Monday, December 22, 2008

My First Tasting of Real Hawaiian Tea

Last November after an excellent family vacation to Maui I posted about genuine Hawaiian-grown tea. The only problem was... I had never actually tasted Hawaiian tea. Until now.

A friend (and former coworker) named Jessica brought a little can of Hawaiian oolong into Teacup (my work) to share with us. She said a friend of hers had bought it on a recent trip to the Big Island.

The can:

I do not know too much about this particular product; in fact, I could not find it on the Hilo Coffee Mill website. I'm betting this is due to very limited supply and that the tea is currently only available for sale on the Big Island.

While researching my original Hawaiian tea post I emailed several farmers who seemed extremely passionate and knowledgeable about their teas. They mainly seem focused on producing small quantities of superb tea for connoisseur buyers. In fact, one farmer claimed that her best tea fetches $1 per gram ($453 per pound). I'm hoping to try her tea next spring when she has fresh tea ready.

The dry leaves of the Hilo Coffee Mill tea (currently the only Hawaiian tea I have ever tasted) are twisted and voluminous. Their colors range from black to orange to forest green. They have a sweet, earthy smell that is reminiscent of fallen Autumn leaves.

The dry leaf:

I'd say this tea was a great introduction to Hawaiian tea. It had a wonderful and complex flavor.
The first flavor most people picked up was intense rich, raw, fresh honey. Beyond that, delicate notes of volcanic minerals, raisins, and tropical flowers could be detected.

The tea soup:

In other news, Seattle is still buried in snow!
Check out what Alanna and I made today:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three Winter 2008 Wenshan Baozhongs

Snow has come to our hilly northwest city. It looks like we have about six inches already and there is no sign of it slowing down! Fortunately, I have today off and Alanna can work from home. I expected Teacup would have it's busiest weekend of the year on December 20th and 21st, but now I'm not too sure, because it will be very hard to get up Queen Anne Hill. It may be an adventure getting to work tomorrow!

A view from the side of our house:

Last week I stopped by Floating Leaves tea shop in Ballard to pick up an ounce each of their three new Winter Wenshan Baozhongs (文山包種茶). Floating Leaves, in my opinion, is one of the best tea vendors in America. The proprietress, Shiuwen, is brilliant, fun and welcoming. I always enjoy stopping by her little shop to sample some incredible oolongs and puer teas!

These Wenshan Baozhongs are competition teas from Pinglin, Taiwan. They are simply called: 1st place Baozhong, 2nd place Baozhong, and Farmer's Choice Baozhong. This morning my wife and I cupped them up using the bowl and spoon method recommended by Shiuwen. Because these teas are very aromatic it is lovely to smell their fragrance evaporating off of the Asian soup spoons. I'm not certain why, but the convex and concave sides of the soup spoon smell very different. The convex often has a sweeter sugarcane-like aroma and the concave often has a fruitier, maltier and richer aroma.

"Bowl and Spoon Cupping"

Each of these three teas cupped up very nicely using four grams of tea in a half-filled bowl of 200 degree water. After about 3 minutes of spoon dipping and spoon sniffing, we decanted the tea soup into mugs for sipping.

Looks pretty tasty:

The aroma of the 1st place Baozhong was noticeably stronger than the other two with a slightly "greener" smell that reminded me of pine trees. The liquor had a light yellow color. All three teas were very smooth but Alanna and I ranked this tea as the "least smooth." That is not a fault because this tea's warming, spicy flavor was extremely refreshing. This tea presented delicate tasting notes of pineapple and orange rind and its aftertaste and aroma were clean and very long lasting.

The aroma of the 2nd place Baozhong was sweet and creamy. I would say that the 1st place had a brisker taste, while this tea was more floral. Also, the yellow color of this Baozhong is a shade darker than the 1st place's. The flavor reminded me slightly of a perfectly ripe papaya that I had eaten last month in Maui. Alanna and I favored this tea for its buttery, flowery taste and thicker texture in the mouth.

