Monday, December 28, 2009

Ba Bao Cha Revisited

Last year, I chronicled my first experience with Ba Bao Cha (八寶茶) (eight treasure tea). It is a blend of green tea, rock sugar, and eight different fruits and/or flowers and is a relatively popular beverage in certain parts of China. According to Google Analytics, my Ba Bao Cha post has brought more random searchers to this tea blog than any other post.

After reading my original review, my good friend and tea industry contemporary, Tiffany Picard, sent me 19 single-serving packets of different Ba Bao Cha blends. Because I am very seldom in the mood to drink flavored or sweetened tea, I decided that I would brew one packet every year around Christmas time.

This morning I decided it was time to try one, so I fired up the kettle and grabbed a gaiwan. Last year I used a larger teapot and omitted the sugar during brewing... but this time I emptied the entire contents of one small packet into the gaiwan (which is the traditional way to do it).

This was what was in the one packet that I chose to brew.

Steeping in the gaiwan.

I steeped the blend for 3 minutes with boiling water and then strained it into a decanter. I sipped it cautiously and noted its heady, perfume-like flavor. It is very sweet and fruity. My 22-month-old daughter, who is used to sampling a tiny bit of my tea, asked for a taste, so after it was cool enough I gave her a little sip. "Funny Tea!" she exclaimed. That cracked me up and we ended up talking about "the funny tea" for the rest of the day.

It tastes as "pretty" as it looks.

Keep in mind that Ba Bao Cha is not really "tea," it is a sweetened herbal beverage containing a little bit of tea. There are some people who believe the herbs it contains are particularly healthy or curative. While I can't speak to that, I do believe that it is much healthier to have a cup of all natural Ba Bao Cha than it is to drink soda or Kool-aid.

I steeped the Bao Bao Cha one more time and it was not nearly as good as the first brew. After a few more sips I started playing with the herbs to see just what I was drinking.

I found...

...a few chrysanthemum flowers,

some dried strawberry,

one rose bud,

three or four goji berries,

a plum, I think,

these weird little things,

a pinch of sad looking green tea,

one lonely nut of unknown name,

and an empty, mysterious pod, of unknown name.

I look forward to my third cup of Ba Bao Cha sometime in December 2010... but until then I think I'll go make myself a nice pot of Alishan!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The laid-back person's guide to brewing a good pot of green tea

Step 1 - Select a teapot. If you only have one teapot this should be easy. If you have several (like me) this step can sometimes be a bit tricky.

...eenie meeni miny moe...

Step 2 - Boil some good water.

(somebody must really like apples)

Step 3 - Put a basket style infuser of some sort into your teapot.

Step 4 - Put some dry tea into the infuser. Use about one teaspoon per cup. Don't over think.

Step 5 - Pour 160° to 180° F water over the tea leaves.

You can pour in some cool water or add an ice cube or two,
if you're worried about the temperature being too hot.

You can even use a thermometer if you have one,
but try not to worry too much if you don't.
Remaining "Laid-back" is always the most important thing.

Step 6 - Steep green tea for about 2 minutes.

I'm using my oven timer.
If you don't have a timer you can just guess.

Step 7 - Take the basket of tea out of the teapot.

This step is probably the most important because
green tea will get bitter if it's steeped too long.

Step 8 - Choose a tea cup. (Advanced tip: Try doing this step at the same time as step 6!)

Any cup you pick will be just fine.

Step 9 - Pour the tea into your teacup.

I chose this cute little Peter rabbit cup!
(I'm not sure why it wont display "right-side-up"
because it's fine in iphoto.
There must be some weird html thing going on.)
Oh well, I'm much too "Laid-back" to worry about that right now.

Step 10 - Sip your tea.

Step 11 - Let out a happy, contented sigh.

Step 12 - (optional) Put a tea-cozy over your teapot.

This one looks pretty cool.

Uh. Festive... but No.

Oh Yeah, Chip you're looking sharp in that little coat!

Look out for more posts in my "Laid-back person's guide" to come in 2010.

Happy Solstice!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 觀自在早春南糯山七子餅茶

Back on November 5th, I posted a review of Yunnan Sourcing's Banzhang Chun Qing Puer. That cake was the most expensive of the four new sheng puer cakes (生普洱餅茶) to which I recently treated myself. Today I'll review the least expensive of these four puer treasures. This cake is called: "2009 Guan Zi Zai Zao Chun Nan Nuo Shan tea cake (觀自在早春南糯山七子餅茶)." According to Yunnan Sourcing, these cakes were made entirely from wild arbor, spring harvested, sun-dried leaves from Yunnan's Nan Nuo mountain (南糯山). That information and much more can be found here.


