Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Classes at Teacup!

I am happy to announce new tea classes that will take place twice per month at Teacup! The first class will be on May 7th and is called "World of Tea." This class is an introduction to loose-leaf teas focusing on tea brewing and international tea traditions. It will be taught by the owner of Teacup, Elisabeth. I will be teaching the second class on May 21st. It will be "Green Tea 101." In this class we will learn what to look for when you buy green tea and how to brew a perfect cup. We will also taste several famous green teas from China and Japan. Teacup's Thursday evening classes will go from 7:00 to 8:00 pm. RSVP is required as classes are limited to 15 guests.

These tea classes cost $2 per guest and require a RSVP (it's usually OK to RSVP even on the same day!) You can RSVP anytime by calling the Teacup (206-283-5931), emailing the Teacup (teacup@seattleteacup.com), or emailing me at blackdragontea@gmail.com. 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!

In addition to these new Thursday evening classes, I will continue to do a less formal weekly tea class almost every Saturday afternoon at 11:00am. These Saturday classes are free and no RSVP is required.

P.S. In other news, I recently started a youtube account for BDTB! You can check it out at www.youtube.com/blackdragonteabar

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Big Island Green Tea

I came across the Big Island Tea Company last December while searching the internet for more information about genuine Hawaiian tea. When I spoke with the owner Eliah via email, I could tell she was passionate about growing and making delicious, healthy organic tea. Then she told me the wholesale price... $1 per gram. At first I thought it may have been a typo. $1 per gram is about $453 per pound, and that is much more than I've ever paid for a tea before. The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. I know art is subjective and one man's $10,000 painting could be another man's $1 piece of junk. Hawaiian tea certainly has novelty going for it... but that alone is not enough... Eliah's tea must be a work of art... and I owe it to myself to try it! I agreed to buy 50 grams of new spring tea when it was completed.

Last week, she let me know the tea was ready, and several days later I received two 25 gram bags of fresh Hawaiian green tea!

The bag:

The packaging impressed me because it was heat sealed and it had a batch date on it. These are two special touches that I would certainly expect from a $453/lb tea. Also, the the logo was both beautifully endearing and very D.I.Y.

So with great anticipation I opened one bag. The smell that greeted me was a pure tropical mountain smell. My wife took a big whiff and sighed. "It smells like Hawaii!" she exclaimed with a smile. Several times throughout the evening I caught her sneaking more smells. The dry leaves looked great too. They were long, twisted, and completely intact.

The dry leaves:

This morning I had my first pot but it was very hard to decide how to brew it. I decided on a small teapot named Vortex (425 ml) and 8 grams of tea. I used water at 170 degrees and steeped the tea 2 minutes. The liquor was light and smelled very nice, but it was a little too light, so I steeped it 30 more seconds. I used the same temperature of water for 5 excellent infusions but the steep for #2 and #3 was three minutes. Steeps #4 and #5 were 5 minutes.

The liquor:

The flavor of this green tea is remarkably Hawaiian. Power of suggestion is very real but I don't think this is just in my head. I drink a lot of Chinese tea and I trust my palate. This tea presented me with flavors I've never experienced and a few familiar ones too. All of the infusions were very clean, delicate and nuanced, but infusion #1 started with a sulfur and mineral note that had fruity peaks on the middle of my tongue. Infusion #2 had the creamiest body, with a green banana note that worked its way up into my nose. Infusion #3 was pure Hawaii with earthy minerals and sand with a breezy flowery smell. Infusion #4 took a radical turn, this cup had a hint of sweet smoke and peppery soil. It reminded me of a lovely Yunnan green that I used to buy from Tribute Teas over five years ago. Infusion #5 was similar to #4 but it had a little watery taste indicating that it was done. Next time I'll try a gaiwan packed with leaf and go for a totally different experience.

The beautiful spent leaves:

In the end, I was satisfied by this delicious, rare, and truly Hawaiian tea. Aloha.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cup (a verb)

"Cup" is the verb that many of us tea industry folks use when we are drinking tea for the purpose of evaluation. I usually use the term when I'm comparing two or more teas at the same time. At Teacup, we cup tea almost everyday in order to understand them better or to create our own blends.

Cupping 4 Tie Guanyin oolongs at Teacup:

During a proper cupping, all variables should be controlled. The same weight of leaf, the same temperature of water, the same brewing vessels, and the same steeping time must be used for each tea. After the tea is steeped, it is generally considered best to start with the lightest tea and work your way to the strongest, so you don't overwhelm your palate.

On many tea farms and in large professional blending facilities people will use the cupping sets pictured below.

