Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2011 Jin Dayi

Last Sunday morning I was missing puerh so much, I could not help but brew up something. My husband said perhaps moderation early morning could be the key.

I had these most generous hunks of the Jin Dayi from Ira that I've been wanting to try but truthfully  I had been afraid to.  I am not the biggest fan of Dayi sheng as most of them pack too powerful a punch. Hobbes can withstand many a potent Dayi cake but such agressive strength in young sheng translates into multi-day physiological woes for me.

This Jin Dayi has to be a cake for aging. Even in the second sip, it gave me a sheng headache right behind the eyes. I forged on but I felt a bit manhandled by this tea. I am still trying to recover from the sheng-hangover today and feel so sleepy that I have only one eye open to tap out this post.

In the past, young sheng was not commonly drunk as it is now. Is drinking young sheng regularly bad for your stomach and liver? My body protests at even thimblefuls of this young sheng so I must listen. I'll have to tuck this cake away for another decade at least.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Claudio Corallo Chocolates

We finally meet- the much lauded chocolate from Claudio Corallo. Praised from chocolate doyen ChloĆ© Doutre Russel to armies of chocophile bloggers, these bars were lovingly crafted in the far distant corner of Sao Tome e Principe. While artisan bean-to-bar chocolate makers have proliferated in the past decade, those that actually grow the beans is a rare group. Corallo has suffered malaria thrice working in the equatorial heat of his plantation, but he is quite undeterred in his pursuit of creating the best bar in the world aided by his entire family.  Corallo's production is apparently so finicky that they hand remove the bitter germ of the cacao- something you could not do in the West due to prohibitive labor costs.

I selected four bars- 70%, 73.5%, 80%,  and a 100% along with a Ubric #1 which has drunken raisins infused in the distillation of the of cacao pulp shown above. The bar's are rustic and unevenly thin giving a more wild and untamed feeling to the bar.

So how is the final result?  This perhaps may be one of the few non-gushing review of Corallo to be found on the internet.  The bars are extremely well done but I found the taste somewhat mild and the bass notes on the 75% and 80% did not hold my attention. The cacao nibs on the 73.5% had a lovely nuttiness.  Corallo bars are from a "heirloom" forastero and despite all the perfection and care given,  the bean variety I humbly think lacks the native complexity of a criollo.  For those not acquainted- cacao comes from three main varieties
  • criollo - the rarest original cacao, less than 1-5% of the world production, and is a low yielding variety holds the most depth and complexity. 
  • forastero- hardy robust breed that comprises the bulk of the world's production and tend to have lower ceilings of flavor more like a merlot grape. One of the rare exceptions would be Arriba bean (Nacional) from Ecuador and Republica del Cacao makes toothsome arriba bars at a great price ($3-5).  
  • trinitario - hybrid of the two, they often get used as flavor components of a bar.  Rio Caribe and Carenero from Venezuela are the most commonly available trinitarios  at bay area grocery stores.  San Francisco's Amourette makes a worthwhile 100% Carenero Supreme bar ($5-6). Trinitario bars from Trinidad where they first hybridized are harder to find and you may have to go to chocolate shops like Fog City.
From a chocolate vendor site  http://www.chocolatiers.co.uk/products/claudio-corallo-100, we find this quote: 
He(Corallo) has stated "Good chocolate is not necessarily a problem of variety," he says. "It is a problem of work."  
Corallo likens chocolate to great wine and while pretty good bars can be made from forastero, I don't think the greatest wines can be made from merlot grapes no matter how much the vinter has exacted his or her magic. 

There are criollo bars I've loved- Chuao and Porcelana where I was simply enthralled- such bar short circuit my thinking.  Porcelana is like a fine Yiwu with high notes.  These Corallo bars are some of the most expensive I've procured and for $12.50 for 50g, I want criollo/trinitario-like depth and complexity. Corallo has to realize that he's not competing with Lindt but all the other high end artisan chocolate makers like Amedei, Domori, Rogue, and my favorite Amano.  My current favorite is Amano's Dos Rios($7 for 2oz) which is of unknown variety but has a intriguing natural bergamot taste to the bean.

I love plenty of non-criollo bars that are a fraction of the cost. I'll have to save them up for a post on delicious budget chocolate. For example, Santander for $2.75 is pretty fabulous.   My husband was not impressed with Corallo and stated he preferred San Francisco made Dandelion over Corallo but I'm not a Dandelion chocolate fan but I love their cakes.

For sheer enjoyability and mindless deliciousness (besides my all time favorite Taza bars), I tuck into a Majani bar. Majani bills itself as "the first chocolatier in the world to make a chocolate bar" and they still do a fine bar that is very accessible.

