Monday, October 31, 2011

Big News from Phoenix Tea!

I have some exciting news! My business partner Cinnabar and I just rented a perfect little spot in downtown Burien, Washington. The space, at 902 SW 152nd Street, will be the home of our business Phoenix Tea.

Over the next few weeks we will build a retail tea shop and tasting bar. We will paint, decorate and stock our store then, with luck, we'll be open for business by the end of November.

Any friends who would like to donate money or invest in Phoenix Tea (no amount is too small) or volunteer their time or advice please email me at I will find a way to reward your generosity.

I'll post again (with photos) when the shop is ready for its grand opening. I look forward to drinking tea with you in Burien real soon!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Urban Herbs #3 - Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is all over the place here in Seattle and we can always find a few of these shrubs growing around our yard. My kids like to nibble the leaves. I'll sometimes nibble them too, but more often I'll just pick a few, rub them between my fingers and smell their nice lemony aroma. Until today I've never tried drinking a plain infusion of lemon balm (though I'm sure I have had them before in blended herbal beverages).

Lemon balm tea is considered a healthy infusion for colds and flu as well as a calming and soothing beverage. It makes a nice addition to aromatic and medicinal herb gardens and has the added benefit of attracting beneficial bees who help to pollinate nearby plants.

I picked ~10 fresh tender leaves and minced them up with a knife. I steeped them for 5 minutes using 5 ounces of boiling hot water. The resulting infusion had a pleasant grass and citrus aroma and a pale watery yellow-green color.

In my opinion it tastes great. Like most herbal infusions, lemon balm is probably hard to over steep. Next time I going to use more leaf and a longer steep time. The flavor was not at all bitter and was too weak to be perceived as tart. I was reminded of lemon juice, lemon peel, rose hips and meadow flowers. It left with a nice aftertaste and feeling in my throat. I can easily see myself drinking this infusion often throughout the winter and sharing it with my two young children.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Taiwanese Shaken Tea

The first time I heard about Taiwanese shaken tea was back in 2005, when my friend Josh C. hosted me for two nights in Tainan (臺南). We went to a beautiful teashop where Josh was clearly considered a VIP. While we savored some of the finest oolongs I've ever experienced, Josh pointed out the servers behind the counter, who used martini shakers to blend chilled tea with natural flavors and sweeteners. These shaken beverages were then poured into lovely glasses and served to delighted customers. During my first few trips to Taiwan, these shaken tea beverages seemed to be all the rage.

My first taste came a year later. While waiting for a bus in Fengyuan (豐原), my buddy Darald and I walked around the nearby streets in search of tea. We randomly entered a stylish teahouse and attempted to order some good tea using our limited Mandarin. It turned out they didn't serve regular tea, only shaken tea. We almost left, then decided "what the heck" and placed our orders.

After a few minutes of waiting next to an indoor waterfall our drinks were served. I can't remember what Darald ordered, but I got this:

It turned out to be "honey, grapefruit juice, and baihao oolong garnished with a cherry tomato." I saw the server shake it up. I'd never had anything like it before and yes, it was delicious.

I've since tried similar beverages a few times and have learned a few interesting tidbits in the process. For one, shaken tea is synonymous with bubble tea in Taiwan because it has foamy bubbles floating on the surface of the glass. My previous notion that bubble tea must contain tapioca pearls turns out to be a misconception. Also, the reasons for shaking the tea go beyond just mixing the ingredients and making bubbles; it is believed that shaking oxygenates the tea which results in cleaner, bolder flavors.

I wonder what would happen if you were to vigorously shake a martini shaker full of plain pure tea and compare its flavor to its unshaken counterpart? Perhaps I should try some experiments.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Essence of Tea's 2010 Mansai

Today I'm reviewing Essence of Tea's 2010 Mansai Sheng Puer Cake. Many thanks go out to my friend Israel in MT for sending me this sample.

It appears that a handful of other sheng puer tea lovers already wrote about this tea last year. Check them out at Half Dipper, Sip Tip, and The Skua Steeps. I'll wait until after I publish my post before reading these others.

I can't recall ever trying tea from Mansai before and Essence of Tea states that it is a very remote location on the China / Myanmar border.

The dry leaf is a lovely mix of greens and silvers. They smell alive with subtle hints of pine and sage.

I use my normal puer reviewing parameters (5 grams dry leaf / boiling water / ~100ml gaiwan) and bring the leaves through 8 awesome infusions.

The liquor presents itself as medium bodied, though some infusions were more substantial. It has a peppery, flowery aroma that reminds me of honeysuckle and grassy meadows. For me this is clearly a nice tea and very complex. Some of the pours were a little fruity/appley while others were more herbaceous and incense-like.

I'd say this tea is spirited and feels great lingering in the back of my mouth and throat. The way this tea left my body feeling reminded me a little bit of white tea. I had a solid, alert, high-frequency buzz. This would be my typical response to young, tippy, sheng puer. It's not my usual "puer mellow" but it's not too uncomfortable either.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zina Tea's '06 '07 '08 Shu Puer Cake

My friend Donia has some excellent connections for Chinese tea. She recently started a Seattle-based business called Zina Tea (website coming soon) to bring these treasures to the North American market. Last weekend, she debuted her current selection at this year's Northwest Tea Festival and I was lucky enough to procure a small sample of an interesting shu bing (熟餅) called "2006-07-08 Blend Puer Cooked Cake" to review here on my blog.

The cake is beautifully presented in a wrapper advertising 喬木古茶 (tall trees old tea) in bold black characters. The factory is listed as Chang Yun Tea Company (昌雲茶業有限公司出品).

In her product description for this cake, Donia describes the production of shu puer as it pertains to this product. She notes that the level of fermentation differed for each of the three batches, 2006, 2007, and 2008, and that care was taken to ensure good air circulation for the leaves between batches. At a certain point, while processing the 2008 leaves, 2006 and 2007's leaves were mixed in. This melange waited three more years before being pressed into cakes.

The dry leaves appear dark brown and black with a few golden buds and stems. They have a sweet, toasty smell.

I used a ~100 ml gaiwan with 5 grams of leaf and boiling water. A short rinse released a pleasant malty, earthy aroma.

As expected, this cake performed very well for me. Six infusions poured silky, smooth and complex. The broth was a little bit lighter than most of my favorite shu puer teas so I'll try a couple more grams of dry leaf for my next session. My tasting notes included walnut, old growth rainforest, and vanilla bean.

I'd recommend this cake to anyone looking for a delicious and interesting shu puer blend. I also encourage my readers to contact Donia directly ( to receive her tea list or to ask her any questions about her business.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Northwest Tea Festival Wrap Up

This weekend my business partner Cinnabar, her husband, and I, were all at Northwest Tea Festival to represent our business Phoenix Tea. On Sunday, we were joined by our talented potter friend Chris Shaw who displayed his work at our booth. We all had a great time, met many new tea lovers, and saw a lot of old tea friends too.

Many thanks are due to Julee, Doug, Kyohei, Annie, Ken, and Anne Marie. These local tea lovers put in a ton of hard work and months of planning to pull off this grand event.

I'd also like to thank the thousands of lovely folks who attended. What a beautiful, diverse and vibrant tea scene we have in the Pacific Northwest!

Here's a peek inside our booth.

And another peek.

Beautiful clay teaware crafted by our buddy Chris Shaw.