Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pan Asian Blend

A decade ago, I started saving my spare funds for a lifetime trip which would trace my ancestral heritage through millennia. I had planned to go from Manchuria and end up in Mongolia. Most Koreans assume that the peninsula was settled from the north by way of China with a mix from the Mongol invasion. But now I have actual DNA results, I am at a loss.

Even though I am 100% ethnically Korean, according to new analyses from 23andme, my ancestors as of 500 years ago were tad more Japanese than they were Korean. My family hails from the very southern tip of the peninsula less than 160 miles away from Japan. Even 500 years ago, 160 mile stretch of water could be readily traversed by even small fishing boats so such race mixing should not at all be shocking news.  

However given the history of World War II,  uncovering a Japanese heritage was not exactly welcome news. My great grand uncle who was studying abroad in Tokyo was force drafted as a kamikaze pilot.  My great grandmother was forever heartbroken over his early demise. My grandfather was imprisoned by the Japanese about to be shipped off to slave labor in Japan.  Thankfully he was spared after my grandmother plead his case by presenting an exquisite cedar box filled with moss and fish to the Japanese district prefect.  My grandfather was simply allowed to perform the hard labor at home. 

It's rather uncomfortable news to know that you share common ancestors with a race that directly oppressed your family members and countless other countrymen.  If my grandfather were alive, he would probably refuse to believe he had any Japanese heritage at all.  And would the Japanese who perpetrated the war crimes upon the Koreans behave any differently knowing they had shared ancestry?

What to make of such a revelation? Well, it clears up the mystery of being mistaken for being a Japanese tourist in Korea and being mistaken for being Japanese in Japan. I think the worst identity crisis wrought by genetic testing was a case of a black American who turned out not to have African ancestry- no more than any other human. He descended from ancestors from the Middle East making him question his whole notion of himself as an African American.  

But 500 years past is distant enough that I need not agonize over my Korean identity too much.  Despite any genetic heritage surprises lurking, I'm now legally and culturally a tax-paying American.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Brewed Cacao

I was swayed by a new package in the coffee "alternatives" shelf at Rainbow Grocery.  I could not resist a product touting a bevy of health claims such as "Support your heart, brain and bones with magnesium" or "Maintain healthy blood sugar levels with chromium and zinc". Who doesn't want to support their vital organs for a mere ten dollars? Actually the other month, I had read from the Amano Chocolate's facebook page about brewing tea from the cacao bean's husks. So when I spied this bag, I was reeled in even though this was the actual bean itself and not the throwaway husk.  Years ago I used to buy giant bags of cacao husks as a garden mulch;  the husks smell marvelous but molds way too quickly.  I had never thought to brew a portion since it was meant to be spread on the ground. Who knows what magic brew hides in a waste product but I'll be on the lookout.

This Crio Bru bag contains ground roasted beans which you can brew like coffee or add it to coffee for a mocha flavor.  You could also cook with it and make cacao pesto.  When I brewed it like coffee, there definitely is a raw bitterness which rounds out with milk. Nonetheless I felt ho hum all around.  When brewed with coffee, you do get a mild cocoa taste.  Also with the leftover grounds which are perfectly edible, I added chipotle sauce to make a dip for blue corn chips. 
I am simply unmoved by this product- of course there is the bean quality to consider. This company offers two varieties- one from the Ivory Coast and the other from Ecuador which probably is the more interesting Nacional beans.  I want to like it but feel underwhelmed tasteswise. So in such cases as these, I fobbed it off to my willing husband. He says it gives him a nice alertness without jitteryness. 

The Maya used cacao beans for currency and I was trying to figure out the conversion rates for my bag of 12 oz. beans.  Accounts seem to vary but most often it's repeated that four beans buy a rabbit, 10 are needed for the services of a prostitute and a 100 for a slave.  I would have to have snared quite a few bunnies for this bag alone.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Fast

For Thanksgiving dessert, I used to be most fond of apple pie with a thick wedge of triple cream brie or even a ripe blue cheese.  I used to lovingly bake these pies with a buttery crust and apples I grew.  Thanksgiving is a gluttonous holiday for most Americans and for many decades past I have gorged myself to excess every season. I ritually and pathologically vow to eat moderately in the gastronomic aftermath of every Thanksgiving dinner.  This year, the time was right to contemplate the meaning of Thanksgiving by forgoing the feast altogether.  I've been appreciating more and more the curiously additive power of subtraction. I've never looked forward so much to having nothing before.

I am normally not a creature who is accustomed to even half an empty stomach since I rush to fill my belly anytime a thought of food enters my mind which is almost every other hour.  I had earlier in the summer tried fasting for health and philosophic reasons without much success.  Food thoughts are hypnotically powerful.

