Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ba Bao Cha Year #5

Every year, around Christmas time, I "treat" myself to a gaiwan of Ba Bao Cha (八寶茶) (eight treasure tea) then I blog about it. This year's blend tasted like watered down ketchup mixed with Hawaiian punch and corn syrup. I could only take two small sips. See you next year Ba Bao!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reno NV

Reno, Nevada was my home from age 9 to 19. During those years I neither loved nor hated the place. It was simply "where I live." From an early age I knew I'd end up living happily-ever-after in Seattle. Still, I'll always have thousands of good memories from my decade living in Reno and I'm glad my family still lives there.

During the last twelve years, I have returned to Reno once or twice every year. I feel like it is evolving into a cooler and more livable city with each year that passes. The nearby mountains, lakes and deserts have always been beautiful but the city itself has been catching up with more art, family activities, parks, and independent businesses.

I'm not sure what the tea scene in Reno is like. My sister and brother-in-law (who came to Taiwan with me in 2008) certainly know and enjoy good tea but I haven't met many other folks. Last week, while in Reno, my mother-in-law's husband told me about a Chinese import store called Dragon Spring that sells tea and teaware as well as Chinese gifts and martial arts supplies. I didn't have time to visit, but it sounded pretty cool so I'll try to stop in next time I'm in town.

I have good reason to be hopeful about the future of tea in Reno. Recently, Magpie Coffee Roasters, started a coffee and tea bar serving high quality drinks in the lobby of Reno's (SUPER FUN!) new Discovery Museum. I can vouch for the quality of their tea because they currently buy it from Cinnabar's and my own store, Phoenix Tea

Also, a new tea shop just opened up near downtown called Too Souls Tea Co. My daughter, sister, brother-in-law and I went for afternoon tea last Sunday and had a great experience. The tea list was heavy on scented teas and herbals but the glass mug of Dragon Well (龍井) green tea that I was served was brewed well. This small tea house was comfortable, unique and beautifully decorated. They also had a few delicious vegan muffins and other fresh healthy foods available.

If you live in Reno, or visit it often, please leave me a comment about the tea scene as you know it. I'd love to get some new recommendations for my next visit.

I'm happy to be home but I'm also proud to have some roots in "The Biggest Little City in the World."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Long Spout Teapot Art

Have you ever seen Long Spout Teapot Art (長嘴壺茶藝)? I've never seen it in person but I have found quite a few cool videos floating around on the internet. It is truly amazing the way these kettles get spun, swung and poured. When the spout is pointed at the cup or gaiwan there is a second or two delay before the water actually comes out of the spout. That's my favorite part.

Here is a collection of YouTube videos showcasing this interesting skill: 

A tea-pouring shifu performs for the crowd at a teahouse in Chengdu, China
L'art de servir le thé en Chine 
Kung fu tea
Fantastic Tea Pouring Skills
長嘴壺功夫茶藝師劉緒敏 鄒濤台灣宜蘭國際蘭雨節茶棧秀茶道絕活
Can you do that?

Here is a blog post by Teavivire that goes much much deeper into the history and myths behind this fascinating art form:

The History of the Chinese Traditional Ceremony Gongfu Tea- Long Pot

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Taiwanese Bi Luo Chun

Sanxia (三峽) (sometimes spelled Sansia and San Hsia) is located roughly 20 km southwest of Taipei, Taiwan. This area produces quality green teas in both longjin (龍井) and bi luo chun (碧螺春) styles.

Last spring, my friend Israel sent me a generous sample of Tea Master's San Hsia Bi Luo Chun harvested March 15th 2012. Since that time, I have enjoyed several sessions with this green tea but I thought I had better post about it here on my tea blog (for the sake of posterity) before I drink it all up.

It doesn't look like its mainland cousin but it sure is a lovely tea.

I used a 100ml gaiwan, 2 grams of dry leaf, and freshly heated (not boiled) 160° F spring water. I did three infusion with these parameters. Each infusion was 2 minutes long. For the first infusion I left the lid off the gaiwan, but the next two were covered.

The tea poured a beautiful yellow color with a delicate buttery aroma that reminded me of steamed greens or artichokes. It also yielded very subtle ocean mist and wild flower aromas.

The flavor is different from the aroma. It is elusive but somehow compelling too. I find it to be a little bit nutty and a little bit grassy with gentle notes of cashews, sugar snap peas, vanilla and marshmallows. This tea is tasty and refreshing but if I'm having one of my "serious green tea cravings" (which happens quite often) it usually won't completely satisfy me because it is just too smooth and mellow.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Herbal Blends from Birds Eye Tea

Recently I received an email from Birds Eye Tea company asking if I'd be willing to review some of their products on my blog. I get similar emails fairly often but in the past I have always declined. Not this time though. I was intrigued, which was strange because they are an herbal tea company and my focus has always been on traditional tea made from the tea plant. That being said, I am interested in herbal beverages. Beyond the culinary realm, I really don't know much about plants and their many uses but I have been on a recent quest to learn more so Bird Eye's solicitation came at a good time for me.

After reading the email, I did some online research to see if I really wanted to review this company's blends. The first three things that attracted me to Birds Eye Tea were their logo, website and blog. The artwork has a smart, natural, d.i.y. feeling that appeals to me and their little bird logo makes me smile. From the blog, I learned that the proprietress, Sarah Farr, is a local Seattle herbalist who is extremely knowledgeable about plants. She uses both local ingredients (sometimes even forages for wild herbs herself) as well as more exotic ingredients such as Chinese herbs, real tea, and chocolate. I also like Birds Eye's business model which currently utilizes farmers markets, tasting events, etsy and a monthly subscription service to generate sales. Businesses such as this are almost always true labors-of-love and deserving of growth. For these reasons I agreed to review some of their blends.

One week later a box of goodness arrived at my house.

The box contained five blends and a tiny jar of DELICIOUS chai spiced honey. I've now tried all of the blends and offer the following humble reviews:

Floral Focus (Lightly oxidized Taiwanese oolong + Codonopsis + Osmanthus flowers)
The oolong tea base is actually high quality stuff. It's almost a shame to see it blended with the other ingredients. Fortunately its buttery, floral, refreshing goodness really shines through. The codonopsis adds a little earthiness to the flavor. I like!

Honeybush Spice (Honeybush + Cinnamon + Star Anis + Ginger + Cardamom + Orange zest + Licorice)
This blend is great. It was fine on its own but I'd probably only ever drink it with some soymilk and a touch of sweetener on a cold evening.

Slumbering Slope (Chamomile + Skullcap + Catnip + Spearmint + Rose + Licorice)
Sweet with fruity and grassy notes. Hippy bedtime tea. I like it. 

Awake (Yerba Mate + Tulsi + Bacopa + Spearmint + Currant)
Earthy and minty with a taste that reminded me somewhat of a chewable multi-vitamin. Not bad.

