Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Rainy Day for Nannuo, Bulang, and a Yiwu

Northern California is beset with a rainy week thanks to the "Pineapple Express".  In previous years, wet winter days such as this meant cracking open tea boxes for a day of brewing.  It has been too long I have cracked open any beengs and choose a few to see how they are getting along- a '05 Changtai Lao Chen Bulang, '06 Changtai Nannuo, and a '05 Yiwu Zheng Shan Song Pin Xing.

I'm looking for a daily drinker to share at work. We have had a green tea shortage at the office and I've been for dawdling for months making a selection.  The two Changtai's are pretty decent- reasonably bitter, dense and sweet.  I am briefly stoked that these beengs have turned a corner into drinkability.

The Yiwu is still mild and inoffensive as ever- mildly bitter and mildly sweet.  I'll probably bring the tamer Yiwu in since bitterness of the Changtai would be considered off the charts for regular green tea drinkers. The "reasonably bitter" designation is for fellow sheng drinkers who are used to a punch in the mouth.  I wouldn't bring such brute teas into a place of work. Or wouldn't I?

The handsome octopus teapot was a Xmas gift from my husband. How does it brew?  Even though it's a mass produced pot, it has so much character that it need not rely on it's brewing abilities to merit a permanent spot on my dining table.  It's too much of an inconvenient brew and the size I prefer for solo sessions is this tiny friend from Petr's Pots and Tea Club.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Continuing Saga of the 90's CCNP Lucifuge Bricks

Back in late 2014,  I finally started to appreciate the taste of traditionally stored teas. Since most of the tea I bought in 2005/6 was newborn sheng to match my tastes of the time,  I was forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel on suspect aged stuffs off ebay. To catch you up on this particular strand:

Furry brick on left, dry on right
Prolog: I overcome my gag reflex on that basement trad stored taste and scramble to find more aged stuffs.
Chapter 1: I buy a 90s CNNP Lucifuge brick that arrives rather furry.
Chapter 2: The vendor sends me a drier brick from the top of the pile(along with another bonus brick) claiming the furry brick probably was stored close to the floor.
Chapter 3I'm stoked to have stumbled on this storage experiment, drink both and find the furrier brick more interesting. I store both unwrapped bricks next to each other in hopes the taste giving mold will rub off.

So we continue this story 3 years later on this fine Sunday and brew up both bricks.  The furry brick(left) still has white mold over the surface and is not a bad brew with a slight cooling menthol taste. It's nothing I would serve guests but decent enough for a taste now and then again; definitely this brew is leaps more interesting than hongcha and definitely more powerful.  I was jittery and jumpy for hours.

The outer surface of the dry brick is clean without any sign of white mold. However when I peel off a few outer leaves, the interior stems show some whitish mold.  These bricks are relatively loosely compressed which may have helped.   The dry brick still tastes a little harsher,  thinner, more bitter than it's furry counterpart.  Probably the dry brick won't be able catch up to the furry brick especially in the suboptimal environs of Berkeley.  I guess I will give them another go in 2020 but I don't have high expectations.  At this point- I'm happy if any of it is mildly drinkable. I didn't have any dried anchovy or squid which I think would be good accompaniment to such basement sheng.

Footnote: Downing trad stored stuff is an ability that one has to keep up like alcohol tolerance.  I fell down the shicang ladder drinking nothing but hongchas as of late.  I don't expect to make "drink more shicang teas" a 2018 new year resolution but I do need a better scheme to rotate through my inventory.   

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Roast levels

Dear Reader- I have not relapsed with coffee although I almost did yesterday but was saved by an intervention of a friend. This is just a months old coffee post languishing in the drafts pile...

One morning I had a spectacular fail as a home barista- my one and only regular customer dumped his lovingly hand crafted cup of high end Ethiopean Yirgacheffe straight down the drain.  My husband hates - hates "blond" roasts as an abomination perpetuated by millennial roasters and I had conveniently forgotten all about it. I reckon you could not serve a blond roast to a civil war union soldier or an old time cowboy neither without them spitting out such weak brown stuffs.

The current trend among specialty roasters is a lighter roast as dark roasting ruins the delicate aromatics of the original bean.  When you add milk to a light roast- it just kills the flavor and the cup becomes dish rag water.  I even contemplated re-roasting or giving the beans away. In the same way you would not defile a high end tea with cow juice, these blond roasts only show their best unadorned. It was the third time I drank this Ethiopian black that I totally understood the beauty of a blond roast. Since the citrus aromatics with the lingering sweetness is not what I traditionally consider "coffee",  my prior expectations had ruined the experience. If someone had served me this brew as "tea" instead of coffee,  I would have simply appreciated the cup without hangups.

