Saturday, May 23, 2015

Twenty Dollar Tong

I've been progressively decluttering the house this month in an attempt to bring material order to my chaotic life. I've disposed of three boxes of books and now turn my attention to pruning the tea closet(yet again). I can win some battles but I concede I am losing the war. It's clear I need a radically different approach.

I've been researching the various schools of minimalism and organization. The most offbeat novel approach I tried was the konmari method named after Japanese tidiness guru Marie Kondo. She advises putting all the items of a single type you own in one giant pile on the floor, touching them one by one and getting rid of anything that does not "spark joy".  If the item in question does not do it for you, you are supposed to thank the object and respectfully send it on it's way. Arigato gozaimasu '06 Haiwan LTZ (with deep bows).

You can only imagine how it all went down. Being a tactile creature, holding and touching the furry leaves of unworthy cakes made me want to hold on to them even more- I can't turn away these lost puppies.  I'm not holding on to these mediocre decade old cakes because I'm deluding myself that they are going to get that much better with age. I keep them because the role of tea in my life fluctuates. I used to treat sheng mostly as a special session tea.  But now that these budget beengs have reached or gone past the decade mark finally becoming a tad more drinkable,  I want to down such sheng with my dried seaweed and squid snacks.  I'm totally holding onto my lifetime supply of casual consumption sheng. 

Old time readers might recognize my 2005 Liuda Cha Shan sampler tong brought back by a friend doing her Beijing Fulbright back in 2006. She bought it for 180 yuan or about ~$24(back then) fron an official 6 FTM Tea Company store in Meliandao. She chuckled quite amused that tea could be so "dirt cheap".  Anyone who's ever bought a bag of sterilized potting soil knows that dirt is not necessarily cheap but this tong is still disturbingly cheap.

Not all cakes in this tong are valued equally- the Yiwu, Banzhang and the Spring Tips(first flush Menghai plantation) are probably $5 and the others less than $2 a piece.  The Banzhang is Xin Banzhang with random Bulang mixed in.  Each cake proudly proclaims to be 野生  yěshēng/wild or forest tea but so does more than half the big factory cakes in my collection.   I used to harbor terrible mixed feelings about this tong because I didn't send my friend a thick wad of cash for something better.  But now I'm even grateful she didn't get me the '06 FTM or a tong of Haiwan LTZ.

 I originally held onto this tong to act as a reference set despite misgivings.  This "Spirit of the Six Famous Mountain Yinji" series as an acknowledged low-end plantation blend provides a useful benchmark against other boutique cakes touting single mountain wild tree origin. I've only cracked open the Yiwu for such a study.  This Yiwu is pretty decent for what it is- it tastes like Yiwu. I brewed it up today and I like it more each time. The huigan is blatantly obvious- there's something gratifying about a beeng that doesn't pussyfoot around.  Despite missing the beguiling delicacy of higher end Yiwus, it's tasty enough that I'm glad this tong survived multiple tea purges.  

We have two sides to cheap and cheerful factory cakes like these. MarshalN completely disses 6 FTMs as worthless crap to be avoided.  Don't even try to fob off such cakes to your friends. Hobbes however being more mindful of procuring our puerh on the internet has a more generous attitude towards the Six Machine as he calls them.  The common people including me need decent budget options.  I'd say don't go out of your way to fill up on such 6FTM now as you won't find rock bottom prices anymore but don't throw it out or feel bad if they are sleeping on your shelves.

After the konmari decluttering exercise, I did not get rid of much tea.  However I'm no longer conflicted about holding onto my decent low-grade factory productions.  I'm going to have the luxury of enjoying mediocre aged sheng alongside all manner of stinky provisions.  I plan on eating a lot of dried squid with peanuts so this twenty dollar tong may not last the next decade.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Persimmon Hongcha Kombucha

Our lovely friend L recently gifted me a kombucha starter called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) so I can start brewing my very own.  Kombucha(紅茶菌)'s basic inputs are sugar and tea. Since I don't have cane sugar readily available in the house,  I used the diabetes inducing cans of Korean persimmon punch (soojungwa) I had procured for post earthquake refreshments.

Not sure if the resulting brew would be something worth drinking- I experimented with a nano batch only with the persimmon punch thinking the SCOBY would consume the sugar within days. The fermentation took a lot longer than expected- over two weeks.  I suspect this is because the antiseptic cinnamon oil probably is not friendly to SCOBYs and also they cannot really thrive without tea of the Camelia Sinensis variety. So after a week I added some random hongcha being the traditional tea type for kombucha - not the Indian and Ceylon teas.  As the cinnamon and persimmon flavors are so dominant,  the tea taste barely registers. The now much lighter beverage has a nice vinegary tang and I should do a picobatch of persimmon vinegar to see how they compare.  I harvested most of it tonight in another bottle to undergo secondary fermentation to get the fizz.

