Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring 2010 Harvest Report

The South Seattle Tea Estate's first harvest of 2010 took place on April 26, 2010 at 8:00 AM. The weather was 55° F, overcast and a little bit windy. The actual harvest lasted about 15 minutes and yielded 93 individual leaf-and-bud sets weighing in at 19 grams.

The young, tender leaf-and-bud sets just before harvest.

The total 19 gram harvest.

First the leaves were withered indoors (at around 68° F) in the green stoneware bowl pictured above for 5.5 hours. Then a plate was put over the bowl, to act as a lid, as I shook the leaves very vigorously for 3 minutes. At this point the leaves were uncovered and allowed to oxidize in the bowl for about 16 hours. During this oxidation time, I occasionally mixed the leaves gently and sniffed their developing sweet aroma.

After 5.5 hours of withering and 6 hours of oxidation:

At 5:15 AM on April 27, 2010, I preheated my electric oven to 250° F and baked the bowl of leaves for 22 minutes (mixing once during the bake). After the bake, I transferred the leaves to a cool bowl, then, once the leaves had cooled down, I weighed them. The total yield of finished tea was 6.5 grams. Finally I put my newborn oolong tea into a little glass jar to wait until its debut later this week.

6.5 grams of finished tea:

I am looking for a few tea friends to join me at Teacup on Saturday May 1st at 9:30 AM for a free tasting of my home-grown tea. All are welcome. Please contact me if you'll be able to come.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The laid back person's guide to boiling water for tea.

Depending on who you ask, hot water is pretty important for proper tea brewing. Some people do use cold water but that tends to take much longer and so, like most people, I prefer to use the hot stuff when I brew my tea. Boiling water is very hot... but you don't have to worry about that... just follow these 5 easy steps and you'll be staring at a vessel of scalding hot water in no time!

Step 1 - Find some clean fresh water. Those of us who live in urban areas will often find it lurking in faucets or hoses, while rural water usually hides out in lakes, rivers and glaciers. Should you happen to live in a very dry place you may need to use a dowsing rod.

Exhibit A - Fresh water in its natural habitat.

Exhibit B - An average everyday elephant head faucet.

Step 2 - Pour the water into a heating vessel. A stove-top kettle or an electric kettle is preferred, but a metal cooking pan (MCP) will work in a pinch.

Exhibit C - One totally awesome tea kettle!

Exhibit D - Your typical MCP

Step 3 - If you're using a stove-top kettle or a MCP, put it on a burner and turn the heat to its highest setting. If you are using an electric kettle, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for turning it on (usually there is some sort of switch manipulation involved).

WARNING: Do not let your out-of-town guests accidentally put your electric kettle on a hot stove-top burner as this will result in melting plastic and toxic fumes which are generally considered bad for tea making.

Exhibit E - NOOOOO ! ! ! !

Step 4 - Wait. In my opinion, this is the easiest of the five steps. You can use this down time to catch up on some other tea making steps, use the bathroom, or just zone out. Feel free to watch the pot if you want to, because numerous experiments have proven that, contrary to some household myths, "pot watching" does not effect boiling.

Step 5 - Turn the heat off when the water starts boiling. Some kettles will whistle when this happens, but if yours does not, or if you are using a MCP, the vessel will also shake, rattle and produce lots of steam. The water inside it will look hot and bubbly. All of these are good signs that your water is now boiling! Electric kettles, on the other hand, will turn themselves off when they have reached boiling. That moment is often accompanied by a satisfying little "click" sound.

Exhibit F - Mission Accomplished!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Puer Appreciation Club in Seattle

I currently have more puer tea (普洱茶) at home than I could ever drink by myself, and I want to share this abundance with fellow puer nuts and newbies, while at the same time promoting Teacup, myself, and Chinese tea culture in Seattle. So, for a few months now, I've been kicking around the idea of starting a casual puer tea appreciation club. I already know some Seattle tea lovers who have expressed interest in joining, and I bet we could recruit more folks who'd enjoy being part of something like this. So, without further ado... I present "The Puer Appreciation Club of Seattle."