Xocolatl (Raw Cacao + Rose Petal + Chamomile + Spearmint + Ginger + Cinnamon + Star Anise + Chipotle powder + Roasted Cacao Nibs)
Yum! I liked this both straight and with soymilk and sweetener. The heat and spice from the ginger and chipotle are just right. Of the five, I see myself finishing this sample the fastest.

If you're into drinking herbal beverages or looking for a gift for a friend or family member who is, I would definitely recommend checking out Bird's Eye Tea.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pursuit of Yellow Tea

Lately I've been enjoying a beautiful yellow tea (黃茶) from Anhui, China called Huo Shan Huang Ya (霍山黃芽). I've heard the term "yellow tea" plenty of times over the past decade but the actual meaning of the term has remained nebulous in my mind. In their excellent book The Story of Tea, Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss write: "Tea experts outside of Asia have a difficult time explaining exactly what yellow tea is." That statement rings true for me. Although I'm nowhere near being called a tea expert, it's about time I learned how to properly describe yellow tea.

Huo Shan Huang Ya

I spent the afternoon doing some research and here is what I came up with.

Yellow tea, the majority of which is made high in the mountains of Anhui or Sichuan provinces, refers to a lesser known category of Chinese tea. It is a handmade tea produced similarly to green tea but it employs one additional production step known as menhuang (悶黃). Menhuang (literally "sealing yellow") is a tiny bit like the wodui (渥堆) (moist pile) step involved in the production of shu puer (熟普洱). During menhuang the tender young leaves will be wrapped with cloth or paper and kept moist and warm for the appropriate length of time (ranging from a few hours to a few days). Sometimes they are also stored in wooden boxes. The leaves will actually turn yellow (or at the least yellow-ish green) during this step.

The deeper I go into my research, the more I become conflicted. Seven Cups (an American tea company that I greatly trust) claims that "there are only three kinds of yellow tea that survive today." They go on to say that Huo Shan Huang Ya (the tea I'm sipping as I write this blog post) used to be a famous yellow tea, but is now only available as a green tea. Apparently there is a subcategory of green teas called luzhen (緑針) (green needle) that often becomes mixed up with yellow tea.

Whether I'm drinking a true yellow tea or a green needle tea, I really like this Huo Shan Huang Ya. It has a gentle, sweet, nutty flavor that tastes more mature than many green teas. I've also heard that yellow teas store well and may even be amenable to careful aging. Because of this I'm very eager to learn about (and taste!) more of them.

The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss
Tea Dictionary by James Norwood Pratt
How Yellow Tea is Produced by Peony Tea S.
About Yellow Tea by Seven Cups
Babelcarp by Lew Perin

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Flowering Tea Plant

This photo shows the healthiest of my three backyard tea plants. It is currently flowering. You can see two pretty little tea flowers and five or six more blossoms soon to open up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Experiences Studying Foreign Languages

My large public high school in Sparks, Nevada required a minimum of 2 foreign language credits. Unfortunately we were only given three choices, Spanish, German or French. I went with Spanish, thinking it would be more useful to me in the long run. I stuck with it for 3.5 years then I got burned out (on both Spanish and high school in general). During this time none of my Spanish teachers stood out in my mind as actually caring very much about the subject or the students. One teacher in particular, Mr. C. relied way too heavily on videos. We watched "Balto" and "Dead Poets Society" dubbed in Spanish twice during the same year (bleh). He was also crazy about a teeny-bopper pop star named Fey. To this day I still get Media Naranja stuck in my head. (I provided the link in case you enjoy watching horrible train wrecks... but be warned it is a most vile poison.)

Now I study Mandarin Chinese. I've been on this path for about 9 years now (starting around the same time that I decided to get serious about a career in tea). I took two "Conversational Chinese" classes during those early years. They were the type of classes where, for $99, a handful of newbies, and one less-than-stellar teacher are mixed together for eight weeks in a tiny community collage room with plastic chairs and a dry-erase board. By the end of these classes most of us could say Ni Hao, count to 3, and read pinyin dialogs without actually knowing what we were saying.

After this, I collected many Mandarin books, and flash cards (which I sometimes even looked at!) and occasionally borrowed Pimsleur's (boring) CDs from the Seattle Public Library to listened to while driving around town. Occasionally some small bits of Mandarin would stick in my brain but I was getting hungry for a better way.

With the help of some birthday money, I paid the relatively pricy tuition needed to begin the Mandarin 101 course offered by the (now extinct) Seattle Language Academy in Fremont. This was really just a glorified version of those same Conversational Chinese courses I'd taken a few years earlier. The teachers struggled with lazy students, questions that brought them way off topic, and students who simply could not wrap their brains (and tongues) around the pronunciation of Mandarin.

Despite these distractions, things were getting better. I practiced whenever possible and I was getting better at pronunciation. My first tutor, Shiuwen (from Floating Leaves) was a wonderful teacher. Before she had a tea house, we would meet at a downtown coffee shop, drink tea and chat. After Floating Leaves opened in Ballard, I attended some of her Mandarin language nights. These were great fun but I became more and more convinced that one-on-one study with a dedicated tutor was the best style for me.

It was around this time (2005) that I made up my mind to visit Taiwan. I had an amazing trip and found the "full immersion" incredibly helpful. By the end of the trip I could really feel those language synapses firing. Mandarin just came easier for me while in Taiwan.

After I returned to Seattle I started hunting for a new tutor. Through Craigslist, I found Danlie. She was Taiwanese, and she was awesome. We talked in Mandarin about music and tea while hanging out at Miro, or Mr Spot's Chai House. I took lots of notes and felt like I was making slow but measurable progress.

After Danlie moved away, I had two other wonderful teachers. About four years ago, my infant daughter and I would meet up with Angela (a piano player from Beijing) at Teahouse Kuan Yin and I'd practice my Mandarin for as long as my daughter's patience would hold out. After Angela moved away I met Cindy (also from Taiwan). My daughter and I really enjoyed our weekly lessons with Cindy for nearly two years.

Those days were definitely the pinnacle for me and Mandarin. I spent hours writing traditional Chinese characters, I traveled four more times to Taiwan to buy tea, eat amazing food, and study tea culture, and I listened to lessons on Chinesepod everyday.

Lately, with two young kids, two jobs, and many responsibilities around my home I haven't had enough time (or money) for Mandarin. This has resulted in what I fear to be "major backsliding." I still try to practice whenever I get a chance... but it seldom seems to actually happen. What I need is a private tutor who will come to my house and chat with me while I take care of kids, do laundry, and make dinner. Oh... and he or she will have to be OK with working for chá instead of dinero.