Green tea makes for the healthiest SCOBY and I naturally have sheng brews in mind once I grow enough SCOBY to play with. But first I must also get over my inability to buy a bag of sugar.  I would not be surprised if shu kombucha turns out gnarly and gross but according to Kombucha Brooklyn, both shu and sheng provides worthwhile kombuchas.  I got a tad suspicious when I saw they source from David Hoffman.  I guess I will just have to empirically determine the truth behind puerh kombuchas for myself.




Friday, May 08, 2015

Hoarding Water

It's come to this. Due to the continuing severe drought in California,  our water utility district EBMUD will be switching to a lesser quality source to improve conditions for spawning salmon.  The new water while safe to drink will unfortunately contain stinky organic compounds from algal blooms in the open reservoirs.

I already use a carbon water filter but I won't know until next Tuesday when the new water flows out of my tap what this means for my tea drinking.  My current filter might be strong enough. In the meanwhile I am refilling every water vessel in the house.  Hoarding water is a futile act since we will have to live with the new stinky water until end of the year when the rains return.

The shot above is not our new water supply but "Glass Beach" - a cove in the Berkeley Marina. The tides bring glass pieces from the bay to this tiny cove so the little bit of beach is strangely glittery.


Friday, May 01, 2015

Yiwu Outdoors

Before I bought my humble garden cottage,  I lived in an industrial loft space to give my husband more studio space.  I would take my tea on the cement rooftop garden with a few scraggly potted plants-  I vowed I would find a cosy home surrounded by leafy trees.  

When you drink a lot of ho-hum teas, natural surroundings are one of the ready ways to enhance your tea session.  The fact the tea happens to be kind of uneventful doesn't bother too much when one enjoys birdsong, greenery and dappled sunlight.  As most of us work indoors most of the day growing pale and sickly,  any time spent under an open sky is precious.

The tea in the first photo is 2011 EoT GFZ sent to me by Israel- a pretty fine Yiwu to be taken indoors or out.  But it's apparently still not magical enough for me to gushingly spout a full exclusive post.  This is unfair to this tea as I haven't felt motivated to dissect a tea for a proper review in quite a while.  This tea has one of the unique effects that I can taste the sweetness somehow in my teeth. It's hard to explain but more likely it coats my outer teeth with a sweetness.  I've noted better Yiwus stimulate various tastebuds on the roof of my mouth or under my tongue that I didn't know existed.   I alternate between wanting to hoard such Yiwus and accepting Yiwus don't natively match my preferences. Triggering hidden taste receptors alone does not always make for a compelling tea for me- a tea has to engage the mind.  My scattered brain stubbornly refuses to gather focus.

When I finally found a shoebox of a home on a tiny plot of land, I naively thought such a teensy patch of earth was one of the things in my life I could easily control.   Even a tiny garden can possess a mighty will of it's own and grow out of control within a single season. The house eater rose- the innocently pink bloomed Cecile Brunner spans fifty feet across encroaching half my backyard. While I give it weekly haircuts with pruning shears so no one's eye gets poked out, my husband battled it a few years ago  hacking away two truckloads of thorny canes before giving up.  
 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Cosmic Teapot From A Far

For a belated birthday present, I treated myself to one of Petr's lovely teapots.  When I first opened his box from Czech Republic, I was pleasantly taken aback by this teapot's daintiness-  it is perhaps the most delicate stoneware my hands have touched- nothing nothing like the chunky clunky bowls I made in college. The pot performs admirably in the ways I care about- pouring, heat retention, and ergonomics.


Aesthetics and form have a strong sway on my brewing as much as the functional aspects of a teapot. The severe form of a classical shuiping tends to make me more self-conscious and formal about the "gongfu" in my brewing.  But this teapot's relaxed shoulders nudge me to be natural in my session, to let things just happen.  

I posed this teapot with abalone shells as the layered blues of the flowing glaze reminded me of the deep ocean, but now while I'm tapping out this post, the opalescent milky glaze gives me a different head trip.  I'm seeing a helix nebula against the dark cosmos.  I love layered non-deterministic glazes like this because even the potter won't know exactly how the teapot will turn out till they open the kiln.  Hence no two pots can be exactly identical.  Such glaze patterns are unexpectedly more stunning and complex than what a human hand can actually paint.  


(Just an unrelated story only vaguely tied by pottery.)
Long long ago when I first came to California, I had a potter friend who invited me to go beach camping at Bolinas for a massive raku pit firing.  We were joined by a few of his friends. Soon after dinner, one of the other potter's ladyfriend simply peeled off all her clothes including her purple leg warmers and ran to the edge of the water to do an interpretive moon dance. Then her man watching her for a few minutes did the same.  It was by far the most Marin thing I have ever experienced. While I did not regret joining in on the impromptu naked moon dance,  I did regret not having a pot of my own to fire.