Anybody is invited to join this puer tea club. I will start a facebook group to help promote the club and occasionally tweet about it as well. For the time being, I will act as the club's main coordinator but if this club grows and more people want to be active in organizing club events, I welcome other venues, events and coordinators. Also, if anybody knows about any other already established Seattle puer clubs, please let them know about this club too in case they want to join forces.

The Teacup will host a standing meeting for the Puer Appreciation Club on the last Saturday of every month at 9:30 am. The inaugural meeting will be April 24th. This is currently the most convenient time for me and for Teacup and I hope it will work for many other puer lovers. In my opinion, mornings are a wonderful time to be up at the Teacup because the shop is usually peaceful and the air in Seattle is cool, fresh and sometimes carries a misty hint of the ocean. I like to breathe this sweet morning air while sipping good puer tea.

At these monthly Teacup meetings, members are welcome to brew puer tea, chat and relax all morning for only a $3 per member "water fee." I will provide a gong fu tea set and members can take turns brewing tea or select a "designated brewer" for the session. RSVP's are not required for these Teacup meetings and drop-ins and non-members are always welcome, but if nobody shows up by 9:50 AM the meeting will be considered canceled.

I will be present at these Teacup meetings but I will often be too busy to partake in the actual tea brewing. But I will still hang out and drink tea when I'm not helping other customers.

I plan to bring in a few of my own puer cakes to share and all other members are welcome to do the same! Also, members are welcome to bring in their own Chinese teaware to use if desired.

I look forward to seeing you on April 24th for the first ever meeting of the Puer Appreciation Club of Seattle!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Menghai Dayi Elephant Mountain

This sheng puer tea cake (生普洱茶餅) is called Menghai Dayi "Elephant Mountain" (勐海大益象山). I bought it in February 2006 for $20 Canadian at Daniel Liu's shop Arts de Chine in Vancouver, BC. I remember he said it was produced in 2002 (like the identical cake pictured in Chan Kam Pong's awesome book "First Steps to Chinese Pu-erh Tea.")

The dry cake has a pleasing "peppery-smoky" aroma and the plump leaves have a nice mix of orange, brown, gold and forest green colors.

Today I enjoyed about ten infusions brewed in a 100 ml gaiwan. I used about 5 grams of dry leaf, boiling hot water and very short steeping times (the first couple infusions were around 5 or 6 seconds). This session took place at my work where I didn't have my camera.

Wispy currents could be seen snaking around in the reddish-orange liquor. The aroma was spicy and smoky but the infusions were thick, smooth and fruity (just the way I tend to like it). I picked up a tart blueberry note in the first three cups.

I have sometimes seen experienced puer drinkers referring to a distinctive "Menghai flavor." I don't know about it myself, but if it has anything to do with herbaceous, peppery and/or smoky, I'd say this tea has it.

An unpleasant tobacco taste hit me in cups 4 and 5... but after that it mellowed back out and behaved itself all the way to infusion number ten which was sweet, clean and light.

I think that this is a nice cake to have around because it showcases a little bit of aged tea flavors and a little bit of young tea flavors. Plus it gave me a pretty intense puer buzz.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Apple Blossoms

Back in 2008, our little backyard apple tree produced tons of tasty apples (check out this post from my wife's blog to read more about that summer's bumper crop). But in 2009 we only got two sad-looking apples. I'm hoping that we will have another great harvest this year, because we already have tons of lovely blossoms on the apple tree! Here are a few photos I just took of the pretty pink and white flowers.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cupping Two 易武之道 Puer Cakes

I have in my collection two 2009 sheng puer tea cakes (生普洱茶餅) from Yunnan Sourcing. They both have the same pretty black and white wrapping paper, printed with the words Yi Wu Zhi Dao (易武之道), but they are different teas.

I purchased the first cake back in September 2009 (along with these three other cakes: Guan Zi Zai Zao Chun Nan Nuo Shan, Wu Liang Lan Shan, and Banzhang Chun Qing). This cake was called Da Qiu Feng (打秋風) and has a production stamp of August 1, 2009. According to Yunnan Sourcing it was one of just 120 cakes pressed.

