Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Da Hong Pao for Sale

Last week I received a couple kilos of high quality Da Hong Pao (大紅袍) (big red robe) oolong from my vendor/online-tea-friend Mr. Daniel Hong (of Yun Xiang Tea Company).

Mr. Hong told me that the tea was produced May 1st to 3rd, 2010. He described the farmer as: "...not rich but looks very happy every day, has too many kids, maybe because he is not good at business so although his tea is very good he still doesn't get rich. His price is very fair, more fair than others I know. I'll visit him few days later. As he said 'keep simple, keep happy'."

Currently that is all I know about this particular tea but I'm sure that if you have some other specific question about it, Mr. Hong will be able to answer them for us.

Here is my review of this tea:

The dry leaves are mainly dark brown but when you look at them closely you can also see flecks of light brown and gold. To me these long twisted leaves have a "happy-making" aroma with notes of charcoal, coffee and baked sugar.

The liquor is full bodied and redolent. It has a smooth baked tea flavor that teased notes of cookies, maple syrup, blueberries and whole wheat raisin bread. A ten infusion session left me feeling peaceful, mellow and pleasantly hungry.

I am very happy with this tea and plan to serve (and sell) it at my Chinese Tea Party on October 17th. I also hope to sell some of it to any online tea friends who are currently hunting for some really satisfying Wuyi Mountain (武夷山) oolong tea. My cost is $15 per ounce and shipping is $5 to the continental US (more for other places). A small free sample is available for certain people who ask very nicely. Payments can me made via cash, check or paypal. Please email me at for more information. 謝謝您! Thank you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Next Month in Seattle!

There are only a few days left until the Northwest Tea Festival at Seattle Center. I'll be there both days (October 2nd and 3rd) helping out in the tea tasting booths. There will be many wonderful speakers and tea tasting opportunities so I really hope to see you there!

I'm also excited for my mentor Jason Chen, who will be at the Northwest Tea Festival selling and signing his new book: "A Tea Lover's Diary" which contains lots of beautiful, original photography along with great information about Tie Kuan Yin and Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong production!

In other news... my "Third (almost) Annual Black Dragon Tea Bar Chinese Tea Appreciation Party" (I know that is quite a mouthful) will take place at Seward Park's picnic shelter #2 from 2:00 to 4:30 PM on Sunday, October 17th. The theme is "Tea and Nature" and will include three wonderful teas, vegan treats, and a few games with prizes. This party costs $10 per guest and still has some space available so please email me ( if you wish to RSVP.

Here are links to posts about my 2007 "Tea and Music" and my 2008 "Tea in the Garden" events.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1725 Tie Guanyin

A few months ago, I gave a nice couple a little bit of puer tea. Unexpectedly, the couple returned the favor a few weeks later by gifting me a very cool looking tin of Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音) oolong tea that a friend had recently brought them from China. It was called "1725 Tie Guan Yin" and it had a lot of interesting Chinese text and a map of Anxi county printed on the tin.

The tin.

I decided to use my preschool-level Mandarin skills, a magnifying glass, and a couple of favorite websites (MDGB and NCIKU), to translate all of the Chinese text on the tin (even though I knew it would probably take me a few hours). During my time translating, I thought... "This is so cool. I'm going to learn so many fascinating new things about Tie Guanyin tea!"

Here's what I came up with. (Any of my Chinese-literate followers are invited to correct my translations or offer more details in the comments.)

安溪縣位於福建省的東南部,晉江西溪上游, 北緯 24° 50'〜25° 26',東經 117° 36'〜118° 17',地外南廈(門)漳(州)泉(州)金三角合部,居山而近海,隸屬歷名城泉州市。它東接南安縣,西連華安縣,北鄰永春縣,西南與長縣接壤,西北與漳平 縣交界。東西長 74公里,南北寬 63公里,面積 3057.28平方公里。縣境呈圓形,佮稱“一塊碟”,是泉州市地域最大的縣。
I gather that this is all just highly technical information about the geographical location of Anxi County.

Semi-fermented [oxidized] tea is between green tea and black tea. (Well duh.)

Workers from Fujian province's Anxi county first invented this process between 1725 and 1735 (during Emperor Qing Yongzheng's rule), and they taught it to the "north of Min river" folks who moved to Taiwan.

So that was all it said on the tin!? I felt a little bit like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" when he finished decoding Little Orphan Annie's secret radio message... and all it said was... "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."

Anyway... I suppose it's time I got down to business and actually reviewed the tea.

This "1725 Tie Guan Yin" is from the Fujian Horizon Tea Co. Ltd. I could not figure out when the tea was made.

The leaves were packed not only in the lovely and collectible tin pictured above, but also in small single-serving vacuum sealed bags (which is fairly common). What I did not expect to find was another layer of plastic bag inside the first. Now that's a lot of packaging! I wonder if the tea inside will live up to all its packaging... or if this is all just a plot to sell mediocre tea to tourists. I was starting to worry as I opened up the second layer of plastic.