Instead of a full day of fasting which would result in an unbearable grumpiness, I went for 16 hours skipping the main dinner.  Being hungry by choice is a luxury I can claim for today.  A shocking number of humans go hungry in a world where an even more shocking number of humans die as a result of being continually overfed. There rarely is a just balance in this world and I can only mind myself.   

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chestnut Season

Each autumn, I eagerly wait for chestnut season to begin but I'm only privy to the supply at the grocer's. Strangely enough, the first crop to appear in Berkley will be those from Korea. Early last century, Americans had no shortage of state grown chestnuts until a blight wiped out four billion trees from the landscape. My mind cannot really comprehend the staggering number of chestnuts this would have represented- more than enough for humans, pigs, birds, squirrels, and any creature wanting of such sweet nutmeat.  Apparently the American chestnut tastes more intense lacking bitterness in the skin. Such a pity then that the  American chestnut has not made a comeback and we're forced to rely on the Koreans, Italians and the Chinese to fill this void.

Rarely we roast chestnuts in the fireplace opting to simply steam them and scoop out the nut meat with small spoons.  When I was a little girl, my cousins and I used to go chestnut hunting on my grandfather's lands.  My younger keener eyes were particularly good at spotting those green prickly bombs. Those lands have long since been converted to condos.  Many good things come to an end and we must make new good things to continue on.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Kimbop in Sunol

When growing up in Seoul, my mother would make us a delicious treat of kimbop to take anytime our family would get away to the mountains.  You wrap a harmonious combo of rice, meat, and veggies with a seaweed paper into one tight roll to be sliced into bite friendly pieces.  The humblest version would be just rice(the bop) in the seaweed paper(the kim). My favorite classic filler back then was the egg, SPAM, and takuan- the pickled mooli radish which glows a radioactive yellow.

Yesterday I huffed up the mountains in Sunol with the explicit purpose of creating the ideal conditions to enjoy a box of kimbop.  Kimbop as you can see from the photo can be a labor intensive affair and so in my laziness I relied on a local Berkeley producer Spoon who creates a most excellent barbeque pork version.  Food is much much tastier when you have sweated for it and though I only managed a meager 1200 foot climb,  I wolfed down these rolls with much satisfaction.

The Sunol Wilderness east of Fremont is famous for it's acorn woodpeckers - a species whose unique behavior reminds me much of a puerh collector. These woodpeckers drill holes in dead wood called granaries to store their beloved acorns.  But acorns inconveniently shrink as they age and dry out and so these comic birds spend most of their days fussing over each acorn- moving them in and out of various sized holes to make sure each acorn is secured most snugly.

Woodpeckers like us spend more time in granary maintenance than actually partaking of the acorns.  Who knows how much pleasure and satisfaction a woodpecker derives from a perfect fit.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Tipsy on Tepache

Last week in Fruitvale, I was lucky enough to try tepache at a Mexican restaurant called Huarache.  Originating from the Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco,  tepache is a tangy fermented pineapple brew spiced with cinnamon and cloves. The taste was deliciously funky embodying all the complexity of fermentation.

I was so intrigued, I made my own batch thinking I would boldly take it to a BBQ. But then I did not feel so confident to bring this living brew learning many lactating mothers would be present.

As with any fermented product- no two batches are exactly alike and my version diverges quite a bit from Hurache's version as I also adapted the recipe a bit. Instead of the traditional dark cone of sugar - pilloncillo, I opted for honey. I also added a knob of ginger for kick.  I was pleased with the results as the left over parts of the pine apple- rind and core that normally go to compost- have transformed into a refreshing fizzy treat for after a hard day's work. Every day each cup tasted remarkably different due to the ballooning levels of wee beasties working hard to convert the sugars into alcohol.  I strained it after four days and the brew is now effervescent and light with the color of lemonade.

Such experiments in fermentation can open up the mind a bit more.  Drinking a wild living brew makes one wonder how it ever came to be that the likes of Coke and Pepsi dominate our world.  I have a number of close friends and family whose weakness is the erstwhile soda.  Their addiction shows it's not so simple to choose differently even if you are willing to abandon such poison.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Who Killed My Kamjove

A mere two days before the 6 month manufacturer's warranty ended, my Kamjove decided to join the mountain of broken cheap Chinese made electronic goods. Who knows how many millions of disposable broken Kamjoves litter the waste dumps of this world. 

Although the light goes on, the teapot refuses to heat.  All the wires and connections appeared to be fine. The heating coil had probably burnt out. I had smelled a slight burning odor prior to the malfunction. I guess I should be grateful it didn't burn the office down.

