Monday, December 24, 2012

Xmas Youle Tea

What better way to relax on Xmas eve than to avoid social responsibilities and ease in with tea.  I brought out the 2004 Jinuoshan Youle sent to me by Jakub of T mostly for the pun but I'm glad I did.  I think I'll officially make Youle teas my Xmas tea from now on.

First brews are enticingly soft in the mouth. This is nothing like my ultra smoky 04 Tailian Youle or most of my other shengs for that matter.  The fruity floral notes are kind of likable and I might be able to convince my girlfriends to drink it.  I've been drinking a lot of oolong lately and have found daily comfort in such approachable teas. I might get a beeng if no one's looking. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2013 Tea Experiments

While I was cleaning out the kitchen in preparation to welcome 2013,  I found a lot of random canisters holding hong cha, stale sencha, oolongs and such.  These teas don't get a lot of play. The husband just said flat out- "You have sooo much tea.  Maybe you shouldn't buy any in 2013." Nice try mister.

If I were to take his challenge seriously, I have exactly one week to order any tea for the rest of next year but I need not panic.  I have several hundred samples sent by generous tea friends along with more than my body weight in tea.    What I need is not consumption limits but a more disciplined approach to tea drinking.  When you have multiple hundreds of teas to select from- you can end up just flitting from tea to tea. When I can drink any number of teas at any time, I tend not to try as hard to find the good points of a tea which doesn't particularly stand out.

I've always been fascinated by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman's ice cream experiments.  He paid volunteers to eat their favorite ice cream for eight days straight and to predict whether or not they would enjoy the experience the next day and on the last day.  He proved that humans are notoriously bad at predicting even their own future preferences.  Combined with the fact that humans presented with excessive choices tend to be less satisfied than those with limited choices, I'm betting a few constraints would help my situation.  I thought of the following experiments for 2013:
  • Drink the same tea for an entire week.
  • Drink the same tea for a specific weekday for an entire year. 
  • Drink the same region for an entire month - maybe February will be Yiwu month.
  • Drink the same factory for an entire month- Menghai March...
  • Drink through an entire beeng.
I might hate such constraints or I might love it. I won't know till I try.

(My husband and I tried a new neighborhood sushi joint tonight to be outright surprised by something exceedingly fresh and delicious. I had the scallop, aji, hirame, and uni tempura which were most excellent.  Tear almost come to my eye.  I didn't feel this way when I saw Jiro Dreams of Sushi but when I encounter such efforts first hand,  I'm inspired to do better in my own life.  )

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the World Tea

I'm not a serious doomer although I constantly prepare for emergencies of all sorts. Even if the world won't be ending exactly tomorrow as misinterpreted by some poor saps who believe in the end of the Mayan Calendar, I thought it would be fun to pick out a tea I would drink if the world really was ending tomorrow.

First- would I be drinking tea if the end was nigh?

Probably.  Copiously.   Will you?

If the world really was ending, I'd definitely drink the last of MarshalN's aged dong ding wulong but I'm still saving that for a special occasion.  I have hundreds of teas but I just want something I know which has made me feel relaxed and happy.  For a few minutes I just can't decide.  I pick out Ira's 1990 7262 of which I think of fondly.  But after half a cup-  it makes me feel really dizzy- a head rush that takes me by surprise.  I was awake at four in the morning today so probably puerh in an exhausted state may not be wise and I must sleep tonight. Tea blue balls- I have to wait until tomorrow.   I guess if the world really was ending, I'd have to take the strongest stuff so I can stay awake until the end- I might even brave coffee.

Haha- I'd never go over to the dark side.  That black brew is not for me even with apocalypse pending. Today I was at a coffee shop trying to pick out some beans for my husband. I know almost nothing about coffee and I don't like to over-exert my selection muscles unnecessarily so I just took one of everything. Blue Bottle is a hipster approved brand and my husband normally "tut tuts" that sort of thing.   I walk past Blue Bottle headquarters every day which is absolutely overflowing with addicts out the door waiting highly unreasonable times to get their cup of single drip coffee. I was curious if the coffee lives up to the hype but I won't get a judgement until tomorrow.

