Wednesday, August 31, 2011

League of Pots #29

Code Name: Pebbles

Material: Stone
Height: 7 cm
Length (handle to spout): 15.5 cm
Volume: 230 ml
Weight: 300 g

Brews: Any type of unscented tea.
Specialty: Lightly Oxidized High Mountain Oolong.
Story: Pebbles was an unexpected gift from my neighbor.
Super Powers: Pebbles' rock hard exoskeleton makes her virtually indestructible. She can transform into a massive boulder and crush her enemies flat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Phoenix Dancong Aha Moment

I'm not sure where the term originates but according to psychologist John Kounios an Aha Moment is: "Any sudden comprehension that allows you to see something in a different light."

I had my first Tea Aha Moment with my mentor Donna Fellman back in 2001. Since that day I've had many of these little epiphanies for many different types of tea.

I've always been intrigued by Phoenix Dancong (鳳凰单丛) oolong tea but I never really understood why some folks are crazy for it. The 2007 Winter Fenghuang Wudong old bush from Hou De almost qualified as an Aha Moment, but because that particular tea was so unique I could not compare it to a normal Phoenix Dancong.

Normal (by which I mean "commercially available in North America") Phoenix Dancong, in my experience, has those beautiful, carefully twisted leaves... this...

...and appears slightly red and green after it has infused many times... this.

Their are so many different cultivars used to produce them. One of the most common is called Milan Xiang (蜜蘭香) (Honey Orchid Fragrance). I've had a few nice experiences with these teas, but they've never satisfied me the way a good Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong, Ti Kuan Yin (鐵觀音) or Yan Cha (岩茶) could.

My Phoenix Dancong Aha Moment finally came earlier this month while taking care of my kids and doing household chores. I was drinking the Phoenix Dancong that my own tea company is selling. I used a small gaiwan about 2/3 full of dry leaf and steeped the first couple infusions for about one minute. It was very pleasant.

Then I made my 3rd infusion. I forgot about it. It steeped almost 20 minutes and I was sure it would be terrible.

But it wasn't!

I liked that cup of tea so much! The flavor was really rich and presented big apricot and honey notes. It felt so thick and malty with bright, sparkly peaks of complexity. I instantly knew why people love this type of tea so much.

Since that Aha Moment I have tried hard to learn how to coax those delicious flavors into every infusion.

It hasn't been easy but I have found a happy balance. I tend to like this Dancong better with longer steeps. I also prefer using spring water or plain tap water instead of my usual filtered water. Finally, I recommend using slightly cooler water, (around 180° F) after the 3rd infusion, and not giving up on the tea until at least the 7th because my favorites seem to be the later infusions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Adagio Roots - Pi Lo Chun

Here in Seattle, I often see a bumper sticker that simply states "No Farms, No Food." It's so true and you can easily replace "Food" with "Tea."

Many people need to reestablish connections with the producers of their food and drink and this is one reason why the Association of Tea Bloggers is presenting a blog carnival to highlight Adagio's Roots campaign. The goal of this campaign is to celebrate the tea farmers that produce Adagio's tea.

Ten years ago, when I started selling loose leaf tea, not many companies were doing this. Old school tea sellers were woefully secretive and proprietary about their tea sources. Thankfully, the tea world is now better connected and better educated. Modern tea lovers demand a tea industry that is open, honest and friendly about where their teas are coming from. I believe that tea sellers should freely provide as much information about any tea they are selling as the customer wishes to know.

One tea that I now know the source of is Adagio's Pi Lo Chun (aka Bì Luó Chūn) (aka 碧螺春) (aka green snail spring).

This tea was produced by Huang Jian Lin in Jiangsu, China. I've even seen a photo of the man wearing camouflage pants and swinging a wicked looking stick.

(Photo courtesy of Adagio Tea Co.)

The man makes a fine tea. The dry leaf is very beautiful and has a sweet, nutty aroma. The flavor is brothy and satisfying. I'd say this bi luo chun is a little bit bolder than many of the other pricier bi lou chun teas I have tasted in the past. Huang's is also a bit more floral in my opinion.

