Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chinese Tea Travel Cups

Five years ago, a friend gave me one of these Chinese tea travel cups to see if Teacup might want to sell them. At that time, I was not too sure about them because they take steeping time (an important variable) out of one's control. But I am now a convert and these cups are a pretty popular item at Teacup. Still, each time I sell one I always make sure the buyer is educated about how to use it correctly.

Chinese tea travel cup

To use these cups, you put loose leaf tea directly into the cup and then screw a little strainer on the top. The strainer catches the leaves right before they would otherwise go into your mouth.

the strainer

Because the tea leaves inside are continuously steeping (and thus continuously getting stronger) you will need to do some combination of the following:

A. Use less dry leaf.
B. Use cooler water.
C. Drink the tea faster.
D. Drink bitter tea.

I'll usually do some combination of A, B and unfortunately D. Also, it is worth noting that some teas do much better in these cups than others. You are free to make up your own mind about that, but I generally recommend oolongs or puer teas because they have larger leaves. Big leaves release their flavor slower than small ones because they have less surface area in contact with the hot water.

Sipping oolong on the deck

Of course, you don't have to drink directly out of it. More often than not I find myself decanting the liquor into another cup or mug.

exhibit A

These cups are great for travel. You don't have to worry about them breaking and you can even stuff some small tins and baggies of loose tea inside them to save room in your pack.

exhibit B

Another fun thing about these cups is all the quizzical looks you will get from people who have never seen someone enjoying a cup of loose leaf tea before. Be prepared for people to ask you silly questions like, "Is that spinach in there?" It's a great conversation starter!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pengyou's Puer - 朋友的普洱

Quite a few friends consider me their "Chinese tea guy." Though I'll never feel worthy, that is a huge honor and I strive to live up to it. Because of this, friends (or friendly acquaintances) will often tell me about a random tea their friend bought them in China or Taiwan. They will say something like: "So my buddy just got back from {some amount of time} in Hong Kong (or Shanghai, or Taipei), and gave me some puer tea (or green tea, or oolong tea). I haven't tried it yet and the writing is all Chinese. I wouldn't even know where to begin. Would you like to try it with me sometime?"

I will always answer: "Sure! I'd love to."

This happened a little while back when my friend John brought in a couple of puer cakes to try. Later, when I decided to blog about our cupping, he was nice enough to email me these great looking photos that he had taken of one of the puer cakes.

The Cake

Before I go any further I should admit that I'm far from an expert on puer tea. In fact... all I really know is that I like to drink it and read about it. I've never been to Yunnan (雲南) so all of my knowledge is based on books (such as First Step to Chinese Pu-erh Tea by Chan Kam Pong), websites (such as and magazines (such as Art of Tea).

John's cakes were cooked (aka black, aka ripe, aka 熟/shu) puer. I read the Chinese printed on their wrapping paper, but that was pointless because it says the same thing in English as it does in Chinese. I noted the green "茶" stamped in a circle of eight "中." To my untrained eye, the wrappers revealed no other specific details about the tea inside them. We were not certain of their production years.

We cupped them on a quiet afternoon at Teacup. They presented dark, thick liquors. Some pours were a tad bit harsh but others were quite smooth. We didn't take notes and I don't remember too much about them now.

In the end I'd say the teas were drinkable but unremarkable... but that is not really what matters. The point is that I love to help my friends identify random samples of unknown teas. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes I am reminded how little I really know about tea.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy Birthday BDTB Blog!

(shēngrì kuàilè)

Happy Birthday Tea Blog!

One year ago today I began recording my tea and travel stories in this blog. It has been really rewarding for me and I'm so thankful to all of you who read my tea musings!

Here are a few photos taken at the Chih Shan Garden (至善園) located next to the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院) in Taipei (台北).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Indonesian Teh

My tea friend Nicole* recently returned from several weeks in Indonesia and she brought me a little bit of Indonesian tea as a gift! It came packed in this sweet little box with a bird on it.

This is what Nicole told me about this style of tea: "This is Indonesian tea (teh). I've been brewing it like a black tea but the Indonesians usually add lots of sugar (teh manis). It can be hot or iced, but traditionally it's hot and really sweet."