Da Qiu Feng

Naked Da Qiu Feng

The other cake is called Man Zhuan Gu Hua (蠻磚谷花) and was a gift from my new friend Israel. It has a production date of October 26, 2009.

Man Zhuan

Naked Man Zhuan

Today I did a comparison cupping of these two puer cakes using 5 grams of dry leaf in two identical mugs. The teas were steeped five times with 200 ml boiling water for 2 min, 2 min, 3 min, 4 min and 5 min.

Weighing the leaf

Tasting the teas

In my opinion, both of these cakes are delicious. Some key attributes such as body, clarity and color were all quite similar, but their flavors and aromas where notably different.

For me, the Man Zhuan cake was a little bit brighter, fruitier and sweeter. My tasting notes for this cake included: grassy meadow, dandelion flowers and clover honey. The Da Qiu Feng cake had a slightly smokier aroma, and a little more malt and nut flavors. My tasting notes for this cake included: baked peaches, mint and cacao nibs.

Da Qiu Feng on the left / Man Zuan Gu Hua on the right

As I previously chronicled in my '06 Long Yuan Hao, '08 Awazon, and xiao tuocha cupping posts, I often learn a lot when I cup two similar teas together at the same time. I highly recommend conducting your own similar cupping sessions once in a while.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Weeds and Buds

On April 1st, my daughter and I went outside to tour the South Seattle Tea Estate (which is located in our backyard). Last May, the tea estate contained only one tea plant, but thanks to my good friend David W. the number of tea plants has doubled!

An aerial shot of the tea estate taken from the back deck.
(The two tea plants are hiding behind the rosemary.)

A close-up of my two tea plants surrounded by weeds.

I'm not sure what caused it, but during the winter, some of the lower leaves had developed a sort of rot or fungus so I had to pick off a bunch of bad leaves.


It was very satisfying to pull out a few of the dandelions that had taken over the garden during the winter.

Die You Vile Weed!

I was very encouraged to see some lovely new leaf and bud sets starting to develop as well as many healthy-looking leaves.


Double Yum!

Triple Yum!

In a few weeks I will harvest some of these pretty leaf and bud sets and attempt to make an oolong tea! Stay tuned for a more detailed post about that caper (because I may even host a casual tasting of my finished tea). In the meantime feel free to click here if you would like to read a review of the "Seattle White Peony" tea that I made last spring.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - April 2010

I am very excited to host these two tea classes this month at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

April 15, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Tea Tour of India - In this class we will learn about Indian tea production and its rich colonial history. We will also sample many aromatic and robust black teas including masala chai.

April 29, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Tea Tour of Japan - In this class we'll focus on the history and customs behind Japan's many delicious teas. We will use traditional Japanese tea ware for a more authentic experience.

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 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!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shanlu Green Tea

I recently treated myself to a rare Chinese tea called Shanlu Green Tea (山露綠茶). This beautiful, handmade tea is picked once a year in the hills surrounding Qi Shui village (汽水村) in China's Fujian province. It is know for having a distinctive sparkling sweetness and a hint of citrus aroma which is believed to come from the many lemon trees grown in the region.

The leaves look nice. They are mostly young leaf and bud sets with a humble pale green color and pleasant nutty smell. It's hard to believe that this totally normal looking Chinese green tea packs such a flavor punch!

a leaf and bud set

I used a heaping teaspoon per cup, 170° F water and a two minute steeping time. The resulting liquor had a vibrant green-yellow color and many more bubbles than any other green tea I've ever tried.

As advertised, the flavor was very sweet and bright with many unique citrus notes. In my tasting notes I had written: lemon rind, sparkly and sugary. I would not say that I love this green tea but it certainly was interesting.

Also, believe it or not, the Chinese say that Shanlu green tea has a higher than normal caffeine content then most other teas. I'm not sure why this is, but I definitely felt it. After tasting three infusions I was pretty buzzed. This might be a good tea to drink if you're into extreme sports.