Monday, December 26, 2011

Six Famous Tea Mountains - 2006 Bang Wei

I purchased this 2006 Bang Wei (邦崴) sheng puer tea cake (生普洱茶餅) back in 2006 for $10. It was pressed by a large operation called Six Famous Tea Mountain (六大茶山). I'm drinking it today for the very first time.

It looks nice and has a pleasant grassy, dried apricot aroma off the dry leaves.

Every pour of this tea has been very saponic. On some infusions the liquor almost looked like jelly with long lasting bubbles. I get excited when puer behaves this way as it often indicates a satisfying, nourishing and delicious tea.

Unfortunately this tea did not deliver for me. I did find a bit of complexity as the tea soup entered my mouth but it was mainly on the tip of my tongue and quickly faded out, leaving behind a flat, boring liquor and bitter aftertaste. Nice flavors such as citrus rind, vanilla and pine were overtaken by harsh flavors like tobacco smoke and an occasional mustiness that reminded me of a wet towel. I'm sure those undesirable flavors did not come from my storage because all of my puer tea is kept on the same bookshelf behind a curtain in my bedroom and none of my other cakes have those flavors.

I can't be too sure what the value of this cake is today and I'll bet there are some folks who would appreciate the tobacco notes but for me, I suppose, I got what I paid for. I've come a long way in my puer tea collecting since 2006 and if I had a time machine I'd go back to 2006 and tell myself to save my ten dollars.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ba Bao Cha Part IV

Today marks my fourth Christmas as a tea blogger. Ever since my first year I've had a little tradition of drinking ba bao cha (八寶茶) (eight treasure tea) every year around this time.

Since I've already written over and over about what ba bao cha is and how I generally feel about it today's post will be short and sweet.

Dried fruit, sugar, chrysanthemums, goji berries, and green tea.

Looks pretty in a glass gaiwan. Smells like prunes!

Syrupy, fruity, amber liquor.

These 6 things + sugar does not equal 8 treasures.

(...maybe I was supposed to count water as the 8th treasure?)


Monday, December 19, 2011

Thing One and Thing Two

These fine fellows were photographed near some old graves and shrines in the Mucha (木柵) area of northern Taiwan. I'm not sure what they are called or what their exact roll may be. Perhaps some of my more Taiwan savvy readers could enlighten us with a comment?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2006 Rougui Oolong Roasting Experiment

Back in 2006 I purchased a few pounds of Rougui oolong (肉桂烏龍) from Josh at J-Tea. This tea was made either in Taiwan, or mainland China under Taiwanese management (Josh was not certain which). The dry leaves are rolled into a ball shape instead of the long, twisted shape of many Rougui teas. I've always really loved this tea's toasty cinnamon notes and pleasant substantial mouth-feel.

In the years since, I have sold, traded, gifted and imbibed about half my stash. The remaining ~17 ounces have been resting in a plastic bag inside of an old competition Wenshan Baozhong tin in a forgotten corner of my tea cabinet.

I opened the bag on the evening of 12-4-2011 to smell it for the first time in years. The smell is nice, a tiny bit musty and sweet. I let the leaf air out for a couple hours and made a plan to roast half of it the following day.

On 12/5/2011 at 9:30 AM I used my electric stove to bake ~8 ounces of this tea in an aluminum pie pan. I let it go for one hour at 200° F. The leaf was about 3/4 inch deep and was not stirred.

Towards the end of the hour a sweet cinnamon granola aroma started to emerge from my stove. After baking I allowed the leaf to cool completely and put it in a new plastic bag to wait until the following morning.

After First Roast

On 12/6/2011 at 7:30 AM I stirred the leaves and baked them again, this time at 215° F. I gently stirred them every 15 minutes for 2 hours. I choose these parameters based loosely on the recommendations of several tea people I emailed for advice.