I used 5 grams of dry leaf in a small, black-clay gaiwan. The leaf was given a 3 second rinse with about 200° F water. My first impression of the aroma was green grass and green banana. It had a hint of flowery sweetness that reminded me of the way Hawaiian air can sometimes smell.

My first three infusions were short (15, 15 and 20 seconds). The broth was was nice, but too thin and crisp. At the fourth pour, a little more creaminess made a welcomed appearance. My taste buds must have been on a tropical vacation because my flavor notes for this session included lilikoi and papaya. These occasional pleasant flavors were elusive and they were sometimes muted by the cake's other grassy, bitter or peppery tastes.

Although the leaves were plump and pretty and the flavor had a few tasty moments, I wouldn't rate this tea too highly. It is just an OK tea at a fair price. I'll have to change some of my brewing parameters and give it another chance later.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Regarding Taiwan - January, 2010

Dear Tea Friends,

As some of you already know, I am once again bound for the lovely island of Taiwan! I leave on January 14, 2010 and return 8 days later (making this my shortest trip to date). On this trip, I plan to focus most of my time exploring new high mountain tea farms and hope to return with several very special new oolong teas, as well as many new photos and stories for this tea blog. I will also visit a fun little town called Yingge which is famous for teaware, pottery and tea shops. Besides finding great new tea to sell, my other goals include: learning more about tea culture, improving my Mandarin speaking skills, and eating as much great food as possible!

As I have done prior to each of my four previous trips, I am trying to gauge my potential customers' interest in buying any new tea or teaware from me.

When I return home, I will announce all of the new teas that I have found... But if you are already sure that you will want something, you can let me know before I leave.

You may pre-order tea or teaware by emailing me your potential wish list. My email address is I will email you a cost estimate and after we negotiate prices, we can arrange payment. I will contact you within one week of my return from Taiwan. All pre-ordered tea and teapots are 100% guaranteed and I will give you a full refund if you do not love it.

If you do not wish to pre-order tea or teaware, but you are still fairly sure that you will be interested in buying something from me after I return from Taiwan, it will still help me to hear from you before I leave.

Thank you!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Purple Cloud Temple - 紫雲寺

Purple Cloud Temple (紫雲寺)* is located in Bantian Yan (半天岩), a small town in Taiwan's Chiayi county (嘉義縣). The temple has several rooms available for monks and travelers to use during their visits to this holy site and so my wife and I arranged to stay one night in March of 2007.


The same view but in super thick fog and mist!

We arrived by taxi from the Chiayi city rail station and found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of worshippers (it was a busy Sunday afternoon) and thick clouds of incense. After poking about for a few minutes we asked a stranger for help and were led to a Miss Wang, a kind and pious woman who was expecting us. She asked me to sign my name and passport number in an old ledger and took my NT$1000 (the agreed upon donation). Mine was the only English name in the book as far as I could tell. We were surprised to be allowed to share a room as we expected that men and women would be segregated for sleeping at such an old temple. I think Miss Wang made an exception for us, so that we would feel more comfortable.

Our room was located around the back of the temple. It had a hard tatami bed with one pillow, a little bathroom and a couple of old metal stools. It also had a creepy picture of a doll-woman hanging over the head of the bed to watch us sleep.

After putting down our bags we walked around the temple grounds and admired the beautiful 38-meter-tall Guanyin who watches over the temple. We observed some faithful visitors performing a serene and interesting dance in front of the Guanyin. The dance is hard to describe but it did involved bowing and twirling.

The Guanyin

...and from behind

The hills surrounding the temple were filled with many peaceful trails. We spent a short time hiking around the lush green hills while listening to the strange calls of the local insects and frogs.

After our hike we returned to the temple and joined the others for worship. Several visitors helped guide us. We were instructed to light 6 incense sticks and follow the flow of people bowing to different gods and depositing a stick in their respective urns. Although we obviously stuck out like sore thumbs, the people were very patient and sweet to us. It was easy to get caught up in the meditative spirit and enjoy the new experience of pai pai (worship) (拜拜) in this centuries-old temple.

