Friday, March 23, 2012

Sun Dried Buds

Lately, I've been enjoying a unique and delicious tea made entirely from the sun dried buds of wild camellia trees growing in Yunnan, China. These wild trees can be used to make puer tea but, as you can see, their buds look quite different from typical tea buds.

The best way to brew these buds, in my opinion, has been to put a heaping teaspoon into a glass or jar, pour in ~8 ounces of boiling hot water, and then wait until the clear liquor develops a slightly yellow tint. Sip the tea leisurely throughout the entire day and add more water whenever the volume dips below half full. Most of the buds will sink to the bottom after a few hours and it will not get bitter.

The flavor is spirited and herbaceous. I get notes of pine and sage with a little bit of fruitiness. The body is light and refreshing and the throat-feel is wonderful.

Cinnabar's and my tea shop, Phoenix Tea, has these buds for sale here on our website.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Yesterday I harvested a head of Broccoli that had over-wintered in a garden bed. It, and all its pretty yellow flowers, were so delicious and beautiful baked on a vegan pizza with white bean sauce for dinner.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cupping Experiment - Broken Baozhong Leaves

Have you ever notice how the last few grams of tea in any tin or bag is usually a sad-looking mix of broken, dusty tea-crumbs? In my experience this is especially true with long twisted leaf teas such as Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種) or various Wuyi Mountain Cliff Teas (武夷山岩茶).

Case in point:

What you're looking at here was poured from the bottom of an extremely good bag of Winter 2011 Wenshan Baozhong. This broken melange weighed in at just about 8 grams. What would you do with this stuff? Drink it? Toss it? Sift it?

I'm a pretty frugal fellow so I'll use a colander to gently separate the dust from the larger leaves.

This time I'm left with ~6 grams of dust and ~2 grams of whole leaves.

Feeling curious, I decided to conduct a little tasting experiment. I set up three small tea bowls. In one I put 1 gram of large leaves, in another I put 1 gram of broken leaf dust, and in the third I put a mix of 1/2 gram dust and 1/2 gram leaves. Next I steeped each sample for 3 minutes with 120 ml of 180° F water.

Mix is at the top.
Unbroken is in the bottom left.
Dust only is in the bottom right.

This cupping was interesting. Surprisingly, I found myself liking the dust-only infusion (shown above with the brightest yellow color) the most. It was just as buttery as the whole leaf specimen but it had better mouth-feel. It wasn't bitter but I expect it would have been if I'd used boiling hot water.

The infusion made only from intact leaves was the sweetest and the most floral. I liked it quite a bit too. I'm betting it would have otherwise been better than the dust-cup but in this particular instance it was "under-leafed."

The mix was easily the worst of the three. Instead of tasting like the sum of its parts, as I would have guessed, the 50/50 mix of dust and whole leaves came out flat and stale tasting. The balance was off and it was hard to find any redeeming qualities in the liquor.

Like all such casual cupping experiments these results don't really mean anything in the larger scheme of things. It was really just an interesting diversion. That being said, it does inspire me to sift the "bottom of the bag/tin" leaves and crumbs more often.

Monday, March 12, 2012

1997 Yiwu Qing Ping

Back in January, Hong Kiat Chia, a generous puer lover and tea collector in Malaysia, contacted the Puer Tea Appreciation Club of Seattle on Facebook to ask about sending us a few free samples. I took him up on the offer and a few weeks later a cute little box with Malaysian stamps appeared. Inside there were two chunks of tea, wrapped in foil, and labeled "1997 Yiwu Qing Ping." I was not given the Chinese characters but I'm guessing the tea is: 易武 (Yiwu) 青餅 (Qing Bing).

A handwritten note included with the samples stated: "It's cultivated during the spring period and made from aged trees (specially selected). This tea is well known for its valuable medicinal properties. When you drink the tea, you can feel its very sweet aftertaste. It's a good quality tea stored and aged more than 12 years."

At our last P.T.A.C.O.S. meeting I started the festivities with this tea. It is just heavenly and was very well received by all present members.

