Monday, January 30, 2012

2006 Banzhang Lao Man E Sheng Cake

I'm a big fan of The Tea Urchin's blog and I hope someday to follow in his footsteps exploring the birthplace of puer tea. One of The Urchin's finest posts in my opinion is called From Lao Man E with Love. Lao Man E (老曼峨) is a village in the Banzhang (班章) area of southern Yunnan province. It is known for its many old tea trees.

That post reminded me that I had purchased a 2006 Lao Man E cake several years ago from but I have yet to try it. So today I'll be tasting and reviewing this cake for the first time.

In the middle of the external wrapping paper you'll see the words Banzhang Wang (班章王) or "King of Banzhang." This name is very common for many tea cakes from this popular origin. It does not guarantee the cake will be completely (or even mostly) comprised of actual Banzhang leaves. Because I'm not an authority on puer tea I must trust the vendor and hope that it really has a high percentage. The wrapper goes on to advertise old trees (老樹) and across the bottom it specifies Yunnan Xishuangbanna Menghai Banzhang Tea Factory Production (雲南西雙版納勐海班章茶廠出品).

I used about 5 grams of dry leaf in a 100ml glass gaiwan. After a 3 second rinse with boiling water I settled in for 7 nice infusions. The scent of the damp leaves reminds me of peppermint.

My first pour had a very savory, minty flavor with peppery, and foresty notes too. The color of most pours was between yellow and orange and the mouth-feel was medium bodied, sparkly and playful.

Several of the middle steeps had a little more sweetness, reminding me somewhat of basil, but even then it was always more savory than it was sweet. Tea Urchin's post made me wary of potential bitterness in Lao Man E tea but I didn't find this cake to be bitter (perhaps I was being too careful). As the session wound down a pleasant apricot note emerged.

It has a clean aftertaste that feels good in my throat. The cha qi left me feeling sharply alert and slightly fidgety. Although I like this cake, I've had more delicious and memorable tea sessions with other Banzhang cakes. I think this cake was a good buy (it wasn't too pricy) but I think I'll stick to higher quality offerings from this area in the future.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Welcoming the Black Dragon Year

新年快樂 - Xīn nián kuài lè
恭喜發財 - Gōng xǐ fā cái
Happy New Year !

I found this cute little dragon teacup at a thrift store many years ago. On the back it says: "Ong's Royal 1& One Green Tea ™." I'm really not sure why they didn't print 2012 on the cup, it would have fit just fine.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Urban Herbs #5 - Snowy Sage

We expect to get 5 to 9 inches of snow in Seattle today (right now we're at about four inches) and around these parts, even 1 or 2 inches is enough to stop school and work. So that means today is a snow day!

After some fun time spent sledding, making snow angels, and knocking the snow off of my tea bushes, I felt like sipping something a little different. I think an infusion of sage leaves will be just the thing.

People have been using sage for culinary and medicinal purposes for well over a thousand years. It is a popular remedy for many different ailments such as digestive problems and sore throats. We have a hearty bush growing in our front yard.

Sage green leaves in front of my sage green house.

I harvested about 20 of the fuzzy fragrant leaves and clicked on my electric kettle.

My daughter helped me to muddle the leaves. This step breaks up the tough leaves which allows a lot more flavor to be extracted during the infusion. I've been finding this is a "must do" before steeping freshly picked herbs from in or around my yard.

I steeped it for five minutes with boiling water and it was so good. Of all my five Urban Herb experiments this was the biggest success. It had a wonderful savory, smokey, peppery, earthy, sage flavor that made my mouth and throat feel great and lingered pleasantly for hours. I will certainly be infusing this herb again!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oolong Brewing Video

This is a short video of me brewing Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong Tea (杉林溪高山烏龍茶) at Phoenix Tea in Burien, Washington. It was filmed by my business partner Cinnabar a couple days ago.

Brewing Taiwanese Oolong from Cinnabar Wright on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

League of Pots #31

Code Name: Woody

Material: Wood
Height (without handle): 10.5 cm
Length (back to spout): 8.5 cm
Volume: O ml
Weight: 175 g

Brews: Imaginary Tea
Specialty: Whatever tea your heart desires.
Story: Woody was made by elves at the North Pole. He was delivered to our house by Santa Claus at 12:30 AM on December 25, 2011.
Super Powers: Woody is a master of disguise. He is particularly adept at hiding in the forest.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Precious

Back in 2002 my wife gave me a wonderful Christmas present. It was my very first tea tray for serving gongfu style tea. The tray is a very high quality bamboo piece made by Bamboola - 大禾竹藝工坊 in Taiwan.

Isn't she lovely?

My wife purchased the tray and matching tea tools from the sadly-long-gone Blue Willow Tea House on Capitol Hill. The owner, Frank Miller, even included an ounce of his finest Lishan High Mountain oolong tea as a thank you gift for purchasing this treasure.

The tray came with a certificate of authenticity.

Pictured here:

My local tea friend Dr. L. Chang recently helped me to translate this certificate and I learned the following about my tray:

It won the Taiwan Handicraft Institute top award in a Taiwan daily appliance exhibition in the year 85 (i.e. 1996).

The tray's official product name is Big Wood Medium Tea Tray (大木中茶池) and it's made of meng zong zhu (孟宗竹) (a specific type of bamboo).

The certificate goes on to say: Bamboo is a material full of eastern color. Simple design and delicate craftsmanship, bringing out in full view the texture and simplicity of bamboo material. Not only is it tasteful, distinguishing itself from those made by clay, wood, or stone, it displays the modern example of Taiwan's handicraft. Although the product is expertly produced, we hope the user will perform maintenance regularly. Do not expose to sun. The surface underwent anti-bacterial treatment. Please do not use any type of solvent to wipe the surface which will cause damage to the treatment.

Over the last nine years this tea tray has been a supporting character in hundreds of my tea classes, tastings and events. Chances are if you've ever had tea with me you've seen this tray. It is my most beloved piece of teaware.

Pouring green tea at Phoenix Tea Shop.

(photo by Jon G.)