Finished Roasting - 9:30 AM on 12/6/2011

After the leaves had mostly cooled, ~10 minutes later, I set up a cupping of the unbaked and the baked leaves. I used 5 grams of tea in two identical glass cups with 6 ounces boiling water.

Unbaked on left; baked on Right.

The two teas were quite different but I didn't prefer one over the other. The unbaked tea was unsurprisingly brighter and greener with more cinnamon notes on the tongue. It still tasted roasty to me and had a slightly sour taste that hinted at grapefruit and clove. The baked tea was mellow and toasty. I was happy that it didn't taste burnt or smoky but I felt that it lost some complexity going sip for sip with the unbaked tea. The baked tea was smoother and more warming with muted cinnamon and whole wheat bread crust notes.

Both teas are great and I feel lucky that I didn't ruin the baked tea. Now that I've finished the experiment I do not feel like the tea really needed to be roasted again at this time. Perhaps the careful airtight storage at my house and the original roast back in 2006 made this experiment redundant. I think I will cup these two together again in a few months to see how they're coming along.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bamboo Leaf Tea

Last month I purchased one ounce of Organic Bamboo Leaf Tea from Bamboo Leaf Tea in Florida. This company, which produces the product completely by hand, makes the following statements about the health benefits of drinking Bamboo leaf tea:

1. Bamboo shoots and tea are high in antioxidants as well as other vitamins and minerals that help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
2. Bamboo Leaf Tea quickly rehydrates the body making it a great after workout drink.
3. The tea aids digestion and may help in detoxifying the body. Because of these properties it is widely used in Asia as a tea for weight loss.

I find this interesting even though real tea and some other herbal beverages also have these same benefits. The producers also promote the content of silica and a tiny amount of fiber in each cup. Bamboo leaves do not contain caffeine which makes it a nice late evening sipper for me. For any readers interested in learning more about bamboo's use as a medicine please check out this great link that was recently shared with me by my acupuncturist friend Seth P.

The real reason I purchased these leaves is because I wanted to know what they would taste like. So here is my review:

It looks like dried grass and has a sweet, nutty, grassy aroma.

I've found that it's very hard to oversteep these leaves. A five minute, boiling hot, one quarter full gaiwan will pour a pale moon yellow and have a clean, bright aroma.

"Grassy in a good way" is probably the best way I can describe it. It reminds me a lot of Japanese Bancha green tea. It has light to medium body and brothiness depending on how long you steep it. The subtle nutty notes are more present in the aroma than in the mouth. I enjoy the flavor of Bamboo leaf tea.

It can be steeped twice to good effect but three times is "pushing it too far" in my experience.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Phoenix Tea House

I'm so happy to announce that today, Friday December 2nd, is the opening day of Phoenix Tea! We are located at 902 SW 152nd Street in Burien, Washington. My business partner Cinnabar and I have worked very hard over this last month to create a beautiful and comfortable space that welcomes tea lovers of all levels.

Our tea shop will sell loose leaf tea and teaware, feature a tea tasting table, sell cups of freshly brewed tea to go, and house a small tea museum and library. Our hours, at least for now, will be Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sundays from Noon to 5:00 PM (although we may be able to accommodate other times by appointment).

I hope to see you soon at our tea shop!

Monday, November 28, 2011

League of Pots #30

Code Name: Koroibos

Material: Ceramic
Height (without handle): 8.5 cm
Length (back to spout): 14.5 cm
Volume: 600 ml
Weight: 375 g

Brews: Any type of tea.
Specialty: Unfortunately Koroibos doesn't really brew any teas very well. Sometimes he will make a decent pot, but his lid is too small to fit a basket infuser inside and he doesn't have an infuser in his spout so leaves always slip in and get stuck. The tiny lid also makes it very difficult to get the spent leaves out of the pot once they have been steeped.
Story: Koroibos was a gift from my dear friends S and B who traveled around the world in 2008. They spent time in China while the whole country had Olympic Fever. Koroibos is shaped liked the iconic Bird Nest Stadium (actually called Beijing National Stadium). This stadium is a symbol of many different things to many different people.
Super Powers: Koroibos has super speed. He can run the Stadion race much faster than any other Chinese-made Olympic souvenir!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Genmaicha with Matcha