I have since enjoyed a couple of solo sessions with this tea. It has a smooth, earthy, aged flavor. I note a little bit of malty grain flavors like whole wheat with a touch of rye and pepper. The aftertaste is more herbaceous such as mint and rosemary. The throat feel is sublime.

Thank you so much Hong Kiat Chia!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Test Driving a Brand New Teapot

Recently my friend Chris Shaw (featured in yesterday's post) stopped by my house with a pretty little teapot that had just come out of the kiln less than 24 hours before!

The ~ 140 ml teapot is a pleasant off-white color with several tiny black dots. It is glazed on the inside and the outside and sports a 2.5 inch handle off the side. It feels smooth and balanced.

This pot is an example of Chris's newest work and the reason it's now temporarily in my possession is because Chris asked me to take it for the first test drive!

I selected a beloved aged puer (this one) for the pot's inaugural tea. After rinsing the pot I filled it half-full of large, dry, curly leaves and did a quick rinse.

Next I steeped the tea ~30 seconds and poured. Ahhhh.

This tea is always so good and nearly-impossible to mess up... but the resulting infusions, brewed in Chris's brand new teapot were extra amazing! It may have been some sort of placebo effect, but that doesn't matter to me. The tea was sublime.

But I'm not here to talk about the tea... I'm supposed to be test driving the pot!

The pot had two minor, common problems (of which Chris is already aware). The pour was slightly slower than desired and the lid-handle was a bit too small for me to get a good grip on. Nothing I can't work around. The pot did however pour smoothly and fully empty itself of tea liquor after each infusion. I rank this pot highly and look forward to brewing a few other teas in it before it must be returned to its creator.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chris Shaw's Ceramic Art

Chris Shaw is a Seattle area ceramic artist specializing in tea ware. I've been a big fan of his work since I first met him in early 2010. Cinnabar and I are proud to carry a selection of Chris's work for sale at our tea shop, Phoenix Tea, and on our store's website.

Last Saturday, Chris stopped by Phoenix Tea to discuss his art while using it to brew tea for ourselves and our customers.

Chris has been working with clay for over 10 years. His background in design and engineering and his great love of tea and tea culture are clearly seen in every piece he creates. He is deeply in tune with each of his teapots. For example, Chris brewed our Shan lin Xi high mountain oolong in a certain tall pot to accommodate a larger group of customers but was not satisfied with the resulting liquor. He quickly changed to a smaller pot, one that he had originally felt would be the best pot for the job, and everyone was clearly blown away by the sweet, sparkly and floral complexity he coaxed out of the leaf using the latter pot.

Chris's work enhances the experience of fine tea. He waxed poetic about the layers of aesthetics he hopes to acheive during a tea session. His sincerity inspires me and his brewing style flows smoothly and artfully.

Beyond Phoenix Tea, local ceramic art lovers can view Chris Shaw's work at several galleries around town including Lundgren Monuments on Boren Avenue through the end of March.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hippy Chou Doufu

Each time I travel to Taiwan I try stinky tofu (chou doufu) (臭豆腐) at least once. It's usually pretty tasty but I can't say that I love it. I do love tofu though and I eat it often in many different preparations. A couple weeks ago I came up with this recipe at home and declared it an instant winner. In my opinion it is easy, healthy and delicious, with a taste that hints at real chou doufu while smelling great too. Prepare it as a quick snack or as one dish for a larger Taiwanese themed meal.

• 1 block of firm tofu (~14 ounce) (press it for an hour or two if it is water-packed)
• 2 tablespoons cooking oil
• 1/2 cup of natural raw sauerkraut (homemade if you have it)
• 5 or 6 minced garlic cloves
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Chop the tofu in to thin slices and pan fry in oil until both sides are golden brown and crispy (a non-stick skillet will help a lot here). Turn off the burner then immediately toss in the garlic, sauerkraut, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. Stir and sizzle for about a minute. Serve immediately.

Fermenting Sauerkraut

Pan Frying the Tofu

Ready to eat! 很好吃!