Saturday, March 27, 2010

Teacup Classes Are Going Great!

It has been such an honor to host different tea classes several times a month at the Teacup! I have met so many wonderful people and received some great feedback. One gentleman (who came as a part of Seattle's coffee meet up group from told me that "I was charging too little for my classes" (I only charge $3) because he "got so much out of it." I live for hearing stuff like that, and for seeing the happy look on people's faces when they experience really good tea for the first time!

My first class back in May of 2009 was Green Tea 101, since then I have presented all of these classes too (some of them more than once): A World of Tea, Advanced Tea Brewing, Exotic Tea Tasting, Green and White Tea Brewing Workshop, Gongfu Tea Brewing Workshop, Herbal Tea Tasting Party, Iced Tea Class, Black Tea Tasting, Intro to Oolongs, Taiwanese Oolongs, Tea Tour of China, Tea Tour of India and Tea Tour of Japan! I am always brainstorming new class ideas and welcome any suggestions you may have.

I'll continue to announce my tea classes in the first few days of each month via blog, facebook, twitter, and email list and I hope to see you soon at a class!

Below are seven photos* from my March 25th Gongfu Tea Brewing Workshop:

*The first three were taken by my friend Michael, the next two by my friend Denise and the last two by me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shu Shu and Brett at Lishan

Nihao Tea Friends! Here is a short (and dorky) video of Shu Shu and I enjoying the view from a little hilltop pagoda near Lishan, Taiwan (梨山,台灣).

I hope you found the terrible sound and shaky camera work to be more cute than annoying :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Winging it" in Nanshan

On January 18th, 2010, I took a cab from Yilan (宜蘭) to Lishan (梨山). You may be asking yourself what the heck was I thinking taking an uncharacteristically extravagant cab ride instead of an inexpensive bus ride. That's a great question... and the answer is a long, boring, somewhat frustrating travel story that I'm not going to get into right now...

... so anyway... I took a cab from Yilan to Lishan. My cab driver was a great guy and a very safe driver. We picked up his wife to join us on the long trip and we all chatted in Mandarin as we ascended the mountain. When super-thick fog rolled in at sunset, our visibility on the narrow broken highway seemed to drop to only a few feet! My driver drove like a champ. He was slow and careful, and even stuck his head out the window at times to help him see the road.

Halfway to Lishan, we stopped at a grimy grocery store alongside the highway in Nanshan (南山). Nanshan is a sleepy little cabbage town somewhere between Yilan and Lishan and my guess is that nobody ever stops here unless they grow cabbage, need gas, or have to go pee. We were in the latter camp.

My driver asked if I'd like some tea. I enthusiastically said yes because I had only had a Lara bar and a bottle of ready-to-drink oolong since breakfast. My driver pulled a nearly-empty bag of Lishan high mountain oolong from the trunk of his taxi, and asked the folks at the store if they had a teapot that we could use. Unfortunately they did not.

It's tea time in Nanshan Baby!

My driver seemed a little annoyed and muttered to himself, "who around here doesn't have a teapot?" He concluded that we would just have to "wing it," so he grabbed a couple of grubby beer glasses and a plastic lid. He brewed the tea in one cup and then poured it into the other (no easy task because a lot of tea dribbled down the side of the cup). Because we only had two beer glasses, he and his wife shared a disposable plastic cup. I guess they wanted me to have the other glass cup because I was their guest and the Taiwanese are always such sweet and thoughtful hosts.

My driver's wife bought me some five-spice eggs without asking me first so I had to politely explain that I did not eat eggs. She did not seem to mind and insisted on buying me a vegetarian bun instead. I tried to protest her hospitality but of course it didn't work. I was happy to eat my bun and they ate all the five-spice eggs.

The tea is steeping.
(I love how he put a bit of half eaten egg on top to keep the lid from blowing off.)

We had a good time drinking our tea and chatting with several of the chain-smoking, betel nut-chewing patrons of the little store. They were all totally blown away to see a tea-crazed white boy drinking their delicious local tea from a beer glass while on his way up to Lishan!


