Monday, April 16, 2018

Taiwan Travel Gallery 2018

大家好! Last week my family and I returned home after 8 awesome days in Taiwan. This was my sixth time visiting my favorite island. We had fun eating, shopping, swimming, hiking, drinking tea and exploring in Taipei (台北), Yeliu (野柳), Pinglin (坪林), Jiufen (九份), and Guguan (谷關). Here are a few photos from our trip!

Produce shopping in Taipei

Walking the lanes near our apartment

A visit to Taipei 101

Looking down from up high!

A view of the Danshui River from the window of friend's apartment

Awesome pool that we had all to ourselves

Walking the streets of Taipei

Tea with Amin in Pinglin!

The Guanyin in Pinglin

On the trail with our buddy "Golden"

Dez finds a friend

Cora at the Tea Farm

Cool suspension bridge near Pinglin

A stormy and fun day at Yeliu

A pretty cafe in Jiufen

Walking the alleys of Guguan

Cora chillin' with her ocarina

7-11 selfie in Guguan

Lunch Time!

Massive grasshopper on the Shao Lai Trail (捎來步道)

Guguan post office

Dez plays his ocarina in Guguan

Dinner at the hotel

Kiss Fish! Eating the dry skin cells on our feet.

A view of our Hotspring Pool

Mango Jelly, Boba, & Passionfruit Shaved Ice!

Busy Old Street of Jiufen

Ready for some Lishan High Mountain Oolong!

Walking to the elementary school in Guguan

Monday, October 9, 2017

Northwest Tea Festival 2017 and Colombian Black Tea Cupping

On September 30th and October 1st I attended the Northwest Tea Festival at Seattle Center. Both days, I presented a session in the tea tasting booths called Oolongs with Brett. As the name suggests my sessions featured me serving and discussing oolong tea (along with a bit of ukulele strumming). It felt great to get behind a bamboo serving tray once again!

After my tasting sessions I spent my time sampling tea and connecting with friends on the expo floor. I picked up some fantastic Alishan from Floating Leaves and miscellaneous other goodies from some of my favorite stores (like Phoenix Tea, Smacha, and Young Mountain). My tea cupboard is now ready for Autumn!

At one point my old boss Brian Keating wanted to introduce me to a Colombian tea producer called Bitaco. I had never tried Colombian tea so I was excited to give it a shot. After chatting with Brian and the Bitaco representatives, I had faith that Bitaco cares about the people in their community and the lush mountain environment at which their tea is grown. Also, their tea looked and smelled super fresh and the price was great.

I picked up these 3 Colombian black teas:

Tippy 2

Wiry 2

Black Wiry 1

During the past week I enjoyed mugs of each tea, but today I decided to cup all three side by side to see how they really compared. I used 3 grams of leaf in three identical 6 ounce glass mugs. Each tea was steeped 3 minutes with boiling water.  

Wiry 2 (top left) 
Tippy 2 (top right)
 Wiry 1 (bottom middle)

The teas cupped up nicely. Here are my tasting notes:
Wiry 2 had the lightest body, but not by much. It was brisk, sweet and clean tasting. Compared to the others it was mellow, but the delicate notes of fruit, honey, and wood made it the most complex. It's a black tea that drinks more like a dark oolong.

Wiry 1 was the most peppery. It reminded me of a mid-grade Yunnan hongcha. It is a great cup of tea but it slightly lacked complexity when sipped alongside the other two.

Tippy 2 was very nice. It had the most body and mouthfeel. It was malty with a sweet stone-fruit aftertaste. If you like high quality Assam tea this would be one to try.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Red Miso is Done!

After 3 whole years fermenting in my basement I am excited to announce that my homemade Red Miso is finally ready! Yesterday I packaged up the entire batch into 3 quart sized mason jars. That's a lot of Miso. I'll definitely be sharing with local friends and family.