Here's what I found.

I was a little bit disappointed because I was hoping to find a roasted tea and it turned out to be a lightly oxidized TGY. Oh well. I poured the leaves into a large gaiwan and gave the tea a 3 second rinse with boiling water. It had a nice "minty-cheesecake" aroma.

My first two infusions were deemed "not offensive." Perhaps I had brewed them too weak because the broth was pretty dull.

The tea came alive for infusions three, four and five. It yielded a great yellow color with a few little sparkles on the surface. These infusions had peppery pine and mineral notes balanced by a touch of tropical flower aroma. They also had decent body. The sixth and seventh infusions fell flat and at times presented a little bit of bitter tobacco taste.

The third.

The leaves.

I like Tie Guanyin oolong tea quite a bit; in fact, one of my first experiences with premium Chinese tea was an unforgettable baked TGY that my mentor Donna Fellman shared with me almost nine years ago. That being said, I have always been a little wary of TGY oolong because I seem to have had just as many lackluster experiences as good ones.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

League of Pots #024

Code Name: "Princess"

Material: Ceramic
Height: 24 cm
Length (handle to spout): 24 cm
Volume: 1350 ml
Weight: 840 g

Brews: Any type of tea.
Specialty: Black tea
Story: My wife and I got Princess as a wedding present 6 years ago.
Super Powers: Flight. Invisibility. Fire balls. I'm telling you - don't even mess with Princess!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Lingering Note

Last month, while I was researching the meaning of the Chinese word yun (韻), I asked a Mandarin speaking tea-mentor and friend named Rob Bageant, "What is yun and how does it pertain to the taste of tea?" Mr. Bageant provided me with a wealth of great information that I would like to share with you all today.

茶 茶 茶

Here is his answer:

"Yun" 韻 by itself means many cool things. For instance as a verb it can mean to rhyme. As a noun it can mean a musical note. But in the case of tea it means "to linger" or a lingering flavor. Or, if you like a poetic sense, a lingering note. It is usually tied to the throat (喉韻) (Hou Yun). So it is the note that lingers in the throat.

Please realize that even in Taiwan people argue about whether Hui Gan (回甘) (returning sweetness) and Hou Yun (喉韻) are the same thing or not. Some people even say that, due to physiology, there can be no flavor that lingers in the throat. But geeks like that miss the point that, no matter where our sense receptors are, we nonetheless can have a perceived experience of a note or feeling lingering in our throats. It may even seem sweet to us. It reminds me of yoga and qigong. Whether or not anyone can measure qi is beside the point. If you do the practice, you will have an experience that feels like energy flowing. When you can cultivate this experience, health improves. Who cares if the experience is caused by a thing called qi or if the sensation is just the body's way of saying, "That's it, you've got it."

In any case, despite all the expert opinions on the "real" meaning of these tea terms, with the subjectivity of taste, as opposed to the more repeatable experience of vision, true agreement will always be out of reach.

茶 茶 茶

I thought that was such a great reply and I'm grateful that he gave me the thumbs up to share it on my tea blog. Xiexie Rob!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kama'aina Green and Oolong Teas

I was eating my lunch at Teacup last week when I got an unexpected phone call from the Mauna Kea Tea Company on the big island of Hawaii. The proprietress, Kimberly, and I had a nice discussion about her and her partner Takahiro's tea farm. I could tell that they had truly found their calling producing organic tea in Hawaii, so after our conversation, I went right to their website and ordered one 25-gram bag of both Kama'aina Oolong Tea and Kama'aina Green Tea.

A week later the teas arrived, and I am excited to now share my opinion of them in the following two reviews. Keep in mind that I had no idea what these teas would be like before I first opened the bags and inspected them. Only at that point was I able to attempt an educated guess on how best to brew them for my first time.

I started with the green tea on September 1, 2010. According to Kimberly this tea is "a mix of varieties picked on June 30th, July 5th, and July 6th." The dry leaf was quite lovely and had a pleasing toasty aroma. Because it kind of looked and smelled to me closer to a Chinese style green tea, I decided to use one teaspoon of dry leaf in a 5 ounce gaiwan, 170° spring water and a two minute steep.

Kama'aina Green

The resulting tea soup was a striking fluorescent yellow color. It smelled sweet and nutty and I was in love from my first sip. To me this green tea is very complex and satisfying. It was unique and familiar at the same time. It had moments that reminded me of my beloved Yang Xian Mao Feng (陽羡毛峰) green tea, but it also hinted at gyokuro in the aftertaste. My tasting notes were all over the place and included: buttery, macadamia nut, black peppercorn, sauteed Swiss chard, and raw summer snap peas. I would reorder this tea in a heartbeat.

Green's Tea Soup

Green's Leaves

I drank the Kama'aina oolong throughout the day on September 2, 2010. Its dry leaves looked similar to the green, but it also had flecks of yellow, gold and brown. This tea was harvested on May 20th and May 21st.