Kudos to Adagio (and all the other worthy tea vendors out there) for introducing us to the makers of their teas and kudos to all the consumers, like myself, who care about this sort of thing!

You can find links to all the other ATB members who are participating in this blog carnival here:

Gongfu Girl


Notes on Tea

The Tea Enthusiasts's Scrapbook

Tea For Today

Tea Pages

That Pour Girl

Walker Tea Review

Teaspoons and Petals

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Urban Herb #1 - Wild Chamomile

This is the alley behind my house.

It is filled with many urban herbs. One of which is wild chamomile (aka pineappleweed).

As it turns out this useful and tasty plant can be found all over Washington, especially in sandy soil near trails and paths. I've gotten into the habit of picking a little flower and crushing it between my fingers because it really smells amazing.

Wikipedia says: "The young flower heads can be used to make tea by steeping a handful of the flowers in hot water for ten minutes and then straining."
OK. I can try that.

I used about one teaspoon of flowers in a half full gaiwan with boiling water. After a ten minute infusion the liquor is a pale yellowish-green color.

The smell is lovely in my opinion. It's like the freshest chamomile aroma I've ever smelled with a twist of ripe pineapple juice. The flavor is sweet, soothing and floral like any great chamomile flower infusion would be.

If you dig chamomile tea then you would probably like this.

It's very relaxing.


I am starting to feel pretty sleepy.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Shu Shu's Odyssey - Part 3

(Continued from Parts 1 and 2)

Shu Shu had apparently regained consciousness a few minutes before I did. He ran to my side and yelled "Thank God you're alive!"

Half-conscious and completely disoriented as I was, I could tell that he had been crying for some time.

"What's wrong?" I managed to ask despite my many aches.

"Look around," he whispered between sobs.

We seemed to be deep in the core of a dark dank cave. The only light came from a small naked light bulb dangling from a dusty black cord. All around us stood the lifeless statues of thousands of Mews. Their tiny faces appeared to be frozen in agony. It was as though they had suffered some unspeakable mistreatment just seconds before they were all turned to stone. Their shadows swayed lazily on the cave walls like ghostly dancers.

"We have to find a way out of here," I whispered to Shu Shu.

"You're right," he replied as he stopped crying and took a deep breath. "I've got an idea. Let's try following that wire connected to the light bulb."

We took the naked bulb down from a rusty ceiling hook and started walking along a dark corridor. We had to stop every ten feet or so to pull down more wire as it was tacked up along the cave wall.

We started to doubt our decision after walking for what must have been an hour. The featureless gray walls seemed to be teasing us. The dusty wire trailed on for ages behind us and before us. We began to hear things.

"Something is not right." I said to Shu Shu.

"You can say that again. We're trapped miles under the ground in an endless narrow cave!" Shu Shu snapped.

I could tell that he was getting claustrophobic and agitated so I suggested we sit for a minute and try to come up with a plan.

"It's not like we can get lost down here." I said while trying to sound more confident than I really was. "I didn't even know this island had electricity before seeing this light bulb. We're following the wire and it has to lead someplace. That was a good plan."

Just then the light bulb flickered and died. We were left in absolute darkness.

"Are you st-still holding the w-wire?" I asked. I was trembling and my heart was pounding.

"Y-y-yes," stammered Shu Shu.

We decided to stay the course and both held the wire tightly as we continued slowly down the corridor. It was difficult to pull the wire off the wall without any light, but we managed, and seemed to be making progress. Then we heard a muffled voice coming from somewhere very close.

Shu Shu and I clung to each other and trembled in the pitch black passageway. To say we were scared would have been a gross understatement.

The voice sounded like it was right next to us yet we couldn't make out the words. It cracked and hissed in a ghoulish timbre.

"I th-th-think I kn-kn-know where it's coming from." I whispered after a minute of heart-pounding terror. "It's coming from inside the tea tin."