Instead of writing to the original web vendor , I just put it in it's original box with a note "BROKEN..." on the side walk in case someone else can fix it.  Someone took it away within hours.  I was just too demoralized to demand a refund or an exchange and plus I never want to buy a Kamjove ever again.   

This is about the last straw in my work tea drinking. My Hario Buono still makes terrible water. I need to send away for yet another replacement but the available new options look unpromising.

I just went for vintage and found this Japanese ceramic kettle on eBay.   The copper tea cozy has a weird white lining. I hope it's not abestos. I guess we'll see if vintage is the way to go.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Genetics of a Tea Drinker

I finally received my genetic results from 23andme- a personal genome service that will scan a million spots on your DNA for a mere $100.  My neuroscientist friend says she pays $10 a sequence even with bulk university rates so $100 is a great deal for sampling all 26 chromosomes plus your mitochondrial DNA.  For those prone to anxiety, too much information can be a burden.  Even I fell into quite a slump when shown risks that I already knew about given my family history.

Amongst all the health and ancestry reveals, I found the following genes of particular interest to tea drinking. I would be fascinated to know if any other tea drinkers out there have data to confirm or refute my assumptions.

  • perception of bitter tastes - My TAS2R38 gene makes me 80% likely not to taste certain bitter compounds.  I always thought bitterness was a matter of preference but it's more likely I don't taste the full strength of bitterness that others do.  To drink sheng, one has to enjoy bitterness and who knows if people do overcome a genetically predisposed sensitivity to bitterness.  (A digression-  I was tickled by this article claiming that drinking bitter things makes you more judgemental. The scientific experiment revolves around participants being asked to rate morally questionable acts such as "man eating his already-dead dog, and second cousins engaging in consensual sex".  Those fed bitter drinks were much harsher(28% more) in their judgement.  Following this line of thinking- are puerh bloggers harsher than soda bloggers?)
  • caffeine metabolism - genetic marker rs762551 determines how quickly your liver will metabolize caffeine.  Do those who can absorb quickly have an advantage for copious tea swilling? It's not clear if fast metabolizers are more or less sensitive to the effects of caffeine as the forum on this topic showed a great many fast metabolizers like me that were hyper-sensitive to stimulants in general.
  • addiction - various genes such as the dopamine DRD2 gene has been correlated to addictive behavior.  It's probably not accurate nor useful to project genetic results from heroin/alcohol addiction to puerh addiction.  I wasn't planning ever to take heroin but now that I see I have "substantially higher odds of heroin addiction", I am doubly determined to avoid it now...
What to make of such a glut of genetic data? There is the best one can do- exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, and reduce stress. But such virtuous living is never all that fun. I've heard that people who see that they are more genetically susceptible to certain conditions like Type 2 diabetes do clean up their act.

I decided to take a snapshot of a week's groceries just to compare how I'm fueling myself through the seasons.  Despite the continual photos of pastries and cheese I plaster on this blog, I'm really munching on a lot of fruit and veg. This photo of course is as misleading as it is only half the picture.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

End of the Road with a Brebisrousse D'Argental

Yesterday ten blocks away from home was a tea event at Teance - a tea shop firmly on my vendor black list.  Overpriced bougie douchie tea vendors are dime a dozen in the Bay Area and this one is a particularly excellent example of that genre. They ripped me off with my first major beeng purchase back in 2005 and I have vowed never again to be so gullible.  Among other inflated goodies, they sell chamomile $12 for 2oz and "exceptional" mini-tuocha for $31 per 2oz.  Just imagine paying $248 a pound for shu mini-tuocha. So it follows that most of their puerh offerings are madly overpriced.  But there are no shortage of willing rich patrons in the Fourth Street shopping district.

On Saturday, for the mere pocket change of $25, you could have stood and watched wine sommeliers drink tea and wax on about the palate and food pairings. I of course wanted to go if only for entertainment purposes but due to August Austerity measures, I could not justify throwing money away.  If you read this blog and happened to attended this session yesterday-  please do give us a report.

Teance also holds a 3 day tea training course for professionals at a sum of $975 for early registration and $1275 otherwise.   As a person who's mostly self taught in tea matters- the idea of formal training is hugely appealing.  But forking over $975 for a three day or 21 hour course seems foolish. It takes the flow of time for your palate to really understand and appreciate tea.  How far can cramming get you?

I drank good teas all week but I can't seem to rub two sentences together for a review these days. Many tea bloggers come to the end of that road and it appears I also have lost interest to continue on as a tea blogger.  I may eke out with other topics at least for a while as I eat a great many delicious things which should be shared.

