Friday, May 28, 2010

Spring 2010 Meishan High Mountain Oolong

On May 25, I answered a phone call from a local tea lover named George. George told me that he used to live in Taiwan and continues to travel there frequently in search of great tea. He went on to describe a high quality Meishan (Plum Mountain) (梅山) high mountain oolong that he hoped I would buy for resale at Teacup. I told him I was interested in tasting his tea and so we arranged to meet later that afternoon.

George and I had a nice time drinking tea, but unfortunately, it was cut far too short by my own schedule. Fortunately, we met again this afternoon and after a wonderfully serene and cordial gong fu tea session, I felt ready to do business with my new tea friend.

He told me this tea was obtained directly from the farmer, a friend of his who farms organically, and that it was produced earlier this very month. George stressed his commitment to only buying, promoting, and consuming clean and natural teas and foods. In the end his tea spoke for itself and I was able to purchase a couple pounds of his delicious Meishan tea for Teacup!

the leaf

The oxidation and roast on this Meishan tea is at a medium level. It has a nice hint of baked tea flavor that pops up from time to time but it is only half as roasty as that Meishan Beihou (梅山焙火) tea that so many friends coveted after my winter buying trip.

For me this tea has amazing texture and depth and it feels very thick and creamy when I roll it around inside my mouth. Some infusions presented a sweet butterscotch aroma while others had more fruity, ripe-peachy, notes.

Obviously I have a clear bias when I review a tea that I am currently selling, but as I've said before these reviews are just my opinions and they're no better or more valid than your own. This oolong leaves me feeling satisfied, it makes my brain produce some happy, mellowing chemicals, and it sits comfortably in my stomach. In the end, that's what keeps me drinking these special teas.

the liquor

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sugimoto's Spring 2010 Temomi Shincha

I recently treated myself to a selection of Sugimoto Tea Company's 2010 Shincha (新茶) for my own personal enjoyment. Today I am savoring the rarest of my new treasures, a tea called Temomi Shincha. According to my Seattle tea friend Kyohei Sugimoto, this tea was entirely handmade by his mother on April 23, 2010.

Look at these beauties.

I followed Kyohei's brewing instructions as seen on his blog (linked here) and steeped the tea five times. The broth had a pale yellow color with a thick sheen of tea oil sparkling on the surface. The aroma was sweet and pungent, reminding me slightly of newly mowed lawn and light spring rain.

I have never had a tea like Temomi Shincha before. It was extremely buttery, but also vibrant and grassy. It was a little bit like drinking warm unsalted vegetable broth and the tea left me feeling comfortable and nourished.

After the session I nibbled some of the spent leaves. They were the most tender tea leaves I have ever eaten!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Paper Wrapped Tea in Tainan City

A month ago, my friend and former boss Brian Keating sent me this must-read article on Taiwanese tea history. The last paragraph of the article highlights a Tainan (台南)-based tea shop called Cheng-fa* that started way back in 1860. I got really excited when I saw the photos that went along with the article because I recognized the Cheng-fa tea shop as a place I had visited back in 2005.

It was during my first Taiwan tea trek when I was treated to an unforgettable scooter tour of Tainan by my friend Josh Chamberlain. Josh took me to Cheng-fa and explained that it was a very old tea shop and that the owner still packaged his teas in the "old paper-wrapped style."

The owner wrapping tea in paper:

After the tea is measured out, it is carefully wrapped by hand. Then the bundle is labeled using beautiful antique stamps. I purchased several ounces of a delicious traditional roasted Dong Ding (凍頂) oolong and a sublime baked Wenshan Baozhong tea.

This package contained the Dong Ding:

It makes sense to me that before the Taiwanese had vacuum packed foil bags or other modern packaging options, the best teas would be wrapped in paper... but I have also read from multiple sources that Baozhong (包種) (sometimes spelled Pouchong) tea was wrapped in paper as one step in its production. The Wikipedia entry for Pouchong tea also mentions this step but adds that it is no longer used. I wonder if Baozhong, which literally means "wrapped type," may also have some connection to this old school packaging method still used by Cheng-fa tea shop? Do any readers know?