Shu Shu carefully took off his knapsack and opened the flap. Then he slowly took out the tin and twisted off the top. A soft red light emerged from the tin and, for the first time since the light bulb burned out, Shu Shu and I could see each others' terrified faces. Along with the light, THE VOICE was now louder and could clearly be discerned. It was coming from the evil red egg-shaped stone that Shu Shu and I had found after we had been attacked by a cursed zombie.

"...I can't believe that meddling Mew came back to my island and brought that sickening man-boy to help him. My zombies almost had them at the spring but now they're somewhere deep inside the mountain where I've imprisoned the hapless Mew. No matter. Nobody knows this island better than I do and I will kill them soon enough..."

At this point the voice trailed off and Shu Shu and I looked up at each other in disbelief. Could we somehow hear Wuhh's thoughts transmitted through this egg shaped stone? Or was this some sort of evil spell that Wuhh had employed to scare us? And if we could hear him, could he somehow hear us too? We quickly closed the tin and returned to the blackness, then we continued to move along the tunnel.

About a half hour later, Shu Shu and I saw a light. Our spirits lifted slightly and we hurried forward. The tunnel entered into a large chamber where a bright shaft of sunlight beamed down from a small hole located about a hundred feet up on the ceiling. The walls were too steep and smooth to climb and there were no tunnels into this room, other than the one through which we had entered. The thin wire that supplied our bulb with electricity ran along the surface of the wall and out the hole in the ceiling. It was not strong enough to support my weight, but maybe tiny Shu Shu could use it to climb out.

Shu Shu committed himself to the task at hand and grasped the thin cord with his claws. He shimmied along for a few feet and then lost some ground as his weight pulled the cord away from the wall. It was only attached by a few rusty hooks and would likely continue to pull off the wall as he climbed higher. Shu Shu made quick work of the first half and hung dangling way up above my head. I held the cord steady as he inched his way up; pulling first with his front paws and then pushing with his hind paws. His attention was on his footing... but mine suddenly shifted to the hole in the ceiling.

"Shu Shu, stop!" I yelled.

First Shu Shu looked down at me and then he looked up at the hole. The black silhouette of a head could be seen peering into the chamber through the shaft of light. It wasn't easy to tell but I think it was a zombie.

"@#$%!" yelled Shu Shu as he started sliding downward. I saw a twisted smile appear on the face above. It took out a large knife and as it hacked through the cord I could see its hideous face illuminated by streaks of light reflecting off the blade.

The cord broke and Shu Shu fell about 30 feet. I dived to catch him but failed. His brown Mew body was growing brittle from too many days without a hot tea shower and because of this his right front paw broke clean off. He lay on the ground in agony as I picked him up and held him close. Shu Shu fiddled around in his knapsack and I stared at the hole in the ceiling. Together we trembled in fear.

Just then a rope ladder was lowered in to the chamber. It swayed as if it was being used but no one, or no thing, could be seen. After a few minutes we heard the same evil voice that we heard from the egg. It was coming from the other side of the chamber.

"How dare you return to my island," hissed the voice.

At that moment, a gate slammed closed behind us, blocking the tunnel through which we had come.

"Now give me back my cavatu!" yelled the voice.

"Your ca-what!?" countered Shu Shu.

"The red stone in your bag. Give it to me, NOW," the voice demanded.

"And what if we won't?!" Shu Shu answered defiantly.

"Then I will kill you slowly and painfully," snorted the voice.

"Who are you?" Shu Shu asked. "We're not afraid of you!"

I shot Shu Shu an irritated look as I quaked in fear, but then I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. My little friend's bravery inspired me to rise to the challenge.

"We'll never give you the stone!" I shouted. "Show yourself, coward!"

With that, a hot blue ball of flame suddenly appeared on the other side of the room. Half a second later it was flying towards me at great speed. I jumped out of the way and rolled on the ground as the fireball hit the wall behind me. It left a large smoking black dent in the cave wall. Far above our heads we could hear a couple of ugly zombies laughing as they watched the scene from the hole in the roof.

"My name is Wuhh," answered the voice, "and I have lived on this island for many centuries. You are not welcome here."