My current favorite edible this month is the Brebisrousse - a sheep cheese from Lyon.  The orangeness of the rind comes not from a mold bloom but from  annatto but the briney umami flavor combined with the creamy mouthfeel makes it one of the best cheese experiences I've had all year.   I couldn't be a cheese blogger because I can't excite myself to write more than two sentences on the topic. To think I persisted in 200+ posts on tea makes me think I have greatly impinged on the poor reader.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Craftsman and Wolves

One of my favorite food podcasts is BBC's Food Programme and the recent episode on frugal eating struck a cord in me. The host Sheila Dillon covered bloggers who through various misfortunes were forced to scrape by on public assistance but found creative ways to eat better and share generously through their writings.  I've been enjoying the wit of the skint foodie and learning about spatchcocking. But after listening to the BBC podcast, my current food habits seemed shamefully profligate to me and I should do something about it.

Just like a medieval monk, eating and imbibing are the two principal pleasures in my life. The thought of any self-induced deprivation fills me with equal parts woe and determination.  It's not about denying yourself all the time but limiting yourself so you really do appreciate the special occasion treats.  The idea to eat simpler has great appeal to me as I've been grossly overdoing the bakery rounds.

Before I attempt a month of August austerity, I just wanted one last hurrah (or two). As my husband is away up the mountains, I went for dim sum with friends and then ran off in search of desserts. I had been meaning to give Craftsman and Wolves in the Mission district a go. I'd avoided them precisely because their best specialties are flour based. Despite grumpy yelp reviews and the fact they were all out of their signature Rebel Within- a savory muffin with a soft cooked egg inside, I was pleasantly impressed by the alternative twist they've put on the two selections I had.  

This button sized raspberry puff was filled with fresh raspberries inside. It was by far the loveliest raspberry pastry I've encountered.  The Devil- a chocolate mini-cake which used to have fois gras inside before the California ban now only holds the toffee ganache is still an interesting salty sweet combination. The Devil is a strangely meaty tasting treat. Even though the flour bothered me all day, it was worth it.  A total of $11.50, these are steep prices to be sure.

Last week I was hypnotized by this meringue cream puff concoction in the display case where I got a friend's birthday cake. It was not worth it.  But such follies have come to an end this month.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Two Pasadena Bakeries

I greedily munched my way through Southern California with the help of my loyal friend Sof.   Unfortunately we had to limit ourselves to about five establishments a day due to the exertion to our stretched gullet.  As a Northern Californian, I'm loathe to admit that there are culinary offerings in SoCal that are better than what's offered the Bay Area but so it is.

 The most precious of these bakeries is D'odici in Pasadena specializing in made-to-order souffles and souffle cheese cakes. I went thrice as I was so keen on their pillowy soft offerings. They serve the chocolate souffle with a scoop of cocoa dusted vanilla ice cream on top of chocolate mousse.  It takes thirty minutes but it's utterly fabulous and worth the wait.

I struck out a bit at Flour+Tea also in Pasadena. The space was open and welcoming but their specialty- a mochi baked inside a bun was just so-so. Actually I'm not convinced such a match is even a good idea as the two different textures of chewiness did not complement each other.  But their curry chicken bun was decent.

They also sold bulk green and black teas as well as some token puerh.  While I was inspecting the shu bricks- the server behind the counter perked up and told me how good they were. Apparently the shu brick is going for $65 (?) a pop.  I was about to find out what the street price of it was on taobao when I realized I was on vacation and should try to spend quality time with my dear friend. Brick and mortar shops usually have more than a 100%+ upcharge and it's not like I need any more mediocre shu.

The highlight of Flour + Tea is their enticing case of macarons. We tried the Earl Grey and Blueberry Lavender  which had a pleasingly intensity- definitely superior to San Francisco's Miette's versions which come in decidedly safe flavors.  All in all, Pasadena residents are lucky to have two such bakeries.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Green and Creamy

These days, the green beverage I look forward to most is an avocado smoothie. I prefer to blend my own with almond milk and acacia honey.  I've been pathologically drinking this concoction almost daily.

Tea keeps irritating my throat even though I try to work up my tolerance levels and the creaminess of the beverage soothes many things.  I contemplate my life time stash of tea while I down the smoothie wondering what if any action I should take in disposing of the amassed tea which may never get drunk.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tea for a California Roadtrip

 I'm making my way down the California coast, most of it in a Fiat and a little if it on foot as the terrain permits. I haven't fussed too much in the way of tea. It's all indiscriminate grandpa style brewing in a thermos- roasted oolongs, da hong pao, lapsong souchong, and a surprisingly robust bai mu dan.