Professional tea cupping set:

After tea is steeped it is decanted into the bowl:

Then the wet leaves are placed on the lid for easy evaluation:

A tea professional will usually slurp the tea soup
from a spoon and then spit it into a spittoon:

The teas chosen for a particular cupping should have a common theme. The theme can be very specific, such as "three spring 2009 first flush Darjeelings" or it can be very loose, such as "four green teas." Either way, you will learn more about the teas being cupped and how they compare to others.

When I am cupping teas with a new employee at Teacup for the first time I usually start with several regional black teas such as Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun, Yunnan and Ceylon. That way the new employee can more easily pick up some of the defining traits of these regions, before we do more specific cuppings later.

Another method used to cup tea is called "bowl and spoon" (or at least that's what I call it). The tea is steeped in small bowls (such as rice bowls) and spoons are used to get the aroma and to ladle the broth into drinking cups. I used this method during my review of Floating Leaves' winter baozhong tea and while comparing two Long Yuan Hao Puer teas.

David W. and I cupping Spring 2008
Wenshan Baozhong in Pinglin, Taiwan:

If you are new to the idea of cupping tea, I hope this post sparked your interest. I believe that frequently cupping tea is one of the best ways to further your tea education.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Do you or somebody you love suffer from a teaball addiction? These sad little gizmos are useless and incapable of making good tea. Inside a teaball, leaves cannot properly infuse or expand, and thus your tea will end up tasting weak. Also, it is very difficult to get the right amount of tea into a teaball. There are many right ways to brew tea, such as a gaiwan, teapot, or basket infuser. Some people will even drop their leaves right into their cup.

The 5 Steps to a full recovery:
1. Admit that you have a problem and that you need help.
2. Throw away all of your teaballs.
3. Buy a teapot, gaiwan and/or brewing basket.
4. Enjoy drinking healthy and delicious loose leaf tea daily.
5. Continue your tea education by visiting tea shops, traveling and reading tea books and blogs.

Just say NO!

Black Dragon Tea Bar cares!

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Century Tea Gallery

My good friend Jason V. turned me on to the New Century Tea Gallery almost four years ago. New Century is a traditional Chinese tea shop located on Maynard Street in Seattle's International District (often called "the I.D."). The shop is run by a husband and wife team, Dafe (pronounced Daw-Fay) and Grace. They travel to China a few times each year and import many incredible teas. I recommend their shop to any connoisseurs of Tie Guanyin oolong, Puer tea and/or Wuyi Mountain Cliff tea. They also stock a great selection of teaware. I recently sent my buddy Michael A. down to this shop where he found an excellent yixing clay pot for brewing his high mountain oolongs. Grace and Dafe also sell beautiful Chinese art and furniture. If I had two thousand dollars lying around, I would definitely buy one of those big tea tables made from a single piece of finished wood (even though I don't have any room for one in my little house).

Thanks for reading my endorsement! Here are a couple of photos I took this morning while tasting a 16 year old loose leaf black puer expertly prepared by Dafe. Delicious.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shu Shu's Mandarin Lesson #4

Hello tea friends. It's me Shu Shu the Chinese tea dragon here to teach you a few new phrases in Mandarin Chinese!


Today's phrases are:

我的生日快到了 = My birthday is fast approaching.
我的 = wǒde = My, mine
生日 = shēngrì = birthday
快 = kuài = fast or quick
到了 = dàole = arriving, arrived

櫻花很好看 = Cherry blossoms are very pretty.
櫻花 = yīnghuā = Cherry blossom, sakura
很 = hěn = very
好看 = hǎokàn = pretty, good looking

我們今天晚上要吃炒麵 = We want to eat chow mein this evening.
我們 = wǒmen = we
今天 = jīntiān = today
晚上 = wǎnshang = evening
要 = yāo = want
吃 = chī = eat
炒麵 = chǎomiàn = stir-fried noodles



Today my bus to work broke down at 5th and Mercer and I had to walk up Queen Anne Hill. This turned out to be a lucky surprise, because I really enjoyed the fresh air, exercise and beautiful weather (no rain thank goodness). I also got a chance to take a few photos of some colorful trees in bloom!

Queen Anne cherry blossoms:

More cherry blossoms:

Magnolia (not quite in full bloom):

Pretty pink blossoms:

I hope you have a peaceful spring!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gaiwan Basics

A gaiwan (蓋碗) is a lidded bowl used to brew Chinese tea. It usually has three parts: the lid, the bowl, and the saucer. If you enjoy drinking Chinese tea, then you need to get yourself a gaiwan (or two, or three or more...)