What languages do you study? How does my story compare to yours? Please leave me a comment or link to your own blog posts on this subject. Xiexie!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

League of Pots #32

Code Name: Serenity

Material: Ceramic
Height (without handle): 11.5 cm
Length (back to spout): 19 cm
Volume:  900 ml
Weight:  470 g

Brews: Any type of tea.
Specialty: Great for brewing a few mugs of black tea for friends and family.
Story: I purchased Serenity a few days ago at Goodwill for $2.99. I had been looking for another "work horse" teapot to replace Chip (who unfortunately past away a year ago). I'm very happy with my newest teapot.
Super Powers: Serenity has a hypnotic gaze. If she looks into your eyes she can read your mind. If she focuses her powers she can control your mind or even make you permanently forget selected memories.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nineteen Bubbles

Thick and fragrant sheng
with bubbles strong and splendid.
Nineteen tiny pearls.

Friday, October 12, 2012

2005 Tian Yi Sheng Puer Cake

This 2005 sheng puer tea cake boldly states "Yunnan tall tree old tea seven sons cake" (雲南喬木古茶七子餅). The middle of the cake advertises "Jinggu old tea" (景邁古茶), and the bottom says "Simao City Tianyi Puer Tea Factory produce" (思茅市天乙普洱茶廠出品).

The cake has been resting on my sheng puer storage shelf since I purchased it in 2006. I'm tasting and reviewing it today for the first time. To the best of my knowledge, I've never tried any other teas from Tianyi factory before.

The dry leaf looks dark and pretty. It has a sweet earthy smell like crispy Autumn leaves. I'm excited that this tea may be starting to deliver some complex aged-tea flavors.

Brewed in a medium size gaiwan with water just below the boil, this tea proved delicious indeed. It produced numerous deep amber cups with thick syrupy mouth-feel and many strong bubbles. It had woodsy pine-needle aroma.

This is a fine cake of puer tea in my opinion and a great accompaniment to a cool, cloudy, misty Seattle Autumn day. It combines subtle old wild forest notes with savory, herbaceous, sheng puer flavors. Ten infusions left me feeling comfortable, relaxed and alert.

Monday, October 8, 2012

2012 Northwest Tea Festival

October 6th and 7th (and the weeks proceeding) were very busy for Cinnabar and me because, for the second year in a row, our tea company had a booth at the Northwest Tea Festival.

With the help of Chris W. (Phoenix Tea's official Owner-in-law) and Chris S. (Phoenix Tea's official pottery guru) Cinnabar and I brewed countless pots of tea for the hundreds of vibrant, beautiful tea lovers who make the Pacific Northwest tea scene so amazing.

The whole weekend was a happy blur for me... but some memorable highlights include: Meeting the cool folks from Portland's The Jasmine Pearl tea shop, drinking aged tea with Charles and Laurie Dawson, serving Kenyan black teas and Korean green teas in the tasting rooms, meeting fellow blogger Geoffrey N., seeing Matthew London's beautiful tea photos, and lecturing about tea basics to a large group of smiling tea lovers.

An infinite amount of thanks is due to Julee, Doug, Kyohei, Annie, Ken, Anne Marie, Brian, and several other hard working members of the Puget Sound Tea Education Association. These local tea lovers put in so much hard work and planning to pull off this grand event.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

2013 Tea Calendar

A few days ago, I received a beautiful 2013 tea calendar put together by the esteemed tea writer and photographer Lindsey Goodwin. I first saw it advertised on our mutual friend Steph's tea blog and after checking it out on Lindsey's Copy and Taste Blog I knew I needed one.

This calendar is unique in that it features many major and minor holidays from all over the world. That alone would have been enough for me... but Lindsey's calendar goes much further by including lots of tea-related dates every month. For example, February 4th is the Chanoyu Celebration of Dawn in Winter, and April 18th kicks off the Shanghai International Tea Culture Festival. Who knew?! Another cool thing about this calendar is that every month features a recommended tea. I'm going to make a point of drinking at least one cup of these recommended teas throughout 2013!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Golden Peacock Shu Puer Cake

A tea lover named Richard recently returned from China with a tong (筒) (or possibly more) of these shu puer tea cakes. Nearly two weeks ago he sent me a generous half-cake sample to evaluate. 謝謝 Richard!

The cakes are labeled Menghai seven sons cake tea (勐海七子餅茶) across the top and Li Ming Xing Huo Tea Factory (黎明星火茶厂) across the bottom. In the middle is a painting of two lovely peacocks and a sign that says Golden Peacock First Class Cake (金孔雀一級餅). The wrapper is stamped with a May 2007 production date. I also found these cakes here on Tao Bao.

The dry leaf has a pretty appearance, mixing rusty-red and golden-brown flecks with dark brown leaves. It has a woody, nutty aroma.

I've had a few sessions with this tea now and I like it quite a bit. It is easy to pour dark and smooth. There was a little bit of an acidic finish on some infusions but most were sweet and milky. It's not terribly complex but it goes the distance and it doesn't have any unforgivable faults in my opinion. Later infusions, when the tea soup starts to lighten up in color, are wonderfully sweet and even display fruit and honey notes that remind me of ripe plums. When the liquor got cold in my cup it yielded some great vanilla bean notes too.

Richard reported "a highly caffeinated" sensation after drinking this cake but my sessions with it have left me feeling relaxed (almost sleepy), mellow, and thoughtful. That is my most common physical reaction after drinking a large amount of decent shu puer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

White Peony Cupping Experiment

A couple days ago I conducted a new cupping experiment with a high quality White Peony (aka Bai Mudan) (白牡丹). I thought it might be interesting to stagger the water temperature and the steeping time three ways and taste the resulting infusions.

For this cupping, I used six identical 8 ounce glass mugs. After the cups were cleaned and warmed I placed 2 grams of White Peony dry leaf into three of the cups.

The first cup was brewed for 2 minutes with 200° F water,
the second cup was brewed for 4 minutes with 180° F water,
and the third cup was brewed for 6 minutes with 160° F water.

After they steeped for the correct number of minutes the tea soup was immediately decanted into an empty mug.

200° (left) - 180° (middle) - 16o° (right)

As you can see, the liquor had a very similar color for each cup. They all smelled nice too but 200° had a little less fragrance than the other two.

I sipped each cup carefully going back and forth between them while making notes.

16o° for 6 minutes was easily my favorite. It had the cleanest mouth-feel, a pleasant sparkly sensation in the throat and aroma notes of champagne and fragrant wood.

Predictably, 180° for 4 minutes was squarely in the middle. This cup of tea was a bit heavier and earthier than 160° with some similar flavor notes but also notes of grass and sand.

200° for 2 minutes tasted "cooked" and had a harsh finish. The usual nice fragrance of White Peony was present but in the mouth it was muddy and elusive.

After sipping the 200
°, when I switched back to the 160°, the 160° really popped out with a sweet, clean, happy flavor. And of course, going the other way made the 200° taste even worse.

Another point in favor of the cooler water was the look of the leaves after the first infusion. The 200
° were limp and dull looking. They did not steep well at all for their second infusion. The 180° and the 160° both still had little bits of dry white fuzzy buds shielded by the top leaf. These cups produced good second infusions.