In the early evening we walked down to the small town-like area across the street from the temple. We found a little mom-and-pop tea shop that was selling Alishan Gao Shan Cha (the famous and delicious oolong tea from Chiayi county's high country) (阿里山高山烏龍茶). We drank several pots of tea with the proprietor and played with his many (at least 5) young children. His wife gave us some fresh fruit. They were very welcoming and kind to us, but I knew they were probably getting close to closing up shop and having their dinner so we purchased a jin of oolong and thanked them before saying goodbye. At this point my wife and I were getting pretty hungry so we walked a few meters down the road to a little outdoor restaurant and asked about getting a vegetarian dinner. As you might have guessed, a restaurant across the street from a busy Buddhist temple knows how to make a good vegetarian meal! We were treated to big bowls of savory noodle soup as well as five spice tofu with a yummy dipping sauce. It was very tasty and satisfying.

After dinner we bought a can of coconut water and retired to our rooms for the night. Unfortunately, we did not sleep that well due to our hard bed, one pillow, and some yapping dog that was howling all night long. At 5:00 am we were awaken by drums and gongs to signal the first prayer service... but we pulled the blanket over our heads and slept in for a few more hours.

After we woke, we headed down to the temple's main desk to find Miss Wang. She led us to the dining room where we ate an invigorating Buddhist breakfast of rice porridge, pickled vegetables, bamboo shoots and faux meats, all of which were delicious. We also had two cubes of what appeared to be tofu but after I took a huge bite I realized that it wasn't. It turned out to be some sort of super salty miso block!

Once we had finished breakfast, we took one last hike around the adjacent hills. While walking around a deserted pond some soft pop music was being played from hidden speakers along the trail. It was very surreal and, combined with the lush tropical forest, made us feel like we were in an episode of LOST.

After our hike, Miss Wang gave us a more personal tour of the temple and all of its wonderful symbolic art. Then, we said goodbye to the temple, the Guanyin and to Miss Wang. We asked her for help on the next leg of our journey. Our goal was to find a taxi to Chungpu township (中埔鄉) where we would get the bus up to Shihjhuo (石桌). Miss Wang was not able to help us but instead a very nice couple came to our aid. They gave us a ride to Chungpu and told us the time the bus would come. I am always humbled by the amazing kindness of the Taiwanese.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience to visit this venerable holy site! I would recommend it to any other Western travelers who want to get off the beaten path.

*The Temple itself gives this interesting report about its own history:
"As the folk-tale saying, in 1682, an old monk traveled to Fanlu (番路) area and found a place with an extraordinary scene to build a cottage temple to worship Mercy Buddha (觀音). Because the site is always surrounded by clouds and fogs, and the clouds usually reflected in purple, the temple is named Zihyun (紫雲). However, the ownership of the land did not belong to the temple until 1765. Decades later, instead of monks, inhabitants began to manage the Zihyun temple, and to bring other gods to worship: Shengnong, Pangu, god of earth, goddess of birth, Santaizih, and god of tiger. The temple was restored in 1855 and 1920, and then destroyed by an earthquake in 1941. Because of the lack of materials in the wartime, the temple was rebuilt temporary. Today's construction of temple was established from 1947 to 1950, and funded by Zaisheng Liou and Ju Lin."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Teacup's Winter 2009 Wenshan Baozhong

Yesterday morning I stopped by the Queen Anne Post Office to pick up 5 jin of Winter 2009 Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶). This tea is for Teacup (the tea shop I manage on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill) and will be available starting today.

The tea is from my friend Amin in Pinglin, Taiwan and it was processed early in November, 2009 (technically fall but it's still called winter tea). Amin said this winter's Wenshan Baozhong tea supply is decreased compared with the spring's because the weather was not stable, but he promised that this batch would meet my standards for quality.

I wasted no time opening up a bag and firing up my electric kettle. I brewed the tea in a small gaiwan filled about 60% with dry leaf. I used boiling water and short infusions.

The tea has everything I look for in Wenshan Baozhong... beautiful, twisted, forest-green dry leaves, a sweet, floral aroma, and a buttery-smooth liquor. The first infusion did have a bit of a light grassy note but after that infusion the flavor really opened up and steeps 2 to 6 were like thick nectar. My tasting notes included violet and ripe papaya.

Although this is not the best Wenshan Baozhong tea I've ever tasted (I am friends with Shiuwen, after all), I prefer to live in the present and in my opinion this is a fantastic tea that I am very proud to sell.

