Monday, June 21, 2010

2003 Menghai Dayi "Zi Yun Hao" Puer Cake

I purchased several 2003 Menghai Dayi "Zi Yun Hao" puer tea cakes (勐海大益紫雲號普洱茶餅) from my friend Josh Chamberlain back in 2005.

These cakes have a pretty purple wrapper with little plum (or cherry?, or apple?) blossoms printed on the front. Underneath the big "Zi Yun Hao (紫雲號)," it says "yuan cha" (圓茶), which means "circle tea." That leads me to think there are probably bricks of this tea available too (either that or the good folks at Menghai just wanted to teach what circles look like).

In case you didn't already know, Dayi (大益), meaning "big returns," is a popular product line of the Menghai tea factory. The Dayi logo is in the upper-right corner (and yes... I am aware that circles do not have corners) of this cake.

The dry leaf is a lovely mix of earth tones and has a subtle, peppery, leathery, sweet smell.

For this session I used a three gram chunk of tea in Xiao Xiao (my smallest clay teapot). I used boiling hot water and did 8 shortish infusions.

The flavor is dry and fruity with a pleasant woody-grassy undertone that reminds me of some Nepalese teas I've tried. My tasting notes included: lavender, gentle smoke, plum and camphor.

I feel that this cake tastes a little younger and greener than my 2002 Elephant Mountain Dayi cake (which is the only other Dayi cake in my collection). I should cup these two teas at the same time someday.

In closing, I'd say that the Zi Yun Hao is a nice cake of tea and I look forward to revisiting it as the years go by.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Spring 2010 Alishan High Mountain Oolong

Yesterday afternoon I received twenty 150-gram bags of Alishan High Mountain Oolong (阿里山高山烏龍茶) from my friend Penny Yang in Taipei. This tea was made in the Meishan (梅山) (Plum Mountain) area of Alishan and its production was closely monitored by Penny and her husband.

I've been drinking this tea all day and I really love it. It yields a fruity, clean, crisp liquor with a golden yellow color. The aroma is a touch flowery and reminds me of butterscotch. As the aroma evaporates, it starts to smell really sweet, like sugarcane. The flavor is spirited and bright on the tongue. Its taste reminds me of honey, nectarine and orange juice with a tiny hint of cinnamon bark.

This tea was for sale... but in only 24 hours it sold out! Many thanks to all of you who bought a bag or two! Sincerely, Brett.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sweet Baozhong Fragrance

My wife and I have slowly been trying to learn the names of more plants and trees. We are starting with our own yard (which should keep us busy for many years to come).

We have one particular bush in our backyard that blooms once a year in early to mid-June. We always called it "Sweet Baozhong Fragrance" because the aroma of its pretty white flowers reminds us of Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶). These blooms usually last for one to two weeks, and during that time it is so wonderful to sit out on the back deck and let the breezes carry the sweet scent up to our eager noses.

I've seen these bushes around Seattle but I'm really not sure what they are. Anybody know?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

North Shore and Queer Stones

January 15, 2010 marked the first day of my most recent Taiwan tea trek. It turned out to be an exciting day filled with grand adventures and wonderful food.

My plan was to spend the entire day with my Mandarin teacher's aunt Rose and uncle John and then to have dinner with them, several other friends, and her parents Henry and Mei.

In an email sent to me by Henry prior to traveling, he had written, "I might introduce you to one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, who is a 'lover of queer stones' and you may see his interesting collections." As you might imagine, I found that very intriguing.

John and Rose were the sweetest couple and they took very good care of me. After a fortifying round of Da Hong Pao (大紅袍) tea , we had a nice light breakfast at a vegetarian buffet. Then the three of us took a cab to Jiufen (九份) for some tea and sight seeing.

Da Hong Pao with John and Rose

Jiufen is a cool little tourist town set in the cliffs overlooking Taiwan's beautiful Northern coast. We wandered the pedestrian-only "old street" (老街) and I purchased some inexpensive tea scoops from a vendor specializing in wooden trinkets. I also purchased an adorable pair of slippers for my daughter. In addition to shopping and chatting, we also sampled lots of tasty little snacks from a wide variety of food vendors (some pictures of which can be found here). We stopped for tea and lunch at a scenic tea house with a breathtaking view of the north coast and ordered a pot of Dong Ding oolong (凍頂烏龍).

Jiufen Vista

After Jiufen we spent a few magical hours exploring the wild natural rock formations at Yeliu Park. I already blogged about that so if you missed it here's the link.

We all had a great time chatting and exploring as we drove counterclockwise around Taiwan's north coast. Our taxi driver quickly became our new friend.

Unfortunately, my camera ran out of power due to all the photos I took at Yeliu. So the rest of the evening only exists in my hazy memory. I say "hazy" because at this point I'd been awake for over 48 hours and although I was having an incredible day... a body can only run so long on adrenaline and good tea.