160° right after the first infusion (left). The white fuzzy bud is still mostly dry.
180° (in the middle) has a little fuzz left.
200° on the right is spent and the bud is cooked to a pale green.

*Like all my casual cupping experiments these results don't really mean anything in the larger scheme of things. This same experiment could have totally different results depending on any number of variables. Even so, it reinforced my long-standing personal belief that most white teas prefer a longer, cooler infusion.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sakuma Brother's Washington State Oolong

The Sakuma Brothers farm in Skagit County, Washington State has been growing tasty berries for over 85 years. I first heard about their tea growing experiments about 6 years ago when a coworker at the Teacup purchased a small bag of their white tea at a farm stand. At this time, the idea of growing tea plants in Western Washington was entirely new to me and I was excited to taste the tea. My impression of that tea was poor. It looked and smelled pretty good but the flavor was lack-luster and tasted strongly of raspberries.

Until just 2 days ago, I had not tasted any other tea from the Sakuma Brothers farm but I still tried to keep their operation on my tea-dar. I met Richard Sakuma at World Tea Expo and I could tell that he is a true tea lover and eager to grow and process high quality tea. A year or two later, I heard that Sakuma's tea making skills were getting much better thanks to practice, study and joining a Taiwan tea tour with Floating Leaves. Last week my desire to taste their tea again got the better of me and I ordered a bag of their current Oolong offering.

The dry leaves are brown and green with flecks of silver. They have a mild aroma that reminds me of fresh hot soy milk.

The tea pours a sunny yellow liquor with a fragrance of oranges and hay.

The mouth-feel is light and fleeting with a sparkly texture and the flavor is very nice. It most certainly has berry notes but they are subtle. For me it tasted like a weak, floral, jade oolong brewed with a chunk of tart, unripe strawberry and possibly a leaf or two of rosemary. It is unlike any other tea I've ever had but I would call it complex, interesting and enjoyable. It doesn't have much of an aftertaste (which is, of course, preferable to a bad aftertaste). I would have to say that for the very new world of Washington State tea, this is the best one I've sampled so far. I find that to be very exciting and encouraging!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

See you at Northwest Tea Festival

The Northwest Tea Festival is coming up soon and once again Phoenix Tea will have a booth! This year, I'll be presenting a Tea 101 lecture on Sunday and I'm also leading a couple of sessions in the tasting booths. I really hope to see you there!

October 6th - 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
October 7th - 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Fisher Pavilion at the Seattle Center


Friday, August 17, 2012

My Favorite Tea - ATB Blog Carnival

During an average week selling tea, I will be asked: "What is your favorite tea?" at least twice. Usually, I will answer that my favorite tea bounces around depending on my mood. Because I drink a huge variety of tea, this is pretty much the truth. But these teas are rarely consistent from season to season so it is impossible for me to pick a true "favorite." The best I can do is explain this to my clients and tell them more about whatever tea I'm currently the most excited about.

That being said, there is one tea that holds a special place in my heart, and it may surprise you to know that it is not an oolong or a puer tea. It is a humble and elegant Chinese green tea called Yang Xian Mao Feng (陽羡毛峰), and although I love any good tea, I am ready to announce Y.X.M.F.’s status as my "favorite tea."

The dry leaf:

Yang Xian (陽羡) is an ancient name for the Yixing (宜興) region of Jiangsu Provence (江蘇省) but this particular tea was grown in neighboring Zhejiang Provence (浙江省). Mao Feng (毛峰) translates to "hair tip" and generally refers to teas with a long twisted leaf shape.

My local friend and mentor Mr. Chen oversees the production and marketing of this organic green tea. I have been enamored of his teas for over ten years now.

A beautiful cup of green tea:

This is my favorite tea because of its healthy and pure taste. I never get tired of Y.X.M.F.’s crisp, nutty, and not-too-sweet flavor. I love it when it's farm fresh, and I love it when it's two years old. I love it when it's brewed strong and when it's brewed weak. I'd even drink it in a box with a fox. It's the tea I reach for when I want a cozy, comfortable and consistent pot of tea. It is my tea "soul food," and I drink it very often.

The spent leaves:

Do you have a favorite tea? I ask because I'm one of the electors for the up and coming "Tea Blogger's Choice Awards." I'm excited to make my nominations but I welcome my readers to comment this post with any suggestions for teas and vendors they think I should vote for.

This post is my contribution to today's Tea Blog Carnival as presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. Our theme for this carnival is "What is your favorite tea?" You can find links to all of the other participating posts below:

Walker Tea Review
Notes on Tea
Joy's Teaspoon
The Devotea
Sip Tip
Tea Happiness
Tea for Me Please
The Cup that Cheers
Scandalous Tea
Gongfu Girl

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Korean Ttok-cha

I can honestly say I'd never heard of Ttok-cha* before about one month ago. That was when my well-traveled and highly knowledgeable tea friend Eric Glass, who had recently attended a demonstration on this interesting Korean brew at the Penn State Tea Institute, told Cinnabar and me of his plan to bring a piece to Phoenix Tea and prepare it for us correctly. Although I didn't really know what to expect, I was very excited.

When, at last, the day arrived, I was treated to the following display of olive-pit-charcoal pyrotechnics!

Snap, Crack, Pop and Burn!

After we had our glowing olive-pit coals resting in Cinnabar's brazier, one lucky piece of ttok-cha was carefully roasted for about 10 minutes until it developed a reddish brown color and softened slightly.

While the ttok-cha was being roasted, a glass kettle of spring water was brought to a boil. When it was deemed ready, the ttok-cha was placed in water and kept at a gentle simmer. Eric had planted the "three and a half hour steep time of excellence" seed in my mind. I had complete faith that something magical would happen when this benchmark was reached.

The tea liquor surprised me by turning dark red fairly quickly. We tasted it a couple times at random intervals and these early sips were pleasant enough, but we all knew that they would be nothing when compared to what was soon to come.

The waiting turned out to be easy. Thanks to an unexpected visit from an excitable local newsman and some top notch Da Hong Pao oolong served up by Becky Li we had plenty to occupy our minds.

Unfortunately, Becky and her friend William had to depart at the 3 hour mark. We toasted her visit with some 3 hour ttok-cha. It was great... but it needed something... you guessed it... it needed to steep for about 30 more minutes.

At last, the magic hour arrived! 12,600 seconds after we submerged the ttok-cha, Cinnabar poured the steaming hot, amber colored tea. Shu Shu and I gazed on in wonder and anticipation.

Ahhh. I truly loved it. It is a rich, rosy, fruity, toasty, luscious, complex and fragrant cup of tea. It felt thick and syrupy in my mouth. It made me feel relaxed and comfortable.

