Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2007 5th International Aged Puer Party Memorial Cake

I recently revisited this 2007 sheng puer tea cake that I purchased from the Hou De Asian Arts at the 2007 World Tea Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. My last experience with this tea was at a puer seminar hosted by Guang Lee at the 2009 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. (I blogged about that seminar here.)

This is Hou De Asian Art's own product description for this tea cake: "Blended by Mr. Huang Chuan-Fan of Jing Mei Tang and processed by Chang Tai, this cake was made of mao cha from Bulang, NanNuo and Ge-Lan-He area with a portion of 06 big-leaf mao cha from old plantations in NanNuo (to add the sweetness and yun, as Mr. Huang said). It is the official Memorial cake for our 5th International Aged Puerh Appreciation party."

Hou De Asian Arts goes on to say that this tea has "exceptional yun and aftertaste." At first I was not sure what was meant by yun, but after a little online research, I believe it refers to hou yun (喉韻), loosely translated as "throat harmony." If any of my readers have more information about this concept as it relates to tea or taste, please share it in a comment.

The cake of the hour

Sans wrapper

The dry leaves blended into this pretty puer cake are quite loosely compressed and present a dense wood and smoke aroma. The liquor poured from said leaves is always thick and heady with bubbles that could linger for days (if given the chance).

The orange broth has a heavy flavor that reminds me of wild flowers. It is smoky as well, but in a most satisfying way. My tasting notes included sandalwood, rosemary and muddled dandelion.

I do perceive a clean, crisp, and almost mentholated aftertaste that reminds me of a great high mountain oolong.

This is one of my favorite puer cakes from my own humble collection.

Monday, August 16, 2010


"I pour boiling water from my kettle into my teapot, then I pour the freshly brewed tea into my little teacup. In both cases, the liquid flows smoothly and predictably. Thank goodness... or should I say... thank gravity!" - Anonymous Tea Blogger

I've always been a big fan of gravity. I really love seasons, and tides, and not floating off into the sky whenever I go outside (or anywhere, actually). As you might imagine, I've never wanted to be an astronaut. Just thinking about all the problems those intrepid star-folk must face when they brew their tea gives me a big headache.

It seems to me that physicists and astronomers are always talking about gravity. Perhaps we tea lovers can learn something from these studious sages? Maybe gravity and tea hold the entire universe together?

In the past, I have written short pieces in praise of bubbles and steam. These ephemeral pleasures are certainly important to mindful tea appreciation, but I doubt they rival gravity.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Floating Leaves' Spring 2010 Traditional Dong Ding Oolong

About a week ago, I made it over to Floating Leaves (for the first time in way too long) to visit my friend Shiuwen and to sample some of her Spring 2010 Taiwanese oolongs. I also picked up an ounce of four different teas to drink throughout the next couple months.

One of these four new teas is called Traditional Dong Ding (凍頂) and it's the tea that I'll be reviewing today.

The dry leaves on this Dong Ding are large irregular clusters with lots of fat stems. They are a lovely mix of forest green, light green and gold colors and yield a fresh, nutty aroma. I would say that both the oxidation and the bake on this oolong are at a medium level.

This tea was brewed in a medium gaiwan with the bottom of the vessel thinly covered with leaf. I used boiling hot water and started by giving the leaves a quick rinse. Because the smell of the freshly rinsed leaves was really rich, toasty and charcoal-y, my palate was expecting a pretty roasty beverage.

The first infusion presented a beautiful honey-gold colored liquor and while its aroma was predominantly toasty, I felt like the actual flavor in my mouth was more floral and fruity.

Some baked oolong flavor notes did poke their heads out a little bit, especially in the second and third infusions, but after the fourth infusion they were mostly gone from the palate and elusive in the nose. I also detected notes of blackberry, apple, malt, caramel corn and rye.

This tea has great body and feels wonderfully substantial and thick in my mouth. It also has a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Shu Shu's Odyssey - Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

When my friend Shu Shu T. Dragon returned from his trip to the South Pacific, he was a total wreck. He insisted that I drop everything and immediately return with him to the mysterious island that he had found. This island was once the home of his "people," a race of small clay dragons called "Mew." Shu Shu told me the whole story about how the Mew had vanished after their life-sustaining natural hot spring had been cursed and then he pleaded with me to help him. Always willing to help a friend, I quickly filled my pack with provisions before boarding Shu Shu's pedal-powered hot air balloon. Together we were determined to solve the mystery!

After several days of frantic pedaling high above the vast Pacific Ocean, Shu Shu and I spotted the island. Even from a distance it exuded a ghostly sadness. We made a soft landing on an empty white-sand beach and craftily hid our flying machine under some foliage. Shu Shu and I rested briefly while sipping some fragrant Wenshan Baozhong tea.

"Where does your friend Ben live?" I asked between sips.

"I'm not sure I'd call him my friend," began Shu Shu. "But he and a few surviving members of his crew live at the top of that mountain." He pointed towards the island's highest peak. "That is also where the magical hot spring is located."

