled to room temperature. At that point the blend was a bit smoother with a nice hint of Baozhong.

In the end this was a worthwhile experiment. Perhaps if I were to repeat it I might try 3/4 Wenshan to 1/4 Formosa.

茶陰陽


* Formosa Silvertip is a famous Taiwanese oolong that sometimes goes by many other names. My friend Rob recently did a great blog post on that topic. Here is the link.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August Tea Classes at Teacup

I am excited to announce these two new tea classes that I will teach this month at Teacup. I hope see you there!

Thursday, August 20th
Making Great Iced Tea - In this class we'll learn more about iced tea brewing, find some teas that are amazing iced, and look at several different ways to brew excellent iced tea.

Thursday, August 27th
The Teas of Japan - In this class we'll focus on the history and customs behind Japan's many delicious teas. We will use traditional Japanese tea ware for a more authentic experience.


These evening classes will go from 7:00 to 8:00 pm and cost $2 per guest. They require a RSVP (it's sometimes 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!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Shu Shu's Odyssey - Part 1

One day, while reading a dusty old book that he had found buried beneath a long-forgotten stack of nautical tomes, Shu Shu T. Dragon (my little buddy, who as you may recall is an extremely avid reader) came across an ancient map detailing the location of a mysterious island. The book (which was actually the diary of a grizzled old sea captain by the name of Jones) described the island as an enchanted place located somewhere in the South Pacific. Captain Jones and his crew had found it entirely by accident after a terrible storm had damaged their ship and blew them far off course. After drifting for ten days, the bedraggled crew saw the island appear on the horizon like a beautiful beacon of hope.

"I just love these nautical tomes."

According to his diary, Captain Jones and his crew spent nearly two years on the island, which they explored and mapped while repairing their ship. During this time, he chronicled the island's many wondrous features such as its beautiful mountains, pristine beaches, colorful birds, and abundance of tropical fruit. One of the island's most curious inhabitants were, as described by the Captain, "...a race of small brown creatures, close in size to a field mouse and slightly resembling a mythical dragon." He goes on to write of their "pleasant demeanor" and "tough, rocky bodies resembling hardened clay." At one point in his diary the Captain wrote, "...one of their most unusual habits is a daily hike to the island's highest peak. Their final destination is a natural hot spring with crystal-clear water that smells as though it has been infused with jasmine flowers. They will spend hours soaking in this fragrant bath..."

Upon reading this, Shu Shu's mouth dropped open. He knew he must find this fantastic island. Perhaps he would even find a society of other tea dragons and thus unlock the mystery of his very existence... but mostly he just wanted to soak in that hot spring.

And so it was that Shu Shu T. Dragon set out on a most epic journey. He packed the book in a small rucksack and borrowed our friend's pedal-powered, zero-emissions hot air balloon! The following three paragraphs were taken directly from Shu Shu's journal and the remainder of the story he shared with me after his returned to Seattle.

June 28, 2009
After 3 days of nonstop flight I have arrived at Fiji. The Captain's peculiar map has precise instructions which I now must follow if I wish to find the island. "Starting at Fiji's southernmost point, travel south for 2 days at the speed of a tuna in his prime. Turn gracefully toward the east as though you were a sooty tern. Spend the next 3 days traveling east by southeast, using the stars for guidance, and at dawn on the third day, if you're lucky, the island will appear on the horizon."

July 4, 2009
I have found the island! It is a very beautiful place indeed, much as Captain Jones had described it, but it is oddly quiet and devoid of life. Although the island seems rich with exotic foliage, I do not see a single bird in the sky nor spider in a tree. I called out often but received no response. After a brief rest, I will begin to explore the island. I sure hope I can find the hot spring that Captain Jones wrote about in his diary!

"Cool rocks."

"Beautiful white sand beaches."


"Lush green forests."


July 5, 2009
I have spent the better part of today flying around and mapping the island. At about 4 miles wide and 6 miles long, it is quite small. There is a tall green mountain near its center and after searching for several hours I believe I've found a meadow where I can safely land my balloon and camp for the night.

(Written after Shu Shu's recent return to Seattle.)
The mountain seemed cold and foreboding, not at all the pleasant place described by the Captain. Shadows seem to move in unnatural ways and my sleep was burdened with nightmares.

Because the terrain was getting rocky and the wind erratic, I was not able to take the balloon any further, and continued on foot. I was on a trail leading off into the dark forest. Judging by its lack of vines and debris, I thought it must have been used frequently. I hiked the trail all morning as the tropical sun burned down on my scaly brown back. By mid-afternoon I seemed to be nearing the summit and decided to take a short rest by a small stream. While bending down to splash a little water on my parched body, everything went black. A dark bag had been put over my head and I was being wrestled to the ground by several strong men. I felt a blow to the back of my head and blacked out.

I awoke in a dark cave with my hands and feet bound by thick ropes. Soft voices could be heard from somewhere nearby. I yelled and the voices stopped. Moments later an old man approached me. His dirty face was lit by a blazing torch. He wore a loincloth tied together from worn-out clothing and had a long, grey beard.

"Mew Mew Muh Muh," the man barked at me in a questioning manner.

"Huh? My name is Shu Shu and I'm from Seattle," I replied.

"You speak English?" asked the man in a surprised British-sounding voice.

"Yeah! What the heck were you speaking?"

"Mews. It is the language of your race. Don't you speak it too?" asked the man.

"Look man, there has been some sort of mix-up. I have no clue what you're talking about. My name is Shu Shu T. Dragon and I'm a 5000-year-old Chinese tea dragon who recently moved to America to read books and have hot tea poured on my head. I came to this island a few days ago because I read about in a dude named Captain Jones' diary. I come in peace!!!"