Today was cold and rainy here in Seattle. I made a pot of genmaicha with matcha for my afternoon tea. An unusual choice for me but it really hit the spot.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bamboo Haiku

I think bamboo is such a beautiful and fascinating plant. It can be made into all manner of useful things such as tools, houses, musical instruments, paper, clothes, food, etc. In my house we even have bamboo cloth diapers. In Asia there are many myths and stories that equate bamboo with longevity, nobility and elegance. It has also inspired some breathtaking paintings, stunning poems, and the following five haiku.

Bamboo carved tea tools,
warming vessels, rinsing leaves.
The tea is ready.

Dearest thirsty guest,
today we will sip as one.
Whip it, whip it good.

Rode for many miles,
All through jungles dark and old.
Think I lost my bike.

Rustling bamboo grove.
Filtered sun through verdant leaves.
A cute girl smiling.

Dude in search of tea,
I hope you can find your way,
among yellow bamboo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Urban Herbs #4 - Blackberry Leaf

My Urban Herbs series is monthly chronicle of my continued quest to taste an infusion of every nontoxic plant I can find growing around my house. In this month's installment I've selected blackberry leaves.

These leaves were picked from a particularly wild corner of my backyard. I took care to select smaller, more tender leaves and not to poke myself on the wicked thorns. It is very important with all urban foraging to be sure you're harvesting in areas without any pollution. Lucky for me, Seattle is filled with such places.

Blackberry bushes can be found all over the northwest and in the late summer I certainly eat my fair share of their ripe sweet berries. I've never tried infusing blackberry leaves before but I've recently learned that many people do, and that certain medicinal effects are attributed to the beverage. Some sources suggest the infusion is a good source of vitamins C and E, good for fighting colds and flu and for relieving sore throats.

I chopped up eleven fresh leaves of varying size and steeped them for 10 minutes in ~6 ounce of boiling hot water.

The resulting brew was light yellow and had a delicate grassy, citrus aroma. The flavor of the infusion was similar. It yielded wild weed and grass-like notes with soft peaks of citrus peel and tart blackberry flavors. It was a little tannic but not unpleasant. I think if I were to drink this herb again I would try picking more leaves, drying them, crumbling them up and make it a bit stronger.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Aged Wenshan Baozhong

I was lucky to visit Red Blossom tea company back in 2007. One of several treasures that I purchased during that trip was their Aged Wenshan Baozhong oolong tea. I was told that it was made in the "early 80's."

I was curious to know if they still had this exact tea in stock so I emailed their customer service department. I quickly received an informative response from Red Blossom's Peter Luong.

He wrote:

"When we made the original purchase of the 1980's Aged Wenshan, there were two distinct batches. They were similar age range and from the same source. The appearance of the leaves were slightly different but nearly identical in character/taste/aroma. I think we were working off the first batch when you made the original purchase, and have gone on to the second batch."

So it sounds like you can't actually buy this tea that I'm about to review. Oh well. I'm going to write about it anyway.

I filled my small gaiwan ~half-full of dry leaf and gave it a 3 second rinse with boiling water. The fragrance off these damp leaves was breathtaking. It smelled earthy and roasty with luscious brown sugar and raisin notes.

I was surprised by the dark color of the liquor. It looked a little bit like a cup of Da Hong Pao oolong.

The richness of this tea was deep and mystifying. As I sipped, I felt soothing energy spreading down through my shoulders, arms and hands. It presents subtle wine notes like oak, plum and blackberry along with fire notes such as wood and charcoal.