"Do you really think an invisible, homicidal Mew may be lurking someplace on this island?" I asked while thinking about the sinister Wuhh from Shu Shu's story.

"It is possible," he replied earnestly. "As long as Wuhh can stay hidden and keep making his potions, he could still be on the island."

In the early afternoon we began to hike up the mountain. The closer we got, the darker the sky became and the wind on the mountain became cold and erratic. I definitely got the impression that the place was cursed.

After a few more hours of strenuous hiking, the hot tropical sun had all but vanished. Shu Shu and I were confused and frightened by the thick darkness that had so quickly overtaken us. The temperature was now a frosty 32 degrees and no animals could be seen or heard. In this new unlivable climate, all of the once-tall palm trees were limp and bowing. It was if they had just heard a melancholy secret and were about to die of sorrow.

All of a sudden we heard rustling in the frozen jungle. Shu Shu and I crouched down low, armed ourselves quickly with a couple of large rocks, and looked out toward the unknown sound. The rustling stopped abruptly and a soft panting could be heard. Something was hiding just a few meters off the trail!

We waited as quietly as possible, not sure if we should announce our presence or wait until the mysterious thing made the first move. After about 3 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, it spoke.

"Mew Muh," it whispered.

Shu Shu had heard the language of the Mew race during his first visit to the island and knew that the mysterious thing was now speaking it.

"English?" replied Shu Shu softly and then as an afterthought he said, "We come in peace."

The rustling sound began again as the mysterious thing drew closer and suddenly a red gleaming light in the shape of an egg sparkled from the shadows beneath two cold yellow eyes.

Shu Shu and I were both completely unprepared for what happened next. We raised our rocks defensively as beads of sweat rolled down our foreheads. The leaves parted quickly and out leaped an animated corpse!

In an instant I was knocked backwards by a shrieking zombie. Its teeth gnashed greedily and its sharp nails raked my head and chest. I swung my rock wildly, struggling to land a blow on its fleshy gray head. Just as the ugly beast lunged at my exposed neck, Shu Shu launched his stone. Fortunately, it connected! The zombie was stunned, but only for a second; it screamed madly before attacking me again. But this time I had a clear shot at its decaying head and swung my stone with all my might. Crack. The undead attacker collapsed at my feet. Shu Shu and I took a few steps backwards as the lifeless man-beast twitched and panted on the frozen ground.

"It looks like one of Ben Jones' crew..." Shu Shu whispered to me after a few minutes of stunned silence. "Only deader."

"But Ben and his crew are good guys right? I asked.

"Yeah... but this guy has obviously been cursed, and if I remember correctly Ben lived here with about five remaining crew men... so there could be others still out there." Shu Shu answered.

"Other zombies?" I shuddered.

"I don't know." Shu Shu said, "but we had better be ready for anything." Shu Shu picked up another big rock and crept up closer to examine the now still corpse. Shu Shu gave it a kick and then rolled it over onto its back. It was ugly and it stank.

"Look," said Shu Shu as he pointed to a small stone that had rolled a few feet away from the dead body. It was glowing red and shaped like an egg. Shu Shu picked it up and recoiled.

"Yowza!" he yelled as he quickly tossed it to the ground. "That thing is full of bad mojo!"

"What is it?" I asked as I reached down and carefully picked it up. The instant it touched my fingers they felt frozen and dead. My hands turned white and a terrible feeling quickly spread up my arms. I began to dry heave and was about to collapse from pain, when Shu Shu smacked the cursed stone from my hands. I immediately began to feel normal again.

"Thank you, Shu Shu." I said as I tried to regain my breath.

"I have no clue what that thing is," Shu Shu said. "But I'll bet it is what turned this dude into a murderous zombie." He gave the dead body a pitiful glance.

"So what should we do with this thing?" I asked.

"Let's try to take it with us," Shu Shu replied, and carefully emptied my small can of Wenshan Baozhong tea onto a tea towel. Then he used a big frozen banana leaf to sweep the glowing red egg into my tea can. After that he shut the can and picked it up. Satisfied with himself, he gave it a little shake before putting in to his knapsack.

"Cool... but what about my Baozhong?" I asked.

"We can drink it up now," Shu Shu answered "It will help calm our frazzled nerves."

"I like the way you think, buddy." I said as I started a little fire.

After tea, Shu Shu and I pushed our now motionless attacker off the trail.

"God rest his zombie bones," said Shu Shu and we both snickered before continuing on our quest.

A few hours later we reach the summit.

"If memory serves... this is where the natural hotspring was." Shu Shu said as we pushed aside some dense leaves and stepped into an overgrown meadow.

All I could see were dead plants, mud and slimy rocks, but Shu Shu forged ahead and ran his paws along a black stone cliff.

"Here," he whispered and pushed some more limp branches out of his way.

I looked beyond and saw a putrid mud pit kept full by the occasional drop of brown swamp water.

"So this was the sacred hot spring of the Mew race?" I asked incredulously.