I look forward to hearing from some of you after you too have tried this fresh Wenshan Baozhong tea!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cang Yuan Wa Mountain Ripe Puer Brick

I would like you to meet the Cang Yuan Wa Mountain Tea Factory's 2006 Ripe Puer Brick (滄源佤山茶廠熟普洱茶磚).

Hello. 你好.

Pleased to meet you!

These bricks were imported by my friends at Tacoma Trading Co. and have been floating around various Northwest tea shops for the last few years. Teacup has been selling them off and on for the last three years and they have been given the nickname "those sweet and smooth bricks" by several of my regular puer customers.

According to T.T.C. these bricks were crafted by a talented female puer master name Tanmei who used to work for the Kunming tea factory. Now she is independent and works with her husband to market her tea.

I recently scored 10 of these bricks from T.T.C. with the hope of making a little extra tea buying money before I head off to Taiwan in mid-January 2010 (more about that soon).

This puer is long lasting and dark with a smooth and silky mouth-feel. I tried to over-brew it but I failed. It can get very dark and pour like thick black oil, but it will stay sweet and smooth. My tasting notes for this morning's session included: fresh soy milk, walnuts, and amaretto. To me this ripe puer is not smoky but it does have a hint of a rosy, fruity, some-might-say-smoky, Keemun* note in the finish.

Infusion #2
(but infusions 1 to 5 pretty much looked like this)

Updated 2-1-12 = Cinnabar's and my tea shop Phoenix Tea in Burien may have these in stock. Please email us for details.

*Keemun (Qimen) (祁門) is a popular Chinese tea. We call it black tea but the Chinese call it red tea (hongcha) (紅茶).

Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Root"

I have recently heard about an interesting, although somewhat uncommon, tea brewing technique. The technique is called "the root" and refers to the practice of leaving a little bit of tea (usually less than an ounce) in the chahai* after each infusion. This remaining tea will end up mixing with all of the following infusions.

J-tea's 1992 Wuyi Oolong (武夷烏龍)
& "the root" left in the glass chahai.

Some people may do this already without even thinking about it, while others like myself have always thought it best to not mix infusions. Each infusion is special and should be tasted in its purest form, not mixed with all the previous infusions... right? Well, at least that's what I thought before I started experimenting with "the root."

Mixing a new infusion with "the root."

Believers claim that "the root" acts as a solid foundation for each infusion, which they say can add character and depth to one's tea. I have found this to sometimes be true for me, especially while drinking aged puer and aged oolong.

Any perceived advantages or disadvantages to "the root" are debatable and, like taste itself, entirely subjective. I will never claim that there is only one correct way to do anything. Experienced tea brewers accept that every tea is different and will behave differently each time it is brewed. Sometimes I'll feel like using "the root" and other times I'll avoid mixing infusions. That said, I would really love to hear from any other tea brewers out there regarding your own experiences using "the root."

* Chahai (tea ocean) (茶海) is the name I use for a tea pitcher. These pitchers are also sometimes called "decanters" or "fairness cups".

Monday, November 16, 2009

2007 Winter Fenghuang Wudong Old Bush Dancong "Huang Jing"

My generous new friend J (who I first mentioned in my previous post) left me with several wonderful oolong teas to sample. 謝謝你!

One of these new teas was a very intriguing dancong (with a very long name) called: 2007 Winter Fenghuang Wudong Old Bush Dancong "Huang Jing." J got it from Hou De Asian Arts in Huston, TX.

Dancong (单丛) tea is most commonly translated as "single bush" and is considered an oolong tea. The trees used to produce dancong are usually mature plants with a single trunk and deep roots. I really don't have much experience with dancong tea but I have learned a lot about it from reading the Tea Obsession blog.

The leaves for this particular dancong were hand-picked from 50 year old tea bushes. Its thick and leathery leaves were folded and tightly pressed because the winter leaves are more difficult to roll. Other dancong teas that I have tried have had long, twisted leaves (slightly resembling Wuyi mountain cliff teas) but this "Huang Jing" is made up of many long fat leaves and has a mix of earthy autumnal colors. For more specific information about this tea click here.

I have never seen a tea like this before and had no idea what to expect. I filled my gaiwan about three quarters full of dry leaf before pouring in boiling hot spring water. My nose, at least a meter away from the lidded gaiwan, immediately picked up a sweet aroma. This tea is very aromatic with hints of ripe plum, dark wood, and fresh baked cinnamon rolls.