The Farmers Choice Baozhong is in a class by itself. Shiuwen told me that this tea has a higher level of oxidation than most of the Wenshan Baozhongs currently being produced and I have been told that higher oxidation such as this used to be more common. I believe the farmer prefers this tea for its luscious and thick mouth feel. The tea soup was easily the darkest shade of yellow and the aroma was unique and pleasant. The flavor of this tea was much maltier and toastier than the other two teas and I even picked up a slightly "hoppy" note. The taste had a nice balance of rich, warming, complex and floral. I might say: "This tea drinks like a meal."

While these three teas may not have been the greatest Baozhongs that I've ever tasted, they are clearly among the best you can buy for this Winter. They are all very good, and they were a real pleasure to review.

After our tea tasting, Shu Shu the dragon enjoyed a steaming hot "Baozhong Bath" in the falling snow!

Shu Shu's Baozhong Bath:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nannou Shou Cha 1997

These days America has no shortage of businesses that sell Chinese and/or Taiwanese teas. If you live in an urban area or have access to a phone or computer, then excellent tea is fairly easy to come by. In fact, I could easily name about 20 wonderful and trustworthy tea vendors right now off the top of my head. One of these tea shops is Red Blossom in San Francisco. My wife and I had the pleasure of checking them out last year when we traveled down to the Bay Area for our baby shower. We sampled many sublime teas at Red Blossom and ended up buying an ounce each of: 2007 Spring Heirloom Lishan, Spring 2007 Supreme Panan Dragonwell, and 1997 Nannou Shou Puer tea. Our total came to $48. That provided us with 25 amazing tea sessions each with 3 to 8 delicious infusions, so I'd say we got a fantastic value!

This afternoon I savoured my penultimate pot of Nannou Shou Cha 1997 and on a whim I decided to blog about it. Up until now I haven't posted many tea reviews, and when I do attempt a tea review, I rarely say anything critical or negative about the tea. The best tea reviews, in my opinion, are the ones that balance the "clinical" aspects of the steeping parameters (ie. the amount of leaf, the water temperature, the brewing vessel etc...etc...) with a good story. There are plenty of writers out there who can produce an interesting, informative and genuinely "readable" tea review. My goal is to be one of them (someday).

This loose leaf puer is from Nannou Mountain (南糯山), a famous tea producing area in southern Yunnan, China. Because I do not have much experience with region-specific puer teas, I will not be making any claims about how Nannou Mountain tea should taste or what particular flavors they usually possess.

I used about 4 grams of tea in Xiao Xiao (a very small clay pot). The dry leaf is a random assortment of different sizes, stems and colors. The colors range from orange to grey to black. They have an earthy, malty smell.

The dry leaf:

Because today's weather is cool and cloudy with a soft misty rain, I have cracked open the dining room window to let in a bit of fresh air. I believe that the sweet smell of Northwest rain can be highly beneficial when paired with some teas. (On that note, the smell of newly fallen snow is a heavenly compliment to Winter Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Taiwanese Oolong Tea.)

I used filtered Seattle water that had just reached a rolling boil and first gave the dry leaves a 5 second rinse, then I prepared five delicious infusions. Each infusion steeped for about 30 to 60 seconds and always produced a milky-black color. This puer had no smokiness and the flavor was velvety and malty like an infusion of roasted grains. I wonder if Nannou shan's tea leaves are known for thick, round, and smooth tastes or if this particular tea is an exception to the region's usual flavor profile?

Xiao Xiao and the fourth infusion:

I drank my tea slowly and mindfully while my little daughter sat in my lap. She is a peaceful and sweet baby who seems to enjoy good tea. When I pass my teacup under her nose she will instinctively stick out her tongue and try to lick it.

As I sip this satisfying puer tea I think about traveling to Yunnan, China. Someday I will go there and spend some time learning about puer tea production. Hopefully my wife and daughter can come too!

A quick look at the spent leaves:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Worm Summer Grass - 冬蟲夏草茶

On May 11, 2008, Nicole (my little sister), Justice (Nicole's then-fiance now-husband), Andrea (Justice's little sister), David (my tea buddy), Gwen (David's girlfriend), and I were all having a nice time playing tourist in Taipei. We six laowai (老外) (old foreigners) were walking from Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall to Taipei 101 when we came across a big poster announcing: "The 4th Taipei Vegetarian and Organics Festival 2008." Because we all love our veggies and the Festival was open to the public for just NT$100 (about $3) per guest, we decided to check it out!

