Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yixing Ming Cha

Recently my family and I visited my wife's aunt Mel. Mel is a wonderful person, an incredible chef, and a connoisseur of spices and coffee.

One afternoon, Mel showed me a pretty tin of Chinese tea that a friend had given to her. She had no idea what kind of tea it was or how best to prepare it. She had tried several times to enjoy it but unfortunately she was never able to brew it well.

I recognized the four Chinese characters displayed on both sides of the tin. They said Yixing Ming Cha (宜興茗茶) which I translated as "young and tender tea leaves from Yixing." A close inspection of the dry leaf indicated to me that this is a green tea with lots of fuzzy silvery buds. It looked like it was already a year or two old but the combination of a foil bag packed inside of a tin seemed to have benefited the leaves as they still had a nice aroma. I told Mel what I knew about Yixing, and their famous clay teapots, but I admitted that I didn't know too much about teas from this area.

The dry leaf.

I made a noble effort to brew the tea using Mel's six cup stoneware teapot and tap water boiled in a sauce pan (we couldn't find her tea kettle). Mel, my wife, and I all tried a mug and agreed that it was flat, boring, and grassy. When I suggested that this tea might taste much better if it was brewed in a gaiwan using spring water Mel gave me the tea.

Today I'm giving this Yixing Ming Cha my full attention. I used fresh spring water at 170° F, one rounded teaspoon of dry leaf, and a small gaiwan. My first infusion was ~1 minute.

Turns out this is a good tea although it is getting stale. It was probably picked in the early spring of 2012. The liquor is light with medium body. It is not at all nutty or roasty but it's a little bit sweet with a clean aftertaste. During four satisfying infusions I got some subtle notes of honeydew melon and a brightness in my throat that reminded me of decent white tea.

This session inspires me to keep a look out for Yixing tea in the future. Have you had any experiences with, or do you have any more information to share about, teas from this fascinating part of China? Also, what is the difference, if there is one, between Yixing (宜興) and Yang Xian (陽羡)?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Long Yuan Hao - Bing Vs. Tuo - Round 3

Every three years I do a comparison cupping of two 2006 Gold Medal Long Yuan Hao (金級龍園號) puer teas. The Bing (cake) (餅) is called Banna Yin Xiang (Banna Impression) (版納印象) and the Tuocha (沱茶) is called Banna Tai Zi (Banna Prince) (版納太子).

The first time I cupped these two together was way back in August 2007, the second was July 2010 and the third is today! When they're not being brewed, these two sheng puer teas (生普洱茶) live on my puer shelf (located in the corner of my bedroom behind a curtain). I haven't brewed either of them since 2010 and I did not reread my two previous posts prior to writing this post so that they would not influence my taste buds.

Lets get brewing!

The cake is on the left and the tuocha is on the right.

I brewed these teas in two identical 6 ounce glass mugs using boiling water, 3 grams of dry leaf per tea, and ceramic soup spoons to ladle the liquor into drinking cups.

The color of the tea soup was yellowish-orange with a little more red and amber in later infusions. The aroma was sweet and woodsy with a hint of pleasant smokiness.

I'm really enjoying both of these teas and I don't remember being this impressed 3 years ago. Also, for some reason, they are tasting very similar to me today. Both are smooth and mellow with a touch of honey flavor. In the end, the tuocha came out ahead, but just barely. It had a more earthy, Autumny, sweetness and a hint of lingering beeswax aroma. The Bing had a slightly thinner mouth-feel and some infusions had more pronounced notes of grass and artichoke.

Back on the shelf now fellows. Next time I see you you'll be 10 years old!

Friday, August 16, 2013

What's up Black Dragon?

This summer my family and I have been very busy and productive around the house. We cleaned the basement (no small task), had the exterior of our house painted (dark blue with white trim), and set up a workspace for our daughter as we begin planning her project-based, home-school kindergarten.

In our garden, this has been a good season for potatoes, apples, cucumbers and blueberries. We might get some pumpkins (time will tell) and have been picking a lot of grapes and blackberries from around the neighborhood. Plums will start to ripen next month and I am sure they will be plentiful.

My wife and I have been taking care of our good friend's wonderful kids (a 1.5 and a 3 year old) three days a week for most of the summer. Because of that, plus working at Phoenix Tea and cooking at Seattle's best vegetarian restaurant, St. Dames, there has not been much time for online pursuits.

Still, we have found time for play! My kids (age 5 and 3) have enjoyed plenty of great playdates and birthday parties and we've all savored a few awesome days swimming and picnicking.