The tea soup has an amazing amber color and intoxicating perfume. It is heady like spiced wine and distinctly fruity. My first sip caused me to sigh and exclaim "Whoa... now that's a good tea." My tasting notes for the next eight infusions included: honey, malt, delicate smoke, smooth, and raisin. It also has a nice aftertaste.

After the tasting session I marveled at the massive yellow tinted leaves. They are very thick and beautiful.

This is by leaps and bounds the best dancong tea I've ever tasted.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I recently met a new tea friend, whom I will call J. He came to Seattle for just 24 hours as part of a noble, personal mission (for lack of a better word). I do not want to put words in my new friend's mouth so I will not describe anything from his point of view. Instead, I will share my own ideas. These ideas have been growing inside me for years but were renewed by J's visit. Put simply, I (and a growing number of other people) believe that tea is much more than a healthy and delicious drink. It is also a powerful symbol of modest, compassionate, and sustainable living. As tea's mainstream popularity grows (a good thing) all tea lovers should keep this symbolic meaning pure by being humble, helpful, fair, tolerant, ecologically aware, and thankful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Banzhang Chun Qing Puer

Last month I ordered four 2009 puer cakes to add to my personal collection. I purchased the cakes from Yunnan Sourcing (an Ebay store that specializes in puer tea).

One of my new cakes, the "Banzhang Chun Qing Puer cake (班章純情普洱茶餅)," seems to be getting a lot of positive online attention. At $50 per cake it was the most expensive of my new treasures and the one I was most anxious to try. According to Yunnan Sourcing, the maocha (毛茶)* for this cake was sourced from one family farm in Lao Ban Zhang village and only 84 cakes were stone pressed. That information and more was found here.

Banzhang Chun Qing Puer tea cake

Naked Cake

I used about 5 grams of dry leaf in a 100 ml gaiwan and my water temperature was about 200° F. I started with a 5 second rinse to "awaken the leaves" and used the rinse water to warm up my teacup before discarding it. At this point I smelled the now steaming wet leaves. They had a very clean, bright and fruity aroma, which reminded me of a ripe nectarine.

My first three infusions were 20, 20 and 30 seconds long. These infusions yielded a healthy, pleasant bitterness with notes of orange rind, mulling spices and pine forest. The clear yellow broth was not smoky or grassy. My next three infusions (all about 30 seconds long) darkened slightly and presented a fruitier liquor. My tasting notes for these infusions included: wild, peppery, pure and pomegranate.

The third infusion:

As advertised (and as expected) this tea is very long lasting. The following 9 infusions' steeping time increased from around 30 seconds (#6) to 5 minutes (#15). Tasting notes included: rosemary and snow.

This puer was a very rewarding and delightful tea to brew. Every cup offered me an intriguing and/or delicious reason to steep it again.

Like most puer aficionados, I am always interested in improving my personal knowledge of region specific puer tea. I have heard other tea lovers proclaiming their adoration of Ban Zhang puer's wild, clean, long lasting, strength and after drinking this tea I can relate.

Spent leaves:

*Wikipedia defines maocha as: "...a mostly unoxidized green tea processed from a "large leaf" variety of Camellia sinensis found in the mountains of southern Yunnan."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teacup Tea Classes - November 2009

This month I will present these 3 tea classes at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

Thursday, November 5th - 7:00 to 8:00pm
Oolong Tea 101- In this class we will explore the many delicious varieties of oolong teas made in China and Taiwan. Students will learn how different oolongs are made while we taste several fine examples brewed in both the Chinese and Western style.

Wednesday, November 11th (Veterans Day) - 7:00 to 8:00pm
Exotic Tea Tasting - Back again by popular demand! In this class we will taste some rare, special and teas from many different countries such as Silver Needle white , 1st Flush Nepalese black, Moroccan mint green and aged pu-erh. While we sip these fine teas we will discuss drinking traditions from many distant lands.

Sunday, November 22nd - 4:00 to 5:00 pm
Holiday Tea Tasting- In this tea class we will taste many wonderful scented teas and herbal blends that have rich, cozy flavors and/or warming spices, that will get us in the holiday spirit. This tasting class will be a great opportunity to sample new teas that would make great holiday gifts.

These evening classes cost $3 per guest and require a RSVP. It's sometimes OK to RSVP even on the same day. 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!