I am reminded of a post from Mattcha about a lone Korean monk who cultivates only a few tea bushes. I was so taken in by the poetic image of the monk picking tea leaves that I almost whipped out my credit card to get some. But Matt honestly revealed at the end of the post that the tea turned out to be not that interesting. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Caffeine Content of White Tea

Last night I could not sleep and I awoke up bleary eyed this morning like my usual under-performing self. All I had the day before was two cups of white tea from less than 20 leaves- I fell for the common myth that white tea has the least caffeine. A colleague who I've been sharing tea with confirmed this bai mu dan-white peony with about third buds had some extra octane.

The myth about white tea having the lowest caffeine content compared with green and black tea probably stems from the Fujian varietal for certain kinds of white tea which purportedly has less caffeine. While absolute generalizations cannot be made, white teas could contain higher concentrations of caffeine for the following reasons according to this ratetea article:
  • White tea tends to be largely buds which contains the highest levels of caffeine in the tea plant. Caffeine being the plant's insecticide needs to protect it's most tender parts.
  • Minimal processing leaves the caffeine in tact.

So I can devise a series of experiment to prove the new wisdom.  I'll bring in different types of white tea (silver needles) and let my colleague rate the caffeine content. Since he's a hardened coffee drinker trying to wean off, I'll know the caffeine content is serious if he feels it.

As for myself,  I drank nothing but water tea today at work and will do so for a while. I threw in one lonely pod of cardamom to cheer myself up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Life without Tea.. Almost

It's terrible. It's as if my qi has been unblocked in the past six days without tea. I zip along early morning smiling even. I used to grumble at those overly perky morning people of superior virtue- so called "morning larks".

Now that I have time to make a proper breakfast, I've been poaching oysters and eggs in almond milk. Nothing makes you feel more luxurious and decadent than eating oysters for breakfast then finishing off with a dessert.

It's not as if tea was like alcohol or heroin eating away at my life. But completely unexpected, I've experienced surprising multiple improvements in the last few days with all this extra energy-
  • I've finally mastered fluffly maple syrup-based macaroons.  
  • I made serious progress in creating a chewy texture with tapioca/coconut/almond flour in a gluten free olive-oil orange cake. 
  • I created a new system to organize my husband's t-shirt trunk. 
  • After months of trying, I finally improved my sprinting speed today.
  • I cleaned the kitchen numerous times efficiently without pending threat of house guests. 
  • I returned my library books on time. 
But I really miss tea drinking so today I brewed up some white peony in the morning sent to me by Wilson.  My life did not relapse back into sloth. I'll probably tire of such virtuous living and go back to tea drinking next month. Oh no! It's past ten- my new bedtime now. Good night!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Morning Cup of Chicory

Two days without caffeinated tea and I fell asleep just by lying down and closing my eyes!  I awoke both days at 6 naturally. I normally struggle to leave bed by 8:30 on work days, sometimes past noon on weekends. My adult life has been marked by insomnia leading to late late night "research" and bleary eyed mornings.  Was this solely the hand of caffeine? I almost want to drink more tea to find out!   

Unlike coffee drinkers who have a horrible physiological time of going cold turkey with brutal headaches, fatigue, irritability, and even depression, I'm finding the amount of caffeine I had with tea I can titrate off easily in a day.  It's the psychological comfort of milky tea I miss most in the morning. I don't ease into my morning  Hongchas without the preliminary India teas.  

I'm grateful I've got my chicory tea made to tide me over. Made from roasted root of the chicory plant, it's a common coffee substitute with a mellow roasty malty flavor and a boatload of health benefits from digestive and liver support to boosting anti-oxidative activity. Too bad it's NSFPW - not safe for pregnant women. When my pregnant friend was visiting, I wanted to surprise her with a delicious coffee substitute but I didn't even let her see it as chicory is a uterus stimulator as is parsley.

Now my brain is spinning on what to do. For this month, it's chicory and substitutes. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Giving Up Tea

One routinely has to change one's longest cherished habits to learn something new.  Taking a cue from
Catholics and observance of Lent, I'm planning to give up tea of Camelia Sinensis variety for a month.  Although the reasons are more medical than spiritual as I appear to have developed a caffeine sensitivity.  Even a half a cup of tea induces jitteriness and disrupt sleep 10 hours later. And when you have bad sleep patterns, the rest of your life can slowly unravel.  New parents who routinely endure sleep deprivation understand how deep the ripples can go.

If I am still sleeping badly after a month, I can happily go back to drinking caffeinated tea.  So what are my options for a hot piping beverage?
  • white tea (?) -  It's hard to go cold turkey and it would be great to ease in with a low caffeine alternative. There is some contention over whether or not white tea has more or less caffeine than black or green teas. It probably depends on what part of the leaf the white tea comes from and how it's processed.  The yinzhens I've gotten from Yunnan can get my heart racing and it's not surprising since most caffeine is in the furry bud.  I probably have to ramp down without it.
  • chicory tea
  • roasted barley tea
  • hot almond milk
  • ginger tea
  • Monsieur Poirot approved herbal tisanes 

Egads- am I to be relegated to boxes of Celestial Seasonings?  I feel sad. I've never stopped drinking tea my whole adult life but I constantly remind myself deprivations are good for boosting one's spiritual health.