The poster:

This Festival was massive with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees. Inside the enormous showroom we saw many teas, tinctures, faux meats, vitamins, vegetables, mushrooms and new age products from all over the world! It was quite an experience with tons of free samples to be tried! (Ever tried Tahitian Noni Fruit juice? I like it, but it's not for everybody.)

Inside the Festival:

Some cool food art:

More cool food art:

Grow your own mushrooms display:

At one booth a man was selling a product called "冬蟲夏草茶". I knew the characters: 冬 (Winter), 夏 (Summer), 草 (Grass) and 茶 (Tea) but I didn't recognize 蟲 . My little sister and I thought it was a tasty broth to make soup with. When I asked if it was a Chinese medicinal soup the man began to explain the product to us but my elementary mandarin was not good enough to understand his very technical description. Nicole and I each bought a box at NT$600 (about $18) each. We thought that was pretty expensive but enjoyed the novelty of the product.

The Product:

Only after returning home did I translate 蟲. It means Worm. Then, using the Internet, I began to learn more about this interesting infusion. As it turns out 冬蟲夏草 is a specialized fungus that attacks a certain Tibetan worm to spawn and thus multiply. The product is called Cordyceps in English and is highly prized by some Chinese as an herbal medicine. One website I looked at claimed that this worm fungus could: "Invigorate the kidney and supplement essence for treating impotence, emission, physical exhaustion, dizziness and tinnitus, invigorate the lung and eliminate cough and phlegm, stop bleeding, build immunity, prevent pre-mature aging, tonic for recuperation from surgery or long illness."

The herbal beverage that my sister and I purchased was a blend of these herbs:
(Thank you so much to my awesome Chinese teacher Cindy for translating!)
冬蟲夏草 (dong1chong2xia4cao3) Cordyceps
枸杞 (gou2qi3)Lycium chinensis, Chin. wolfberry, matrimony vine
枸杞根 (gou2qi3gen1) wolfberry root
黨参 (dang3shen1) Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae; Fllase Asiabel Root Tangshen
七葉蘭 (qi1ye4lan2) Pandanus odoru; Pandan leaves
菊花 (ju2hua1) Chrysanthemum
白鶴靈芝 (bai2he4ling2zhi1) Rhinacanthus nasutus; Twig and leaf of Bignose Rhinacanthus
决明子 (jue2ming2zi3) Catsia tora Linn; Semen Cassiae
甜菊 (tien2ju2) Stevia (aka sweetleaf)

The actual herbal tea:
(It looks kind of like the stuff I used to feed my pet mouse.)

So you're probably wondering... How does it taste? It's not too bad. I liked it when we had a tiny sample in Taipei but here at home I can't drink more than a small cup because the stevia gives it a terrible aftertaste and it just doesn't sit well in my stomach. It has a sweet, roasty, Chinese medicine taste so mostly I keep it around as a conversation piece.

The 冬蟲夏草's liquor:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

League of Pots #013

Code Name: "Blue Plum" (藍梅)

Material: Fine Bone China
Height (not including handle): 11 cm
Length (back to spout): 17 cm
Weight: 504 grams
Volume: 700 ml

Brews: Blue Plum is great for brewing any type of tea
Specialty: Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種)
Story: I bought this beautiful teapot with 4 matching cups from the Teacup about 3 years ago. My good friend and former coworker Heidi rang up the sale. After my employee discount it cost $130. At the time that was the most I've ever spent on teaware. Now the most is "Double Dragon" (He cost me about $200).
Super Powers: Blue Plum can swim better and faster than a shark and she can breathe under water.

League of Pots #012

Code Name: "Iron Moon" (鐵月)

Material: Japanese Cast Iron Tetsubin
Height (not including handle): 7.5 cm
Length (back to spout): 21 cm
Weight: 1458 grams
Volume: 650 ml

Brews: Most green teas and black teas (Not good for oolong or puer.)
Specialty: Sencha green tea
Story: My mom bought me this wonderful iron teapot for Christmas about 5 years ago.
Super Powers: Iron Moon is a transforming robot with super strength. He likes to change into a flying saucer shape and can often be seen zipping around in the sky above New Mexico.