The old man signaled to several similar looking men standing in the darkness behind him. They stepped forward, some carrying large sticks, one with a knife. The man with the knife started walking menacingly toward me... but luckily he just cut me free of the ropes!

"I'm sorry, Shu Shu," began the man. "My name is Ben Jones. Captain Jones was my father. He died many years ago when I was just 18. Before he passed he often told me stories of this enchanted isle. Did you know that he returned twice more since his first visit? It's all in his book."

"Actually... I haven't finished reading his book yet." I replied sheepishly. "Once I got to the part about the hot spring and the little creatures that looked like me, I got all excited and set out immediately."

"I see," replied Ben. "You are missing most of the story. Follow me and I will explain."

Ben and I walked slowly out of the dark cave and into a beautiful garden. As we walked, he explained to me that I was a "Mew," an ancient race of tiny stone dragons that had lived on this island since it was formed.

"Over the years, your race had created a peaceful and productive society, and they even sent several peace missions to different parts of the world," he said. "Also, the Mew can live forever as long as they bathe often in hot fragrant water or unless they meet some other untimely end."

"Whoa," I replied. "No wonder I love my tea showers so much!"

"My father didn't know any of this at first," continued Ben. "On his third and final visit, he managed to learn the language of the Mew and began to fully understand them. According to my father, the Mew liked him very much and they also liked my mother Marie, who accompanied him on that final voyage. They had planned to stay here for the rest of their lives, eating simple foods and soaking daily in the purifying waters of..."

At this point we stood before the thick hanging branches of a large banyan tree. Ben brushed them aside and we stepped forward revealing a rocky pool of brackish warm water fed by a pitiful waterfall.

"What happened?" I exclaimed. "Is this the legendary hot spring that I've been searching for?!"

"Unfortunately, yes," replied Ben in a sad voice. "It has been cursed."

"Cursed... but how could that happen?" I said with disbelief.

"During my father's final stay on the island, he met an ill-tempered Mew by the name of Wuhh. Wuhh was a witch doctor who spent a lot of time alone in a hut on the far side of the island. He was known for experimenting with different herbs and potions and for hating outsiders. He treated my parents terribly, but because all the other Mew were so nice to my parents it was never really a big problem. A few years later I was born and Wuhh started spreading rumors about how we had come to take over their island and destroy their way of life.

"When I was two years old I became very sick. My father accused Wuhh of poisoning me. Wuhh claimed he was innocent and used my father's allegations as further proof that we were trouble. My father, who was convinced that Wuhh was lying, grabbed him and stuck him in a cage in our house. He told Wuhh that he would not let him bathe in the spring until he confessed... but Wuhh would not confess. After a few days his rocky skin started to dry out and he began to wither and die. No Mew had ever lasted more than a week without hot fragrant water."

"That's rough!" I interjected. "I can't imagine going even two days without a tea shower!"

Ben continued his story. "My father and several Mew leaders searched Wuhh's hut for evidence. His house was filled with old bones, blackened iron pots and peculiar fauna of all types. Among all this, they found an ancient trunk sealed with a black lock. They busted it open to reveal three small vials of different colored liquids, an old book and a glowing red stone in the shape of an egg. The book was filled with recipes for poisons and dark magic. They seized the possible evidence and began walking back to confront Wuhh. When they returned, the cage was empty with its small door left open. They made a frantic search in and around the house, but Wuhh was nowhere to be found.

"Over the next few days my father looked everywhere and a team of Mew police kept constant guard over the hot spring. It was my mother who finally cracked the case. She had been studying Wuhh's evil book while my father was out searching the island. She discovered recipes in the book with descriptions that perfectly matched the aromas and colors of the three liquids my father had seized. One was a vile poison that would slowly suck the life out of any human who tasted it. One had the ability to turn its creator invisible, and the last potion would allow any Mew who drank it to survive for months without a hot fragrant bath! Naturally my parents were scared. An invisible murderer could be anywhere, and my condition was getting worse and worse.

"A trusted Mew friend of my father's recommended that they perform an ancient healing ritual. They placed me in the hot spring with a handful of wild Camellia leaves and chanted a prayer of renewal. The poison in my blood was strong but it was no match for the curative spring. After a week of this treatment I had regained my health but for my safety my parents decided to move back to England.

"I grew up hearing this tale and learning Mews from my father. He never returned to the island and never knew what happened to Wuhh. He always felt regret about leaving while Wuhh was on the loose, but he told himself it had to be done for the safety of his family. When he died, I decided it was my fate to return to this island. I learned to sail and became a Captain. Using my fathers diary, I found the island but sadly it was as it is now. A cursed place filled with ghosts! During our first night here, our ship caught fire. A week later, while exploring the west side of the mountain, 10 of my crew were buried in a landslide. Those five men waiting in the garden are the last of my crew. We have now lived here for 50 years trying to solve the mystery of what happened to all the Mew and the hotspring. So far we have learned very little and our dreams are plagued with nightmares."

"Oh man!" I said. "This is terrible. I have a pedal-powered hot air balloon but it can only carry two men. I will return to Seattle and find a way to rescue you."

"Thank you, Shu Shu, but we do not want to be rescued. We are too old now. This island is the only life we know. We work hard everyday to keep the hot spring as clean as possible. It seems to help a little."

"Then I will return as soon as I can!" I exclaimed. "I will bring my friend Brett and we will help you to save this island!"

"Brett and I will solve the case!"


"Hello Starfish!"


to be continued...