Even though I've been busy I still make time for tea! If the day is going to be hotter than ~85° F (thankfully a rarity in my little corner of the world) I'll usually drink hot tea in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon. Otherwise, I'll drink hot tea all day. It's hard to pin down just what I'm drinking. It's a little bit of everything really with a lot of spring 2013 high mountain Taiwanese oolongs, darjeelings, and Japanese greens.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Around the World in 8 Teas

Phoenix Tea and Eat Local are working together to present a tea event at Eat Local's Burien, Washington store on Saturday, August 3rd.

Our event is called Around the World in 8 Teas. It will be a fun and educational tea tasting featuring teas from China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Kenya. I will discuss international tea traditions while offering freshly brewed tea samples.  I will also explain how tea is a healthy beverage as well as a sustainable agricultural product when grown and sourced responsibly. 

Eat Local will offer several samples of food to complement some teas. 

After the event guests are invited to visit Phoenix Tea (less than one block away Eat Local Burien) where they will receive a 10% discount on any tea or tea ware purchased that afternoon. 

This event is $20 per guest and space is limited. Please RSVP yes on the facebook event page if you will come. You may also call 206-495-7330 or email info@phoenix-teashop.com to RSVP.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Urban Herbs #7 - Rose Buds

My Urban Herb series is a collection of posts describing my experiences infusing and drinking plants that are growing around my house. Today I'm featuring rose buds, an herb that some sources say may aid digestion and relaxation, and may contain a fair amount of vitamin C. I have tasted several rose bud infusions from China and found them to be very pleasant but this will be my first time drinking local rose buds.

I have an English rose bush in the front yard that is at least 10 years old. It is very productive and flowers several times a year. Its buds are plump and pink and they open into pretty little white roses. with wonderful aroma. 

For this tasting I picked ~20 buds and let them dry on a windowsill for a week. I steeped them for five minutes in six ounces of boiling spring water.

The resulting brew had a clear yellow-pink color liquor. The smell was a little bit rosy but also buttery and fishy. I took a few sips. Yuck. This is just awful. The flavor is stale, earthy, fishy, and bitter.

Maybe it was the particular rose varietal or maybe they would have tasted better if I'd infused them right after plucking? Who knows? I may do some more experiments someday but this first attempt has put me off home-grown rose buds for the time being.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Flight of Rare Teas at Phoenix Tea

Saturday, June 15, 2013 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Limited to 12 participants @ $25.00 each

Photo by Cinnabar

Join Phoenix Tea on a tasting flight through six exquisite and unusual teas, carefully chosen from our extensive selection of fine loose-leaf pure teas and sourced specifically for this event. The selection will include teas from at least four distinctly different growing regions, and will present a wide range of tasting experiences. We intend to introduce you to teas you are unlikely to encounter anywhere else.

Each guest will be given a porcelain cup to use during the tasting and to keep. Attendees will also have the opportunity to choose one sample to take home, from among a selection of all six of the teas in the tasting.

This will be our second year presenting this event in collaboration with the Northwest Tea Festival's World of Tea Series. For more information, and to register for this event please click here.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Seasons of Baozhong

I fell in love with Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶) after my first sip back in 2001. Since that day I've tasted many grades of this tea from many wonderful tea sellers.

My wife and I visited Pinglin, Taiwan (坪林,台灣) in 2007 and ever since that trip most of the Wenshan Baozhong tea that I've sold has come from the same small farm near this lovely town.

One thing that all tea lovers learn, soon after we get "bit by the tea bug," is just how important seasonality is to our favorite beverage. Regularly drinking baozhong tea from the same farm while chronicling my sessions in a journal and on this blog have given me a few personal insights to share with you about the seasonality of Wenshan Baozhong tea.

Wenshan Baozhong tea from Pinglin is usually produced in the winter (actually it's more like November depending on the weather but they still call it winter tea) and in the spring (usually April but sometimes it can be March or May depending on the weather). Some Pinglin tea farmers also produce other styles of tea such as Dong Fang Mei Ren (東方美人). In my experience Dong Fang Mei Ren is usually made in the summer or fall.

Today I'm drinking the spring 2013 Wenshan Baozhong that arrived at Phoenix Tea nine days ago. It is very buttery and floral with great lilac and mock-orange blossom aromas. The mouth-feel is good and there is a delicate brothy sea-vegetable note in a few early infusions. It has a very clean finish and a soothing energy that several other folks have commented on after sharing a few cups with me.

'Tis the Nectar of the Gods!