The box lists three ingredients: Teh Bubuk, Aroma, and Vanili. The tea itself looks brown and powdery with lots of "husky bits." It has a potent vanilla scent.

The Teh:

I believe that all tea is good (yes, even Lipton) if you drink it with the right people and/or the right attitude... so in hopes of making this tea taste better, I decided to take an imaginary journey to Indonesia (a place I've never been) while brewing and sipping this tea.

In my mind I am sitting in a breezy outdoor cafe surrounded by many new sounds and smells. I am waiting for a cheap, delicious lunch of fresh fruit and nasi goreng. I have become very thirsty and hungry from an unforgettable morning spent exploring old temples and lush jungles. After lunch, I am both excited and nervous about visiting an orphanage for orangutans. While I wait for my food a server brings me a steaming hot cup of sweet local tea. I savor its heady aroma and make small talk with a friendly old fisherman. He tells me proudly that Indonesian tea is the best in the world... and even though I have a few ounces of a (much preferred) high mountain oolong in my backpack, I agree with him, because right now this is the only cup of tea that matters.

The Brew:

While I was never expecting to be blown away by this tea, I did enjoy it. I used about 1 teaspoon of dry leaf to about 8 ounces of boiling hot water. I steeped it for about 5 minutes before stirring in a heaping teaspoon of raw sugar. The resulting brew was pleasant, though the vanilla aroma was a bit cloying. I'm sure it would go well with spicy food. I won't be drinking this often but I'm happy to make some space on my tea shelf for this cute little piece of Indonesia.

*Nicole is the same groovy globe trekker who introduced me to Ba Bao Cha and Tibetan butter tea. Xiexie Nicole!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

2006 Jinggu Da Bai Hao - 景谷大白毫

Back in 2006, I purchased two puer cakes labeled Jinggu Da Bai Hao (景谷大白毫). Jinggu is the name of an autonomous county in southern Yunnan. Da Bai (big white) is one name for a particular tea plant cultivar that produces plump, fuzzy white buds. These buds are most often used in Fujian province to make the much beloved Yinzhen (銀針) (silver needle) white tea, but they are also found in Yunnan and can be used to make some wonderful puer teas (普洱茶).

The cake I'm reviewing today has a green label printed on a thick, textured paper-wrapper.

The cake:

This puer cake is made entirely of beautiful grey, gold, silver and white tea buds.

It has (in my opinion) a hilarious nei piao (內票)(internal ticket). Here is the wording and punctuation exactly as printed for your amusement:

The product is manufactured form Dabai Tea(an ancient tea tree with over one hundred years history in jingguyang Pagoda , Simao , Yunnan), through a traditional method of Pu'er Tea. Being free form pollution, it is characterized by broad leaves,big buds, bloom and clear liquid. Moreover, owing to its effects in persisting cancer, reducing fat and blood pressure, losing weight and persisting aging, it is regarded as good medicine to prolong your life.

I used a small gaiwan with about 4 grams of dry leaf, and 180 degree water. The amber broth is woodsy, delicate and pleasant with a flavor that is both subtle and complex. Throughout 10 infusions it reminded me of sheng puer, Yinzhen white tea, and first flush Darjeeling. My tasting notes included: nutty, crisp, slightly fruity, vibrant, light smoke, muscatel grape, and pine forest.

Tea soup and infused leaves:

Friday, September 4, 2009

Teacup Tea Classes - Sept. 2009

I am once again pleased to announce the two tea classes that I will teach this month at Teacup. I hope see you there!

Monday, September 14th
Tea Tour of China - In this class we will explore many different Chinese teas from fragrant oolongs and greens to rich earthy puer. We will also look at China’s diverse tea culture and customs.

Thursday, September 24th
Tea Tour of India - In this class we will learn about Indian tea production and its interesting colonial history. We will also sample many aromatic and robust black teas including masala chai.

These evening classes will go from 7:00 to 8:00 pm and cost $2 per guest. They require a RSVP (it's sometimes OK to RSVP even on the same day!) You can RSVP anytime by visiting, calling or emailing 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!