Interestingly, after it had simmered for another hour or so, it started losing flavor quickly in my opinion and by the following day it had lost most of its flavor. Even with many hours of steeping behind it, the little tea cake remained intact. It reminded me of a flower, it bloomed beautifully, and then it faded away but it was worth every second.

*It's pronounced something like "doke-cha." Tteok-cha, ddok-cha, and ddeok-cha are a few other fun ways to spell it. Check out this Cha Dao blog post for a better understanding of this old style of Korean tea.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Cups

Are there particular styles of teacups that are better suited for drinking particular types of tea? Probably... but it would no doubt vary from person to person, tea to tea, and even day to day.

Usually, I try not to dwell on which cup I'm going to use when I brew my tea. The first teacup that comes to mind will very likely be the best choice. Besides, there are so many other variables involved in tea brewing that it's better, for me anyways, just to go into autopilot and get the job done. That being said, once in a while, if I'm drinking a very special tea, or I'm serving tea for a formal tasting or class, or if I'm just feeling extra indecisive, I'll start to give this gigantic subject some more consideration. Perhaps more than it even deserves.

Teacups come in so many sizes, styles and materials and I, for better or for worse, have many cups to choose from. Today I spent some time examining my favorite teacups and pondering the reasons I like them and the teas I normally pour into them. Here's what I came up with.

I will usually choose...

Teacups made in the same country as the tea I'm drinking.

Handled cups, such as mugs or porcelain cup-and-saucer-sets for strong black teas and masala chai.

Thin, delicate cups for lighter oolongs or green teas.

I love...

Porcelain cups with flared out rims because they feel so nice on my lips.

Small cylindrical cups because they feel so nice in my hands.

Finding good teacups at thrift stores.

Using rustic, handmade, pottery (especially for drinking roasted oolongs, aged oolongs, and puer teas).

I typically do not like...

Tiny teacups. Small is fine, but in my opinion, less than 50 ml is just a tease (pun unavoidable).

Glass cups (with the exception of tall water glasses or mason jars for drinking Chinese green teas.)

Cups with dark colored interiors.

I'm amused by, but not interested in owning...

Mass produced teacups with cats, flowers or Mr. T printed on them.

After all this pontificating I think I should state that I'm really not very picky when it comes to teacups and I will gladly drink out of whatever cup my host chooses to serve me with. These are just some of the personal biases I have developed over the past decade. How do my biases compare to your own?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shu Shu's Odyssey - Part 4

(Continued from parts 1, 2, and 3)

The murderous black water had now reached my knees and continued to rise at a slow, steady rate. I could feel Shu Shu's rapid, shallow breath as he clung desperately to my shoulder with his remaining left paw. All the while, our hearts pounded with fear.

An hour earlier, the treacherous Wuhh revealed himself as a human wizard instead of a Mew, as we had once believed. He tortured us with magical flames, while his cackling zombie slaves watched from a high portal. In agony, we relented and returned the mysterious red stone that he so desired. Then he vanished, leaving us trapped in this darkest of chambers, deep underground, and filling with water.

"Shu Shu," I whispered, as the water crept closer to my waist. "We have to think of a way out of this."

Shu Shu trembled, then began to blubber. "I sh-shouldn't have g-given him the stone," he whispered dolefully.

"We did the best we could," I replied. "You were very brave to stand up to him in the first place. He beat us this time... but we're not dead yet. Right now we're both going to drown if we don't think of a way to get out of this death trap."

"You're right," Shu Shu admitted and then he patted me on the shoulder with his one front paw. I could sense that his confidence was returning. "At least this water feels better on my cracked and thirsty Mew body, but I'm not sure that I can swim without my right paw."

By now the water had reached my chin and I mentally prepared for what was so soon to come.

Ten minutes later we were treading water. Thankfully, the average weight of a Mew is only about one pound and Shu Shu was on the smaller side so he wouldn't weigh me down. If he managed to hold on, and I managed to keep our heads above the rising water we could prolong our lives for the time being. Needless to say, the fact that we were still hopelessly imprisoned in an enormous, pitch dark, subterranean pit weighed heavily on our minds.

"We must not panic," I said as I tried to conserve my strength. I filled my lungs with air and attempted to float on my back. From time to time the panic would build in my chest and I'd loose the air in my lungs to shakes. Then it would take everything I had to regain control and return to floating calmly. I started to feel phantom things swimming around my legs. It's all in your mind, I told myself. Stay focused.

After another half hour my fatigue had nearly reached its limit. We still had no clue how deep the water had become, but figured the roof of this godforsaken tomb must soon be within reach. Once there, we would have to locate and somehow manage to open the tiny portal door through which bloodthirsty zombies had looked down upon us, or die trying.

Shu Shu stood on the highest point of my head with his two hind paws gripping tightly to my hair. He cast about blindly with his left paw, desperately trying to find the door, which we believed to be our only hope of escaping.

That's when I felt it. Something slimy and wretched was truly close. It swam about my drooping legs and filled my heart with sheer dread.

"Sh-Sh-Sh-Shu Shu," I managed... "Wwwwe are not ah ah alone anymore..." my trembling voice trailed off.

"Got it!" Shu Shu exclaimed. "I've found the door!"

He had located the edge of the portal! I reached up myself and felt the steel edge of a three foot diameter, circular hatch. A heavy mechanical latch existed on one side but in the impenetrable darkness I could not figure out how to release the door. It was a great relief to no longer be forced to tread water, as I was now able to hang from the latch as I blindly fidgeted with the apparatus. Something clicked. A thin ring of sunlight appeared around the edge of the hatch. I saw Shu Shu's face smiling with tremendous relief.

"Now what were you just say...?" Shu Shu started to ask, but before he could finish we were violently yanked underwater by some tentacle-like arm wrapped tightly around my ankles. In an instant it was as though we were sucked into a savage whirlpool. I kicked and thrashed about but my weary body, already beyond exhausted from hours spent treading water, was useless against the strong thing pulling us downward. I went limp. I almost passed out but my mind was shocked awake by a new and stinging pain. It was Shu Shu's sharp, strong hind claws. They were digging deep into my skin one after the other. Somehow, despite the strong current against him, he was walking along my body towards my legs. He had to focus every ounce of his strength to keep from being washed away by the surge. The stabbing pain moved down my chest. He made his way onto my right leg. (If we somehow manged to survive, I'd have to thank him for deftly avoiding my crotch.) Soon he had reached my ankles and with all the strength a six inch tall Mew's tiny jaws could muster he laid into our oppressor with a massive "CHOMP."

The beast winced and shook us about. I caught the horrifying glimmer of jagged pointy teeth in the faint light coming from the edge of the hatch several fathoms above us. Deafening bubbles engulfed us as Shu Shu continued to bite the beast's arm repeatedly. My left leg came loose and was now kicking futilely at the monster. Shu Shu, still clinging tightly to my right ankle, was nipping fiercely at the monster's rubbery arm like a homicidal snapping turtle.