League of Pots #011

Code Name: "Sara" (莎拉)

Material: Green Celedon Pottery Kyusu
Height: 9cm
Length (handle to spout at right angle): 24cm
Weight: 603 grams
Volume: 400 ml

Brews: All types of tea
Specialty: Japanese and Korean green teas
Story: I purchased Sara with her matching cooling bowl, and three matching cups from a thrift store here in Seattle. The pieces were being sold separately $2 for the pot, and $0.99 for the cooling bowl, and cups. All of the pieces were in perfect condition! Whoever it was who was crazy enough to get rid of this teapot... I thank you very much! This was a major "thrift store score" and I use her often to make tea.
Super Powers: Sara can sing a beautiful melody. Anyone who hears her tune will fall fast asleep, and be unable to wake up until Sara releases them from her spell.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Teacup's New Spot!

After 18 wonderful years at 2207 Queen Anne Ave. N. in Seattle, the Teacup has moved to an even better location! Our new store (at 2128 Queen Anne Ave. N.) is twice as big, and much more visible. We are now at the busy corner of Queen Anne Avenue and Boston Street. Locals sometimes call this intersection "Caffeine Corner," since there were coffee shops on nearly every corner. Teacup's big move signals that coffee is out and tea is in here on Queen Anne!

Elisabeth (the owner of Teacup), Zen, Charlie, and Lydia, along with others, worked very hard for over three months to bring us this fantastic new store.

This weekend (November 28th to November 30th) was our grand opening weekend. I worked on Friday and Saturday and had a lot of fun. The store was literally overflowing with new and old customers who came by to see our awesome new location. Customers were impressed by the lovely paint and furnishings. Also, many people approved of all the natural light we receive through our large glass windows. Teacup is a Queen Anne hilltop institution and most people are thrilled that we will remain just that.

I take a lot of pride in my work at Teacup and I have personally provided thousands of people with a great tea drinking and/or tea buying experience. I'm also very happy that our small business is experiencing sensible and sustainable growth in these unfavorable economic times.

Please check out Queen Anne View blog for another nice article on our move.

A photo of the store from across the street:

Regular customers drinking tea:

Customer buying bulk tea:

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Story of Shu Shu the Tea Dragon

Once upon a time in Beijing, China there lived a little tea dragon named Shu Shu. Shu Shu was 500 years old (or about 10 years old in human years). Every day he rode his bicycle down to the tea house, where his good friend "Old Wang" made tea. Tea dragons, like Shu Shu, do not drink tea through their mouths like we humans do. Instead, they enjoy hot tea showers. Old Wang would brew many pots of delicious tea and after he and his guests had savored the taste and aroma, Old Wang would pour a little tea over Shu Shu. As the steaming hot tea evaporated off of Shu Shu's head and back, it conditioned Shu Shu's clay skin. After many years of hot tea showers Shu Shu hopes to have very soft and shiny skin... for that is the dream of every tea dragon!

Our Hero Shu Shu:

Besides tea, Shu Shu also loved to read. He spent many hours at libraries and bookstores happily reading as much as he could. He read everything he could get his claws on, from fiction to cookbooks. If he wasn't at the tea house with Old Wang, he would be found with his snout in a book!

He really loves to read!:

One day, while enjoying a nice tea shower with Old Wang, Shu Shu was very sad. Old Wang is a very kind and perceptive man, and so he asked Shu Shu, "Why are you so sad today my little dragon friend?"

"I am so sad today because I have read every book in China! I do not know what to do. I need new books to enjoy," answered Shu Shu, as tears rolled down his scaly clay cheeks.

Drinking tea with Old Wang:

"Oh dear," said Old Wang, "That is terrible news, but do not worry, I have a plan. This afternoon a very nice couple from America are coming over to have tea with us. We shall ask them to adopt you and bring you back to their home in Seattle. In America you will find millions of new books to enjoy. They should keep you busy for a long time."

"That is a wonderful plan," Shu Shu replied "But what about tea? You know I cannot live without my hot tea showers!"

"Do not worry, Shu Shu. This couple loves good Chinese tea and they will make sure that you get many showers of steaming hot oolong, green, puer and red tea!"

That afternoon, Shu Shu met Brian and Susan. They were very cool and he liked them right away. They had spent the last decade traveling around the world in their pedal-powered, zero emissions hot air balloon!

