Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recorded Tea Music

Underneath the enormous umbrella that is "World Music" there exists a relatively small genre of recorded music that would best be labeled "Tea Music."

I'm not a fan of all music that falls into this genre. I don't really like tracks to contain too many sound effects like ocean waves or chirping birds. I also steer clear of repetitive harmonic drone-notes and chanting.

I usually love tea music that features Asian instruments being played by talented artists, especially when the recordings sound organic and unpolished.

Guqin (古琴) music such as on Wu Ziying's (吳自英) staggeringly beautiful record "Art of the Guqin" can sound bluesy and soulful with the occasional pop and buzz of the strings adding richness to the listening experience.

My first real tea music CD was Zhang Wei-Liang's (張維良) breathtaking Tea Drops, purchased back in 2003 from Tribute Teas online. The album is mainly Zhang's flute along with some pipa and dulcimer among others. This record added a lot of nice ambiance to some of the first tea tastings I presented right after I began Black Dragon Tea Bar.

In 2004 I first heard the hauntingly sublime erhu (二胡) playing of Fred Ji while he was busking at Pike Place Market. I purchased a home recording from him and love it. In some ways it's like a punk record because it has over 30 raspy edgy tracks, most of which are under one minute long... but the way they blend together with a cup of tea smooths them out and feeds my soul.

Another local artist to whom I frequently listen is Elizabeth Falconer. She is an American Koto master who I saw play live at Floating Leaves many years ago. I have since purchased most of her sweetly serene albums.

The latest album to join my small collection of tea music is the Meaning of Tea's movie soundtrack. This record features 16 original instrumental tracks that are appropriately cinematic with soaring and sweeping crescendos. I find them to have just the right amount of moodiness to keep me tuned in.

As many ancient Chinese paintings and poems will attest, there is little in this world better than sipping a great tea while blissing out to some beautiful music.

What tea and music pairings do you suggest?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pile of Squid

I saw these stinky little fellows on sale near Yeliu in northern Taiwan.

Would you eat one?

I would not.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2006 Xi Zi Hao "Ban Zhan Natural Habitat" Cake

I picked up this 2006 sheng puer cake back in 2007 from Hou De Asian Arts. According to Hou De, the mao cha for this cake was sourced from "...a plantation in Ban Zhan (班章) that is co-planted with camphor trees (to deter insects) and naturally allow a balanced ecosystem." The cake itself claims to be "special ecological tea" (特製生態茶). I'm not too sure what that means... but it sounds good!

Xi Zi Hao (囍字號) is an upscale brand offering their own recipes of boutique puer. Their logo is usually a double happiness (囍) with X-rated drawings inside. It is not hard to find more information about Xi Zi Hao online along with countless opinions about the quality and the prices of their offerings.

This particular cake is marketed as "daughter tea" (女兒). I've seen this description before on other puer teas, but I'm not clear what it means. Any puer pros reading this post please comment if you know what is meant by "daughter tea."

I found this tea to be quite satisfying. For me it had notes of rosemary and cedar with a thick, syrupy liquor. The sweetness reminded me of fat, ripe, organic carrots. It tasted clean, healthy and nutritious.

The Paper.

The Leaves.

The End.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowls Sunday

Introducing the Super Tea Bowls!
(They are the sidekicks to the famous League of Pots.)






Fall Out Boy




Barney Rubble

Arthur (the moth)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Sneak Peek at the Seattle Chinese Garden

A few days ago, the fine folks at Seattle Chinese Garden (西華園) threw a party to celebrate the opening of their main courtyard and I was invited to pour the tea.

The courtyard is called Knowing the Spring (知春院) and was recently finished by Chinese artisans visiting from Chengdu. Although there is still lots of exciting work to be done over the next few years, the garden will open to the public starting February 6, 2011 (please check the official website for hours).

Here is a little peek at the finished courtyard.

Fireworks popping outside the elegant and humble entry gate.

Inside the courtyard

Beautiful Stones

Ceremonial gate interior view

Ceremonial gate exterior view

Before you go.... Click here to view an über dreamy map of how amazing our city's garden will someday be.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Teacup Tea Class - February 2011

This month, I am excited to be teaching the following new tea class at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 10:00 to 11:00 AM
Black Tea Cupping Workshop - In this class we will sharpen our tea tasting skills by "cupping" several rounds of unscented, loose-leaf black teas. The selected teas will represent most major black tea growing regions which will provide guests with a great opportunity to compare and contrast many unique and delightful flavors.

This class is being offered in the morning for any black tea drinkers who are sensitive to caffeine.

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!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

J-Mo's Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

In June of 2009, my wife, daughter and I took a little trip down to California to celebrate the wedding of our good friends Janice and Mo (affectionately nicknamed J-Mo around our household). Their wedding was truly beautiful and we were so honored to be included in the ceremony.

Well before the wedding, Janice and Mo asked me if I'd like to serve tea for their friends and family at the rehearsal dinner. I had served tea for similar sized groups before (40-ish people) but it was always around Seattle and with my own equipment. It felt so good to be asked but for some reason I was really nervous about it. I agreed, and then I put it out of my mind for a while until the wedding drew near.

Traveling with a one-year-old meant that we already had a ton of important stuff to bring. I didn't want to pack too much tea or teaware so I only brought a couple little tins of tea. I chose a nice fresh Alishan High Mountain Oolong to serve at the rehearsal dinner.

The dinner was originally set to take place at Janice's parents' home but was moved last minute to Berkeley's Sushi Solano restaurant. The restaurant had a cool vibe and the menu was a mix of house-made Japanese delicacies and take-out from the amazing Udupi Palace vegetarian Indian food restaurant.

As the guests started to arrive, the scene became festively chaotic and the strong smells of delicious food filled the room. Up until now I hadn't even started to think about just how I was going to make enough tea, serve it to the guests and have it be worthy of my friends and their guests. I started getting cold feet and even thought about backing out. I started making lame excuses in my mind such as "the tables were not arranged well for a tea service" and "the strong foods will eclipse my delicate tea selection."

The guests have arrive.

Fortunately, my wife and a few other friends helped me to come to my senses. Also, the restaurant, who until recently only had large teacups, had just found a bunch of new small sake cups with my tea pouring in mind! That sealed the deal. I couldn't let down my friends. I was going to do this!

Sushi Solano loaned me their four largest teapots (two were ceramic and two were iron) and they had a couple of electric kettles at my disposal. After the feast, I was introduced to the guests and then I talked a minute about myself, the tea I had brought and my relationship to the bride and groom.

A friend and groomsman named Sandhi came to my aid. He was an experienced server and, with the help of a few other volunteers, fragrant Alishan began to make its way to the hands of excited guests!

Readying the cups.

Straining the tea.

Serving the tea.

Together, everyone sipped their tea. To my great relief it turned out fine! I relaxed a little and steeped the tea several more times. I was happy to hear some good reviews of its flavor.

I led the guests in a short "tea toast" to our beloved Janice and Mo. Everybody shared the same great feeling knowing that these two fantastic people were about to get married.

The soon to be newlyweds!

This post is my contribution to the February 2011 Tea Blog Carnival as presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. Our theme for this carnival was "What is the most uncomfortable place where you prepared tea and how were you able to overcome the difficulty?" This month's carnival was hosted by the always fabulous Gongfu Girl and links to other participating posts can be found here.