We stopped at an awesome little beach park called Stone Gate (石門), which was covered in shells, and then we drove through Danshui (淡水) and back into Taipei. Our dinner destination was an old-style Taipei seafood restaurant that sourced most of its ingredients fresh from Penghu island (澎湖島). Of course I didn't partake in any of the seafood, but my hosts treated me to a vast array of vegan dishes including a hearty noodle soup. John and Rose ordered a teapot of "hot Coke with lime," which was actually pretty tasty. By the end of the meal I was comfortably stuffed.

After dinner Henry said that it was now time to see the "Queer Stones." I had no idea what to expect. We walked through a confusing maze of Taipei streets for almost 15 minutes before stopping at the entry gate to a private residence. As we walked through the gate, I knew I was in for a truly special experience.

The house, or shall I say "wondrous mansion," was filled with the most amazing collection of stones. Some were huge and some were tiny, but most ranged between soccer ball and basketball sized. What made them so special was the natural pictures found on them. I came to learn that many Chinese are into Qi Shi (奇石) (often translated as "strange stones.") If you run a Google search for
"奇石" you will find hundreds of Chinese websites and blogs devoted to the phenomenon. I was told that the stones are 100% natural, but some cleaning, buffing, and polishing is permitted. Mr. Lin (林同濱) (who actually turned out to be in Beijing at the time) travels all over the world searching for queer stones to feed his fascinating obsession and he had hundreds of jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring stones in his collection.

I was pretty bummed that my camera battery was dead, but I was given a pamphlet with some of Mr. Lin's stones. Here are six photos of Qi Shi that I took from this pamphlet. (My deepest respect and thanks to the original photographer and Mr. Lin. I truly hope that you do not mind my taking and using of these photos of your stones. I welcome any input at

Surrounded by a museum of stone treasures, we all shared an amazing Hehuan Shan High mountain oolong (合歡山高山烏龍茶) and chatted for hours.
I really wish I could have spent longer exploring the world of Qi Shi, but my hosts could tell (quite to my embarrassment) that I was about to fall asleep on the couch. At this point I was taken back to Henry and Mei's apartment to get some much needed sleep.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Kombucha is a slightly fizzy fermented tea drink with a sour and sweet flavor like vinegar. To brew it you need a "Kombucha mother" (aka SCOBY or "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast."

There are tons of different health claims being made about Kombucha tea but I'm not sure which ones are actually true. I would reckon the benefits differ from person to person.

Back in 2005, my buddy Jon G. gave me my first Kombucha mother and for several years, I was constantly brewing my own Kombucha at home. Between 2006 and 2007, I was often consuming around 2 to 4 ounces of Kombucha per day and I liked the way it made me feel. After a while I became known as "the Kombucha guy" around Queen Anne Hill. Whenever customers would come into Teacup and ask about it, they would be turned over to me. During those years, I happily shared free "Kombucha babies" with at least 20 different friends and clients.

My favorite time to drink Kombucha is after a day of hard work because I feel like it relaxes and soothes my sore muscles. I only ever drink a small cup (no more than 4 ounces per day).

In late 2007, for no particular reason, I decided to take a break from Kombucha home brewing. So, besides a few bottles of really-expensive-commercial-stuff, I have barely had any Kombucha tea during these last three years.

Last week, my sister-in-law Kristel and I were talking about home brewing Kombucha and where to find a new Kombucha mother. Twenty minutes later a Facebook friend offered two Kombucha mothers for free. I took this as a sign from the universe that I should start brewing again, so Kristel and I picked up our new"Kombucha babies" that same afternoon. (Thanks again Laura!)

So now I am officially back in the Kombucha making game!

Here's a photo of my latest half-batch started on June 2, 2010.

Pasted below is the recipe I usually use. I adapted it from the most excellent book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Kombucha Recipe:

A stove
A stock pot with lid
A strainer
A heat resistant ceramic or glass bowl that can hold about a gallon of liquid (Do not use a metal or plastic bowl.)
A clean towel that is large enough to cover your bowl

3 quarts of fresh spring water
3/4 cup of Organic Sugar
3 tablespoons of good quality loose leaf black tea
1 Kombucha mother (KM)
1.5 cups of mature liquid kombucha (MLK) (This is the broth that your new KM is floating in.)

  1. Mix water and sugar in a stock pot and bring to a rolling boil.
  2. Turn off the heat, add the tea, mix really well and then put the lid on the stock pot.
  3. Steep for 15 minutes.
  4. Pour the liquid though the strainer into the bowl. Because the liquid is still really hot, pour slowly--you really don't want the temperature change to crack your bowl!!! Also, If you are wearing glasses they will probably get "fogged-up" and you wont be able to see what you're doing. I recommend taking them off before you start pouring. (You may want to have a friend help you with this step.)
  5. Wait for several hours until the broth is room temperature. You will kill your KM if it is still too hot!
  6. Add the MLK to the bowl of sweetened tea.
  7. Wash your hands really well and then reach in and grab the slimy KM. Gently drop it into the bowl.
  8. Cover the bowl with the clean towel. I like to use a rubber band around the rim to hold the towel in place.
  9. Allow tea to ferment at room temperature for 2 to 4 weeks. You can check the flavor from time to time using a clean sterile spoon or ladle. If the temperature in your house is warmer your batch of Kombucha will ferment faster, and if it's cooler it will ferment slower. The longer it sits the more acidic it will become.
  10. When the Kombucha is at the acidity you like, you can ladle it out into glass jars with tight lids and keep it in the fridge for about a month. Now it's time to start a new batch!
What to do with your new KM:
The new KM will form on the surface of the liquid Kombucha while the tea is fermenting. The longer the tea ferments the thicker it will become. It will take the shape of the opening of your bowl. The old KM will either sink to the bottom or it will "grow into" the new KM (on the surface). If it sinks then you now have two mothers. In this case you can do one of these 3 things: start multiple batches at the same time, give one mother away to a friend or just toss one in the trash or compost. Also, you can keep a KM in the fridge (floating in MLK) for several months between batches.