This spring 2013 baozhong tea is livelier than last spring's but it is not as dynamic in regards to mouth-feel and lingering aftertaste as the winter tea has been these last few years. I used to think spring baozhong tea was always lighter and more floral and winter tea was always bolder and fruitier but I've come across too many exceptions to still hold this as truth. The last couple years the spring baozhong tea and winter baozhong tea from this farm have been equally floral but the winter tea remains bolder and delivers more lingering aftertaste.

Also, winter baozhong tea, in my experience, is easier to brew. Any ole way I prepare it, winter baozhong tea has always tasted great and the aftertaste has been incredible. Spring tea, on the other hand, demands that I slow down and take care to use fresh, not-over-boiled, spring water and a larger pinch of dry leaf. If I manage to get everything just right it will reward me with heavenly aroma and a pearly, slippery feeling on my lips... otherwise it will fall flat. When this happens, spring baozhong can be too boring for me. Fortunately, every cup I've made of this new 2013 batch at Phoenix Tea has really delivered the goods. I guess I actually love spring and winter baozhong for different reasons and despite all that I've just written I try not to dwell on past teas while drinking a new tea because it's not fair to the tea that's presently being sipped. 

It's possible that your own experiences tasting winter and spring Wenshan Baozhong tea may be different from my own... but whatever they may be, please take a minute to share them with a comment! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sorting Business Cards

Recently I took a few minutes to sort my box of business cards (aka name-cards) that I have collected over this last decade. I do this from time to time to reconnect with old customers or vendors. Most of the cards in my collection are tea related (either from Taiwan or from various trips to the World Tea Expo) but quite a few are from non-tea-industry tea-lovers that I have met throughout the years. My current favorite is from a Texas megadrilologist named George. His card features a black and white photo of a car driving along the highway with the word EARTHWORMS printed boldly along the top.

Dear Readers, if our paths should ever cross, please exchange business cards with me! I will keep your card in my special box for all time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Brew Haiku

What tea should I brew?
These cupboards overflow with,
too many choices.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Taiwanese Tea at Phoenix Tea

Lately we have been in Taiwanese tea heaven at Cinnabar's and my tea shop Phoenix Tea. Please allow me to take you on a little tour of my current favorites.

Shan Lin Xi Long Feng Xia (杉林溪龍鳳峽) - This winter oolong is very complex. It blends wild herbaceous tasting notes such as cedar, pine, and rosemary with clean winter snow and dynamic floral bouquets. A pleasant long-lasting tingly sensation lingers in the back of my throat after a long session with this fine tea.

High Mountain Jin Xuan (高山金萱) - This winter tea uses the golden lily cultivar and produces a luscious, sweet and buttery cup of oolong tea. It is floral with little hints of popcorn. The broth is very smooth and substantial.

Lishan (梨山) - This winter Lishan is beyond compare. We've already restocked it once because so many tea lovers have fallen for its charms. Tasting notes of sugarcane and crisp tart fruits are balanced with buttery, wild honeysuckle aromas. The sweetness lingers for hours.

Dong Fang Mei Ren (東方美人) -  This Pinglin (坪林) grown Dong Fang Mei Ren may taste a little lighter, brisker and smoother to you if you're more used to drinking Hsinchu grown Dong Fang Mei Ren. I think this tea is incredible and balanced with big honey and ripe peach notes in most infusions. It has a long-lasting sweet, brisk aftertaste.

Meishan Hongcha (梅山紅茶) - This fully oxidized high mountain tea is flat out amazing. It blends brisk and malty classic black tea flavors with alluring aromas like rose and cocoa.


Jin Xuan Hong Cha (金萱紅茶) - A heavily oxidized tea that expertly combines all the goodness of a black tea, gently roasted oolong, and a buttery caramel. The resulting delicious-ness has made this tea very popular among many of our in store customers.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Two Upcoming Tea Events

Tea 101 Class

On Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM, I'll be presenting a Tea 101 class at Phoenix Tea in Burien, Washington. In this two-hour introductory class we will discuss the major categories of tea and how they are produced. The class will include demonstrations of different brewing techniques and many freshly brewed tea samples.

In order to insure that each student gets the maximum experience out of the class we are limiting participation to 10 students. Cost for the class is $15 per person, and each attendee will also get 10% off any teas purchased in the store that day.

If you would like to attend, please RSVP on facebook, or via email at info@phoenix-teashop.com. Or, you may choose to RSVP and prepay for this event on our website here.

 A Flight of Rare Teas

On Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 7:00 PM, join us at Phoenix Tea on a tasting flight through six exquisite and unusual teas, carefully chosen from our extensive selection of fine loose-leaf pure teas and sourced specifically for this event. The selection will include teas from at least four distinctly different growing regions, and will present a wide range of tasting experiences. We intend to introduce you to teas you are unlikely to encounter anywhere else.