I saw this sign forbidding fish on the Dubai metro last year.   This kind of rule would never do in China where someone told me that an old Chinese woman just plunked her plastic bag containing a live fish right on his lap in a crowded train. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Tea Grown in Charleston, USA

Through the generosity of a colleague from Charleston, I am able to taste the only commercial tea of the C. Sinensis variety grown in the continental United States. These tea canisters are a product of Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina which has the heat but not the elevation.

When I peek inside the canisters,  the tea leaves don't look familiar, very shiny and crispy looking. The leaves are quite chopped to my surprise. These tea leaves look to be machine harvested judging by the uniform looking mounds of tea bushes on their website and all leaf grades appear to be represented- buds, orange pekoe, pekoe, souchongs, and larger. I had originally gone on their website to see if they offered any TGFOP but the tea company does not grade their tea. Does labor costs make such harvesting impractical? 

The taste is mild for both black and green varieties and will not offend the average tea drinker. But on second tasting, the black tea smelled and tasted quite peppery.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Tea at Commis

This weekend I brought my two lovely girlfriends to Commis to celebrate. Commis is still the only Michelin two-starred restaurant in Oakland and they offer only one fixed chef's menu. It's perhaps one of the few restaurants I've been where the food was plated using tweezers.  Such dainty cuisine might be too precious for you manly steak lovers. Even with eight+ courses, most of us left extremely hungry except for my friend Sof who's been known to get full chewing three sticks of gum.

The dishes were lovely to behold and the flavors delicate and nuanced. But my husband- ever the critic- was not impressed and dinged them for the narrow range in visual presentation and taste. But he's also against such high-end dining which he deems "elitist" and would not patronize such establishments were it not for me. Despite my peasant roots and preference for hearty rustic fare, I accept modernist cuisine as visual performance art which should be supported just as we do theatre and operas.

As I can only take two thimblefuls of liquor in one sitting, I opted for oolong instead of the wine pairing. They brewed the tea so weak that I could only tell it was a mediocre oolong. Commis unfortunately sources their tea from Teance- a vendor firmly on my no-buy list. I will say no more.

I am not a natural hedonist and so I am somewhat ambivalent about high-end restaurants.   Getting past spending excessive sums on filling one's belly, I'm bothered most by the conceit that lots of money can buy you into an amazing meal.  Just like tea, more money does not always bring a more amazing experience.  But as far as such meals go, I felt delight and never burdened by the bill.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Unexpected Visitors

Tea blogs can be a long running reality show.  Alongside good teas and bad, bloggers have gone through the ups and downs of various life phases- graduation, new jobs, marriage, parenthood, illness, and more.  Some tea bloggers hide the true joys and sorrows of their private lives keeping the blog strictly business while others more generously pepper entries with the details of their personal life. For those who guard their privacy, following their site is a kind of a treasure hunt. There is a voyeur in all of us and our common humanity makes us curious of how the bloggers are getting on or not getting on. I sometimes find the hidden narrative of their lives more interesting than the tea they are drinking.

When you meet other tea bloggers in the flesh, it's a strangely existential trial where your previous preconceived notions about a writer has to be reconciled with a breathing version.  Last month, Ira and I had the wholly unexpected pleasure of enjoying the company of one of the most august tea personages in the blogosphere.

MarshalN had written that he was popping over my way en route to San Diego.  We were to enjoy a delicious meal in SF until it was decided very last minute that we would have tea in the old tea closet and lunch in Berkeley as MarshalN expressed interest in visiting Moe's Bookstore.   Despite making fun of me all week, my husband sweetly cleaned the house for the guests. (When I was bent out of shape on finding the right edible gift at Rainbow Grocery, my husband came up to me quite seriously and said, "I know exactly what you should get for MarshalN." Then he led me by the hand to the by-the-pound bulk puerh section and had a laugh. Yes dear readers- I endure such cruelty regularly.)

We drunk exactly one tea, an everyday Menghai for MarshalN. He brewed it quite strong- my teapot has never been so full of leaves.  I may have imagined that he mentioned he was easy to please and the tea we were drinking was to be found only down the street from where he lives.  I may have also imagined he said storing a jian in the house was no more than laying a guitar on it's side.  The professor is actually much more casual and funnier than his writing would suggest and I regret strongly we didn't have enough time to get more tea drunk on a few more rounds.

(Ira made this lovely gingko tea quilt as well as going to Dandelion Chocolates the day before to bring chocolate cakes for us to enjoy. I was beyond touched at her thoughtful gesture as I had been regretful about not being able to take Ira and MarshalN there. )