Friday, February 20, 2009

1999 Puer Melon Tea - 1999 普洱瓜茶

Last Friday my friend (and former boss) Brian Keating came to visit me at work. It was his first time visiting the new Teacup location. BK (as I call him) is very knowledgeable about tea and herbs and he greatly enjoys drinking white tea, green tea and oolong tea. Although he knows that puer tea is a favorite style of tea for many connoisseurs, he has never really gotten into himself.

During our chat, he mentioned a large cake of puer tea given to him by a puer loving buddy named Bill. According to BK, Bill currently lives in Hawaii where he collects puer tea and practices meditation. We both agreed that this sounds like a sweet way to spend your time.

The cake of tea that BK had been given was a tightly compressed melon shaped sheng puer tea (普洱瓜茶). BK says it has been resting in a cupboard since he recieved it. I got the impression that BK was a little intimidated about breaking into it do to its large size (500 grams) and tight compression. He asked if I'd be interested in seeing it and maybe tasting it. "Of course I would!" was my enthusiastic reply.

Saturday morning BK came back to the Teacup with the tea itself. I read the wrapper to identify the tea. The neipiao (內票) (internal ticket) clearly stated the melon tea was "1999 produce." The name of the tea (written around the top of the external wrapper) said 千年古茶树茶, which translates to "one thousand year ancient tea tree tea." I can tell this is a high grade piece of puer tea but I doubt the leaf is from 1000-year-old trees. I think that is just a poetic name but it would be awesome if it were true. In the middle of the wrapper, something is written in Tibetan, and it also says: "Made by Puer Tea Co., LTD" at the bottom in English.

I pried off about 8 grams of tea using a butter knife and brewed it in a small clay pot. BK and I knew we were drinking a great tea from the first sip of the first infusion. It had a beautiful clear yellow broth with a hint of red. The color was just the shade I usually expect from a tightly compressed whole cake of ten-year-old sheng cha aged in North America. I wonder if it was ever stored in Hawaii and what year it was given to BK. Maybe if Bill ever reads this post, he will leave a comment giving us more information about the tea.

BK and I enjoying this fragrant puer:

BK, my coworker James and I all tasted many delightful infusions of this tea. We detected many complex flavors such as apricot and honey. James even picked up an apple cider-like flavor. BK said this was the best puer he'd ever had. I agreed that it was a fantastic tea. BK was very generous and gave me half of the melon cake to add to my own puer collection!

Brewing this 普洱瓜茶 at Teacup:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Floating Leaves' Taiwan Wuyi

Floating Leaves Tea Shop here in Seattle is one of my favorite places to buy tea. I frequently visit this small tea shop with my daughter while my wife is at work. We enjoy drinking some great tea and practicing our Mandarin with the owner, my good friend Shiuwen from Taiwan. She has some great connections and imports many wonderful oolong teas every season!

Last week I was inspired by Shiuwen's latest blog post about tea leaf cultivars commonly used in Taiwan. Click here to check it out. In that post she mentioned a Wuyi (武夷) style tea being grown in Taiwan. I am not clear if it is a specific Wuyi cultivar but I was very intrigued and decided to buy a couple ounces to taste at home.

Ready for some tea:

The Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province China have many famous heirloom tea plant cultivars. Although my personal experience with this region's tea is quite limited, I have tasted some lovely teas made from the Rougui (肉桂) (cinnamon), Shui Xian (水仙) (water fairy or narcissus), and Da Hong Pao (大紅袍) (big red robe) tea bushes. These teas often have long twisted leaves and a rich brown tea soup due to more oxidation and bake. They are also suitable for careful aging.

This morning I enjoyed the Floating Leaves "Taiwan Wuyi" using my small gaiwan about 60% full of dry leaf. These twisted leaves are very long and elegant. Many leaves are 2 to 3 inches long. They have subtle aroma that remind me of sweet red wine and raisins. I used boiling water and steeped the leaf seven times.

The tea soup:

This tea was lighter in color than I expected, most cups had a soft yellow color that just hinted at brown. The bottom of the gaiwan lid presented the brightest aroma, a little grassy but clean and nutty too. Each cup had medium body and various degree of roast. The taste was always smooth and roasty. It is a very tasty oolong tea.

In the end:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where does the Black Dragon's tea stuff live?

On the tea table in the dining room.

On a bookshelf in the bedroom.