Brian and Susan were happy to help Shu Shu immigrate to America but they would be unable to provide enough tea showers and books for the cute little guy, so they arranged to have Shu Shu adopted by their friend Brett.

Old Wang and Shu Shu said their goodbyes. Although they were a bit sad they knew that they would meet again someday, and that this was a wonderful opportunity for Shu Shu.

Brian, Susan and Shu Shu flew home to America where Shu Shu met his new family. Brett, Alanna and Cora took an instant liking to the bookish little dragon... and they lived happily ever after!

Part of our family:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Long Yuan Hao - "Bing vs Tuo"

In July 2007 I received a small shipment of puer tea cakes (普洱餅茶) imported directly from Yunnan, China. These cakes were all young sheng cha (生茶). Among the 8 different varieties I imported, one was the "2006 Long Yuan Hao Gold Medal Bingcha" (龍園號金級餅茶). All the tea cakes look, smell and taste great but this cake is a standout for me. After I posted some photos of these new tea cakes my online tea buddy (thanks John!) mentioned that he had the tuocha (沱茶) version of the same 2006 Long Yuan Hao Gold Medal tea in his personal puer collection! We decided to do a little puer trade, and age the teas together. This experiment should help us to further understand the ways different compressed tea shapes will age. Also, this tea experiment may provide insights on American puer aging regionalities, because I am in Seattle and he is in Virginia. I plan to cup these teas together every 3 years and post the tasting notes to my blog.

On August 8, 2007 I did the first cupping to get a baseline on these young green puers. Both the Bing (cake shaped) and the Tuo (bowl shaped) had long twisted leaves and a really sweet aroma. The bing had a little more smoke in the aroma while the tuo was subtle. The dry leaves looked similar with a gorgeous mix of color including green, white, orange, yellow and brown.

I used the bowl and spoon cupping method with 5 grams of each tea plus 1.5 cups of 200 degree water. I mixed each tea gently while smelling the spoons. They both smelled amazing. These teas have very lively and complex aromas. The tuo's aroma was softer and a bit fruitier, like a green apple. The bing has more warming smoke and a camphorish spice, but these notes were also present in the tuo.

After 2 minutes, I ladled the tea soup into two small tea bowls. The color was brilliant yellow on each cup and both had crystal clear broth. I tasted the Bing first. It was sublime. The taste was very sweet and smooth. The smoky aroma was gone as I sipped the tea. In its place was a fruity, herbaceous aroma with a hint of licorice. Then I tasted the tuo. It had a great, although slightly weaker, taste than the bing. Also, it finished with a tiny hint of astringency that the bing, steeped to the exact same degree, did not. After a few more sips of the tuo its flavors seemed to adjust and instead of astringency I felt a sparkling sweetness that I associate with high mountain oolong teas.

I added more water several times and enjoyed each infusion, then I took a closer look at the infused leaves. I found that those of the tuo were slightly less even, having more small, medium and large bits than the bing which was almost completely large twisted leaves.

I savored each puer for a short time as did my wife, who slightly favored the bing, for its superior complexity and smoothness. We both agree that each tea was superb and look forward to revisiting them every 3 years.

Tuocha (left) Bingcha (right):

Tuo and Bing (naked):

Puer tea soup:

Tea soup (wide shot):

A happy puer cupping guy:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hawaiian Tea - 夏威夷的茶

Me and my girls (Alanna and baby Cora) just returned from a short but wonderful vacation to Maui, Hawaii. We rented a little condo in Honokowai (just north of Lahaina). The condo was across the street from Honokowai beach park and practically next door to a groovy little health food store and a farmers market! Needless to say we were in heaven! The condo was well stocked with all the basic things we needed to cook our meals and it even had some beach stuff and a cooler we could use. The only thing it lacked was a teapot. As you may already know "coffee is king" in the Hawaiian islands. International love for Hawaiian coffee has been increasing ever since the 1800's when they first started growing it. I didn't mind the lack of a teapot too much. I had brought along a good infuser and some very nice teas. We had: Kama Assam from India's Satrupa garden, Spring 2008 Lishan High Mountain oolong that I had brought home from my May 2008 trip to Taiwan, and some very tasty Sencha green tea that a friend had brought me after she spent a few weeks in Japan. Alanna and I would start each day with a nice mug (or two) of hot tea, (the mugs at the condo, appropriately, had palm trees and pineapples on them), then we would make an infusion to pour over ice after we returned from our daily adventuring.