A local roaster "paid" my husband in suitably dark beans for a quickie metal job. When I tasted the crowd pleasing rich full bodied nutty taste of this dark roasted Sumatra, I quickly realized fruity high noted complexity in the morning is not an appropriate start for a working man like my husband.  Even I who only moves brain cells and a few fingers for a living prefer a dark cup in the morning- coffee or tea.   I take my light roasted Ethiopians as an early afternoon treat and have given up convincing my man that floral and fruity aromatics belong in coffee.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Rebooting with Hongchas

The Northern California weather gets nippier every morning demanding a dark vigorous brew.  I have almost pried myself away from the seductions of coffee having my last hurrah at Yosemite.  It was really the full cream and the airy microfoam on cappucino that sustained my addiction and so I must cut this inflammatory dairy cord and return back to tealand.  Most importantly, sustaining such high dosages of caffeine in the blood stream has knocked down my deep sleep so I've amassed more than a few health reasons to cut the bean.

I need a morning replacement that is dark, robust and NOT shu. (Well I shu on weekend mornings but work weekdays require something more mediated than the raw power of shu. Otherwise I get aggro and forget to be diplomatic during technical reviews.) My morning habit was hongcha for decades before this coffee detour and so I return to this familiar ritual of swishing hot water around dark leaves.

Where to procure decent quality hongcha (Indian, Chinese or otherwise) for daily use that is not too fancy but better than average?  My last 2 orders of darjeelings direct from India was a slight flop as the first flushes were just too light/white and delicate for morning use.  I use a pinch here and there in my afternoon blends but my kitchen cabinet is still overflowing with those sample bags.   The solution to too much tea is of course more tea.

15 years ago, I remember my brother in law had gifted me some pretty good tins from Upton Tea. But since I had moved onto puerh and ordering direct from China, I never ordered from them.  For the price less than my last parking ticket, I happily sent out for dozens of samples.  My husband wryly commented, "There is something so deja vu about mylar bags stuffed in a box."   In reality, I could have held out the year comfortably with my home supply of Yunnan dianhong and Lapsang Souchong but I wanted to give myself some more encouragement to choose tea over coffee in the mornings.

No disrespect to hongcha, but novelty in hongchas for the long time tea drinker does not stray far from a narrow band of familiarity. Nothing explosive or life changing, just pleasant diversions in more of the almost same. But that's exactly what I need in the mornings- one can't overstimulate the brain so early without consequences. Their Earl Greys are very respectable and I can see ordering from them regularly for hongcha.  Truth be told, I thought I would be drinking my own aged shengs by now but I am to wait out a few more decades.  In the meanwhile I quietly imbibe some juicy keemuns and assam blends without any second thoughts of coffee.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day Tea Reflections

Dear reader I hope you are resting and effortlessly drinking good tea on this Labor Day.

My hubs is away on a rafting trip which in previous years meant days of serious weekend brewing from dawn to dusk.  These days I continuously brew leaf and bean but without quite the analytic fervor that made for years of enthusiastic tea blogging.  Now days, I mostly wanna have just a good time but today I hunker down to capture a few observations on the impact of dietary changes on tea taste. Good times!

In the tea enjoyment equation, the tea can change, your brewing method can change or you can change.  I am exploring the very last option as I've put my body in a unique opportunity to do so. For the fun of experimentation,  I've severely cranked down sugar and carb consumption. Why you ask? Why deprive oneself of the sweet sweet joys of life from luscious fruits to buttery baked wonders?  I'm sheepish to admit that I've gone keto to achieve higher brain function. (tldr; changing primary fuel of glucose to burning fats.) 

Is a brain fueled by fats any better for tea enjoyment? When you severely restrict food types subtracting the very edibles that make life so worth living, tea becomes one of the few remaining sources of gustatory pleasure.  On the upside, my palate is hyper sensitive to sugar.  Oolong has become my dessert of choice and I'm exceedingly grateful I even have oolongs as a worthy substitute. Life without fruits once unthinkable  (those plump juicy orbs how I miss you) has been endured with cups of oolong. But unexpectedly, the sweetness in shus I used to taste has been overwhelmed by a more mineral and umami profile. A baseline brick shu I've drunk a lot now tastes pleasantly of the sea.  If I were to compare taste memories,  this single tea has become almost two different teas.  On the downside- teas also taste dryer in the mouth so astringent shengs are decidedly out but I've been in keto adaptation for only two weeks so I need to give shengs a more thorough sampling.

From the decades of tea drinking, I've found my own physical apparatus to be the least reliable and most variable part of the equation.  There are many easy and not so easy ways you can manipulate your palate at a physical level from inducing hunger to increase olfactory sensitivity to the more extreme method of carb deprivation. (Mental tamperings I leave for another post.)  Rather than trying yet more new teas,  I find altering myself to experience different dimensions of the same teas deeply more satisfying and worthy of further investigation.