I'm kind of glad the world really isn't ending tomorrow because well- we have still a lot of tea adventures to enjoy. Good night!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2011 Haiwan LTZ Gold Brick in Three Cups

After a steady diet of bagged tea in NYC, I rummaged through my bag to ease back into puerh. I brought out the Gold Brick sample given to me by Ira as "Mystery Tea A"- the Gold Brick is a pleasant smooth shu tolerant of mis-brewing.  For kicks, I thought I would serve it in my mother's oldest china set. I broke this rose patterned cup as a little girl and I tried to attach back the handle with superglue without my mother knowing.   Of course nothing ever escapes a mother's eagle eyes.
Shu just tastes all wrong in dainty floral bone china so I dug out more appropriate cups.  The tea tastes very different in all three even though these cups are fully glazed.  It's not just feeling and mood. At home my porous unglazed teaware definitely influences taste in a noticeable way but my glazed teaware tends to taste about same.

The shu tastes rather thin in the bone china while the celadon glaze gives the shu the fullest roundest  flavor. In fact I can only taste the noted Haiwan creaminess with these Korean cups.   The shape as in wine glasses is an important determinant in influencing taste in dispersing the tea smells.  However I'm guessing it's the variations in the glazed surfaces that are responsible for the difference.  The cracks in the celadon are somehow ideal for at least this type of shu.  (These green cups are going home with me for further experimentation that is... ) I guess shu benefits from an angular surface to open up the molecules.  

More on the tea which I will need some help from Ira.  Ira told me she was told the Gold Brick was a special edition and I remember seeing it in a fancy box. I vaguely remember that it had some Banzhang(SBZ not LBZ?) leaves as well.  This shu is a gong ting style with tiny leaves and tastes similar to the 2006 Haiwan Peacock Shu and has a light light lingering taste.  Still this shu is a bit too young for my taste as from time to time I get a faintest hint of wodui- not obvious but still present enough to cause a wee bit of consternation from me.

Friday, December 14, 2012

New York Tea Roundup

In my 3 day trip to the Big Apple, tea drinking took a backseat to opera and art but even I was taken aback by the pricey subpar tea I kept masochistically ordering at every meal. I'll just keep it short to a trio of the worst disappointments.  Aida and the Museums were indisputably spectacular and I could gush on but this is a tea blog after all.

First and worst tea offender is Lady M Cake Boutique renowned for their exquisite crepe layer cakes. They served the weakest palest Earl Grey I've had the misfortune of imbibing.  Their pastries were delicate and fresh deserving of better tea.  I looked in the teapot to investigate why it was so weak. The server had prematurely removed the tea bag. Since it must be a deliberate practice, why would they hide the tea bag? Is it just a Twining's?  Can you really serve a small pot of bagged tea for $8 with inadequate infusion times? In the Upper East Side, yes you can!

The second offending tea came from a tea house with an extensive tea menu. Alice's Tea Cup maximizes a whimsical Lewis Carrol theme and their 100+ tea menu included various India, Ceylon, and rooibus blends and even one lonely puerh touting health benefits and tryglycerides.  The tea house was a mere four blocks from the Met letting us escape the dreaded museum cafes which are never all that good.

 I ordered Alice's Blend -a black, green and rose infusion because  I thought my mother would like it.  Again, tea was a tad weak and I wondered if I should say anything to the waitress. But after four solid hours of ogling at antiquities, one is too tired to take issues to a perky smiling waitress. I didn't want to be explained to that this tea has a "fine delicate flavor".   New Yorkers yelped extensively about the deliciousness of these scones but I found them to be just a notch above average.  I've had much flakier worthwhile examples baked by my friend Celeste who is also known as the "scone lady".   

