Thursday, November 29, 2018

Drinking up the Inventory

My horse Bucephalus at Sassau Monastery KCD
Sweet words my husband's been waiting a decade to hear- "I think it's finally time to stop buying tea and start drinking 'dem beengs!"  Most of my mid to early 2000s shengs are decidedly ready to drink even if sub-optimally aged. Cracked open a '06 Changtai 65th Anniversary Beeing last weekend and had a fine time. Low expectations combined with a total acceptance of my inadequate aging environment has lead me to a plateau of pleasant enjoyment.  I'm just grateful to be alive with loved ones, grateful to have a solid roof over one's head, grateful to breathe fresh air, and grateful to be able to brew tea.

As you may have seen in the news, California was burning at both ends spawning human tragedy in its charred wake.  Even if one had the good fortune of your house not burning down, all of the Bay Area was coated thick with toxic smoke and we could not venture outside without a mask with a proper particulate filter.  The many days of dirty orange haze with everyone scurrying around in face masks gave me a terrible sense of forboding- a sense that such scenes were going to be now a new normal wrought by global warming. 

Dear Readers, I haven't written much since I have been trapped in the coffee doldrums. I am shamelessly gulping down a budget Guji as I write this- at least it's a single origin hand ground single drip brewed cup. Most mornings I slug instant coffee- I tried to downgrade to drinking instant coffee like methadone or nicotine gum to wean myself off the real thing.  But instead of the desired effect, I became thoroughly addicted to the substitute. Although I'd like to point out I'm not chugging just any old supermarket variety but rather some of the finest Nescafe to be had personally hand delivered from Germany by a sympathetic friend. Germans I've determined make superior instant coffee.  But coffee/caffeine addiction is a real thing and I fear I must suffer the cold sweats and headaches to go over the hump.


(A note on these photos- I could put up shots of vessels with various liquids in them but who wants to see that! You've probably seen every permutation I've presented in the last few years of this blog and thought I would mix it up with some gaming shots.

While I was cooped up indoors, I drank buckets of matcha, played a lot of Kingdom Come Deliverance galloping around the cool verdant forests of Bohemia.   I had visited Prague this summer for the first time- utterly charmed by the beauty of the city and overwhelmed by the hordes of scantily clad tourists in an epic heat wave.  After dozens of hours engrossed in this medieval peasant simulator I'm hoping to return to Czechoslovakia for a cooler countryside retreat.)

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.