On the flight to Maui I was very excited to read an article in Hana Hou magazine called: The Archipelago of Tea. It was about real Hawaiian tea being produced on the Big Island! The production of which is still very small, but the tea farmers and other people involved seem to be truly passionate about making great teas. The article made it clear that Hawaiian tea is crafted with tea connoisseurs in mind and that the farmers view their own tea production as an artistic outlet. It sounds like my next trip to Hawaii will have to include tea on the Big Island!

I have tasted real teas from all over the world including: India, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Georgia, Nepal, Japan, South Carolina, and Washington State, but I've yet to have any genuine Hawaiian tea. Alanna and I searched for it while on Maui, but we were unable to find any. Thanks to a great post by Another Tea Blog I have a few leads and links to share. Onomea, Tea Hawaii, Big Island Tea, and Mauna Kea Tea. I plan to order some samples soon and I'll let you know what I think in the future.

Kapalua Bay:

Iao Needle:

Baldwin Beach:

Monday, November 3, 2008

What is the Black Dragon Tea Bar?

I started the Black Dragon Tea Bar (烏龍茶几) on May 1, 2004 here in Seattle, Washington. This small business provides tea education, tea catering and bulk tea sales. I operate the business out of my home and thus do not have a "brick and mortar" store. My goal with BDTB is to promote the healthy ritual of daily tea drinking. To achieve this goal, I simply serve people excellent tea. That is really all it takes, because once people have tasted "the good stuff" they usually fall head over heels in love with it. That's what happened to me and I'll bet that's what happened to you too.

In these last years since I started my business, I have brewed thousands of cups of tea for clients at many different locations around the city (such as: private houses, restaurants, art galleries, Microsoft campus, Seattle Chinese Garden and the University of Washington.) Because I incorporate intriguing tea stories and traditional Chinese music, my tea catering service provides entertainment, education and healthy refreshment! I also host occasional tea festivals and tea "meet-up" events around Seattle. If you would like to join my email list for invitations to these events, or if you would like to get more information about my tea catering service, please contact me at

*** Update January 2012 - Black Dragon Tea Bar now only exists as this blog. All of my local tea catering and bulk tea sales are now part of Cinnabar's and my business Phoenix Tea.

A photo of me serving tea at the ArtXChange gallery:

Monday, October 27, 2008

League of Pots #010

Code Name: "Vortex" (漩渦)

Material: "Salt Fired" Pottery
Height: 12.5cm
Length (handle to spout): 17.5cm
Weight: 532 grams
Volume: 425 ml

Brews: All types of tea
Specialty: First Flush Darjeeling
Story: He was a gift from a Santa Fe artist and tea friend
(thank you Arthur) in September 2008.
Vortex was made by a talented Oregon artist named Ginger Steele.
Super Powers: Hypnosis

League of Pots #009

Code Name: "Double Dragon" (雙龍)

Material: High Fired Stoneware
Height: 19 cm
Length (handle to spout): 25 cm
Weight: 1075 grams
Volume: 1250 ml

Brews: All types of tea.
Specialty: To date Double Dragon has only had the opportunity to brew up one tea, some Spring '08 Lishan High Mountian Tea (春2008梨山高山茶), but she did a really nice job. Just ask anybody who saw her debut at my second annual Chinese Tea Appreciation Festival!
Story: My boss Elisabeth, at the Teacup, bought a few amazing teapot sets directly from the artist Liz R. at Seattle's 2008 Folklife Festival. Because I'm a sucker for dragons and because this pot is just plain beautiful I had to have it in the League!
Super Powers: Double Dragon can breathe fire.

League of Pots #008

Code Name: "Mr. Big" (大先生)

Material: Red Clay
Height: 9.5 cm
Length (handle to spout): 20 cm
Weight: 371 grams
Volume: 450 ml

Brews: All types of Puer tea.
Specialty: Rich, smooth, "black" (aka "shou", aka "ripe", aka "cooked", aka "") puer.
Story: Sometimes I need to make puer tea for over 15 people. That's why I bought Mr. Big, because he will "get the job done." I bought him a few years ago from my friend Jason Chen, here in Washington State. He has the same stylish bamboo leaves on him and the same chop as his little sister "Goldy."
Super Powers: Mr. Big is indestructible!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seven Great Years at Teacup!