For more information on how I made this Miso please check out my post from last January called Red Miso's Second Birthday

It turned out great! I tasted it side by side with an all natural, no preservative, store bought Red Miso that I had in my fridge. Mine is bolder, smokier, saltier, and less sweet, but still a little sweet, very rich and delicious.

Miso Selfie!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

SHELL - Brett's original Board Game!

Origin Story: One night in 2008, I had this dream. I was in a youth hostel in Vancouver B.C. watching a young Canadian woman with massive dreadlocks putting away dishes in a cramped kitchenette. I watched her for quite a while as the cups and plates kept popping back out at her from the overloaded cupboard.

Out of the blue, a young man with a shaven head and Northern European accent asked me, "Do you want to play The Princess Shell?" As I turned to face the man, he said, "It is the best game in the world."

I was startled and intrigued. "Uh, OK," I replied. At this, the man reached up to pull a large solid-wood game board off of a high bookshelf. With dramatic flair, he blew all the dust off the board before setting it before us on a low coffee table.

"These small tiles are called Secrets," he explained. "They are blown around the board by an ever-present Wind. This one is the Blind Dog, this one is the Liar's Mask, and this one is called Grandfather's Axe...."

Unfortunately, at this point in the dream, my brain decided I'd had enough intrigue and pulled the plug. Even though it was 2:00 AM, I was too excited to fall back to sleep. With the dream fresh in my mind, I went into our office (now our kid's bedroom) and started making notes. I knew I wanted to make The Princess Shell into a real board game, but I had no idea where to start. After I made a few sketches and notes, I forced myself to go back to bed.

Over the last 8 years, I have worked on my game in fits and starts. Thanks to massive amounts of help from my family and friends, it has evolved into a very original and fun board game with clear, easy-to-learn rules. I named my game SHELL (the "Princess" part of the title was abandoned early on) and it is a game of strategy, memory and luck. I love my game and would like it to reach a larger audience. Visit the official SHELL website here.

Please email me (blackdragontea AT gmail DOT com ) if you...
... have any questions about SHELL (or tea or ukuleles :) 
... are in the Seattle area and would like to play SHELL.
... would like to order your very own handmade SHELL board game.
... have connections or advice regarding the board game and/or computer/app industries.

My original SHELL board from 2008 at the start of a new game.

Photo taken after several turns.

Working on a new handmade SHELL board November 2012!

Finished! (November 2012)

Pretty Floral SHELL Board (Sold!)

Beautiful SHELL Board (Sold!)

A cool Green SHELL board

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bitter Melon Tie Guanyin - 苦瓜鐵觀音

Several months ago while drinking tea with my friends Jason and Andrew at Smacha, I received (among other things) a little sample of Bitter Melon Tie Guanyin (苦瓜 鐵觀音) oolong tea.

These days I typically choose either an oolong or a hongcha for my daily brew, and I tend to stick with teas I know. But today I was feeling more adventurous so I decided to give this novelty a try.

I was surprised to find the tea leaves are actually packed into a dried bitter-melon rind shaped like a little bumpy cylinder! The leaves themselves look and smell pleasant. It is a roasted oolong tea.

I used freshly boiled water and gave the "unit" a three second rinse in my gaiwan. It smells quite good, roasty, sweet and mellow.

The first infusion was about 30 seconds and poured pretty light. As you might imagine it took the water a few infusions to get into the center of this "wheel of leaves" and start to push the real flavor out. I continued to do short steeps because I was afraid of the bitterness that actually never came. After the second infusion, with the leaves pushing their way out of the melon rind, the liquor turned a medium-dark amber color. I enjoyed the flavor but it does have a weird vegetable note. The sweet caramel-like oolong flavors are muddied up by a tart cucumber-skin aftertaste. 

