Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tea with Samorost 3

As a card carrying costal liberal, I've had much cause to retreat into imaginary realms these days.   Even though I have a full VR headset, I still love my flat screen games that doesn't involve shooting zombie hordes or being a space pirate.

My current favorite is the exquisitely detailed microworld of Samorost 3.  I made it to the tree root planet where a tree root wizard served a milky tea to my character- a trumpet playing gnome with a white full body unitard. The wizard's hospitality did not extend to the shisha so my gnome secretly snuck a puff by tapping the parrot above the tree who pooped on the tent causing the wizard to get distracted by cleaning the mess.   The lovely visuals and the clever cheeky gameplay lent some levity to this holiday weekend.

The tea that matches the gnarled and knobby aesthetics of this game would be ku gua cha- dried up gourd stuffed with Anxi Tie Guan Yin then roasted. I had gotten my big box from Kunming last week and this tea was the crowd pleasing winner that I was going to gift out this season.  Yes, I finally caved after one of the YS sales alerts. It was the aged puerh sale that nabbed me and really it was the stress of the post-election reality that pushed me over the edge.  It dawned on me that my stress response is not drinking tea but rather buying it since I drink tea everyday multiple times a day under all conditions fair or foul. 

Surprisingly refreshing with a fruity melon taste for such a dark roast- the bitter tones felt quite understated on my palate. My husband tells me the bitter melon taste is more obvious than I can detect, but he assures me it's entirely pleasant. Either drinking too much puerh makes you inured to bitter things or you were genetically predisposed to be less sensitive to bitter and that's why you like puerh in the first place.   (I am sure you must be curious about the aged sheng in my box- they are kind hearted puerhs not aiming to burn a hole in your innards.  I wanted to condition them a little more before drinking them again, let them rest after their long flight.)

I ordered whatever little ku gua cha left in the YS US store and also a full gourd off Ebay. It's not clear if there is a range of better gourd teas available or the genre is mostly generic.   The oolong is heavy roasted in the style of Sea Dyke and definitely a notch tastier- a welcome diversion from the daily slog.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Brewing on a Train

Recently I had the pleasure of roaming through Southern Utah- a geologic wonderland  of mouth gapingly spectacular rock formations.  However the hardness of the tap water meant generally unsatisfying brews and I just stuck to my summer assams and matcha in the morning even though I had optimistically brought a giant grab bag of puerh.   Drinking uninteresting teas in the morning was no sacrifice to partake in the visual marvels of Capitol Reef and Zion. 


Willis Creek Slot Canyon

We chose to return home from Salt Late City on a sleeper car on the California Zephyr - a long held wish of my husband to ride through the Sierra Nevada. After the utterly mind blowing scenery of Utah, I was underwhelmed by the endless stretch of pine trees.  While we traveled in benign comfort, early pioneers perished in traversing the treacherous gap of the Donner Pass.   Going West used to be an exceedingly dangerous enterprise and I am grateful the only fear I had was the worry of blowing the circuits with my electric tea kettle gifted to me by Ira.  Our two seat roomette came with a standard 120 volt outlet and I happily had boiling water at my command.

I brewed matcha for myself in my thermos with vigorous shaking and oolong for my husband.  At higher altitudes, you have to boil for longer to compensate. But since oolong and matcha require lower brewing temperatures, a quick boil at ~7000 feet appeared to be just right.  Our taste buds tend to be less receptive at higher altitudes beyond 5000 feet so I had low expectations.  However the novelty of having my daily matcha latte on a train made me giddy.  

My German Unold kettle has been one of the top indispensable devices on this trip. Even though we had lodgings with full kitchens, those kitchens lacked a reasonable way to boil water.  Keurig machines are the norm now and the cabins were equipped with teflon pots which I normally avoid like the plague. I am so satisfied every time I use this kettle that all my minor complaints about it's bulkiness melts away.  My husband after a quick look said he could replace the hefty plug attached to a EU/US adaptor with a standard US electrical cord from the base. It is closed with a split head screw to prevent casual opening of the kettle so my husband said he'll make me a split head screwdriver tomorrow.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chasing summer boba

Although the autumnal equinox does not fall until the 22nd of September this year, the end of August for me signals the end of summer. I may mentally dawdle a few days until Labor Day but I ruefully start my long preparations for winter stuffing my cheeks full of acorns and hiding them where ever I can.  

