Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sikong Tu's Twenty Four Styles of Poetry

Recently I chanced upon a slim volume of Chinese masters containing many surprising gems. I'm not much for Tang dynasty poets mostly due to wooden translations but Sikong Tu's instructional set of 24 poems on ars poetica has given me riches to contemplate.  His work can apply to so much of the arts  as well as those of our particular concern- tea, teapots, and even blog writing styles.

I present to you a few of his verses with my inadequate commentary but recommend readers to seek out the full translation in The Art of Writing- Teachings of the Chinese Masters.

1. Masculine and Vital Style -
         "As great calf muscle bulges in use, the spiritual body swells inside;"

Those mighty Menghai shengs with agressive qi readily come to mind along with Bulangs with a pugilistic bent. Such tea sessions for me are a confrontation where I always lose. I leave this style for the hardier drinkers among us.
(Incidentally Assyrian panels tend to depict over-developed calves to reinforce the power of their rulers. Those calves bulge even when not in use so you can only fear their terror when they do spring into action.)

2. Placid Style -
"Dwell plainly in calm silence,
a delicate heart sensitive to small things."
 Teas of a peaceful disposition are dismissed for those wanting more of a "Masculine" or "Vigorous Style",  but all styles have a time and a place.  Such teas like Nannuo cakes are like a slow moving film about the Mongolian plains where very little happens.

9. Decorative and Pretty Style

Sometimes a light hearted pretty tea is just the thing to cheer up a day and oolongs easily fit that bill. Jakub had sent a most lovely Jinuoshan Youle  that was the most oolong style puerh I've come across. I enjoyed this pretty cup redolent of peach blossoms so I was taken aback this Jinuoshan was much reviled by Hobbes as an aberration.

11. Implicit Style
"Without a single word
the essence is conveyed.
Without speaking of misery
a passionate sadness comes through.

It's true someone hidden controls the world;
with that being you sink or float."
This was the first page I opened by chance and those words were such a salve that day.  Across the vast expanse of time and space, how could this poet express my inner state so keenly. Implicit arts rely much on the receiver to fathom it's hidden meanings. Perhaps in a brighter state of mind, I would have passed by these verses lightly.  Many quieter puerh teas I find to be in the implicit style as I have to be receptive or I easily miss their meaning or interpret them as bitter.

14. Careful and Meticulous Style
" This craft leaves tangible marks,
but they are almost invisible." 
I drank with Ira Mr. Gao's Yibang from Tea Urchin and you could tell the hand was involved creating something unique but you couldn't tell how.

15. Carefree and Wild Style
I've drunk a few wild and wooly Dehongs of this category. They don't have pretensions to be some other elevated tea. Some don't bother to hide or tame their wildness and so can give the drinker a bit of an adventure.

23 Big-hearted Expansive Style
"We live no more than a hundred years,
not too long before we depart.
Hapiness is bitterly short;
gloom and fretting abound. 
Why not take a jar of wine
and each day visit the misty wisteria"
Of course we would substitue a pot of tea for that jar of wine. A feel-good crowd pleasing style which frees us from niggling over petty details of poor overpriced tea. It's not about even having a particularly choice jar of wine or tea but appreciating that we are alive now.  With that I'll take a pot of placid tea out to my back garden.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Soba Cha

A cold and drenched night calls for something toasty.  If you happen to have buckwheat groats hanging about your pantry- you can whip up some soba cha or roasted buckwheat tea. I pan roasted my raw green groats for about five minutes minutes shaking the pan from time to time. Soba cha is highly tolerant of overbrewing but you need to steep for at least three minutes- the tea is pale brown with a nutty and roasty taste that offends no one.  One can even munch on the brewed groats with some honey.

Roasted grain teas used to be the de facto beverage of Korean households as no one would drank tap water without boiling it. Instead of brewing, you let the toasted barley or corn boil in the water.  I remember as a little girl, I was asked many a times to watch the grain teas but I often let them overboil.  My mind was often occupied with grander things such as capturing a North Korean agent.  Even in elementary school we were taught the endless superpowers of a North Korean agent- they could hide in the ground given only a stainless steel spoon. My clever plans to trap such a cunning spy revolved around tricking them with ice cream and choco-pie.

Roasting grains gave me such a cosy good feeling, I may have to contrive more occasions to dry fry.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kimchi Jigae

This humble meal of Korean kimchi stew at Berkeley's Spoon is my recent afterwork favorite.  Kimchi being a fermented food is in various stages of ripeness and hence the stew or jigae made from it can only be slightly different each time. I prefer mine quite stinky, sour, and past the point of ripe but restauarants tend to serve them rather young. It takes much time and space  to have your kimchi ferment.

Now that I've adopted away our chickens, I could bury the urns full of kimchi in the back yard as my grandmother used to do. I rarely have kimchi at home as storing kimchi in your fridge ruins your house. Kimchi exudes a garlic odor so pungent no amount of cleansing will wipe away that happy smell.

Not much to report on the tea front.  My kettle chronicles however continue well into 2014. After I returned from Baja, I noticed my beloved electric kettle was missing and an unexpected box from Amazon it it's place.  We had let some dear friends stay during our absence and somehow someone had mistakenly(??!??) heated the plastic-bottomed kettle on a gas stove. I had never imagined such a sad end for a faithful contraption which heated a gallon of water daily for over 14 years.  I'm back to boiling water on the stove as no amount of research has turned up a worthy alternative.

Friday, January 17, 2014


I took an old friend from Hong Kong to Berkeley's Ippuku which goes beyond a yakitori joint. One of their more novel dishes is a chicken tartare served with a raw quail egg on top.  Who's afraid of raw chicken sushi?  Even as a Korean- raw chicken flesh is something I've never properly had.  I've only enjoyed raw chicken skin and heart with sesame oil as a child.   I've been putting off this particular delicacy for quite a while now only because I couldn't get anyone to share it and I didn't want to have to eat an entire bowlful by myself.

The flesh is quite sweet and tastes like sushi.  It turns out my friend somehow managed to evade this special experience without me noticing.  I think once is enough for me as I find their raw scallops or uni to be a tastier treat.  We also enjoyed grilled beef tongue, chicken heart, chicken liver and pig intestines with numerous cups of soba/buckwheat tea.  I might toast my own buckwheat groats at home and start drinking more soba tea as it's nutty and healthful.

Chestnut creme noodles was their seasonal dessert.  A visual pun on soba, this piece of deliciousness also hid  a dollop of creme and spongecake inside.  Ippuku means to take a break and so this meal gave us a definite respite from the endless taco and ceviche parade in Mexico but I'm ready to go back to topopos and salsa.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcoming the New Year in Baja

I've been busily chasing sea critters up and down the Sea of Cortez since the new year. 2014 will be the year of the horse- a time for wild wanderings and adventure. I thought I would get the earliest possible start in Baja California- a land filled with remote corners accessible only by boat.  There is no tea culture there as cold beer appears to be the drink of choice and I routinely swilled bagged tea in the mornings to get the job done.
I'm too blasted from the flight to write but please feel free to click on the image above to see my initial photos from the trip. The above are mobula rays who migrate through Cabo Pulmo during the winter.  I had been quite mentally depleted on arrival but drifting above these lovely manta rays cured me.