All of a sudden, an intense bright spotlight beamed down into the chamber. Looking up I saw the hatch had opened and a tiny brown face was peeking down. In the new light our attacker's octopus-like body became suddenly visible to my blurry, waterlogged eyes and another of its massive tentacles was quickly headed straight for my face. I tried to blocked it but my arms were too weak. I struggled to keep it from breaking my neck but I could no longer hold my breath. Then, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a long silver streak fly down from above, pass my head on the opposite side, and strike the forehead of the aquatic monster. That's when I blacked out.

After a while, I regained consciousness. My body felt like it had been trampled by a herd of elephants and my eyes could hardly open beyond the narrowest of squints. Somewhere, not far away, I could hear hear voices. I tried to speak but my tongue had turned into a gritty bag of sand.

"Brett's awake," said a familiar voice. I looked about cautiously to find myself surrounded by six smiling Mews. One of them, the one who had spoke, was Shu Shu!

"Foo, bring some more water please," Shu Shu asked a large Mew while pointing at me. The Mew nodded and, using an empty shell, proceeded to scoop water into my mouth from a small pool. The water felt as though it was a gift from heaven even if most of it dribbled down my chin. I forced my eyes to open and looked about at my current surrounding. I was once again in some sort of cave but instead of a dark and evil place, this cave was homey and well lit from a large skylight in the ceiling. Five tiny hammocks hung about the small room and a tiny table set with shell cups was in the middle. In one corner a large iron pot of water could be seen bubbling over a pit of glowing coals and all around us herbs and flowers could be seen. In some cases they were growing right out of cracks in the walls, in other cases they were cut and hanging upside down to dry. The wall I was leaning against had a small rivulet of clean water running briskly from a crack in the stone. It pooled up conveniently by my side and flowed out of the room along another tiny crack. Most remarkable of all were the five new faces staring up at me. Besides the pitiful Mews that had been turned to stone and trapped in the dark heart of this island, I had never seen another Mew before Shu Shu in all my life.

"How long have I been out?" I asked.

"At least twelve hours. I was scared out of my mind," replied Shu Shu, and with this he crawled up to my neck and gave me a warm hug.

"What happened, and where are we?" I asked.

Shu Shu grinned. "We were saved from certain death by these lovable rascals," he made a sweeping gesture around the room as he spoke. "Brett, I'd like you to meet Foo," he pointed at the large Mew who gave me water. "This is Sheena," he pointed at a fierce and pretty looking Mew with a wild tuft of spiky red hair on the top of her head. "And over there are Quin," (a small and smart looking Mew poking at the fire), "Guhh," (an old looking Mew with only one eye), "and Tock" (a twitchy, excitable looking fellow chopping a coconut with a very large knife).

Each of the five Mew gave me a polite smile as they recognized their names. I was in awe.

"Mew Mew Muh Muh" Foo said to me with a happy glimmer in his eye.

"That's a common Mew greeting!" Shu Shu explained. "They all speak Mew all the time! Isn't that cool? They speak some English too, though. Guhh taught them. He's over five thousand years old and he knew Ben Jones!"

Shu Shu was practically jumping up and down as he spoke.

"Muh Roey!" Quin called from the corner. All of the other Mew looked over at him excitedly.

"What's happening?" I asked Shu Shu. He just shrugged but Guhh answered.

"Muh Roey means, tea is ready." Guhh explained. "Shu Shu is our Mew guest so he's first to soak."

Shu Shu smiled from ear to ear as the others gestured him toward the big pot of fragrant boiling water. It was full of lovely smelling flowers and leaves. Shu Shu climbed inside. I have never seen him look happier. A five minute soak did wonders for my little friend. His dry cracked skin became smooth and healthy. It seemed to nourish his body and soul.

"Next the big man drinks," Guhh proclaimed while looking up at me. He seemed to me to be the patriarch of this little tribe. The other Mew each grabbed large shells, filled them up from the pot and lay them at my feet.

"Careful, it's hot," Guhh said with a grin.

It certainly did look hot. It almost looked like it was still boiling inside the shells. I decided to wait for a few minutes. During this time, the other Mew took turns soaking in the hot cauldron. Guhh was the last to soak and remained in the water much longer than all the others. He seemed to go into some kind of trance as the bubbling water violently licked at his brown stony flesh.

At last I sipped my "tea." It was pure ambrosia. Each sip soothed my weary body. Built up pain and stress evaporated away. As I started to feel better, I began to feel hungry too. It had been ages since I had eaten. But Guhh had already foreseen this and motioned towards Foo to bring me a steaming hot coconut shell bowl filled with stewed coconut meat, yams and herbs. I ate with relish.

As I ate, Shu Shu told me what I had missed since the moment I passed out in the water. "Somehow these five wonderful Mew were in the right place at the right time. They heard us thrashing about underwater, attempting to free ourselves from the sea-beast. They looked inside the hatch and immediately launched a rescue. Sheena threw a harpoon dead center at the kraken's brain. It died quickly and sunk to the bottom. Quin and Guhh tied a rope around a nearby tree, and Foo and Tock, who are both excellent swimmers, dove in after us. They tied the rope to your waist and then hauled us both up. Fortunately, we Mew are like ants in that we are super-strong for our size. All of us worked together to carry your limp, waterlogged bones back to their secret headquarters. That is to say, this place!"

At this point Guhh began to speak.

"There is still so much we must discuss," he said earnestly. As he spoke, a stillness came over the room and all heads turned to face him. Guhh addressed Shu Shu and continued, "It is simply amazing that you found Ben Jones' journal and came to our island. In fact, the night before you first arrived, I made a wish on a falling star that help would come soon." Then Guhh turned to face me, "Brett, while you were unconscious, Shu Shu told us every terrible thing that has happened to you since you both arrived here on our beloved island of Mewluwi. Now it is time I tell you more about us.

"I was born on this island 5,040 years ago and for a long time I've been the oldest Mew alive. As you already know, our race can live forever as long as we bathe often in hot, fragrant water or unless we meet with some unexpected peril. Once in a while, a hapless Mew would fall off a cliff or get carried away by a desperately hungry seabird. Whenever something like this would happen, the whole community would take a vote to choose which pair could reproduce. In this way, we kept the population stable and sustainable. By and large our island was a very peaceful place, though occasionally, bad-tempered Mew would fight over petty things. I can remember only a handful of murders and suicides during my long lifetime. One of the murders was my twin brother Wuhh."

Guhh paused for effect as my mouth dropped open in wonder. The other Mew, who had heard all this before, returned to their various projects. Foo was exercising, Sheena was sharpening her spears, and Quin was over by the fire, tinkering with an odd mix of metal and mud. Tock, on the other hand, remained close to Guhh. He stared at Shu Shu and me with deep interest.