This tea is complex, full-bodied and slightly sweet. It is very much what I'm drawn to these days.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cupping 2005 & 2006 Wenshan Baozhong

Six and a half years ago I set aside ~4 ounces of fresh spring 2005 Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種) tea in a tall mason jar with a screw on lid. One year later I did the same with my 2006 Wenshan Baozhong, but this time I used a shorter jar with a rubber gasket lid.

Since that time the leaves have been stored in the dark corner of a bookshelf, behind a curtain, along with my humble puer collection. I have only opened them once, a few years back, to take a little sniff.

Today will be the first time I've cupped them since they were new.

2006 (left) and 2005 (right)

I chose two identical glass mugs for this cupping. In each mug I used 2.5 grams of leaf and 80 ml of boiling water. I sipped directly from the mugs and added more water several times.

I realize that today's cupping will provide me with very little useful information. This is because I do not have any notes or memories (except the notion that they were once really good) about how these two teas originally tasted. So today I will just describe my impressions so that I'll have a useful "baseline" a few years later when I decide to repeat this cupping.

The dry leaves look similar but I noticed a few more woody stems in the 2005. The 2006, on the other hand, had a few more broken leaves. For both teas, the aroma off the dry leaves is muted and underwhelming. The 2005 reminds me a little bit of stale graham crackers and the 2006 reminds me of stale graham crackers in the grass.

The flavor of 2005 was slightly darker and earthier and its aroma was a bit mustier. It was still a little bit floral and had a nice thick mouth-feel. I also perceived a soft ocean flavor in this tea.

In contrast, the 2006 drank much more like a new tea. It had a delightful lilac aroma and a crisper medium-body with buttery notes. Perhaps the rubber gasket sealed in more freshness?

Both teas were long lasting and soaked for hours without bitterness. All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of these two teas.

Although these two specimens are both spring Wenshan Baozhong teas from Pinglin, Taiwan they really have little else in common. They were made at different times by different people on different farms. But now they share the same fate. I'll now put them back in their little hide-away to await the next cupping.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Big News from Phoenix Tea!

I have some exciting news! My business partner Cinnabar and I just rented a perfect little spot in downtown Burien, Washington. The space, at 902 SW 152nd Street, will be the home of our business Phoenix Tea.

Over the next few weeks we will build a retail tea shop and tasting bar. We will paint, decorate and stock our store then, with luck, we'll be open for business by the end of November.

Any friends who would like to donate money or invest in Phoenix Tea (no amount is too small) or volunteer their time or advice please email me at I will find a way to reward your generosity.

I'll post again (with photos) when the shop is ready for its grand opening. I look forward to drinking tea with you in Burien real soon!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Urban Herbs #3 - Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is all over the place here in Seattle and we can always find a few of these shrubs growing around our yard. My kids like to nibble the leaves. I'll sometimes nibble them too, but more often I'll just pick a few, rub them between my fingers and smell their nice lemony aroma. Until today I've never tried drinking a plain infusion of lemon balm (though I'm sure I have had them before in blended herbal beverages).

Lemon balm tea is considered a healthy infusion for colds and flu as well as a calming and soothing beverage. It makes a nice addition to aromatic and medicinal herb gardens and has the added benefit of attracting beneficial bees who help to pollinate nearby plants.

I picked ~10 fresh tender leaves and minced them up with a knife. I steeped them for 5 minutes using 5 ounces of boiling hot water. The resulting infusion had a pleasant grass and citrus aroma and a pale watery yellow-green color.