Mid-summer, my tea life took a sweeter turn when I inadvertently gave the boba tea genre a thorough shake.  The trauma of our ugly presidential election has scrambled my brain and I just need relief of any sort. 

The joy of boba with all the fixings is that it is pure liquid dessert.  When you are going to splurge, you want your loaded treat to be worth the sugar and fat.  The Boba Guys tout #nextlevelquality in their use of organic dairy and Grade-A tapioca balls. But somehow the taste does not snag my heart and yes I've tried their house-made almond and grass jelly. Their offerings are pretty good but not so amazing I'll go all the way across the bay for one because there is something leaps better in Berkeley.  

My dream beverage is the matcha latte with custard and taro chewies from Sharetea- a 25 year old chain originally from Taipei.  Sharetea just has that fun Asian flavor dialed in.  Adding the salty whipped creama is overkill.  

In downtown Oakland, the boba competition is fierce with 10+ shops competing in a three block radius. I would guess market saturation for these boba shops and it's to be seen if all of them can survive.  Most places have similar menus letting you modulate the sweetness and amount of ice.   I-Tea, the old town favorite which has bustling lines out the door, has an unbelievably harsh taste on their oolong.  I'm going to rate the newly opened Shiny Tea- another competing international franchise from Taiwan- as having the best roasted oolong milk tea and best tasting white pearls.   

Only ShinyTea appears to carry puerh options on the menu but the idea of a puerh macchiato creamed and sugared up does not tempt me in any way.  I would probably have to do a mini taste test at home with a shu to see if the combo is something magical or something kind of gross. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Grocery matcha

I consume a lot of industrial grade matcha- mainly in the form of matcha milk tea from Taiwanese boba joints around town. It's probably all low-end stuff grown in China which I am not particularly opposed to but I thought I would upgrade myself just a notch with some grocery store Japanese matcha make it exactly how I like it at home.  I like it milky so there's no point wasting ceremonial grade with matcha lattes.

Ceremonial matcha just isn't for me- too precious for my rustic tastes. But I love that grassy slightly bitter matcha flavor in desserts and even more so in a savory context.  In my early twenties, my favorite meal was rice swimming in usucha broth along with a side of turnip pickles, a lump of fatty braised pork, and a chinese tea egg.  Tea fads come and go in the tea closet and matcha has come around again.

My current matcha mission is to find a decent reasonable brand that I can buy locally at the grocery store.  I don't want to go overboard obsessively sweeping the internet so I limited myself to three local options out of 8. The problem with matcha is that the clock starts ticking the moment you snip open that shiny mylar bag.   If you don't finish it within a few weeks, that creeping stale soapy taste renders it unfit for consumption.  

