Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Little C!

Today is my darling daughter's 4th Birthday! She is a sweet, sensitive and brilliant girl who fills my heart with love and pride.

She loves to brew tea with me and I think this wonderful quote perfectly illustrates why:
"What the adult does, feels, and thinks are all imitated by the child under seven years, so complete attention to the task in hand, with a care, love, and joy in the doing, actually helps in the formation of the child's physical body."
- Rudolf Steiner

Friday, February 24, 2012

Two White Teas - Comparison Cupping

I've been meaning to do a comparison cupping (aka side-by-side cupping) of Canton Tea Company's Silver Needle (Yinzhen / 銀針) white tea and Royal Tea of Kenya's White Whisper for some time now. I've tasted them on their own quite a few times but today will be the first time I've ever cupped them up together.

These two teas are both teas that Cinnabar and I are proud to stock at Phoenix Tea, so please keep that in your mind as you're reading my (some might say glowing) reviews.

I chose two identical cupping sets each with 4 grams of dry leaf.

Silver Needle (SN) is on the left.
White Whisper (WW) is on the right.
(It'll be the same for all photos.)

The first thing I notice is how different they look. The SN leaves are much shorter, plumper and fuzzier, while the WW's are long and straight. The SN also has a more pungent earthy, smoky aroma while the WW's is sweeter, lighter and grassier.

A five minute steep with 170° F water yields two very different cups of tea.

I did 3 infusions using those parameters and the liquors were about the same colors each time.

SN was always several shades darker and more aromatic in a musky, brothy sort of way. It has wonderful body with foresty notes such as pine and cedar. This tea lingers beautifully in the throat.

The WW is markedly sweeter with a sparkly champagne-like tingle that I find so refreshing. The body, like the color, is quite a bit lighter than the SN. The aroma flits about playfully suggesting wild flowers, hay, and honey.

I don't drink white tea very often so after a session like this one my body feels electric. My eyes are wide open and my toes are tapping swiftly. I'll need some food and aged puer soon to help me mellow out.

Even so, I really adore both of these teas. They are complex and rewarding beverages. I couldn't choose a favorite because it would depend on my mood which tea I would pick to drink.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Old School Tea Additives

Did you know that many European and American tea drinkers in the 1700's and 1800's were drinking dyed teas? I recently learned this peculiar factoid while doing a bit of tea research and I came across the following quote:

"There is now no doubt that all these faced teas are dyed with Prussian blue and gypsum, or plumbago, to suit the taste of the foreign 'barbarians.' The process may be seen any day, by those who give themselves the trouble to seek after it. Black teas are coated with gypsum to give weight and a sticky nature to the leaf, plumbago and lampblack to cover the white of the gypsum, and ferruginous earth to deepen the red of the liquor. The Chinese never use these dyed teas themselves." - Robert Fortune

Yuck! Can you imagine? I wonder how long this ghastly practice continued? I started to poke around the Internet for some more information and stumbled across a scary chapter on tea adulteration in an 1873 journal called: Cyclopædia of India and of eastern and southern Asia, commercial and scientific products of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures, edited by Edward Balfour. This publication, along with Baron Ernst Von Bibra's fascinating 1855 work: Plant Intoxicants: A Classic Text on the use of Mind-Altering Plants, have revealed to me a vast conspiracy of old school tea icky-ness! Not only were Western tea drinkers once subjected to different, unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous, crap in their tea... but at times dishonest tea merchants were even known to "restore" and resell previously steeped tea leaves.

Sadly there are still a lot of potentially dangerous additives being used in foods and beverages all around the world and as long as people can find buyers for all that junk it's likely to continue.

Thank goodness things are now much better as far as premium tea is concerned. I have no
doubt that the leaves I enjoy daily are safe and pure. I believe we're currently in an age where tea people of all nationalities are working together to build a healthy and prosperous international tea culture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Great Wall of Baozhong

Entries in the Spring 2008 Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種) tea competition in Pinglin, Taiwan waiting for judgment day.

*Photograph by my friend David W.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Next Level

The pursuit of tea is a never-ending quest and nobody is able to brew perfect tea every time. I know many tea lovers, myself included, who happily absorb every bit of tea information we can find, sorting through the relevant and the ridiculous, in order to enhance our own tea knowledge and improve our tea brewing skills. To that end, here are 10 tips that have helped me to move beyond the basic brewing parameters and bring my tea brewing to the next level.

1. Relax, take a deep breath and focus on the ritual.

2. Engage all five senses.

3. Great tea can only be made from quality loose leaves and good water.

4. Choose teaware that appeals to you. Beyond beauty and functionality, advanced tea brewers will often have pleasant stories or memories associated with their favorite cups and teapots.

5. Choose teaware that allows the tea leaves to expand properly and infuse evenly.

6. Mindfully drink tea as often as possible, alone and with friends. Until you know exactly what you like (which may never happen) I recommend drinking a wide variety of not-so-good-tea and oh-my-god-this-is-amazing-tea as both will further your personal tea education in their own ways.

7. Watch experienced tea brewers closely while they're brewing tea for you. Pay attention to the grace and fluidity of their movements and the care with which they handle their teaware and tea leaves.

8. Learn to trust your instincts. Advanced tea brewers develop a “Zen-like” ability to use the right temperature of water and correct steeping time.

9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you really over-steeped your tea, that’s okay, live and learn. Even though the traditional way to brew a certain tea is almost always the best way, I recommend being playful and trying out some more "unorthodox" tea brewing experiments from time to time.

10. Be confident. As your experiences build upon each other, your tea brewing skills will increase.