In my opinion it tastes great. Like most herbal infusions, lemon balm is probably hard to over steep. Next time I going to use more leaf and a longer steep time. The flavor was not at all bitter and was too weak to be perceived as tart. I was reminded of lemon juice, lemon peel, rose hips and meadow flowers. It left with a nice aftertaste and feeling in my throat. I can easily see myself drinking this infusion often throughout the winter and sharing it with my two young children.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Taiwanese Shaken Tea

The first time I heard about Taiwanese shaken tea was back in 2005, when my friend Josh C. hosted me for two nights in Tainan (臺南). We went to a beautiful teashop where Josh was clearly considered a VIP. While we savored some of the finest oolongs I've ever experienced, Josh pointed out the servers behind the counter, who used martini shakers to blend chilled tea with natural flavors and sweeteners. These shaken beverages were then poured into lovely glasses and served to delighted customers. During my first few trips to Taiwan, these shaken tea beverages seemed to be all the rage.

My first taste came a year later. While waiting for a bus in Fengyuan (豐原), my buddy Darald and I walked around the nearby streets in search of tea. We randomly entered a stylish teahouse and attempted to order some good tea using our limited Mandarin. It turned out they didn't serve regular tea, only shaken tea. We almost left, then decided "what the heck" and placed our orders.

After a few minutes of waiting next to an indoor waterfall our drinks were served. I can't remember what Darald ordered, but I got this:

It turned out to be "honey, grapefruit juice, and baihao oolong garnished with a cherry tomato." I saw the server shake it up. I'd never had anything like it before and yes, it was delicious.

I've since tried similar beverages a few times and have learned a few interesting tidbits in the process. For one, shaken tea is synonymous with bubble tea in Taiwan because it has foamy bubbles floating on the surface of the glass. My previous notion that bubble tea must contain tapioca pearls turns out to be a misconception. Also, the reasons for shaking the tea go beyond just mixing the ingredients and making bubbles; it is believed that shaking oxygenates the tea which results in cleaner, bolder flavors.

I wonder what would happen if you were to vigorously shake a martini shaker full of plain pure tea and compare its flavor to its unshaken counterpart? Perhaps I should try some experiments.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Essence of Tea's 2010 Mansai

Today I'm reviewing Essence of Tea's 2010 Mansai Sheng Puer Cake. Many thanks go out to my friend Israel in MT for sending me this sample.

It appears that a handful of other sheng puer tea lovers already wrote about this tea last year. Check them out at Half Dipper, Sip Tip, and The Skua Steeps. I'll wait until after I publish my post before reading these others.

I can't recall ever trying tea from Mansai before and Essence of Tea states that it is a very remote location on the China / Myanmar border.

The dry leaf is a lovely mix of greens and silvers. They smell alive with subtle hints of pine and sage.

I use my normal puer reviewing parameters (5 grams dry leaf / boiling water / ~100ml gaiwan) and bring the leaves through 8 awesome infusions.

The liquor presents itself as medium bodied, though some infusions were more substantial. It has a peppery, flowery aroma that reminds me of honeysuckle and grassy meadows. For me this is clearly a nice tea and very complex. Some of the pours were a little fruity/appley while others were more herbaceous and incense-like.

I'd say this tea is spirited and feels great lingering in the back of my mouth and throat. The way this tea left my body feeling reminded me a little bit of white tea. I had a solid, alert, high-frequency buzz. This would be my typical response to young, tippy, sheng puer. It's not my usual "puer mellow" but it's not too uncomfortable either.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zina Tea's '06 '07 '08 Shu Puer Cake

My friend Donia has some excellent connections for Chinese tea. She recently started a Seattle-based business called Zina Tea (website coming soon) to bring these treasures to the North American market. Last weekend, she debuted her current selection at this year's Northwest Tea Festival and I was lucky enough to procure a small sample of an interesting shu bing (熟餅) called "2006-07-08 Blend Puer Cooked Cake" to review here on my blog.

The cake is beautifully presented in a wrapper advertising 喬木古茶 (tall trees old tea) in bold black characters. The factory is listed as Chang Yun Tea Company (昌雲茶業有限公司出品).

In her product description for this cake, Donia describes the production of shu puer as it pertains to this product. She notes that the level of fermentation differed for each of the three batches, 2006, 2007, and 2008, and that care was taken to ensure good air circulation for the leaves between batches. At a certain point, while processing the 2008 leaves, 2006 and 2007's leaves were mixed in. This melange waited three more years before being pressed into cakes.