Even in the height of summer, the Central California beaches are no place for your thong bikini. You can see below the locals here leave little space for out-of-towners to set down their beach towels.  

These snoozing beach goers  are male elephant seals who are mostly quiet during the molting season.  They occasionally trumpet out of their nose but this is nothing of the violent mayhem during the winter rutting season when bloody battles determine who gets to mate an entire harem.

With the blustery wind, I have quadruple layered with a duck down vest and tea is just the beverage to recover your bearings even with suboptimal brewing.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Cake Party

I held not a beeng party as the theme of this blog would suggest but a pastry cake party for friends going through various life changes.  I briefly contemplate if I even know enough people to consume a regulation beeng in a single party.

  357g beeng/ 3g tea per person =  119 friends willing to drink puerh at the same time (I think not...)

I'd have to rent out a banquet hall. I guess you could try to serve an entire beeng at a friend's wedding.

While puerh drinking friends are a slim minority,  I have no shortage of friends who want to eat my cake.   These gluten free cakes are from Crixa run by a lovely Hungarian baker in Berkeley and I make up occasions just to share them.  I had a completely inflated idea of how much cake friends can pound down.  

(Don't make fun of my teapot. It's the kind of thing you can use when brewing Darjeeling for such a party.  I was going to use my black widow Wedgwood but you can't see how dark the brew is.  I'm finally going to get rid of both on ebay.)

Last week, because my favorite baker had been on vacation I was forced to resort to my second choice of bakeries for an impromptu Scrabble party. Masse's in Berkely has stiffer and more sugary cakes which often have boob and nipple look.  When enjoying such cakes with friends,  it seems impossible that there could be serious woes in one's life that needs attention.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

First Crack at China Cha Dao's Samples

China Cha Dao's seven mystery samples came labeled with greek letters.  Has all my hours of diligent blog reading,  puerh eye-shopping, swapping and drinking honed any useful identification skills? Since CCD is a Douji franchise and the samples came in a Douji bag with a Douji map,  the possibilities are narrowed significantly. But still it's great fun to play tea detective.  The general characteristics I'm checking with my eyes and nose are:
  • shu or sheng or other
  • approximate age
  • form
  • compression 
  • leaf size - this inspection is best done after a brew
  • bud ratio - all of the samples have a reasonable amount of fur
  • scent
 Attributes which are harder to suss out even with multiple brewings at least for me are:
  • wild arbor vs plantation 
  • blend vs single mountain 
  • regional characteristics - I can reliably pick out LBZ since my physical response of such rocket fuel is so extreme but it's not likely such tea would be included in a free tasting.
  • spring vs summer vs autumn pick - when something is not as potent, you can't automatically assume the leaves are not spring pick.

(I've put some initial guesses below even before brewing so don't read if you don't want to.)

  • Epsilon (Shu beeng) -   The only shu in the batch, it also came with a bonus strand of black hair. I have a few Douji Phonenix Tour ripe cakes I've never opened deeming them too young for consumption. Incidentally they are my best performing investment from last year at a 350% return.
  • Alpha (Iron Brick Xiang Dou?)  - Having the tightest compression of the sheng samples, it's definitely not stone pressed like the other shengs.  Judging by the edge and the planar shape, it also looks like it came from a brick.  Unlike their other stone pressed cakes, Douji ultra iron-pressed the Xiang Dou bricks to preserve the tea fragrance. I can see serious scrape marks from prying the chunk off that attests to how tightly this brick was pressed.
  • Zeta (mao cha?)- Is it loose leaf puerh mao cha or something other tea to throw us off. I guess only brewing it will settle this matter.  
  • Eta (Oldest Sheng beeng)   the oldest sample judging by the dark oxidation of the chunk but also the smaller sample size provided. I would venture to guess it's more than 4+ years. Although YiwuZhengShan Mountain Tea company started in 2005, Douji brand cakes first came out in 2006 of which I was lucky enough to be gifted five cakes.  
  • Delta (Sheng beeng) - the second oldest sample
  • Beta and Gamma  (Sheng beeng) - still working on it...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Vendor Hosted Tastings

After a long day's work, I was surprised by two packages from China.  A few weeks ago, Hobbes kindly asked if I wanted to be included in two vendor tastings of 2013 cakes.  I agonized for a few days in South Africa whether to tempt myself with such young sheng. But tea greed totally got the better of me as I had planned to throw tea parties and share with worthy and deserving friends.  As I sniff the new sweet sheng from Douji, a few of the chunks are intoxicating beyond belief. These are blind tastings which make it all the more interesting- can the other esteemed drinkers hone in on the region?