"Captain Jones and his crew were not the first humans to visit Mewluwi," Guhh continued. "The first human to arrive came one hundred years earlier. He was a castaway clinging to a small raft. My brother and I spotted him near Muhfu Bay and immediately gathered a rescue party of strong Mew swimmers. None of us had ever seen a real human before, but we had heard stories about them from the few Mew adventurers who had traveled abroad and managed to return home.

"After we pulled the man up on to the beach, my brother Wuhh innocently tried to remove a small leather bag tied around the man's neck, so as to help the man recover and facilitate the removal of his soggy tattered clothes. The man harshly pushed away Wuhh's paw and clutched his bag possessively. As he did this, Wuhh noticed the man's wrists were raw with rope burn as if they had been bound. Wuhh gave the man a quizzical look and the man quickly checked himself and flashed Wuhh a forced smile. He spoke in English and told us his name was William. A friend of mine named Tut, who had spent the last decade traveling the world, was able to translate William's words into the Mew tongue. William claimed that he had been adrift in the Pacific for over a week after falling off his ship three days after leaving Fiji. Wuhh and I were skeptical of this story, because he seemed to be in very good shape for someone who had just endured such a hardship.

"During the following weeks, William made friends among the Mew and picked up quite a bit of our language, but Wuhh and I didn't like him. From the moment we hauled his murderous bones out of the sea we expected his whole story was a lie. 'What type of seaman falls off his boat?' Wuhh and I asked at a meeting of Mew elders a week after William's arrival. 'And what is in that bag he's always wearing around his neck?' The Mew elders did not share our distrust. William had already won them over with his stories, jokes and charm. It was not until later that we discovered he had actually taken control of their minds.

"A month after William's arrival, funny things began to happen around our society. Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about William. We often heard other Mews chatting about the wonderful things he had done for them, but we never actually saw him lifting a finger, except to build a comfortable two room cottage on the far side of the island with the help of 20 devoted Mew. Wuhh and I decided we may have been wrong about him and visited him once during this time. We even brought him a large fish and a few pounds of edible flowers. William thanked us and invited us into the main room of his home. He asked a group of Mew to clean and cook his new fish. They jumped up and got right to work. Another Mew quickly brought William some tea, along with two bowls for Wuhh and I to soak in.

"William stared us at coldly. He fidgeted with the bag hanging around his neck. He asked us if we had ever traveled outside of Mewluwi. We answered, honestly, that we had not. I asked him what he was doing in Fiji. He told us his captain had stopped there to take on provisions but found the natives too hostile and shortly after they departed, a terrible storm nearly capsized the ship. Next thing he knew, he was plunged into the raging sea and it was a blessing that he came across a small raft drifting free of his ship.

"Wuhh looked at me doubtfully. William continued to stare at both of us. Between words, his lips moved like he was mumbling silently. It was very hypnotic and I began to feel sleepy. William's attendants constantly refilled our bowls with hot water. It was all very relaxing. I was feeling comfortable and beginning to believe William's story. Wuhh pinched me. I gave him a confused look as he briskly told William, 'Thank you for the tea, but we must be going right now.' He pulled me out of my bowl and dragged me from the cottage. As the door closed behind us I caught one last look at William's face. He was frowning and his narrow eyes seemed to simmer with rage.

"Wuhh and I raced home. 'What happened back there?' I asked him.

"'You were nearly hypnotised by that monster! That's what happened!' Wuhh replied. 'I bet he's enslaved every Mew he's come in contact with. Well he won't get you and me. We have to stop him.'

"I stared at my brother in awe. He was right, of course. But how? What could we do against a full-grown human with bizarre evil powers? As he so often did, my twin answered my unspoken question. 'We have to steal whatever is in that bag around his neck. That's what he's using to control the minds of our people. We must return tonight, sneak into his cottage, remove the bag and get out of there without getting caught.'

"I shuddered and then stared at Wuhh in disbelief. After a minute I said 'OK, I'm in,'"

Shu Shu, Tock and I hung on every word of Guhh's exciting story. The other Mew had retired to their hammocks and presumably fallen asleep. Guhh stared straight into the white-hot coals of the cave's cooking fire. His voice became more serious as he pushed ahead with his tale.

"That night we waited in the jungle a few yards from William's cottage. To our dismay, William had two Mew guards stationed on opposite corners of the house. Of course we knew them and were, in the past, on friendly terms with these two. But something was not right about them tonight. We could see it in their eyes. They had been programmed to destroy anybody who tried to enter William's cottage uninvited. We watched them for hours, occasionally pacing around and, from time to time, whispering to each other.

"It was well past midnight when Wuhh and I saw our chance. One of the guards had gone inside and the other had heard something rustling in the bushes on the far side. While his attention was on the dark tree line opposite our position, Wuhh and I crept up to the building. In the shadows we moved around the side until we found ourselves under what we believed to be William's window.

"Using our claws, we climbed up the rough wooden boards and peeked through the glass. William lay sleeping several feet away in a gently swaying hammock. The small leather bag, as always, was hanging around his neck. Otherwise, the room appeared empty, so as quietly as we could, we attempted to open the window. It was locked. Then we heard the front door of the cottage gently close. The other guard was likely returning to his original position and would soon be able to see us if he chanced to look directly up at this window.

"Wuhh whispered a crazy idea. 'Run home!' he told me. 'Make a lot of noise once you get in the jungle, but don't stop running and don't look back. One or both of the guards will follow you. I'll slip inside the house, take the bag and head for a safe place. We'll meet up tomorrow.' I began to protest when the moonlight-shadow of guard number one started to round the corner.

"I ran away from the house as fast as possible, yelling once I got to the jungle. The guard was indeed after me. I ran faster than I've ever run before. Luckily, I knew of a small side trail that would take me to the perfect hiding place in a grove of ancient ferns. I threw myself into the foliage and willed my loudly beating heart not to give away my position. I listened closely and then, to my immense relief, the guard ran past me. After a few minutes I changed my route and took the long way, cutting through thick jungle back towards my house. But then I stopped short. I couldn't go home. I couldn't just abandon my brother. What if he needed me? I decided I had to sneak back to William's cottage.

"I doubled back and took a different trail, closer to the beach, and soon found myself within sight of the tyrant's abode. The first light of dawn was beginning to heat up the eastern sky and the guards were nowhere to be seen. I crept silently closer to the house until I heard my brother screaming in agony. I raced to the door and entered the main room of the cottage.

"William and Wuhh were in the bedroom and the door was slightly ajar. William was chanting in a low monotone. It sounded like Fijian, a language some other Mew could speak but I had never learned. I looked around for something to use as a weapon and settled on a long, sharp fish bone lying on the floor where William ate his meals. I slowly peered into the bedroom and saw my brother's body. It looked dry and shriveled, and his screams were slowing down. It was as though he was turning to stone. Occasionally, his scaly brown skin would crack and pop horribly.