After 15 years as a heavy tea drinker I have a pretty good understanding of what my body craves. I drink tea for the satisfied feeling it gives me, the flavor, and the energy (qi) (). Maybe it's because I do not have any sentimental connections to bitter melon or it's potential health benefits that I found that this tea was ultimately not worth my time.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

10 Years Ago Today

On May 8, 2006, during my second trip to Taiwan, my friend Shiuwen treated my buddy Darald and me to an unforgettable tea tour. We met up with her bright and early in Taipei and had a hearty breakfast of steamed vegetable buns, fried youtiao and fresh soymilk. After our meal, and after we took care of a few errands (including sending my mom a Mother's Day card), we proceeded via metro to Xindian station, which is where we got the bus up to Pinglin.

It was a very hot day in Taipei and the air was barely moving but once we got off the bus in Pinglin we were soothed by a lower temperature and a gentle breeze. The air in Pinglin is sweet and the surrounding hills are lush and green. Our first stop in town was Shiuwen's friend Farmer Chen's tea shop where we drank some unforgettable Wenshan Baozhong tea. After tea we had a satisfying lunch of tea oil noodles (a local specialty), fried tofu, and soup with lotus flowers.

After lunch, we headed up to Farmer Chen's tea farm by car. Once at the farm I was excited to learn that we would be able to pick tea leaves. Darald and I were shown the basic technique, given a hat and basket, and put to work. In one hour I had plucked less than one tenth of the tea the locals had harvested. I watched as their hands moved quickly and skillfully over the tea bushes while my hands brought to mind those of an intoxicated sloth. I was still given a pat on the back and told that I didn't do too bad for my first try. It was a wonderful experience that left me with even greater respect and appreciation for the professionals.

After tea picking time we spread our leaves on rattan trays to wither...

...then we walked over to the neighbor's farm to see Dong Fang Mei Ren (東方美人) oolong tea in various stages of production.

As we walked around the misty, green farms, Chen and Shiuwen pointed out the different cultivars of tea bushes we passed. Qing Xin (青心) was the most common, but Jin Xuan (金萱), Fo Shou (佛手) and even Wuyi Mountain Shui Xian (水仙) tea bushes were planted in this area.

(This one is Fo Shou.)

We drank some more fresh tea and then traveled back to town. Shiuwen, Darald and I visited a large facility for de-stemming and sorting hundreds of pounds of Wenshan Baozhong tea. It was fascinating.

We stopped into another tea shop where I purchased some baked Baozhong for Teacup (the store I was managing at the time), and two clay teapots (for myself). I also took a small shot of Baozhong wine offered to me by some locals. It was strong stuff.

In the evening we said goodbye to Pinglin and hopped aboard a bus headed back to Taipei. The ride was somewhat eventful because an air conditioning unit was leaking water all over one vinyl seat. About halfway to Taipei the bus was full except for that seat. An old lady came in with two plastic bags. She looked all around for a seat and was dismayed by her only option being soggy. I was close by so I sprung up to offer my seat. She tried to protest but I insisted and she sat down while I stood. Then she gave me a present. It was a special local food. Some type of gummy rice pocket with a bright, artificial-red, raw-onion-tasting filling. I thanked her and ate a little bit. I gave the old lady a smile and a big thumbs up... but I really didn't like it, so I put it in my pocket to deal with later.

The evening in Taipei was not too hot and we all had a great dinner at a Buddhist buffet. Then we headed over to Shiuwen's friend Lao Ji Zi's shop for even more great tea.

(That's our own fresh picked Baozhong leaves on the tray.)

Although we were already quite tea drunk we made room for some more amazing tea. I had an Alishan High Mountian Oolong that was so incredible. It was the type of tea that makes a tea-person empty out their wallet and say, "How much will this get me?"

We also cupped up the Baozhong leaves that we picked that afternoon. By this point they had only been withered slightly and jostled about in our bags during the commute back to town. They had a subtle sweet floral aroma and clean clear broth with notes of lilac and dew. A very refreshing way to end the night.

(Those are our jade green leaves in the large bowl.)

All in all it was a wonderful day in Northern Taiwan. I can never thank Shiuwen enough!