"Sad but true." Shu Shu earnestly replied. "Ben Jones and his crew worked for fifty years to keep it clean but something must have happened to them and this stinky swill is all that remains."

As Shu Shu spoke my face went white as a ghost. "Something happened to them all right... " I said. "They turned in to freakin' zombies!" and I raised a trembling finger to point out the four grotesque man-beasts who had suddenly appeared at the edge of the forest.

Shu Shu and I began to back up slowly, but we were caught between the brackish water and the four undead who were now hissing and gnashing their rotting teeth. Then they started to walk towards us.

Our knees shook and we looked at each other in horror. The zombies were getting closer. All we could do was turn around and jump in to the foul smelling pool of warm gassy water. So that's just what we did. Sploosh!

The water was deep and thick, swimming seemed impossible, and I was beyond disoriented. To make matters worse I had no idea where Shu Shu was. I tried to swim but instead I sunk deeper and deeper. It seemed as though I was in some sort of cave that served as the hot spring's drain. The only good thing was that the deeper I sunk the cleaner the water became. I was even able to rub some of the mud out of my eyes and when I did, I saw a faint yellow light shining in the distance. I gathered my strength and started to swim towards the light. Just as I thought I could not last another second without air my head emerged in a dimly lit cave. The light was coming from an old naked bulb. It's flickering light cast haunting shadows about the walls. I pulled myself up on to a ridge of dry rock and looked around. I gasped in fear... I was surrounded by thousands of lifeless Mews! Their small brown bodies stood frozen like cold dark statues. Was this the fate of the great Mew race?

Just then one of them moved.

"Brett!" it yelled and then it ran toward me. "Thank God you're alive!"

I let out a huge sigh of relief. It was Shu Shu! But he was crying.

To be continued...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Emperor Huizong, Artist and Tea Lover

Today the Association of Tea Bloggers is pleased to present a new tea blog carnival. The theme is "Tea Person" and participants may choose any historical, fictional or contemporary tea person to write about. This carnival is being hosted by the honorable Jason Walker, a founding member of the Association.

I chose the Song Dynasty (宋朝) Emperor Huizong (徽宗), who reigned from 1100 to 1126. My research revealed him to be an artist, calligrapher, musician, scholar, and devoted tea connoisseur (1).

Before I delve into Huizong's many connections to tea, I want to briefly mention his love for the guqin (古琴), an instrument I also adore. In addition to playing the instrument himself, Huizong searched China for famous specimens to keep in his "Ten Thousand Qin Pavilion (萬琴堂)." This painting entitled "Listening to the Qin (聽琴圖)" is a self portrait of the Emperor jamming in the garden (2).

In regards to tea culture, Huizong is most famous for writing Daguan Chalun (大觀茶論), or Treatise on Tea. This 900-year-old work is considered an important tea book, perhaps on par with Luyu's (陆羽) beloved Tea Classic (茶經). Unfortunately, I have thus far been unable to find a good translation of Daguan Chalun from the original Ancient Chinese. If I do, I will post a link.

In Daguan Chalun, Huizong describes a favorite tea called Anji Baicha (安吉白茶). The name translates as "Anji White Tea," but should not be confused with what we think of as white tea today. It is actually a very delicate green tea named after the soft "white jade" color of its tea soup (3) after being whisked.

One of the Emperor's favorite types of tea bowls were the black glazed bowls of the Jian Yang Kiln (建阳窑) located in Fujian Province. These bowls were popular during the Song dynasty because their black interior better displayed the frothy white soup of whisked tea (4).

Example of Jian Yang Kiln tea bowl from Song dynasty:

In the end, Huizong's deep love of art and tea may have been his (and the entire Northern Song Dynasty's) ultimate undoing. He was said to have been a very laissez-faire leader in regards to politics and military strategy (1). While the powerful Jurchen armies of Manchuria were organizing their might against him... Huizong was probably kicking back with his guqin, painting a beautiful picture of a "pigeon sitting on a peach branch" and whisking up a fresh bowl of tea!

1.) Huizong Wikipedia entry
2.) Silkqin.com
3.) History of White tea on Seven Cup's Website
4.) The AMICA library

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - August 2010

I am happy to be teaching these two tea classes this month at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Sunday, August 15, 2010 - 11:00 AM to Noon
World of Tea - In this class we will discuss all the major categories of tea and provide many fresh brewed samples. We will also learn several ways to brew great tasting tea while we talk about tea production and traditions in different countries.

Sunday, August 22, 2010 - 11:00 AM to Noon
Oolong Tea 101- In this class we will explore many delicious varieties of oolong tea made in China and Taiwan. Students will learn how different oolongs are made while we taste several fine examples brewed in both the Chinese and Western style. I will bring in one or two special teas from my personal stash to serve in addition to Teacup's fantastic stock.

My tea classes are great for tea lovers of all levels, so feel free to bring a friend or family member that you'd like to "get hooked" on tea. The cost is $3 per guest and a RSVP is required. You may RSVP anytime by visiting or calling the Teacup (206-283-5931) 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!