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!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Anxi Rougui Oolong

Today I'm reviewing an interesting oolong called Anxi Rougui. Anxi is the name of a county (famous for Tie Guanyin / 鐵觀音) in China's Fujian province. Rougui (肉桂), which means cinnamon, is a tea plant cultivar. My business, Phoenix Tea, is the primary American source for this tea.

I've had several wonderful experiences with Rougui oolong from the Wuyi mountains. Those teas were all darker and more heavily roasted teas with long twisted leaves. This tea, on the other hand, looks like a greener Tie Guanyin.

Despite its greenish color, the dry leaf smells rich and roasty with a promising hint of cinnamon aroma.

The brewed liquor is also a bit darker than I would have guessed and very sweet smelling. It reminds me of when I make granola and the whole house smells amazing all day.

The flavor is satisfying and toasty. At first it struck me as a somewhat savory, herbaceous Tie Guanyin-like tea. It lacks slightly for body but it makes up for it with great complexity. The strong cinnamon-like notes don't hit me right away, but instead they wait until I've taken a breath after each sip. At that point there is a distinct icy-hot cinnamon sensation in the very back of my mouth and tongue.

I'm really enjoying this tea and look forward to drinking it more often in the Autumn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

1993 Menghai 7542

Last week I received a small box of puer samples from my buddy Israel in Montana. Among them was a chunk of Essence of Tea's 1993 Menghai 7542.

I've never purchased anything from Essence of Tea myself but my friend Bev has brought a few to several local puer tastings and they have always been show stoppers.

The dry leaf is a lovely mix of earthy, autumnal colors. It's not too tightly compressed and its aroma is subtle, sweet and clean.

I used about five grams of leaf in a 100 ml gaiwan with boiling water (which is my usual parameters when reviewing a new puer).

The aroma on the wet leaves is wonderful. It's heady and thick with soft notes of vanilla bean, unscented beeswax candle and the faintest touch of incense-like smokiness.

The liquor is dark reddish brown with a halo of orange. Although I'm using a filter the broth appears cloudy on most pours. (I don't consider that a fault, but I still found it worthy of mention.)

This tea is delicious. I find it to be woodsy, rich and smooth. It strikes me as tasting older than it is but not damp or marshy. A few infusions did have a touch of harsh tobacco-like flavor in their aftertaste but I think it was mainly my own fault (over-steeped them) and when the next sip entered my mouth, all was forgiven. My tasting notes included: ginseng, cocoa, and a lush northwest rain forest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Know Your Stones?

A couple weeks ago I received my very first stone teapot. Since that day I've been using it often and getting some surprising results. While testing teas that I know well, I've been able to coax out many different flavors. Sometimes better and sometimes worse. Please check out yesterday's League of Pots post for a photo of this new teapot.

I wanted to know what type of stone my teapot is made out of so I've been doing some online research. In no time at all, I found myself buried deep in the enormously complex world of stone art. I'm still not sure what type of stone my new teapot is made from, but my guess is soapstone.

People have been carving and polishing precious and semiprecious stones (aka gemstones) for thousands of years. Many stones, whose names I recognize, include granite, onyx, jasper, marble, agate etc.... These, and others, are used to produce all manner of useful objects, vessels, jewelry and decorative items.

Know your stones?

I'm now on a quest to learn more about the types of stone used to make teaware. I'm pretty sure I'll always favor porcelain or clay for my own tea brewing but there is still something deeply appealing about stone. Perhaps it has something to do with the hundreds of millions of years that most stones have been on the earth and/or the trace minerals it could add to one's water.

I've only just begun to scratch the surface of this hugely fascinating subject, but the following seven stones seem to pop up often during my research of Chinese stone carving art:

Muyu (木魚) (Wood Fish) - I find this stone very interesting because it is touted as improving your health if you use it to brew tea. I'm skeptical, but it does appear to have a long history for use as teapots and I really like its beautiful dark wooden appearance. I wouldn't mind adding a Muyu teapot to my humble collection.

Soapstone (皂石) - This is a relatively soft stone that is still durable and can handle high temperatures. Many good looking teapots have been carved out of this ancient and versatile family of metamorphic rocks.

Chicken Blood (雞血) - I'm including this stone in my list mainly because of its cool name. The stone, which blends cream colors with blood-red colors, is used mainly for decorative pieces. It contains cinnabar, which contains mercury, so I'm not about to actually use a Chicken Blood teapot. I don't want to go "mad as a hatter."

Cheng Ni (澄泥) - This is one of the most popular stones for making ink-stones (for calligraphy and painting). I only found one reference to this type being used for teapots.

Jade (玉石) - Not surprisingly, I found tons of very expensive jade teapots online. Many of these are being sold by shady-looking live auction websites. I also found mixed reviews of their usefulness in brewing good tea. They sure are pretty, though.

Shoushan (寿山石) - Hailing from Fujian province, this is another type of stone that I'd really like to know more about. The Shoushan stone teapots that I've seen online are pretty wicked looking, in my opinion. They are really "rocky" with muddled red, gold and yellow hues. Also, they are described in several places as being "fully functional" and "excellent for tea brewing."

Qingtian (青田石) - Named for a small county in Zhejiang province, Qingtian stone encompasses a large category of beautiful decorative sculpture. Alas, I could only find a few vague references to its use as teaware.

I would really love to hear from anyone who has used stone teaware (especially teapots) to enhance their own tea drinking. I'd also love to hear from any "rock buffs" who may be able to point me towards some good books, websites or other resources pertaining to tea related stone art.