Sunday, July 09, 2017

Tea brewing Coffee

Coffee is definitely now my summer fling as I recognize I cannot seem to give up the habit despite repeated attempts.  My coffee education continues apace as the world is going through a golden age of coffee worship and there is no shortage of books, videos, podcasts, mountains of growing web material on every aspect of the bean.  My initial humble goal of learning how to make a good cup of coffee for my one customer now fulfilled(nothing fancy, dark and strong), I am free to experiment for my own preferences.  There is real freedom in being a newbie without the baggage of entrenched notions of good or bad- I vow not to be one of those insufferable coffee snobs going on and on about the necessity of burr grinders.
Roasted beans have a dangerously short shelf life preventing any sort of hoarding. I allow myself at most three simultaneously open bags of beans so I end up experimenting with brewing technique to get different cups rather than getting more beans.  The sheer range of available brewing implements for coffee outstrip what is available for tea. Humans have creatively exploded the simple concept to applying hot water to coffee grounds to extract drinkable stuffs.  I decided to exercise moderation in limiting coffee brew toys to what can fit in a small box. Since my husband already had a french press and the stovetop cappuccino steamer, I added two ceramic pour-over filters of different designs to start although I am ogling a glass vacuum siphon.

When you brew tea- one can fall prey to the mythical notion of a singular perfect brew. I find there exists much narrower range for a well brewed cup of tea of the same set of leaves than coffee. My big learn for last month was that one can get vastly different flavors, body, mouthfeel out of the same beans that are equally pleasurable.  A pour over through a paper filter yields a clean cup with high notes while a french press gives up an equally delicious chewy cup of murky muggy coffee. Neither is particularly superior to the other and there is ample occasion for both styles.  Gaiwans vs yixing teapots yields slightly different brews but nothing as dramatic as this.


I also learn the hard way there is no universal good cup of coffee when you are trying to please one person. The golden ratio of coffee to water is useless theory at least in my household. I carefully and mindfully made my husband a cup using a digital scale to ensure I poured the exact right amount of hot water. A total bust- my cup was derided as being weak as my one customer likes it 4x strong- a level undrinkable for most.

Immersion style brewing like the french press lets through more of the volatile oils but our french press is big, ungainly, and opaque. I spied on youtube someone using the Lifetime stainless steel tea filter as a budget alternative to the pricier metal filters but I now realize my dad had been making coffee this way for years and I had never paid attention.  I happily find I have more control with this simple tea filter which can be used as an immersion filter or a pour over filter suspended on a taller cup.  It is the best of both worlds, I gets me a chewy dense yet floral cup of coffee with light roasted Ethiopian beans.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Coffee Conversion

Dear reader, this is not a belated April Fool's post. There has been more than a few days this month I have imbibed more coffee than tea. Considering I've had less than a gallon of coffee my whole life before this month, I slowly see now that matcha was the gateway drug.  I couldn't drink even a half cup of decaf coffee previously as the caffeine would be powerful enough for an involuntary all-nighter. But I have been slowly upping my daily matcha dosage for months until I was doing a four tablespoons a day without a buzz.


It's frightening how quickly a coffee habit can replace a decades long morning tea habit.  Two weeks ago I started to take the second or third brew off my husband's morning coffee for a wee extra bit of caffeine and here I am. Part of me wants to nip it in the bud and return to tea A.S.A.P.  I don't want to be one of those groggy grumpy morning monsters who cannot get started without coffee. But a part of me just wants to go the full length and go deeper with the bean.

As the quartermaster for all edible supplies, I been dutifully buying coffee beans for my husband pretty much randomly as my husband has a low threshold for satisfaction. Most coffee in the $8-$12 mid range tends to be pretty good as competition among the roasters are fierce.  But in the last two months I started sampling the coffees to try to procure a better cup for my man.  Training my palate little by little,  I find Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with fruity floral high notes to be a pretty cup- very much like a Yiwu. But coffee is mostly a functional beverage for my husband and he wants a robust and flavorful cup.

If I want fruity floral high notes, I better stick to my oolongs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tea for an Underwater Adventure


I am presently escaping the Bay Area monsoon season for a still rainy but warmer corner of Kapoho. The Big Island of Hawaii has some perpetually sunny zones but I've fallen in love with the quieter overcast southeastern side.


These black lava tide pools hold such an exquisite treasury of marine life that I've returned here four times in the last 10 years.  I rented a house direct in front of this magical snorkel zone so I can snorkel my eyes out daily but one can only snorkel for so long.  Lazing about brewing teas goes second right before hot tubbing on the list of hard work required in filling out a productive vacation. Roasted oolongs and hong cha dominate the daily brew.  Thematically, a flowering feng qing(in the gaiwan) matches best the sea urchins and soft corals one ogles in the tide pools but taste wise it's just dependable ho hum hong cha.  The laid back vibe penetrates one thoroughly here and I don't worry about drinking the right or best tea. Just happy to have tea and these bound nuggets are easy brewing.