On a little nook above the kitchen sink.

In a drawer.

In a cubical basket.

On the puer shelf in the bedroom:

Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the wrench.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

League of Pots #017

Code Name: "Desmond"

Material: Blue-grey clay
Height (not including handle): 7.5 cm
Length (handle to spout): 10.5 cm
Weight: 84 grams
Volume: 130 ml

Brews: High Mountain oolong teas with light to medium oxidation and roast.
Specialty: He Huan Shan High Mountain Oolong Tea - 合歡山高山烏龍茶
Story: Desmond was a gift from my friend Lin Xiuyue in Yingge, Taiwan. I believe Lin's little brother made him.
Super Powers: Desmond can see flashes of the future. We are currently looking for his "constant" (a little teapot named Penny).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tibetan "Butter" Tea

Last month I posted about the Ba Bao Cha sample that I received from my tea friends Marty and Nicole. I also mentioned the Tibetan tea that they gave me and I promised to post about it in the future. Well the future has come and I'm feeling adventurous... so here goes!

Before I start writing about "butter tea," it should be mentioned that I've been a happy, healthy, and proud vegan for just over nine years now. I'm strict about my diet here in Seattle because great vegan food and farm fresh produce is so easy to find. (If you want to see how well I eat please check out my wife's blog!)

While I may be a strict vegetarian here at home, I am willing to be more open when I eventually visit remote destinations. One of travel's greatest pleasures is trying exotic and (usually) delicious new foods. It is also true that many foods and drinks possess important rituals or significant cultural meanings and a traveler should never offend his hosts or their customs. For example, I would not want to appear ungrateful if I was offered a steaming bowl of actual Tibetan butter tea. I'm not sure how much of it I'd be able to drink, but I'd try my best to appear thankful.

So here I am rambling on and on about food and travel (two of my favorite subjects) when I'm supposed to be writing about Tibetan butter tea!

First I did a little online research. The tea is traditionally made with salt and yak's milk butter and is sometimes called "pocha." It is drunk many times during the day and is as much a soup as it is a tea. I gather from online sources that Tibetans often drink brick green teas imported from Hunan province. The dry leaves are brownish green with lots of big woody stems and have a mild, earthy smell. Nicole told me that in Xining (the city in China where the tea was obtained) that this style of Tibetan tea is fairly common and inexpensive. Some sources stated that the Tibetans also sometimes use puer tea and black tea.

The dry leaf:

I cobbled together the following recipe using several websites and then I "veganized" it.

Vegan Tibetan Butter Tea
Serves One
  • Steep 10 grams of Tibetan tea in 8 ounces of boiling hot water for 10 minutes.
  • Add 3 ounces of hot soymilk, a pinch or two of salt, and a teaspoon of Earth Balance buttery spread.
  • Shake in a jar or martini shaker until frothy.
  • Serve hot, preferably in a wooden bowl.
The tea before I added the other ingredients:

I just made it and took my first sip! Man is it weird! This stuff is milky, thick, soupy and buttery. It has a light "barnyard" taste and leaves my lips feeling very oily.

After shaking all the ingredients:

Although it combines three of my favorite things: tea, salt and fat, I am ambivalent about this experimental brew. It would be a good thing to drink if you were hungry and you had a lot of hard work to do, but if you're just sitting at home bloggin' then you would be much better off with a nice oolong to keep you company.

*Keep in mind that my vegan Tibetan butter tea recipe has very little in common with the real stuff. I claim no expertise and have zero experience in this subject. I welcome any comments about real Tibetan tea from those of you who have actually tried it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Amin's Winter Baozhong

Three weeks ago, Teacup received its latest shipment of Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶). This Baozhong was produced in mid-December 2008 by my buddy Amin (阿民) in Pinglin, Taiwan. His family has been making and selling great baozhong for decades and since we met two years ago he has become my usual source for excellent Baozhong tea.

Nicole, Amin, Justice, Andrea, and the top of David's head
(left to right) drinking tea at Amin's house last Spring:

Wenshan Baozhong tea is very popular among my customers here in Seattle. I believe this is partly due to the great work of several local tea people such as Frank Miller (formerly of Blue Willow) and James Labe (formerly of Teahouse Kuanyin). They, and other, early tea pioneers were busy educating Seattlelites about Taiwanese tea at least a decade before I had even heard of oolong tea. In fact, my first experience with Wenshan Baozhong tea was way back in 2001 when my first tea mentor, Donna Fellman, and Mr. Labe imported several jin (600 grams) of a buttery and fragrant competition level tea from Shiding (石碇). Tasting that Baozhong was an eye opening experience for me and I can still remember its sweet and complex flavor. Great moments such as those are at the heart of my growing love for tea. Donna even let me keep the beautiful can that the tea was packed in!