*I don't know the Chinese characters for Cheng-fa tea shop. If you happen to know, please leave them in the comments.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kubota Garden in the Spring

There are many reasons why I love living in America's most diverse zipcode. One of them is Kubota Gardens, the gem of Rainier Beach.

This afternoon my buddy, his son, my little girl and I went for a beautiful afternoon walk throughout the garden. The rhododendrons are blooming right now which made for an extra colorful visit!

Here are a few shots of our beloved South Seattle garden:

The welcome rock

Pretty in pink

Little waterfall

I see a bee

Original skyscraper

Reflecting pool

Red Bridge in tree-filtered sunlight

Red hot Rhodies

My favorite tree at Kubota

The old lantern

Sweet pink Rhodies*

Beautiful white speckled Rhodies*

On a bridge with an amazing Japanese maple behind us*

*Photos by Jon G.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A 1999 Wild Tree Loose Leaf Sheng Puer

Back in 2008, I purchased 600 grams of an amazing loose leaf sheng puer (生普洱) in Yingge (鶯歌), Taiwan. I drank it with an old man and his wife at their sleepy little puer and teapot shop (one of many) located near Yingge's old street. They appeared to be blown away by the idea of a young(ish) American who enjoyed drinking puer tea. I told them that I knew quite a few like-minded tea lovers but I'm not sure they believed me. They shared a few interesting factoids about this tea with me but unfortunately my limited Mandarin comprehension skills yielded only the following: it was made from wild trees in Xishuangbanna (西雙版納) in 1999.

The dry leaves are very long, twisted and mostly intact. They have a beautiful mix of gold, yellow, forest green and brown colors and a sweet spicy aroma. This aroma is softened by little hints of plum, pine and raisin. In order to keep the leaves safe during their long trip home to Seattle, the old man packed them gently into three large bags and then put them into boxes. I thanked him well for helping me to protect the fragile leaves.

the dry leaves

Today I filled a gaiwan half-way-full with dry leaf and used boiling hot water. After a five second rinse the leaves now look dark and have a prune and forest aroma. The liquor is fragrant like spiced wine and pours a beautiful amber color. The flavor is pretty sweet with playful little herb and grass peaks. At times it reminds me of a nice Yunnan golden bud black tea (only much lighter). My tasting notes for today's 7 infusion session included sandalwood, Darjeeling tea, and ripe stone fruits. I feel serenity and bliss while drinking this tasty puer tea.

the tea soup

Monday, May 10, 2010

How long does bulk tea last?

Customer - "How long does bulk tea last?"

I get asked this question (or some variation of it) at least once a day at work. It can sometimes be hard to provide a satisfying answer because there are so many variables involved.

During my last eight years selling loose leaf tea, I have developed a suitable response for answering this question. My response, like all tea knowledge, is constantly evolving as I collect data and experiences. Depending on the specific situation, my answer will usually sound something like this:

Brett - "It really depends on the tea. For most seasonal greens and lighter teas I would recommend drinking it up within six months, but blacks and other darker teas will usually taste fresh for as long as a year or two. Roasted oolongs and puer teas can last a very long time if properly stored and flavored tea and most herbals will usually last about two years. Bulk tea doesn't really go bad but it will get stale and loose its flavor... and all of this is subject to how well it has been stored..."

As you can see, this question often segues to other important discussions about tea intricacies. The trick is to meet the customer at their current tea knowledge level. Instead of overloading them with with tons of data, I prefer to tailor the conversation to the specific teas that they are most interested in.

I'd love to hear some of your own experiences regarding tea's shelf life. When do you throw away your old tea leaves and do you currently have any teas (besides puer and aged oolong) that are over three years old and that you're still drinking? If so, how do they taste now compared to when they were fresh?

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Spring 2010 Tea

One week ago I made 6.5 grams of finished tea from my two backyard tea plants. If you want to read about how it was made click here.