"You're the bastard that killed all of the Mew. We came back here to help them and now we're going to kill you!" Shu Shu was fuming with rage as he spoke. "The Mew are a peaceful race. How could you do this!?? You are a Mew yourself!"

"Ha. How little you know, Shu Shu. Captain Jones and his son Ben's story is only the half of it. First of all, I didn't kill the Mew. I cursed them into statues and I can undo it at anytime," Wuhh snickered. "Secondly, I'm not a Mew. I'm a human wizard who took the form of a Mew when I first came to this island many centuries ago. I pretended to work with the Mew as I practiced my dark magic. Before long I had perfected my poisons, invisibility and zombification spells. I waited until the right time and then started my ultimate plan to take over the wor..."

Shu Shu cut him off mid-word. "Why are you such a pompous ***hole?" Shu Shu yelled as he took the tea tin out of his knapsack and gave it a bold shake. "Your precious stone is in here, Mr. Wizard. Come and get it."

A furious blue flame erupted in the corner of the chamber. Behind its intense burning glow we could make out the shadowy figure of a tall man.

"Get down!" I yelled as I dropped to the floor. Shu Shu ducked down low and covered his face with his remaining left paw, which was still clutching the tea tin.

A massive wall of flame expanded in a circle around Wuhh. It spun violently as if caught in a hurricane. The heat was unbearable and Shu Shu and I writhed in agony as it scorched our faces. We were being burned alive!

Shu Shu screamed, "Take your stupid stone. Please stop." He held out the tea tin as we cowered together on the chamber floor. In a flash, a magical hand snatched the tin from Shu Shu and returned to Wuhh in the corner of the room. All of a sudden the flames stopped and Wuhh's ghostly human figure could be seen quickly ascending the ladder. Then the zombies above rapidly pulled the ladder up and out of the chamber. A heavy lid was placed over the hole and we were once again helpless in a world void of light.

A few minutes passed before Shu Shu and I spoke to each other.

"Shu Shu, do your feet feel wet?" I asked.

"Yes." He replied.

We blindly felt around the chamber floor with our hands and, sure enough, water was present. We could hear it flowing in through some unseen portal high overhead. An hour later it was up to my knees and Shu Shu had to stand on my shoulder. We began to panic as we felt our way desperately around the perimeter of the room. Wuhh meant to drown us in this black pit.

To be continued....

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bamboo Storage Mini Cakes

These bamboo stored mini cakes were among several wonderful puer teas that we sampled at the latest monthly meeting of the Puer Tea Appreciation Club of Seattle. This particular tea was brought and brewed by my friend Andrew G. He purchased it 10 years ago from Imperial Tea Court (back when they were at the Great Wall Mall in Kent, WA). He believes they were already around 10 years old at that time, making this a twenty-ish year old tea.

The tea is packed in a pretty bamboo tube and each cake (tablet may be a better word for them) is about 10 grams. The cakes can easily be split into two halves.

These two photos were taken by my friend and business partner Cinnabar during the club meeting:

I was lucky enough to keep one of the cakes to review on my blog and I'm sipping it now on a peaceful, sunny, Seattle afternoon.

I used half a cake in a small gaiwan. I rinsed it twice with boiling water and then steeped it about 45 seconds. The liquor was a nice reddish-brown color and had a unique aroma. It reminded me of tomatoes, brandy, and steamed bamboo.

This was the first infusion.
The following three infusions were a few shades darker.

The flavor of this tea is unlike any puer I've had before. It tastes a little like bamboo and has some decent aged sheng puer flavors, but it also delivers some brash tomato, carrot and citrus notes, especially in the first few infusions. Thankfully it smoothed out around the 4th or 5th pour and started to present some velvety and woodsy qualities.

I've only tasted a few puer teas that have been aged in bamboo. All of which have been lack-luster and I'm really not sure why that is. This was my best experience to date, but I'd still say that for me this tea was more "interesting" than it was delicious.

Have you ever tried any really great bamboo stored puer teas, or have your experiences with the genre been similar to my own?