The can from 2001. (It holds oatmeal now):

This afternoon I cupped up Amin's new Winter Baozhong at home. I used a small gaiwan (about 100ml) filled about 60% with dry leaf. I then did 8 wonderful infusions using 190 degree water, heated in my electric kettle.

The dry leaf with a paper crane parade:

My customers and I have been enjoying this new Baozhong tea ever since the minute it arrived... but today's solo cupping provided me with the nicest experience yet!

The first three infusions were about 15 seconds long. They poured a brilliant "full moon yellow" color with cooked sugar aroma and flowery overtones. This Baozhong also appears to have a slightly higher oxidation than the Spring tea I purchased from Amin last year.

The second infusion. (I wish you could smell it):

After taking a few lovely sips of the third infusion I then grabbed a new teabowl to receive the next four infusions. These steeps were each given around 30 seconds. As I tasted them, I went back and forth between them and the rapidly cooling third infusion. I was very pleased with the smooth full body present in all but the seventh infusion. The aroma flitted about wildly, yielding notes of raw honey, lavender, sweet grass and pine. The seventh infusion told me that I had better change my brewing plan or just walk away, because it was thin and boring. I decided to give it one more steep, this time for 3 hours in a lidless gaiwan. The resulting cold brew tasted nice but sat a little heavy in my stomach. So I watered it down to a half water, half tea mixture and then it came alive with more sweetness and a crisp garden aroma.

The third infusion on the right and the seventh on the left:

Many knowledgeable tea lovers have reported a lack of great Wenshan Baozhong tea this season. I have been told that this is mainly due to a warm winter in Taiwan. As I compare some of this year's tea to those in my memory I am inclined to believe it. That being said, it is hard to find a "bad" Baozhong tea. Although they do exist, most Baozhong tea can be graded between "good" and "sublime." I'd place this tea somewhere in the middle.

These leaves are spent:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Excuse me

Please excuse me for one minute. I have to take this call. It is extremely important.

Hello... Good Morning, Mr. President.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Shu Shu's Mandarin Lesson #2

Nǐhǎo (你好, hello) blog-buddies! It's your favorite little tea dragon "Shu Shu" here. Every month I prepare a few random phrases for you in Mandarin Chinese and Pinyin and then I post them here on my péngyou (朋友, friend) Brett's tea blog.

Today's phrases are:

貅貅是我最喜歡的小茶龍! = Shu Shu is my favorite little tea dragon!
貅貅 = Xiūxiū (That is my name in Chinese. It's pronounced kind of like "Shee-oh Shee-oh)
是 = Shì (pronouced like "sure") = Shì is the Chinese verb "to be." In this case it means "is."
我 = Wǒ (sounds like "woe") = This is the Chinese pronoun for "I or Me."
最喜歡 = Zuì Xǐhuan (Zui sounds kinda like "zoo-eh") (Xi sounds like "she") = favorite
的 = De (pronounced "duh") is a particle. One of its uses is to link an adjective with whatever it's describing and that's what it's doing in this sentance.
小 = Xiǎo = Little
茶 = Chá = Tea
龍 = Lóng = Dragon

他很帥 = He is very handsome.
他 = Tā = This is the Chinese pronoun for "He."
很 = Hěn (An "e" in Pinyin sounds like a "u" so pronounce this like "hun") = Very
帥 = Shuài (Sounds like "Shoe-eye" ran together and said very quickly) = Handsome
* Grammar note. Literally I said "He Very Handsome." The word 是 (Shì)(is) is usually left out of these short descriptive sentences.

梅子我都吃了 = I ate all the plums.
梅子 = Méizi (Mei is pronounced "May") = Plum or Plums
我 = Wǒ (see above) = I
都 = Dōu (sounds like "dough") = All
吃 = Chī (kind of sounds like "chur") = eat
了 = Le (pronounced "luh") = a particle that "completes an action" so in this case it means the "eating is finished" or "I ate them all.")

Thank you Teacher!