Here's a picture of it:

I thought I was making an oolong tea. Though it is semi-oxidized, I think it is more like a white peony tea. In fact, in many ways, I think I made almost the same tea I made last year... only this time I don't think I baked it long enough because it still had a limp feeling and smelled a bit musty by the time I brewed it. Interestingly, I baked this tea twice as long as I did last year. Maybe this year's tea had a higher water content to begin with? Or maybe (and perhaps more likely) it was the bowl I baked it in this year, which was thicker and deeper than last year's baking dish. It is a good thing I've been taking such good notes. Now maybe if I just start to pay attention to what I'm doing, I can learn from my past mistakes and start to make better tea in the future.

On Saturday morning (5/1/10), my friends David, Gwen, James, Andrew and Chris joined me at Teacup to taste my home grown tea. I chose Vortex to do the honor of brewing my creation. I used all the leaf and started with a 3 minute 190° steep. It was way too weak... but the tasters were complimentary of the brew saying it had potential and a pleasant "tingle" in the mouth.

The second steep was boiling water for 5 minutes. Much better... but still too light. David noted that this infusion had a nice flavor reminiscent of decent quality Assam Indian white tea. He also commented about my tea possessing a certain unique flavor that he has tasted in all of the Washington State teas he has previously sampled.

A photo of the second infusion:

The third steep (10 minutes with boiling water) and the fourth steep (15 minutes with boiling water) were well liked by all tasters. Chris likened the aroma to a brewery he once knew and Andrew spoke of its interesting herbaceous flavors (perhaps from the giant rosemary plant that grows right next to the main tea plant). The fifth infusion (also 15 minutes with boiling water) was pleasant but once again yielded a very weak flavor. After five infusions we called it quits.

In closing, I'd say that this spring's tea was pretty good and that I learned a little bit more about making tea. Hopefully, I'll get another chance to practice in the summer.

It was a very rewarding exprerience to make my own tea completely from scratch!

The beautiful spent leaves:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - May 2010

I am excited to host these two brand new tea classes this month at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

May 13, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Introduction to Puer Tea - I'm finally teaching a puer tea class at Teacup! In this class we'll talk about different puer tea varieties and production methods. I will bring in several examples of young and aged tea to taste and we will use traditional Chinese teaware for a more authentic sampling experience.

May 20, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Tea Hardware Show-and-Tell - In this class we will explore many different kinds of teaware from around the world. I will bring in some of my own beautiful, and interesting teaware for show-and-tell and each guest should bring at least one tea related item as well. We will discuss what makes a good teapot, kettle, strainer, cozy or other "tea gadget," and share a sampling of fine teas brewed using our own special "tea hardware."

These evening classes cost $3 per guest and require a RSVP. It's sometimes OK to RSVP even on the same day. You may RSVP anytime by visiting or calling the Teacup (206-283-5931) or by emailing me at 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!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Favorite Piece of Teaware

As part of a tea blog carnival with some other members of the Association of Tea Bloggers, I'm excited to present this post about my favorite piece of teaware!

I do have a fair amount of great stuff, so you might think it would be pretty hard to choose just one particular piece worthy of the title "My Favorite Piece of Teaware."

... but really it wasn't. I immediately thought of ...

This Thing!

I bought this pretty wooden strainer from Yoon Hee Kim at the 2009 Northwest Tea Festival. From the moment I first laid eyes on it I was smitten. I started using it right away to brew samples of tea for festival guests and was quite impressed by the rich and fragrant tea it helped me to produce.

I love this strainer for many reasons: its smooth, knotty texture; the tender way it catches the leaves that flow through it; and its earthy-woody smell when it gets wet. It has a strange way of possessing my hands, causing them to crave its touch. I also love how it has a little notch carved out of it so that it sits comfortably on the rim of most cups and decanters. On top of all that, it is beautiful, natural, portable, rustic and highly functional. What more could one ask for!

In the past six months, this strainer has helped me brew hundreds of great cups of tea for my friends and myself. It does impart a tiny bit of pleasant woody flavor to my the tea but I really don't mind. There is something special about the tea that passes through this strainer and I hope it lasts a very long time!