Each guest will be given a porcelain cup to use during the tasting and to keep. Attendees will also have the opportunity to choose one sample to take home, from among a selection of all six of the teas in the tasting.

This will be our second year presenting this event in collaboration with the Northwest Tea Festival's World of Tea Series. For more information, and to register for this event please click here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hong Bian Green Tea

I recently received a sample of Hong Bian Green Tea (虹變綠茶) from a friend living in China. This tea looks similar to a gunpowder green tea but it is made from a special cultivar designed to change color as it cools.

I've heard of tea ware changing color when it gets hot. My daughter even has a mug on which a frog prince will appear whenever the mug gets hot.



Also, over at Phoenix Tea, we have little Rex the pixiu, who turns gold when boiling water is poured over his body.



I've never once heard of a tea that actually changed color! As it turns out Hong Bian gets darker with each degree of temperature loss. If you brew it with boiling water the tea liquor looks just like clear, plain water (it's also intensely bitter so I don't recommend it).

But when it's brewed at about 160 - 170° F it looks like this:

And by the time it cools to around 100° F it looks like this:

And if you put it in the fridge for a few hours, like I did here, it will come out looking like this:

So you're probably wondering... what does Hong Bian taste like? It's actually a pretty decent green tea. It delivers similar flavors, regardless of its current color. The taste is a little bit smoky but also fruity and sweet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Garden Gallery

Here's a little peek at what's been going on around our yard these last few days!

I scored this massive pile of bricks from my neighbor. 
So much of my time has been devoted to the ancient art of "brick schlepping!"

Building a yellow brick road,

reinforcing this raised bed,

and thinking about putting a brick patio right here.
(That log back by the fence is my shiitake mushroom log. I'll let you know if it ever fruits.)

The front yard is looking pretty good, though it could stand some more weeding. Chives, kiwi, rosemary, mint, wintergreen, salal and many other plants are doing well here. Our little pear tree (in the middle, surrounded by fava beans) is a year old now and will be flowering soon!

Speaking of flowering fruit trees, our apple tree and 
our two cherry trees are currently producing tons of lovely buds.

Here's a pic of my daughter in one of her favorite places.
Hanging out (literally) under a cherry tree.

Also in the front yard we just planted carrots, beets and potatoes.

I currently have three tea plants. This one appears to be happy and healthy

and it has quite a few pretty new buds.

My other two tea plants look like this!
Any advice on how I can make them happy again would be greatly appreciated.

Hope you enjoyed my Spring garden gallery. Feel free to leave links to your own in the comments. I'd love to see your garden!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tea with Jody

My friend Tiffany recently connected me with a tea lover name Jody from San Francisco. Jody works for Samovar Tea Lounge and has his own tea business called Tap Twice Tea. Last weekend, Jody was in Seattle and he came down to Phoenix Tea for a wonderful afternoon spent tasting tea and chatting with Cinnabar and me.

Together we drank Phoenix Tea's 5 year aged/roasted Nantou county oolong, Dan-cha (a Korean red tea) and Tap Twice Tea's Large Leaf Shu Puer. I had a great time and truly believe that Jody is a kindred spirit. I wish him all the best with his future tea-related projects. By the end of our afternoon session I was most pleasantly tea drunk.

Jody left behind four samples for Cinnabar and I to taste at our leisure. Today I cupped them all. They were all very beautiful and delicious. I'll provide their names exactly as Jody wrote them on the samples bags.

North = Xi Biang Phoenix
South = 95 Sheng Large Leaf
East = Diamond Crate 2001 Sheng
West = Large Leaf Shou Puerh W.P.

Monday, March 11, 2013

2007 Hengfu Sheng Puer Cake

From 2005 to 2007, I (along with many other people around the world) spent a lot of free time buying, drinking, and studying puer tea. It was during these "bubble years" that I purchased most of my puer tea collection. I wouldn't say it's a huge collection. When compared to some other puer buffs I've met, it is really quite small. My collection currently hovers around 50 different teas, most of which are compressed (cakes, bricks etc.). During the past 5 years, I've reviewed nearly all of my puer teas on this blog.

One of the few tea cakes that I've yet to review is a 2007 Hengfu (恒福) sheng puer purchased from Seattle's venerable New Century Tea Gallery. I'll admit that I paid way too much money for this tea and the blame for that fact lies solely with me. It was a time in my life when I had some disposable income and I was trying to impress a friend, as well as the wonderful owners of New Century. As it turns out, vanity such as I displayed that afternoon, is NOT a good excuse for buying tea (or anything else for that matter). This realization, along with familial budgetary necessities, and other evolving personal interests, led me to a self-imposed ban on buying puer tea in 2010. (But I still trade for it and I love to get it as gifts!)