Today marks my 7 year anniversary at the Teacup. The Teacup is a wonderful teashop on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. It was started in 1990, which makes it one of Seattle's 3 oldest teashops (along with our friends at Teahouse Kuan Yin and Perennial Tea Room.)

I didn't know very much about tea when I started back in 2001, but thanks to my first tea mentor Donna Fellman (then manager) I really got bit by the "tea bug!" I can still remember when Donna brought in a small gong fu tea tray, a clay pot, and some special Tie Guanyin oolong to teach me how oolong is traditionally brewed. Once I had a taste of Chinese tea culture (中國茶文化), there was no turning back! I knew I was beginning my life-long quest to promote tea drinking in America, and I felt that Teacup would be the perfect "home base" for me to achieve my goals.

Teacup has always been a great place to work and my coworkers and customers (both past and present) are like family. COWORKER SHOUT OUTS (in no particular order): Elisabeth (Teacup's owner), Sara, Mary, Tiffany, Jessie, Robert, Heidi, Darald, Krissy, Brian Keating, Anastasia, Ariana, Heather, Monica, Laura, Dan, Jim, Norelle, Victoria, Avery, M-Jo, Zen, Anton, Jessica, Aja, Donna, (I'm sure that I'm forgetting some folks. Sorry, I really didn't mean to, it's just that I've worked with so many people, so please let me know and I will add you!)

September 2002
Check out that old floor, and those old white walls:

January 2004
Closed for a Snow day!
(Yes, those are dread locks under my hat.)

Summer 2004
Check out those old wooden shelves:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chinese Tea Appreciation Festival 2008

On October 12, 2008, Black Dragon Tea Bar hosted its second annual “Seattle Chinese Tea Appreciation Festival.” This year’s theme was a “Tea and Garden Tour” in collaboration with the Seattle Chinese Garden (西華園). This garden is still under construction and it is being built in stages by a team of dedicated locals and Chinese artisans from our sister city of Chongqing (重慶). We in Seattle are extremely lucky that these fine folks are building such a treasure for our city!

The festival attracted a terrific group of tea lovers and sinophiles. In fact, this event drew nearly 40 people, making it my largest tea tasting to date! After a short introduction by myself, Jan Witner, a talented docent and chair of the Seattle Chinese Garden’s horticultural committee, provided an engaging and informative slide show about Chinese gardens and garden culture. After the slide show, we all headed over to tour the actual garden. We could not have asked for a more beautiful autumn day. The weather was clear and crisp with just a touch of warm sunlight. Many trees around the garden were showing yellow and red leaves and swaying in the cool breeze. We could see the foundation of the “Knowing the Spring Courtyard (知春院)" and get the general lay of the land.

After the tour we returned to the classroom to drink some tea and eat some incredible vegan treats provided by my brilliant wife Alanna. With the help of my good friends (and former coworkers) Jessie and Robert, I was able to provide many cups of excellent tea for my guests. The first tea was a fragrant Lishan (pear mountain) high mountain oolong that I had brought home from my May 2008 trip to Taiwan. The second tea was a spicy and complex 1999 loose leaf raw pu-erh (生普洱) from Menghai factory (勐海茶厂) that I had purchased in Yingge (鶯歌), Taiwan. The final tea was a rich and warming 1999 aged and roasted Rougui oolong (肉桂烏龍) that I had purchased from my friend and mentor Jason Chen. This same Rougui was also served at my first Chinese Tea Appreciation Festival back in December of 2007. All of the teas were very well received and the guests had a nice time chatting, sipping and relaxing.

Thank you so much to Jan, Alanna, Jessie and Robert for helping me to pull off this successful tea event!

Delicious treats baked by Alanna:

Jan describing the garden:

Brewing tea:

Decanting Lishan Close-up:

Happy People in the garden:

Jessie, Alanna and Cora in the (unfinished) "Knowing the Spring Courtyard":