The green prickly thing is a soursop with a pleasantly tangy but fibrous interior. One of my few regrets this vacation.

My birthday present from the underwater world yesterday was spotting three different types of moray eel but I could only snapshot this white mouthed eel who was defending his hole.   



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tea with Samorost 3

As a card carrying costal liberal, I've had much cause to retreat into imaginary realms these days.   Even though I have a full VR headset, I still love my flat screen games that doesn't involve shooting zombie hordes or being a space pirate.

My current favorite is the exquisitely detailed microworld of Samorost 3.  I made it to the tree root planet where a tree root wizard served a milky tea to my character- a trumpet playing gnome with a white full body unitard. The wizard's hospitality did not extend to the shisha so my gnome secretly snuck a puff by tapping the parrot above the tree who pooped on the tent causing the wizard to get distracted by cleaning the mess.   The lovely visuals and the clever cheeky gameplay lent some levity to this holiday weekend.

The tea that matches the gnarled and knobby aesthetics of this game would be ku gua cha- dried up gourd stuffed with Anxi Tie Guan Yin then roasted. I had gotten my big box from Kunming last week and this tea was the crowd pleasing winner that I was going to gift out this season.  Yes, I finally caved after one of the YS sales alerts. It was the aged puerh sale that nabbed me and really it was the stress of the post-election reality that pushed me over the edge.  It dawned on me that my stress response is not drinking tea but rather buying it since I drink tea everyday multiple times a day under all conditions fair or foul. 

Surprisingly refreshing with a fruity melon taste for such a dark roast- the bitter tones felt quite understated on my palate. My husband tells me the bitter melon taste is more obvious than I can detect, but he assures me it's entirely pleasant. Either drinking too much puerh makes you inured to bitter things or you were genetically predisposed to be less sensitive to bitter and that's why you like puerh in the first place.   (I am sure you must be curious about the aged sheng in my box- they are kind hearted puerhs not aiming to burn a hole in your innards.  I wanted to condition them a little more before drinking them again, let them rest after their long flight.)

I ordered whatever little ku gua cha left in the YS US store and also a full gourd off Ebay. It's not clear if there is a range of better gourd teas available or the genre is mostly generic.   The oolong is heavy roasted in the style of Sea Dyke and definitely a notch tastier- a welcome diversion from the daily slog.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Brewing on a Train

Recently I had the pleasure of roaming through Southern Utah- a geologic wonderland  of mouth gapingly spectacular rock formations.  However the hardness of the tap water meant generally unsatisfying brews and I just stuck to my summer assams and matcha in the morning even though I had optimistically brought a giant grab bag of puerh.   Drinking uninteresting teas in the morning was no sacrifice to partake in the visual marvels of Capitol Reef and Zion. 

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Willis Creek Slot Canyon


We chose to return home from Salt Late City on a sleeper car on the California Zephyr - a long held wish of my husband to ride through the Sierra Nevada. After the utterly mind blowing scenery of Utah, I was underwhelmed by the endless stretch of pine trees.  While we traveled in benign comfort, early pioneers perished in traversing the treacherous gap of the Donner Pass.   Going West used to be an exceedingly dangerous enterprise and I am grateful the only fear I had was the worry of blowing the circuits with my electric tea kettle.  Our two seat roomette came with a standard 120 volt outlet and I happily had boiling water at my command.


I brewed matcha for myself in my thermos with vigorous shaking and oolong for my husband.  At higher altitudes, you have to boil for longer to compensate. But since oolong and matcha require lower brewing temperatures, a quick boil at ~7000 feet appeared to be just right.  Our taste buds tend to be less receptive at higher altitudes beyond 5000 feet so I had low expectations.  However the novelty of having my daily matcha latte on a train made me giddy.  


My German Unold kettle has been one of the top indispensable devices on this trip. Even though we had lodgings with full kitchens, those kitchens lacked a reasonable way to boil water.  Keurig machines are the norm now and the cabins were equipped with teflon pots which I normally avoid like the plague. I am so satisfied every time I use this kettle that all my minor complaints about it's bulkiness melts away.  My husband after a quick look said he could replace the hefty plug attached to a EU/US adaptor with a standard US electrical cord from the base. It is closed with a split head screw to prevent casual opening of the kettle so my husband said he'll make me a split head screwdriver tomorrow.