With our spirits renewed, and the fog starting to lift, we drove the remaining two hours to Lishan. Unfortunately, the higher we went the more broken the highway became. While the driver focused on keeping the car from falling off the mountain, his wife and I focused on not throwing up. Having the advantage of sitting shotgun, I succeeded. His wife, in the backseat, was not as lucky. Needless to say, we all became a little stressed-out during this leg of the journey. I really didn't envy my new friends who planned to drive home to Yilan that evening, so after we arrived, I happily insisted on paying my driver more than the already negotiated, and already quite expensive (don't ask me how much) price.

It certainly wasn't the best day I've ever had in Taiwan, but thanks to some great people, it was still a pretty good one. I was so happy to have reached my goal and to have had some rewarding and memorable experiences along the way!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good Bitter

In some cases, bitterness means toxicity. Because of this, we humans have evolved to favor sweetness in our food and drink. That is all well and good, but these days most of us have a pretty good understanding of which foods and drinks we can safely consume.

Some people will avoid many wonderful foods just because they have a low to medium level of bitterness. Other people will consume these foods with added sweetener to mask their bitter flavors. In moderation that should be fine, but too much added sweetener may in time contribute to some diseases.

Many healthy foods like tea, grapefruits, and some leafy greens (to name just a few) may have some bitterness, but that certainly does not make them bad. Bitterness is often a sign that the food is high in antioxidants which is a very good thing. I have also read that Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine traditions honor all different flavor profiles and promote the consumption of sweet, salty, sour, astringent, savory and bitter foods and drinks. The key is balance and moderation.

I work in a busy tea house and over the last eight and a half years, I have seen literally thousands of perfectly good cups of well-brewed tea subjected to massive amounts of honey, sugar or artificial sweeteners. I don't want this post to turn into a "bitter rant" (pardon the word play), I only want to suggest that some of us (though probably not many of my readers) are using too much sweetener and thus robbing ourselves of a rewarding natural flavor experience!

I'm not going to lie. I also enjoy sweetened tea from time to time. But I drink over 90% of my tea plain. I sometimes worry about the many customers that I see who are always dumping 3 to 5 (or more) cubes of white sugar cubes into their relatively small mugs of finely-brewed tea. Do they do this all the time or is this just a special treat? Should I ask them about it? Of course not, I should mind my own business.

The Chinese have a saying, "eat bitterness" (吃苦), which is often translated as "the ability to endure hardship." I would like to expand this expression to include its literal meaning as well. Perhaps we should all eat and drink a little more bitterness. If we can't appreciate a food's natural bitterness, then how will we be able to appreciate its natural sweetness?

Monday, March 15, 2010

League of Pots #022

Code Name: "Sapphire" (藍寶石 )

Type: 2 cup Chatsford teapot
Material: Ceramic
Height: 10 cm
Length (handle to spout): 18 cm
Volume: 355 ml

Brews: Most types of tea brew well in Sapphire.
Specialty: She can always be counted on for a nice pot of Darjeeling.
Story: I bought Sapphire 8 years ago at Teacup. I used her to brew herbal blends and chai for a few years, back when I used to drink those types of infusions more regularly. Sadly, Sapphire has been sitting unused in a drawer for almost five years now... but due to a recent wave of small teapot breakages at Teacup, she will soon "come out of retirement" and make tea for my clients at work!
Super Powers: Sapphire can transform herself into a bolt of hot blue electricity which she can use to fry people, travel quickly through power lines, damage, repair or "talk to" electronics or simply to recharge her cell phone.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Winter 2009 Cui Feng High Mountain Oolong

My Chinese teacher's parents are a very generous and welcoming couple. They claim to "not know much about tea," but I think they are just being modest, because last year they gave me an unforgettable tea gift. It was a Winter '08 He Huan Shan High Mountain oolong (合歡山高山烏龍茶) (the same one I blogged about here).

During my January 2010 trip to Taiwan, they insisted on giving me even more incredible tea! I am totally not worthy of such generosity (all I got them was a little Seattle calender). This time I was gifted a 300 gram bag of Winter '09 He Huan Shan and one of Winter '09 Cui Feng High Mountain Oolong (翠峰高山烏龍茶). I really need to step up my gift giving the next time I see them!