The dry leaves appear dark brown and black with a few golden buds and stems. They have a sweet, toasty smell.

I used a ~100 ml gaiwan with 5 grams of leaf and boiling water. A short rinse released a pleasant malty, earthy aroma.

As expected, this cake performed very well for me. Six infusions poured silky, smooth and complex. The broth was a little bit lighter than most of my favorite shu puer teas so I'll try a couple more grams of dry leaf for my next session. My tasting notes included walnut, old growth rainforest, and vanilla bean.

I'd recommend this cake to anyone looking for a delicious and interesting shu puer blend. I also encourage my readers to contact Donia directly ( to receive her tea list or to ask her any questions about her business.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Northwest Tea Festival Wrap Up

This weekend my business partner Cinnabar, her husband, and I, were all at Northwest Tea Festival to represent our business Phoenix Tea. On Sunday, we were joined by our talented potter friend Chris Shaw who displayed his work at our booth. We all had a great time, met many new tea lovers, and saw a lot of old tea friends too.

Many thanks are due to Julee, Doug, Kyohei, Annie, Ken, and Anne Marie. These local tea lovers put in a ton of hard work and months of planning to pull off this grand event.

I'd also like to thank the thousands of lovely folks who attended. What a beautiful, diverse and vibrant tea scene we have in the Pacific Northwest!

Here's a peek inside our booth.

And another peek.

Beautiful clay teaware crafted by our buddy Chris Shaw.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Northwest Tea Festival

I'm very excited that the Northwest Tea Festival is coming up in just one week. My tea business will have a booth and I'll be teaching a Tea 101 class and leading a session in the tea tasting booths. I really hope to see you there!

October 1st - 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
October 2nd - 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Urban Herb #2 - Fennel Seed

All over the garden plants are going to seed. One of them happens to be this large, healthy fennel plant by my front door.

The Plant.

The Seeds.

I've always liked fennel seeds but I never thought about drinking them. In fact I used to wonder why, back when I worked at Teacup, random people would occasionally ask me if we sold "fennel seed tea." We didn't, so I would redirect them to a health food store or other local apothecary.

I did a little research and found out that fennel seed is considered a "carminative," which according to wikipedia is "a herb or preparation that either prevents formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract or facilitates the expulsion of said gas, thereby combating flatulence." (As an adult-vegan-male I found this tidbit particularly interesting.)

Because of all this I've decided to feature fennel seed tea as this month's "Urban Herb."

I picked off a few umbels of fresh young seeds and put them in a small gaiwan. I bruised them slightly with my fingers and then poured in boiling water. I let them steep for five minutes.

Seconds before the steep.

The resulting herbal infusion was a light pale yellow color with an intense fennel aroma. I sipped it and found it to be quite pleasant. It was surprisingly mellow in my mouth, I might even say that it was a little bit too weak for me. It had a licorice-like sweetness and vibrant mouth-feel. It was very one dimensional but I'd say if you're into this particular flavor you'd probably really enjoy it.

... and as for the infusion's carminative effect? Let's just say I haven't farted in a week and I'm now beginning to worry!

Ha... just kidding... I'm really not sure if it did anything at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Arts-A-Glow Photo gallery

Last Saturday evening my tea company Phoenix Tea served free tea for many wonderful new friends at Burien, Washington's Arts-A-Glow festival. Here are a few photos from the evening. 

Our new sign.

Our friends Barbara and Leslie pouring tea for guests.

The sun sets behind my snacking daughter.

Sunlight glows amongst the trees.

Awesome owl puppet took 5 puppeteers to control.

Beautiful performance art by local artist Lucia Neare.

The Swan Queen is here!

It's not everyday you see dancing clock-head people in the woods.

More dancing in the dark!