At first I decided to brew it like I normally would a hearty Chinese oolong. I used two teaspoons in a 5 ounce gaiwan and boiling water. I gave the leaves a five second rinse and proceeded to smell them. Unexpectedly, they had a grassy, earthy aroma that reminded me somewhat of Japanese bancha green tea.

Kama'aina Oolong

My first infusion was about 60 seconds with boiling water. It presented an amber-yellow color with a heady grass and wildflower aroma. My first exploratory sip yielded a harsh and disappointing liquor. I had clearly over-steeped it so I backed off quite a bit on the steeping time, but the obvious potential in these beautiful Polynesian leaves was proving highly elusive.

Oolong's Tea Soup

The mouth-feel was bold and thick but the taste was "blah." The aroma on the underside of the gaiwan lid, on the other hand, was intoxicating. It was so fruity and delicious. My wife was reminded of candied pineapples and I of passionfruit. The question became... "How do I get this aroma into the cup?"

So after 3 infusions I removed half of the leaves from the gaiwan and cooled my water down to about 180°. This method became my saving grace and the softer, sweeter soup that it now poured was milky, floral and smooth. I do like this tea but I think I need to brew it like the green tea.

Oolong's Leaves

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Teacup tea Classes - September 2010

This month, I am excited to teach the following two tea classes at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109)!

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 PM
Advanced Tea Brewing - In this class we will start with a scientific approach to tea brewing and experiment with a gram scale, timer and thermometer. We will taste several wonderful teas brewed using "optimal techniques" and then we'll try the same teas using "less-than-optimal" techniques. After this, we will discuss an even more advanced level of tea brewing that is more intuitive, meditative and mindful.

Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 PM
Exotic Tea Tasting - In this class we will taste some special and exotic teas from many different countries. While we sip these fine teas we will discuss region specific tea drinking traditions and brewing methods.

(Photo by Arthur S.)

My tea classes are great for tea lovers of all levels, so feel free to bring a friend or family member that you'd like to "get hooked" on tea. The cost is $3 per guest and a RSVP is required. 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!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September Tea Blog Carnival

I'm proud to host this month's Tea Blog Carnival presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. The theme is "a memorable outdoor tea experience" and it is my hope that these posts inspire readers to enjoy their own tea picnics!

Contributors to this month's carnival are:
✰ ExoticTeaBlog: Tea Experience Ethiopia
✰ Gongfu Girl: Drinking Tea Outdoors in the Wilds of Suburban Portland, Oregon
✰ Walker Tea Review: Tea outdoors with Pierre Sernet
✰ Chadao, Way of Tea Europe: Tea Outdoor
✰ The Sip Tip: Outdoor Tea
✰ That Pour Girl: Tea Blog Carnival No. 4
✰ Black Dragon Tea Bar: Blanket Time

The Pinglin Tea Museum's Garden.
I drank tea here on a warm rainy day in 2005.

Blanket Time

My wife and I are blessed with two small children. Our daughter is two and a half, and our son is almost three months old. We want our kids to grow up with a deep love of nature and a feeling that the world is filled with goodness and magic. We also believe that children learn though play and thrive in an environment that is closely connected to daily and yearly rhythms and rituals.

A new family ritual that has been happily received by my daughter is "Blanket Time." It started about a month ago when our close friends were visiting from California. They were sleeping in the living room of our small house and my daughter woke up early, ready to play. I had just made myself a cup of tea and decided that we should go out on the back deck to drink it so as not to wake our guests.

The air outside was crisp and the foggy ocean mist was thick and fragrant. Because it was a bit cold, we took along an orange fleece blanket to wrap around us. We cuddled together under the blanket and chatted while I sipped my tea.

My daughter and I had an unforgettably wonderful time talking about the trees and the sky and the sounds of the morning birds. We made guesses about the day's weather and even named a tall pine tree "Woody."

It quickly occurred to me that this didn't have to only be a one time event, so I came up with the catchy name "Blanket Time" and made plans for us to do it again. We have since repeated this pleasant domestic ritual almost every morning (except on those days when I had to be at work too early). Often times my wife and son now join us too.

When I later told my friend Arthur (an artist and father of two grown children) about our new family ritual he smiled and suggested that this tradition would probably be a part of our lives forever. Even when my kids are all grown up and living on their own, we can still perform our special morning tea ritual regardless of where we may be living.

Blanket Time is always evolving. My daughter now wants her own mug of tea (so I give her herbal or "watered-down juice tea" but I'll still let her taste mine too). She also likes to play with her fairy family as we sit together. But we still always start by talking about nature and saying good morning to Woody!

Fairy Family!

This post is my contribution to the September 2010 Tea Blog Carnival as presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. Our theme for this carnival was "write about a memorable outdoor tea drinking experience." This month's carnival was hosted by myself and links to all other participating posts can be found here.