"I didn't waste another second. I rushed at William, caught him off guard, climbed up the front of his shirt and began stabbing him violently in the chest and neck. Blood started to swell up from his wounds and he came out of some sort of trance. He grabbed me and threw me across the room like a baseball. I crumpled against the wall. William pulled the fish bone out of his neck and lunged at me. He caught me right in the eye with that bloody white bone. I recovered all the strength I had and made one last attempt to crawl toward my brother. I had to get us both out of there but William overpowered me. He put me in a dark wooden chest that he had recently built. The lid closed to total blackness.

"I was trapped inside this hellish box for several days and my Mew body had nearly dried out, leaving me wretched and on death's door. At last, the box opened. It was Wuhh and he looked healthy. I could not believe my remaining eye. How could this be? 'Wuhh!!!' I bellowed with half-insane delight. 'What happened? Where's William? How did you escape?'

"Wuhh didn't say anything, but he let me out and gave me a much needed soak in hot boiling tea. I repeated my questions. He didn't answer. I knew something was not right. I attempted to hug my brother but he turned away. When he looked at me again, I saw evil behind his eyes. 'Your brother is almost gone.' he said coldly. 'My human body died as well from the barrage of wounds you inflicted on it. But just before it passed I was able to perform one last spell and I've moved into Wuhh's body.'

"I swallowed in disgust. I was suddenly gripped by fear and rage and loss and guilt. 'You what?!' I screamed. 'Where is my brother?! What have you done with my brother?!'"

"'I'm here.' It was really Wuhh's voice this time. His eyes were those of my dear brother. 'I love you brother, but he is just too strong. I fought so hard with him just to open the box and give you a chance. You have to get out of here. I can't hold him back much longer.'

"'I love you too Wuhh!' I cried as I witnessed those shockingly evil eyes regain their unrightful place on my brother's face.

"'Now you will die.' hissed the demon through my brother's own lips. He began to speak rapidly in Fijian. I ran for the door. I didn't look back and I never saw my brother again.

"These last centuries, I have been at war with this terrible wizard that I know only as William. Fortunately, his power was greatly reduced from our encounter. He spent the last few centuries rebuilding his power and working on his evil spells as a xenophobic recluse. This is how Captain Jones came to know him. I knew the truth, of course, but could never convince my peers. His ability to control their minds has made my life a living hell. Eventually, I assembled a small team of trusted Mew. Each of them has a personal reason to despise William. Our numbers were much greater until the Great Battle. That is when William mastered the spell of taking on a new human form. I will save that story for another time, but it ended, of course, with every last Mew except ourselves being turned into stone deep inside the island."

The low fire in the warm, pleasant cave cast dancing shadows around the walls. The others were snoring contentedly. Shu Shu and I realized just how tired our bruised and broken bodies actually were. Tomorrow, we would proudly join Guhh and his team to try and save Mewluwi from Wuhh's--I mean William's--evil clutches. But for now, we'll sleep.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Matcha Morning

It's a beautiful cool misty morning here in Burien, Washington. I've got the door open at Phoenix Tea and I can smell the sea. My tea of choice today is a high-quality matcha (抹茶) green tea called "御薄茶万代昔" from 上林春松本店 in Japan.

Big 謝謝 to my friend Jason for hooking me up with this delicious treasure.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Phoenix Tea Updates

Most readers of this blog already know about Cinnabar's and my tea shop, Phoenix Tea, in Burien, WA. Cinnabar started the company back in 2010 and I joined her in July 2011. Together we have nearly twenty years of tea selling and tea writing experience. Things are going well for our store and we currently have over 80 great teas in stock. In fact, Cinnabar just recently launched an improved website and we're offering 15% discount on all web orders through the end of July with this code: JulySiteLaunch

It is now our desire to reach out to some restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, spas, and natural health clinics that want to serve their clients the very best loose leaf tea. Would you or someone you know be interested in meeting with me about the possibility of buying our teas at wholesale prices to serve to your clients? If you are local, I'd be happy to visit your shop or host you at mine. Wherever you may be, we offer free samples and will work with you to put together the perfect selection of teas based on your knowledge of your clients tea preferences and your own tastes. We carry many of the usual suspects such as Earl Grey, Genmaicha, Peppermint etc... and we also have many more exotic / high-end offerings for sale. I am always happy to consult with our clients, for free, about building/expanding your tea menu and the best way to prepare our teas at your venue. Please call (206-495-7330) or email ( for more information. Thank you!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

South Seattle Tea Estate - 2012 Harvest Report

As the manager of the South Seattle Tea Estate, I am saddened to inform you that 5-year-old "Leafer," our oldest tea plant, died over the winter. The 3 remaining plants looked scrubby and beaten at the start of spring. For this reason I decided not to make spring 2012 tea.

Summer has been good to our 3 tea plants and they are now, for the most part, looking healthy and producing new leaves.

On July 15, 2012, I decided to make an experimental summer oolong. The harvest took place at 9:00 am. Due to a dearth of tender leaf and bud sets I decided to pluck more mature, lower leaves. In all, I selected 28 leaves for a total of 15 grams. The leaves were arranged in a single layer in a glass baking dish for withering.

After about an hour and a half of withering in the shade the sun broke through the clouds. At this point I moved the dish to the roof of my car for some full-sun withering. The day became quite warm with a nice gentle breeze.

2:00 pm - The leaves were a little bit limp but some bits were too crispy for my liking. Also, some leaves appeared to be getting a "sun burn" so I decided to bring it inside.

3:15 pm - I spent 3 minutes shaking and kneading the leaves.

8:00 pm - I spent another 3 minutes kneading, twisting, shaking and bruising the leaves. I felt like the leaves were getting too dry and brittle so I mounded them up together and covered them with an upside down bowl.

The following morning (today) at 6:30 am - I checked the tea. It had a sweet tobacco-like aroma and a mottled brown and green coloring like camouflage. After ~3 minutes more rolling and kneading. I mounded up and recovered the limp leaves with the same bowl.

9:00 am - I did even more kneading and rolling and then took this photo after which the leaves were then left uncovered.

11:00 am - I baked the leaves for 30 minutes at 250° F in a cast-iron pan. The leaves were mainly in a single layer. I gave them a gentle stir about halfway through baking. The next picture is of my finished tea. It weighed about 5 grams.

I fired up the kettle and placed half of my total harvest into a small gaiwan. My first steep was boiling water for 3 minutes. The color was a lovely golden yellow and the liquor had a sweet smell with notes of raw pumpkin, cooked yam and unlit cigars.

I was trying to make a darker tea, but I was still pleased with the outcome of this experiment. The tea lacked for mouth-feel but it surprised me with complexity. The raw pumpkin aroma stuck with it through 3 infusions but the taste kept changing. It was always brighter and fruitier than I was expecting. I even picked up some guava and nectarine notes as well as a syrupy sweetness.

I'm glad I have enough leaf left over for one more session. I plan to bring it to Phoenix Tea this weekend to share with other tea lovers.