Despite my original intentions to avoid museum food, my sad limp foot forced us to lunch at the MoMA.  I briefly contemplated dining at "the Modern" which is MoMA's upscale formal dining establishment but I've read mixed reviews so we opted for the casual Cafe 2.  I'll never know if the Modern's tea (from Vancouver's T) would have ended up a dud or reversed the tide of sad tea which sank even lower at Cafe 2.

The waiter brought out Mighty Tea Leaf tea bags with hot water in a bonglike glass bottle.  What a bad bad idea- only a non tea drinker could think of something so impractical.  The water brought to the table was so tepid that I'm forced to admit I had better tea at conferences.  Also how do museum kitchens make a perfectly good porkchop taste boring? Perhaps their cooks can turn to the ancient method of brining.

I can imagine no shortage of huffy British customers that might have promptly sent back any of these teas. When traveling in British Isles, I ordered tea multiple times a day which was served reliably piping hot and fortifyingly strong!!!  Was it just pure bad luck to be served teas improperly prepared in five separate establishments?    For $3.50-$8 a cup, I'm just expecting the tea to be brewed properly to say nothing of the underlying leaf quality.  New York- why you disappoint me so.

To reverse the tide of weak ass tepid tea, I opted for hot chocolate and a cardamom bun at Fika - a Scandinavian coffee shop en route to our second night of opera - a five hour production of Berlioz's Le Troyens. Sigh. Neither Fika or Les Troyens were for me.  I'm sure Parisians were yawning and planning their escape even in Berlioz's time. 

One of the conceits of New York City is that if it's the best in New York City, it's pretty much the best in the world.  Living on the West Coast, one always has a twinge that one is missing out.  New York definitely has superior art and opera over the West coast.  But for every day edibles, I think the Bay Area trumps in quality, deliciousness, and availability.   The two delicious New York things I wished I could bring back to my friends were Luke's plump lobster rolls and Two Little Hen's Boston cream pie done up cupcake style. Why did I not fill my suitcase up with them...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Nettle and Mugwort Tea

I've been trying to assess the state of my mother's tea closet today which is crammed with various teas I've left  over the many years.  Since my parents never touch any of my teas, they are liable to go stale for decades unless I do something about it.  Sadly these climes are no place for puerh storage as it can go so bone dry in the winter that I've actually gotten a bloody nose before from a blast of heat from central heating.

These Duchy tea boxes are a recent leftover from when my mother and I were in London together only last summer.  I had a fully equipped flat for two weeks so I confidently picked three teas thinking I'd chug unnatural amounts of tea at breakfast and bedtime British style but these teas went untouched for many reasons.

Nettle tea is considered a restorative tea chock full of minerals and it tastes mildly awful- like wet dried grass until you get used to it.  Long ago, one of our friends used to harvest nettle from the sides of roads to make pasta.  Nettle is stinging and one really has to be careful not to get any of the fresh stinging hairs on you but it's made safe by cooking.  I wouldn't bother drinking nettle tea without the reputed health benefits and my bones do feel a glow of extra mineral fortification with each sip.  I  can't even say if this Duchy tea is a superior or subpar example of nettle tea but the ginger and organic Assam are forgettable teas.  I have a pathological aversion to throwing any tea away and probably I'll drink these on my visit for another five years.

Under a pile of newspapers in the kitchen table, I was shocked to find a flattened unopened bag of mugwort loose leaf tea I had gifted my mother five years ago.  This mountain mugwort was collected by a friend of a friend's mother. Koreans use mugwort as a flavoring and coloring agent for desserts and I love the taste of green mugwort mochi.  I brewed the mugwort tea for my father tonight and found this inadvertently aged tea still soothing.  Back home in Berkeley, mugwort is often my bedtime replacement for chamomile.