The second box are Scott's new productions. I want to open the impossibly shiny packets tonight so I can overdose on tea fragrance. But I must restrain myself until a party can be arranged.  Thanks to both Scott and Jerry for their generosity and risk-taking. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Airless Aging the Mandarin's 2005 Menghai Anniversary Cake

I had saved Tim's sample from the 2006 Live Journal Tasteoff as a future experiment in sealed aging.  This tea is a special edition 2000g Menghai monster of which only 999 cakes are in existence.  I marvel at the kind of man who would unflinchingly buy a new 2kg beeng of newborn sheng.  That's confidence!

I was going to wait ten years til 2015 to open this sample, but this morning, I just went for it.  Perhaps the supermoon yesterday subconsciously compelled me.  As I snip open the bag,  I'm kicking myself for not inserting a hygrometer probe to determine the humidity inside the bag.  This tea pressed in 2005 has spent 7+ years in this plastic bag. I sniff and note this tea has aged perhaps a tad more than my own cakes but this could be due to the fact that samples just age faster due to greater surface area exposure.

After reading Sandor Katz's Art of Fermentation recently, some light bulbs went off in my head.  Puerh aging is not just oxidation but the effect of active lactobacillus fermentation. Lactobacillus bacteria usefully employed in yogurt, cheese, saurkraut and other fermented foods are aerotolerant- meaning they do best in anaerobic conditions but will tolerate air.  Hojo Tea's article on vacuum sealed aging does not mention bacterial fermentation (probably they don't want to drive away potential germaphobe Japanese drinkers) but notes that the anaerobic conditions inside iron beengs from the sixties produce fruity notes without the "undesirable" earthy notes which they attribute to "unwanted" oxidation.   Some drinkers prefer the earthy notes but I can see how clean fruity floral notes unladen with forest floor notes to be more matched to the Japanese palate.

Larger beengs are reputed to age slower but this goes against my logical thinking. If the lactobacillus prefer an anaerobic environment, shouldn't larger compressed beengs provide better anaerobic conditions to age faster?  I can see in the moist environs of Hong Kong and Guangzhou, puerh must have good airflow or risk mold.  But for aging in drier climes, should vacuum sealed aging be preferred?  I may gamble on a few cakes as my current dry conditions are taking me nowhere. 

My ipad camera and lighting makes the tea look shockingly green even without any filtering.  I put it next to a naturally Taiwan aged 2005 CGHT to show you the Menghai is slightly less brown.

The brew is sweet and tastes more aged than the 8 year olds I've aged in my tea cabinet but it's not  ready yet.  Despite reading that sealing puerh will halt/drastically slow the aging process, I can definitely confirm that airless conditions does not deter aging at all.     

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wild Tree Purple Varietal Black Tea of Dehong

One of the teas I distinctively remember enjoying was the 2012 Dehong Wild Tree Purple Varietal Black Tea from YS so when I saw the 2013 version , I confidently sent away for three packets. The 2012 version was a pleasing combination of smoky savoriness and fruity juiciness; I've yet to meet a purple tea I do not like. ( As I tap out this entry, my food lightbulb blinks of smoking dried fruits for extra flavor. I have a smoked salt that is a nice accomaniment to stone fruit.) I prefer the 2012 which has a more intense flavor. Is it the year of aging which benefits this tea or was last year's tea simply better? Since I've found the purple DeHong puerh to be at their peak when fresh, I'm guessing the latter. I'll know more  definitively in a year's time.  The caffeine and cha qi in both teas are surprisingly gentle.

A friend told me that late night caffeine binges are alright since your body won't metabolize it until you have fast fallen asleep. It's the late afternoon indulgence that will kill your sleep. Empirically tonight I find this to be true.  I finally invited over friends that I meant to for five years. We drank this purple tea as an acompaniment to dessert although the tea holds well alone.

I have decided to declare a social bankruptcy as obligations even joyful ones have exceeded my ability to cope. I forgot my Mother's Day and mother's birthday present, ditto for father, and legions of good friend's birthdays and other special occasions to say nothing of neglected correspondence.  To make matters worse, I've become a Words with Friends addict ever since I returned from South Africa. (My unfortunate tag is chocomunch if anyone wants a challenge. I think if my close ones saw me puzzle over words instead of returning their calls, they might tut-tut me to no end.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Xi Ji Chuen Oolong

As I'm still bit jet lagged, I tried to pick out the most gentlest most benign tea for Saturday morning. I resolutely went past all the enticing young shengs and set my eyes upon only the oolongs in Ira's box.  