Viva la Gaiwan!

Millions of people (many of them in China) drink their tea right out of the gaiwan. They will lift up the whole cup and use the lid as strainer to block the leaves from getting into their mouths. I don't do this very often but it is a fun way to drink tea. Just make sure the tea is not too hot, and drink it quickly so that it doesn't over-steep.

Other people will pour the tea from the gaiwan into a decanter or a teacup. This is a very convenient way to brew tea, and often my method of choice. Holding the lid and the cup just right so that you can strain the leaves can be tricky at first. I think it's kind of like using chopsticks, or riding a bike; it takes practice but once you get it it's super easy and feels natural. I recommend not filling the gaiwan too full so that the edge will not be too hot to hold.

People often ask me how much dry tea they should use in their gaiwan. There is no right answer... some people use a lot, some use a little. I generally cover the bottom of the gaiwan when I am brewing a rolled ball-shaped oolong, such as High Mountain Tea (高山茶) or Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音). When brewing tea with long, twisted leaves, such as Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種) or Wuyi Cliff Tea (武夷岩茶), I will often fill the gaiwan one half to three-quarters full. Ask your vendor for their advice when you buy a new tea, and feel free to experiment.

Rolled ball-shaped (covering bottom of gaiwan):

Long twisted leaves (a little over half full):

Here are three little brewing tips I picked up from several of my tea mentors:

#1: Pour the hot water down the side of the gaiwan to whip the tea leaves into a tornado.

#2: Use the lid to stir the tea and to examine the color of the tea soup.

#3: Smell the underside of the gaiwan lid between infusions.

I hope this post was helpful to anybody who is new to gaiwans. Happy brewing!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nine Winter Monkey Oolong

A Chinese friend recently gave me a small sample of a very rare and delicious oolong tea. This tea, from Anhui province, is called Nine Winter Monkey Oolong (九冬猴烏龍) . It is grown at about 2400 meters elevation on the often-snowy cliffs of Anhui's scenic Qing Wa Mountains (青蛙山), and a nearby town called Anwa village (安蛙村) is considered to be the birthplace of this intriguing tea. While doing some research for this blog post, I was lucky enough to find a tea merchant from Anwa who was willing to give me some information about this rare tea. His name is Li Haha (李蛤蛤) and his English is quite good.

The following is from an email Mr. Li sent me last week:

"Most tea professionals agree that trained monkeys do not pick tea... but they may not know that some monkeys train people to pick tea! That is the case with local speciality, we call Nine Winter Monkey tea. It grows on Qingwa mountain and in winter has fat green leaves. Sadly, only 20 true bushes are left on the mountain, all of which are 300 years old. The plants at very high elevation so tea picker needs to climb tree and walk and hang on branches like a monkey. After the leaves are carried back to Anwa village we ferment them for 14 hours outside and indoors. It is then rolled and lightly baked in small baskets. After the bake, the Nine Winter Monkey tea must be sealed tightly in clay pots. Each pot holds about 15 kilograms of tea. Then we bury the pots underground in Anwa village garden and wait for nine winters. This gives the tea its famous potato and starfruit aroma! After nine winters we dig up and drink our special tea. That is why we call it Nine Winter Monkey tea!"

This is what the dry leaf looks like:

In his email, Mr. Li recommends brewing Nine Winter Monkey tea in the traditional "Qingwa Gongfu style." This unconventional brewing method was devised in Anwa and is generally considered the best way to prepare Nine Winter Monkey Tea.

Here again is Mr. Li to explain:

"Please brew tea with Qingwa Gongfu style like local Anwa persons. It will have superior taste and more health benefits such as clearness of fluid and relieving fleshy lung! We use a very large bowl called a "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Bowl" (九冬猴茶碗). Rinse the bowl with boiling water. Water from Qingwa mountain is best! Next add 2 grams of tea leaves. Pour in about 500 ml of boiling hot water. Stir for nine minutes using a special wooden spoon we call "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Spoon" (九冬猴茶匙). At this point the tea soup will have a milky white color and sweet fragrance! Use the "Nine Winter Monkey Tea Spoon" to pour the tea soup into small tea bowls. Repeat 8 or 9 times."

Mixing the tea for nine minutes:

After nine minutes:

Although I had to improvise using a regular bowl and spoon, I found the results to be quite good. This is an amazing tea with a very unique flavor. I think I can even detect a little of that "potato-starfruit" taste!

This is a monkey that I saw while driving on a
mountain highway in Nantou (南投) county Taiwan: