Friday, June 24, 2011

Three Grades of Spring 2011 Baozhong Tea

Yesterday, I cupped three grades of Spring 2011 Wenshan Baozhong Tea (文山包種茶) produced by my buddy Amin (and his family) in Pinglin, Taiwan. If you read Chinese (unlike me) and/or if you'd like to see videos of Amin making tea with his family, here is the link to his blog.

For this post, I will call the teas C (lowest grade), B (middle grade) and A (highest grade). I've tasted A a few times already on its own and I really like it, but I've never tried B and C before this cupping. According to Amin, these teas were picked in mid-May using the qing xin (清心) tea plant (which is common in Pinglin for Baozhong tea), and pass SGS tests for pesticide residue.

I set up a "more casual than usual" cupping station and then measured out 5 grams of dry leaf for each tea. I used spring water at a full boil.

C (top left)
B (top right)
A (low middle)

I was very pleased that my tasting notes and Amin's descriptions were analogous. Not that I ever expected otherwise. He has earned my trust over these last 4 years by always selling me great tea at a fair price.

This was a very pleasant cupping indeed (wish you could have been here). The window was open and the cool misty morning breeze filled the house with delightful garden aromas. I poured into each cup and then just put my nose in real close. Ahh.

C was nice... but when it was compared to the other two teas it didn't stand a chance. It came across as grassy and bright with fleeting fragrance and weak body.

B was the creamiest. It also appeared to be a little heavier oxidation. Great texture, even a little bit better than A, but lacking for aroma. It had a nice ripe honeydew melon note.

A: This tea was the king for floral fragrance, yielding lots of sweet lilac and mock orange blossom notes. The liquor felt thick and buttery with many wonderful pine, fruit and herbal notes.

PS: I have about 12 ounces left of A and I'd really love to place it in good homes (for $10 per ounce). If you and your teapot (or gaiwan, I don't discriminate) are looking to adopt some Baozhong tea (or Spring 2011 Alishan Zhang Shu Hu for that matter), please email me at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's new with me, you ask?

I was unexpectedly terminated after 9.5 great years working at Teacup. I do not agree with any of the reasons given to me for the termination. I love Teacup and all my old customers with all my heart and I'm very proud of all the work I've done at Teacup up to my very last minute. I wish Teacup nothing but the best as it goes forward into its 3rd decade.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Collect or To Simplify?

I have always had an inclination to collect things. As a young kid it was action figures (especially Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), as a teen it was rock albums, and throughout my life I've been known as "a penguin collector" by my friends and family. So... as many of my readers can totally relate, my growing tea obsession triggered a major teapot and puer tea cake collecting phase of my life. I now share my home with around 40 teapots and approximately 20 kilos of puer tea. Some of you might think that's a lot, while others will think that it's "barely anything."

I'm proud of my teapots and my puer. Even the puer cakes that I know are not very good have a place on my tea shelf. I'm sure every puer collector must, for one reason or another, purchase bad tea. I've even heard the venerable MarshalN refer to this concept as the collector's "tuition." Looking at, and organizing, my teapots and my puer brings me pleasure and I feel they are worth every penny.

That being said, I've really put on the breaks lately when it comes to collecting tea and teaware. Inspired in part by books such as Radical Homemakers, The Urban Homestead, and Simplicity Parenting, my wife and I have been on our own journey towards self reliance, simplification, and community building. Mainly we are doing little things like getting to know our neighbors, producing more of our own food, and limiting (sometimes easier said than done) our own and our children's screen time. We're not interested in living entirely "off the grid," instead we're just trying to be more conscious of where our money is going and focus most of our efforts on building a happy and fulfilling home life. Buying "stuff," especially when we can make it ourselves, barter for it, or simply "do without," no longer seems to fit with our lifestyle.

This doesn't mean I'll ever stop buying new tea and teaware. I'll still occasionally treat myself to small quantities of seasonal tea when money allows. It just means that I won't be impulsive (also easier said than done), and I'll only buy new or used things when I need to replace something else and I can't figure out a free way to acquire them.

My tea friend J. (first mentioned in my 2009 Gratitude post) once told me, "You know you've made it when you don't have to buy your own tea anymore." He alluded to his father in Taiwan whose friends and family give him more than enough great tea. He can drink all he wishes and re-gift any surplus. I want to be more like J's father in that respect. I hope that the more I write about tea, share homegrown produce, and help out my friends and neighbors the more great tea and teaware will come my way.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thai Iced Tea Recipe

If you ever find yourself looking for a great Thai Iced Tea recipe that is delicious, healthy, vegan and all natural please give this one a try. It serves two.

• 4 teaspoons of strong black tea (I use an Assam OP)
• 1 pulverized star anise pod (more or less depending on how much you like star anise)
• 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric (basically "a pinch")
• 2 cups boiling water
• 6 teaspoons of sugar (I like brown sugar in this recipe)
• 1 to 2 drops of vanilla extract
• 2 ounces of soymilk
• Ice cubes!
• 2 ounces of coconut milk (I prefer the organic, full-fat kind).

Steep the black tea, star anise and turmeric for 10 minutes using boiling hot water. Strain the leaves and then mix in the sugar, vanilla extract and soymilk. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Fill glasses with ice. Pour in chilled tea. Then top it off with a big spoonful of coconut milk.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Taiwanese Night Market Gallery

I normally avoid shopping and crowds but whenever I'm in Taiwan I'll always make an exception (or two) to visit a night market. I'm sure if you're a local they seem like a totally normal, ho-hum part of city life... but for an outsider like myself they can be very chaotic and surreal. This photo gallery attempts to capture some of the mind-bending excitement and disoriented delight that I've experienced at night markets in both Taipei and Taichung.

A Never Ending River of People


All Hail the Shiny Blue Octopus!

That Tricky Turkish Ice Cream Man in Taichung

R-rated Holiday Signage

The Perfect Gift for your Sacrilegious
Cubicle-Working Friend

Young Man getting set up for some
two-necked, delay pedal, shoe-gazing fun!

This gal rocked.

Night Market Shirt #1

It says:
evirob is the essence of weird life it will make you too ill try our extraodiary works you can find it's another stadard Produced and Designed by Devil Robots licened by intel

Night Market Shirt #2

It says:
Radic Color We Love Music and You
...and on the back it says:
Addicted to Junks!

Do you have pictures of fun (or crazy) things that you've seen at a Taiwanese night market? If so, and this post inspired you, please email them to me and I'll put together a second gallery consisting of reader submissions. Please adhere to the usual online photo rules by only sending photos that you yourself took, and are free of nudity. (R-rated or suggestive photos that are "more funny than they are rude" may be considered.) Xiexie!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Organic Summer 2010 Shibi Hong Cha

I teased a review of this organic Taiwanese hongcha (紅茶) at the end of my May 11th post. I would have posted this review sooner but I only had a small sample and I used too large of a teapot. The resulting tea was way too weak to fairly review and so I had to wait until my friend Nicole of Green Leaf Tea Company got her new shipment from Taiwan. Now that that has happened I'm ready to sip and share!

The dry leaf is slightly twisted and dark with little flecks of gold and fat twigs. The aroma is nutty and sweet with a slight note of potato chips.

This time, determined not to be "under-leafed," I brewed it in a small gaiwan about 60% full of dry leaves. This method yielded 6 tasty infusions.

Here's the third:

But even when brewed in this heavier manner, the tea was still pretty light when compared to most hongcha I have sampled. Despite its lighter body the tea did not lack for complexity. It sometimes yielded a pleasant, creamy caramel-like flavor, and sometimes it had a wonderful brisk, Ceylon-like, raisin flavor.

This tea is very smooth and yummy but it did occasionally display some distant savory, broth and marine notes. The only other time I can remember detecting this particular flavor was in the stunning Summer 2009 organic A'a black tea from Hawaii's Big Island Tea Company. Interestingly, I just read Alex Z's Chicken Soup Aroma in Black Tea post from earlier today and I think that was maybe what I was tasting. Possibly it's perceived differently to me because I've been vegan for almost 12 years?

For me this tea was at its best when it had cooled to room temperature. For some reason the cooler liquor tasted thicker and really appealed to me with its clean, fruity, and refreshing taste.

I'd recommend this Summer 2010 Shibi hongcha to anybody looking for a smooth, light and spirited black tea and/or to anybody who (like myself) wishes to support small-scale organic tea production in Taiwan.

Click here if you'd like to see the vendor's own review of this tea.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spring 2011 High Mountain Oolong Sale!

Hello tea friends. I have some Taiwanese oolong for sale! Three spring 2011 high mountain oolong teas arrived at my home yesterday from my mentor and friend Penny Yang in Taipei.

The three teas are: Alishan Zhang Shu Hu (阿里山樟樹湖), Meishan (梅山), and Shan Lin Xi Long Feng Xia (杉林溪龍鳳峽). I cupped them all together this morning.

Shan Lin Xi is on the left,
Alishan is in the Middle,
and Meishan is on the Right.

Here are my tasting notes from this morning's cupping session:

Alishan Zhang Shu Hu: The most buttery and floral. Savory and sweet with notes of apple and wild herbaceous dandelion. In the middle for body.

Meishan: The brightest and greenest of the three. Refreshing and crisp. Sugary with lingering orange rind and other fruit notes.

Shan Lin Xi Long Feng Xia (sorry this tea SOLD OUT on 6/9/11 ): Toastiest with thickest body and mouth-feel, a little bit floral with notes of almond, earth and meadow grass.

In my opinion these three teas are all very wonderful and unique and they all have great aftertastes. I am so happy to once again have some fresh high mountain oolong in my house!

I am selling these teas for $12.50 per ounce. Shipping to the lower 48 states adds $5 (more for other places). Of course you can skip the shipping if you arrange to pick the tea up from me at my home or work.

If you're interested in buying some tea from me please email me at I can be paid via paypal, cash or check. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Thoughts on Organic Tea

I don't really like the term Green guilt. To me, it is just an ostentatious way of saying "conscience." Everybody has a conscience and everyone (at least everyone I know) wants their food, drink and environment to be clean, healthy and natural. To that end, we try to make sustainable choices.

I'm confident that I'm doing a fair job but I'm far from perfect and I'll never be perfect. Being perfect and feeling guilty is not what life is about. Life is about loving, growing, making mistakes, learning, and evolving.

How does this relate to tea? Like anything we humans choose to consume, this issue is extremely complex and very personal. Many teas are as good as organic but not certified, while others (thankfully very rarely) may have fake organic certifications. Sometimes organic teas don't taste half as good as non-organic teas but they cost twice as much. Other times organic teas are worth every penny. The truth is that most tea is primarily a cash crop being produced on high yield mono-crop tea estates. Because of this, I find myself always on the lookout for more sustainable tea growers. These growers usually turn out to be dedicated and caring farmers with low yield farms... and their tea is often very amazing and more expensive. I would love to be able to drink these sorts of teas all the time, but the fact remains that I still drink a lot of non-organic tea. I drink all types of tea from all types of places and I like it that way. I believe that quality, non-organic tea from reputable tea vendors is a healthy and sustainable choice (especially when it's compared to some of the other things we humans chose to eat and drink).

For any readers who came to this post looking for real insights based on objective research (not always my strongest suit) I urge you to read the following articles which helped me on my own path:

"Organic Tea" by the good people behind

"Sustainable, Organic, Fair-Trade: A Conversation with Nigel Melican / Parts 1, 2 and 3" [Chadao blog] by Cinnabar

"Discussions on Organic Cultivation of Tea / Part 1 and 2" [Life in Teacup blog] by Gingko

Further Discussions of Quality" [The Leaf, Issue #7] by Thomas Leons and Wu De

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Teacup Tea Classes - June 2011 - Canceled

This class has been canceled. I'm sorry for any

This month, I am very excited to present a special tea tasting event at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Sunday, June 26, 2011 - 4:30 to 5:30 PM
Spring 2011 New Tea Tasting - For this special tasting I have selected several delicious fresh spring 2011 teas. We will sip and savor while discussing tea culture and brewing techniques.

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

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!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blueberry Tisane

Today the Association of Tea Bloggers is presenting a new Blog Carnival. Our topic is, "Write about how you brew one type of tea." To find links to all of the participating ATB members' blogs please visit the the distinguished tea guru known as Gongfu Girl.

I chose to write about how I brew Blueberry Tisane. I don't usually drink herbal beverages or tisanes (Ha. If only I had a dollar for every time a "serious tea drinker" makes this claim!) but lately my three-year-old daughter has been requesting "Blueberry Tea."

I don't have any blueberry tea... but I do have frozen blueberries... so I came up with a new recipe.

Here's what you do. First, gather the equipment: a little mortar and pestle and ceramic teapot (my preferred teapot is Sapphire). Then take the blueberries out of the freezer and pop a few in your mouth for good measure.

The key to making it so delicious (and it really is) is to smash up the berries. I've been using around 10 berries per cup but I find that you can't use too many. The stronger the better in my opinion.

It also helps to make sure your teapot is very hot before you begin. Steep the pulverized berries for at least 10 minutes with boiling water. Placing a tea cozy over the pot while it steeps will help keep the water as hot as possible. If your infusion doesn't have a dark purple color it will probably taste too weak.

À votre santé!