The Xi Ji Chuen or Four Seasons Oolong seemed innocent enough. Taiwanese oolong cultivar created in the eighties to be more disease resistant, it's considered an every day oolong.

Sadly enough, my throat closed up immediately. Yesterday I had the same reaction to a different oolong. I've somehow developed a tannin sensitivity to green tea. Drats. The universe somehow keeps on telling me tea is not the beverage for me. Of the many sorrows I had to endure this year, why do I have to get crushed even further. Tea was one of the few uncomplicated joys in my life. 

I vaguely remember ordering tea last week. I binge bought a load of green and white teas for my clients in South Africa because I thought someone in the office would hand carry it to them this month. Nothing but sighs escape my lips regarding this matter.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Dubai Layover Tea

My Durban adventures have now come to a close.  A hobbit needs habit and being flung in a far  corner of the world induces a torrential homesickness for which only going home can cure. 

Dubai is the easiest transit between South Africa and California.  About 26 hours is really the best you can do. Once I made the mistake of taking a four legged journey and was stuck in the airport/airplane pipeline for 46 hours.  I missed the last connection at JFK due to an overzealous on-board security check in Dakar where they send Senegalese agents to probe almost every nook and cranny of the cabin while we held all our on-board luggage in our arms. They barked out orders to the passengers and eyed us most suspiciously. My friends- never transit on a flight which has an on board stopover in Dakar. If the traumatic security check was not bad enough, they also fumigate the cabin. Also you may have special luck to be seated next to a garrulous person with dental hygiene so decrepit, you might faint when they crack open even a smile. Actually the male flight attendant giggled when I explained the uncomfortable situation and immediately rescued me. 

I've flowed through Dubai a few too many times but when I do, I usually stop at the French bakery.  Paul's which is a little better than your usual airport fare- serves cheerfully good almond croissants. While languishing on Emirates gluten free in-flight meals which are a cut above dreadful and knowing such a bakery is only trouble for my belly, I promptly ordered a trayful. 

I jealously watched this little fellow snoozing so comfortably while munching dolefully on all the wrong foods.  Nothing- nothing- on this tray was a good idea including the chopped up gunpowder tea in a plastic mesh bag.  BioTea is outright abusing the gunpowder designation - no sign of rolling anywhere. It's much easier to get good black tea in a bag than it is to get green tea. While sipping this subpar specimen,  I promptly mental made a list of teas I'm going to drink when I get back.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Endless Pots of Rooibos

Although the raging fire has been put out, I have a week to remain with the client in South Africa to promote good-will.  With the fear of reverting my sleep schedule, I been forcing myself to have only rooibos tea. Rooibus or honeybush is the national alternative brimming with health benefits. I don't fancy the spicy earthy taste which probably is the closest tisane to puerh on the flavor wheel. But when your mind is jammed, the palate can go numb.

The joy of working in my particular industry is seeing serious machinery operate. Apparently in Africa, tired drivers taking a snooze under quay cranes and getting squished is an occurrence. The first night I was here, a truck ran into a train but it's been almost five days here without a DI (deadly incident).

I had been mad the original perpetrators of this havoc remained behind back at HQ but it was such a huge huge relief to see normal operations restored on my third day that I'm glad the customer sent me an s.o.s. and dusted me out of retirement. I'd almost forgotten the exquisite thrill of getting an actual physical system running smoothly.  Running an entire maritime terminal takes a tremendous amount of code to handle logistics, automation and optimization.  Alas humans even the best engineers are not designed to behold the complexity of such distributed systems. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Snails and Carpaccio in Durban

After 24 hour notice, I hopped on a plane to Durban via Dubai to address a grave emergency.  The client requested my specific presence and of course I am exactly the man for such a job. They had run out of chocolates causing all sorts of mayhem.

Actually this dire situation was affecting the economy of the nation. I rolled off the plane at night after a two day flight, worked from 5am to midnight and again the next day until 2a.m. We wrought enough relief that today our team had a leisurely day out.  

I had the luxury of lunching on snails three ways and carpaccio instead of catered lunch.  Whenever I enjoy snails, I always am reminded of the infamous scene from Spartacus between Laurence Olivier to his strapping slave Antoninus played by Tony Curtis in a warm bathing pool.

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antoninus: No, master.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?

Like Marcus and most Koreans, my taste includes both snails and oysters. But of course the Hollywood script writers are quite sly and the question is not about edible molluscs at all.

I'm slated here ten more days as I didn't know how long the fires would burn.  I briefly fantasized about a quick jaunt to Namibia but I don't know what the days will bring at all.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pine Needle Tea and a Hasty Flight

While hiking I noticed the surrounding pine trees had started to sprout new needles which gave occasion for spontaneous wildcrafting. I had planned to eat the baby pine needles with oak honey as I had seen in the El Bulli documentary but the needles turned out to be too fibrous but good for tea. 