Mugwort has some entertaining folk names- "felon herb", "naughty man", "old uncle Henry" and "sailor's tobacco".   While hiking in Richmond, I found a gangly plant which had striking resemblance to "old uncle Henry" but my husband emphatically convinced me not to put this "felon herb" in my mouth to test if it indeed was the "sailor's tobacco".  Wild crafting has it's risks and I guess risking poisoning or a stomach ache might never be worth a wager.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Something New and Pwiggly

November was just a dogpile of mishaps and trials but I'm happy to share that there was at least a small amount of progress in a new direction.   Yesterday I released my first ever interactive e-book for ipad to the App Store- Pwiggles on Pluto.  It's nothing to do with tea I'm afraid but it's chock full of merry amusement:

I was in such a terrible rush to release it before Christmas that I've abandoned most responsibilities.
For any of my tea readers interested in trying it- you are welcome to e-mail me at hster.investigates at gmail to get a promo code to bypass the 99 cent toll.

Although I'm not abandoning my day job any time soon,  I'm ever curious that I could devise a different work life than tech research.  It's definitely not tea vending and to tell you the truth, it was huge fun figuring out which of these pwiggles is going to make a snoring sound or a rude flatulent sound when you tap them. Most of all, I'm trying to see if I can fund my tea hobby entirely from here.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Tea Commemorative Military Style

After a long red eyeflight to the East Coast, I needed a sturdy tea to revive. But at my parent's house, tea pretty much means either boiled roasted barley tea, ginseng extract tea, ginger granule tea, or job's tears tea in a bag. There are literally hundreds of pieces of china in my mother's multiple china cabinets but the only practical brewing option ended up being this Republic of Korea Army tea set.
Growing up in a military family has it's benefits.   My second fondest childhood memory involving such military perks was being taken to inspect one of the secret tunnels (a.k.a. "tunnels of aggression")  North Koreans had excavated near the 38th parallel.  My father used to teach economics at the National Defense University and his students used to bring endless gifts of Castella jelly roll which was my favorite perk.   But even now,  my parents receive a steady supply of army gifts for which I am often the happy recipient. The commemorative ROK Defense Department deluxe gold plated nail clipper kit is my husband's all-time favorite along with a 50-year armistice anniversary leather belt.  

The loose leaf in the strainer is a Vicony Tea's Lapsang Souchong sent via Hobbes. I haven't had LS in such a long time but my palate memory reminded me the initial smokiness is quite light in this tea compared against the tar-smoke LS I used to avoid.  I snuck in a few cookies I found hanging about,  Trader Joe's "Highbrow Chocolate Chip Cookie" to round it all off.

Monday, December 03, 2012

2001 Yiwu 1000 Years Wild Round

On Sunday I leisurely picked out a sample from Ira's box.   The chosen tea was labeled as "2001 Yiwu 1000 Years Wild Round- Jing Pin -  Fu Yuan Chang".  I wonder which claim is true:
  • 2001 - probably true based on taste
  • Yiwu - can't tell
  • 1000 Years -  possibly or probably an exaggeration
  • Wild - can't tell as it didn't provide above average qi
The "round" part is definitely true.  This tea appears to be found nowhere on the internet though you can readily get Fu Yuan Chang's aged 90's sheng from grandtea and generation tea for a reasonable $200.  A "reasonable" price for aged teas often means there's a reason for such a price and I won't bet my $200 lightly.  Fu Yuan Chang/Factory(福元昌) appears to be still making pu-erh in looking at taobao.

I rinsed the leaves three times but the tea really pricked my throat.  Beyond the wet storage taste, the tea is okay- not terrible, not wonderful, just there.  I tried to push ahead to the 10th brew but still I just can't focus.  Even worse, my mind wandered enough that before I knew it, I had cut a piece of aged cheese to snack on with a buttery pastry and some fig chutney. Once I decide to eat cheese- serious tea tasting is over for the day.

While munching on my impromptu dessert plate, I do a quick post-mortem to figure out why the session fell flat. Maybe the tea needed airing out.   I am still a shallow drinker- I can't enjoy myself if the taste and mouthfeel does not please me.  In fact, if my brain perceives the taste to be too moldy or musty,  I have to constantly fight my natural impulse not to swallow the tea. I retreat back to drinking a simple green tea to clear my palate. I think I'll steer clear of all wet stored puerh's for awhile.