Friday, June 4, 2010


I got this sample of "TEBIETE - The Tea King" (特別特 - 茶王) a year ago. Today I finally decided to break it out and review it.

This tea is from Anxi, Fujian (安溪,福建) province and was packed into one of those corny little "cigarette boxes" that you can sometimes find holding Da Hong Pao oolong (大紅袍烏龍).

The box was labeled as "organic oolong tea" in both Chinese and English. It contained one vacuum-packed foil bag holding 15 grams of tea. The dry leaves were huge pellet-shaped clusters of rolled-up leaves (a few were as big as an American dime).

the dry leaves

Before I began brewing this tea, I thought it was a nice, lightly-oxidized Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音) and that I'd be drinking it all day long. Little did I know!

I didn't stop to sniff the dry leaves and I had no clue what to expect as I dumped the whole pack of leaves into my gaiwan. I gave them a quick rinse with boiling water, opened the lid and sniffed the tea aroma.

OH MY GOD. It smells like peppermint!?!? I ran in to the living room and asked my wife to sniff it. She made a yuck face and said, "it smells really musty and has a distinctive mint smell."

I went back and brewed my first cup using a short, boiling hot steep. I brought the little cup of pleasant-colored mint-smelling tea up to my lips and took my first exploratory sip.

The liquor

YUCK! This tea is super sweet in a weird artificial-tasting way! It's an unpleasant and bitter sweetness that reminds me of stevia. The flavor also has a smoky, minty, licoricy, ginsingy aftertaste that hours later is still lingering on my poor victimized tongue.

I was only able to drink two small sips of TEBIETE before I tossed it all in the compost and started fresh with some truly good tea (this Meishan to be precise). Thank god I used a gaiwan and not a clay teapot to brew this minty monstrosity!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spring 2010 Wenshan Baozhong tea for sale!

In the mid-afternoon of June 2, 2010, three kilograms of 2010 spring Wenshan Baozhong (春文山包種茶) tea arrived at my house! I wasted no time breaking open the box and brewing some up.

my precious

I decided on an al fresco session on my back deck. Here is a goofy little video I took to amuse myself between sips:

To me this is a superb, lightly-oxidized, floral Baozhong tea and it provided me with seven clean, smooth, dewy-sweet infusions. The aroma flitted about with pleasant notes of lilac, honeysuckle and cantaloupe. My tasting notes included buttery yellow corn and macadamia nut.

before 7 tasty infusions

after 7 tasty infusions

These leaves are now for sale! I brought some of my stock to Teacup to sell, serve and sample, and the rest I'll sell from home. The cost at Teacup is: 1 oz $8.50 / 2 oz $17 / 4 oz $30 / 8 oz $60 / 1lb $108.

The cost if you buy it directly from me is $8 per ounce or $75 per 300 gram bag. Email me at if you're interested. I can only take cash, check or paypal and shipping is $5.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Teacup Tea Class - June 2010

This month I am pleased to offer a brand new herbal tea class here at Teacup featuring guest teacher Clarissa Helton L.Ac., MS.

Clarissa is a skilled acupuncturist and herbalist who treats patients right here on upper Queen Anne hill in Seattle. She is a friend of ours at Teacup and I'm very excited to co-host this class with her!

June 24, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Herbal Tea Class and Tasting - Learn how to choose and make herbal teas. Taste single herb teas and combinations to treat a variety of physical complaints. We will focus mainly on Chinese medicinal herbal traditions.

This evening class is free but guests must RSVP and space is limited. You may RSVP anytime before June 24th by emailing me at After comparing my RSVP list with Clarissa's, I'll send you a confirmation email. We hope to see you at the class!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How do I fit tea into my daily life?

The theme for today's Tea Blog Carnival is "How do I fit tea into my daily life?" It is being presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers and hosted by the venerable Sip Tip blog.

Here are five reasons why I never have any problems fitting tea into my daily life:

1. I work at the Teacup in Seattle.

¡Viva la 'Cup!

2. Most of my friends and family are tea drinkers.

Chilling with my home girls:

3. Most of my travel is "tea-centric."

Whoa. That tea smells so good!

4. My house is always well stocked with great tea.

5. I make tea drinking a daily priority.