Lemony with a citric tartness that's full of vitamin C, pine needle tea is a fun diversion but not a tea I would ply regularly.  

Today I bought a ticket to go to South Africa to fly tomorrow. I have on many occasions been prompted to travel thus for work. One day notice gives a traveler little room to figure out what tea if any to take. I of course packed red ginseng for the fortitude I will need.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Freer and the Fake Scotch

When I return to the East Coast, I am ever hopeful to squeeze in a visit to the nation's museums.  Besides the obligatory stop at the excellent National Gallery, the Freer is my sentimental favorite.  Housing gems of Asian art bequeathed by yet another art amassing industrialist Charles Lang Freer who was also a principal patron of Whistler, the Freer houses Whistler's Peacock Room.  The gold leaf is borderline gaudy and exquisite at the same time; the back paint is actually green in the light which you can see only when the shutters open once a week. 

I am not a great appreciator of Asian art and I go to the Freer not for the treasures of China, Japan and Korea but really in hopes of seeing pages of the Freer Jami- the most splendid illustrated book produced by humankind.  I was sorely disappointed again. They rarely have it on display and I need to make a special appointment.

The Freer also houses oddities such as these Chinese philospher's stones which I sadly did not get to stroke as they were safely trapped behind glass.  I have a very small rock collection filched from hiking mostly in the shape of hearts but never have I come across such charismatic unencumbered pieces of stone. Instead of a tea pet, I think such a stone might make good company for a tea session.

After a long day of museum trotting, I spied this bottle of Johnny Walker Swing casually hanging out on my mother's kitchen counter. I dribbled some scotch on the rocks to relax and was taken aback by a completely unexpected taste. I was confused because it didn't come in that tapering trapezoid bottle. I gushed, "This is the fruitiest smoothest scotch I've ever had."

My mother giggled and said "I fooled you."  She had refilled the bottle with a home fermented ume syrup she mixed with soju.  I don't like JW too much(not because I'm some single malt snob) so I was entirely happy to be fooled.  So sipping my fake scotch, I contemplate museums that I wish I can wander around once again before I die:
  • Museum of Cairo - Crammed with dusty antiquities floor to ceiling, one can feast one's eyes on choice stone sarcophagi to pharaonic underwear, the Cairo museum has the added charm of inside smog and endless honking directly wafted in from Tahrir Square. 
  • Chester Beatty in Dublin 
  • Ulster Folk and Transport Museum 
  • Rock Collection - The Natural History Museum, London 
  • Larco Museum, Lima
  • Musee du Cluny, Paris
I've dutifully trudged through the Louvre, the Vatican Museum, Uffizi, the Met, British Museum, Victoria and Albert, and so many of the great museums - but somehow those above really captured my heart and imagination. My only regret was that there was not an equally toothsome food venue anywhere near them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Experiments in Vinegar

Behold- the mother of vinegar.  I went away for a week and now some of the experiments have come to fruition.  The white suspicious looking gloopy layer - the mother- is a mat of acetobacter converting the alcohol to vinegar. I had just a little square inch of it from a store-bought raw apricot vinegar and from that inch, these discs grew.

I started multiple batches three weeks ago and now they have transformed to proper mouth puckering vinegar.  You can see below the mother separated in two layers- this was when I disturbed her too much. Apparently one can eat the mother as it's purportedly good for your digestive health. Or better you can share to get someone else started on the craft of vinegar making. 

Was it worth the trouble?  Actually it's no trouble at all- I just made a sweet rum wash and hid it in a dark warm corner.   Seeing as tiny thimblefuls of gourmet vinegars go for $10+ dollars,  home-made is definitely worth your while.   The tangy taste of this particular set has a deeper richness and complexity due to the carob syrup. Now that I've done one batch, my mind is spinning on other vinegars I can dream up.  Actually once my husband finishes the attic, I was planning to setup a mini-solera balsamico style.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


When one goes away on a trip, one really needs a good way to carry one's tasting chocolates.  Recently I've scoured Daiso,  a Japanese $1.50 chain.  Among budget gems such as a jump rope with an analog counter, I found these brown sacs seemingly custom made for chocolate conveyance.  

Now that I don't drink much puerh, my palate has to get on from elsewhere.  The caffeine content in chocolate is such that I never do more than an ounce.

My vinegar experiments are taking their sweet old time. I have high hopes for my carob syrup and rum concoction more than the raisin and rum vinegar.