Cui Feng translates to "bluish-green peak" and is yet another place I'd never heard of before. I emailed my friend Shiuwen (of Floating Leaves Tea Company) who said she believes Cui Feng is a part of the Lishan (梨山) area. If any of my readers have anymore information to share about Cui Feng tea, I'd love to see some comments.

The only writing on the bag says "產地翠峰."
(and that just means = Origin Cui Feng)

I haven't broken into my new bag of He Huan Shan yet (I'm waiting for a special occasion) but I have already made quite the dent in my bag of Cui Feng. This tea is "off the hook amazing" and begs to be recorded in the ole tea blog.

The dry leaves appear large and succulent with a sweet mellow aroma that reminds me of butterscotch.

Take a look at these beautiful fatties.

The flavor is silky and milky with a touch of baked sugar aroma. The body is thick and smooth and, like any good tea, has a pleasant way of sitting in my stomach. Most of the infusions were round and malty but a few had bright little lilac and unripe pear peaks on certain parts of the tongue that kept things really interesting.

I can't be sure if they're always this good... but if you ever do cross paths with Cui Feng oolong tea, I'd definitely recommend you try some.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baked Wenshan Baozhong

On January 21, 2010, my new friends Israel and Sarah joined me for a day trip to Pinglin, Taiwan to meet my buddy Amin. When we arrived at his house we could smell the delicate fragrance of baked Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶) coming from this warm electric oven.

We spent the afternoon hiking around the lovely green hills, eating an unforgettable lunch prepared by Amin's mom, and sampling many amazing local teas.

One of several teas that I decided to buy from Amin was this baked Wenshan Baozhong tea to sell at Teacup (the busy Seattle tea shop at which I work). So far, it has been very well received.

The dry leaves have a long and elegant shape with a nice mix of orange, brown and green color. They smell a little bit nutty and woodsy.

The tea soup is a pretty golden color and smells a bit like fresh baked whole wheat bread.

This oolong has a super smooth start which transforms into a faintly peppery finish, and its flavor seems much less roasty in the mouth than it did in the nose. My tasting notes for this tea included honey, snap peas and baked apples.

Please come by the Teacup if you're interested in tasting some with me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - March 2010

This month I am pleased to host 2 evening tea classes at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

March 11, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
World of Tea - In this class we will explore the rich history of tea production and its consumption in China, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka and Japan. An emphasis will be put on basic tea types (such as: white, green, oolong, black and puer teas) and how to brew them well. We’ll also discuss health benefits, buying tips, and culture while we sample many different and delicious loose leaf teas.

March 25, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Gong Fu Style Chinese Tea Brewing Workshop - In this "hands on" class, students will take turns brewing Chinese tea for the group. I will guide the class as we rotate between several wonderful oolong and pu-erh teas. We will practice using clay teapots and gaiwans and resteep each tea several times.

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!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The laid-back person's guide to brewing a nice pot of imaginary tea

Step 1 - Fill a real teapot, a toy teapot, something that looks like a teapot, or an imaginary teapot up with imaginary water.

Step 2 - Pretend to boil the imaginary water. If you don't have a toy stove you can use a real stove or a pretend stove, but either way it's very important to only use imaginary heat!

Step 3 - Find a box of imaginary tea leaves. For best results, imaginary tea should be very fresh and super high quality. So you should pretend to buy the very best!

Looks like I'm running a little low on my imaginary tea....

...Oh wait... I actually have a whole other unopened box!

Step 4 - I generally use about one teaspoon of imaginary tea leaves per imaginary cup of pretend water. But that is just a basic "rule-of thumb" and because imaginary tea is so forgiving I have found that it often tastes the same no matter how much imaginary leaf I put in the teapot.

Step 5 - Carefully pour the imaginary tea into real or pretend cups. If you're using a real teapot you may want to hang on to the lid so it doesn't fall off.

watch how the master does it

Step 6 - Sip your imaginary tea slowly and mindfully while saying silly things like: "mmm this is delicious tea" and "may I have some more tea please."

Thanks for reading and please join us next month when the laid back person's guide will take an in depth look at "how to boil water."