Anyway, back to the review... I'll begin with a lumpy photo of the wrapper. It has a big yellow diamond sticker covering the front which I've always thought was a little weird.

The dry leaves are flecked with brown and silver and have a pungent forest and smoke aroma.

Brewed in a small gaiwan with ~5 grams of dry leaf and freshly boiled water, this tea produced a medium-dark amber color with subtle camphor, cedar and tangy peach skin aromas. The flavor is too woodsy and grassy, dominated by oak, fresh hay, and sweet dry tobacco notes. Thankfully, it's not very smoky, but all of its nice aromas get lost in the grass. Also, the body is not as thick as I would like from a tea of this age. Infusion after infusion yields a smooth-ish, mild-flavored liquor with very little aftertaste. It's not bad but it's definitely nothing to write home about.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tea Pet FAQ

Q - What are these things?

A - They are Tea Pets! You probably already know Shu Shu T. Dragon from this blog. He's pictured above at eleven o'clock. FUN FACT: Shu Shu is actually a Pixiu (貔貅) but I call him a dragon because that's his last name. The other four you'll meet someday when you visit Phoenix Tea in person.

Q - What are they for?

A - They sit on a tea tray and get hot water and hot tea poured over them. Most Tea Pets are made of porous clay which will absorb the essential oils of the tea adding luster and color over time. One of the tea pets, pictured above at six o'clock (his name is Rex) is made out of a special material that turns yellow when he gets hot. 

Q - Is this a very common practice?

A - The Tea Pet trend started in Asia as a lucky and whimsical addition to tea brewing. During my travels around Taiwan, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, I've seen many different examples including turtles, dragons, bats and feet. The most common tea pets I've come across are frogs with coins in their mouths (aka jinchan / 金蟾). The tea pet phenomenon is not for everyone, but there's no doubt it is spreading to tea lovers all around the world.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Learning about Liu An

During this last year I have been learning a lot about heicha (黑茶) (literally "black tea" but more often translated as "dark tea"). In the past, this large category of Chinese tea, which includes shu puer (普洱), was a mystery to me. I still don't claim to fully understand it but I have now tasted many grades of heicha from Anhui and Hunan provinces and read some great articles about it online such as: What is Heicha or Dark Tea? by Peony Tea, Understanding Heicha or Dark Tea by Walker Tea Review, and Heicha by Teatrekker.

One particularly intriguing type of heicha is called Liu An Basket Tea  (六安篮茶) from Anhui, China. My first experience with this type was several years ago when I read about it in The Art of Tea Magazine (Issue #5). I'd actually never tasted it until we got some at Cinnabar's and my tea shop, Phoenix Tea. This afternoon I'm savoring a 1990's Liu An teas while rereading the article in Art of Tea magazine.

A basket of 2008 Liu An:

A peak inside the basket:

A chunk of 1990's Liu An 
(This is what I'm currently drinking. 
It's rich, brothy, sweet, earthy and alluring.)

The tea soup:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Welcome the Year of the Water Snake!

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

*I took this photo while hiking around Pinglin, Taiwan (坪林,台灣) with my friend Darald in 2006.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Alishan Gift

My friend's parents recently returned from Taiwan and... lucky me... I scored some Alishan High Mountain Tea (阿里山高山茶) as a belated Christmas present!

The gift came in a red and gold bag with a beautiful crane and white flowers printed on it. The Chinese words on the bag claim this tea is: "Gold Ranking Collectable Tea" (黃金般的茶臻藏) and "Emperor Worthy Tea" (皇帝般的茶饗). The brand appears to be "金藏茶宴."

Lets see if the contents are truly "Emperor Worthy!"

The dry leaves look and smell amazing. They are large, loosely rolled, and possessing of fat long stems. My mouth begins to water.

This is an incredible tea in my opinion. The flavor transports me right back to Alishan. The tea soup is so fragrant with notes of orange zest, honeysuckle and cinnamon bark. The mouth-feel is thick with delightful syrupy and sparkly elements. The tea continued its greatness throughout 12 infusions and the aftertaste was clean, brisk and long-lasting. The spent leaves and thick soft stems radiate health and vitality. The tea left me feeling alert, creative and comfortable. Ahh. There can be no doubt I love good high mountain oolong. 謝謝 Janice and Mo!