I've been doing matcha milk tea three times a day all last week and I am somewhat surprised by the outcome.
  • Uji Tsujiri 宇治辻利 - $6.99 from Berkeley Bowl. My cheap and cheerful brand from my youth was this burgundy canister. I wasn't sure this is related to the global Tsujiri Matcha brand as their low end stuff tends to come in plastic packets. I was surprised how grassy and nutty this batch tasted- I don't remember it being this good a decade ago. Either it's an exceptionally good season or it's fresher than usual so I ran out and got 3 more canisters.  (and I wait and and wait for the Tsujiri branch to open in California...)
  • Mizuba "Daily" Matcha- was indisputably the best of the bunch but for $20 an oz, it better be. My sweet husband found this for me at at Umami Mart- a japanese kitchen boutique in downtown Oakland next to his prototyping shop.  It's pretty good- smooth dulcet flavors that offend no one. However I did not find it compellingly better than the Tsujiri for the price point and it's mildness actually made it less suited for creamy additives.  The Portland based Mizuba Tea Company is all about sharing the goodness of a 100 year old family farm in Uji so if you are into the feel good factor and don't mind the feel good premium this is a tea for you.  
  • Maeda-en Shiki Matcha : "Universal Grade" which is above their lowest end offering of culinary grade.  $10 from Tokyo Fish Market.  I did not want to get Maeda-en as I had a prejudice against Maeda-en being more of an industrial grade matcha, but judging by the expiry dates of other brands, this appeared to be the freshest on the shelf. Nonetheless, it was clumpy, bitter and astringent in an unpleasant way when consumed straight.  I was hugely regretful until I tried making a smoothie with a nino banana.  Like over-roasted coffee beans, the flavor shines through when mediated with a lot of fat and sugar.    While I would not buy this again, I was relieved that I found a way to consume this tea. I had been bummed out about having to trudge through even an ounce of bitterness.
So without too much fuss, I found a decent daily option in the Uji Tsujiri matcha.  I don't think I can find better at $7 per oz. for Japanese Uji matcha. I was contemplating Chinese versions to compare but I would have to get a mylar heat sealer as the Chinese versions come in pound sized bags.  I also think my matcha latte craze will blow over in a month and so the thought of committing to a pound of matcha hurts my head.

(My new tea pets you can tell from the holes in their mouths were born to serve a different function. But I grind my peppercorns and my sea salt granules are too fat to pass through such wee holes so theses frogs have been recommissioned to hang out among teacups and occasionally get doused with hot water. )

Thursday, June 30, 2016

When a gaiwan cracks...

I know what you must be thinking. Despite appearances, I did not procure this tea set for the Game of Thrones finale.  My husband had recently cracked my white porcelain gaiwan- his story is that I set a booby trap for him in the kitchen cabinet. When your most functional gaiwan is randomly felled by a steamer basket, there is only one way to go.  Tea hoarders tend to overcompensate- where's the fun replacing like for like.

I saw these wondrously weird slip cast beasts where else but on eBay.  The trouble with my plain gaiwan was that it did not add any "feels" to a tea session.  But when you have tea or water pouring out of a furry dragon's maw, it's all "feels".   I probably would not drink out of a vessel with European dragon motifs- the gold hoarding virgin-abducting malignant man killer angle is a total buzzkill.  But I am all for the Eastern dragon as a benevolent symbol of strength and wisdom.

I actually use the cha hai for cooling down water for making matcha...  matcha latte...  but that is for another story.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cabinet Aged Nilgiri

By the virtue of being a tea hoarder, my tea cabinets hold various unintended experiments in aging.  I was eyeing my recent load of India teas wondering about the deadline for optimum consumption. The Charles A. Bruce 1838 FAQ mentions 3-4 years for hongcha which is too brief a span for someone like me. Then I remembered I had a teaspoon of 12+ year old Nilgiri orange pekoe stored in a plastic baggy that a Russian colleague and tea-lover shared with me sometime between 2002-2004.

India teas are not meant to be aged but this does not mean one cannot drink such an aged tea- at worst it will be stale and flat. The first sniffs of the tea leaves in a warmed pot before brewing were faint dark sweet notes of dried plums.  The taste was surprisingly pleasant and the leaves  gave forth 3 good rounds.  The brew you can see is browned from the decade of oxidation- fresh Nilgiri tends to have more reddish coppery hues.  Because I have no taste memory of the original fresh brews,  I can't claim an improvement or a decline.  I have to take it for what it is here and now.

This aged sample is good but not so amazing that I want to order kilos for aging.  Of course this is but one data point.  When searching the web for more, I see MarshalN (that guy is everywhere) also had an inadvertent aged darjeeling experiment of 5 years where he enjoyed more positive effects. But perhaps 5 years is a more optimum ceiling for aging such teas.    I'm not explicitly going out of my way to age these India black teas, but I will happily drink aged black teas and hongchas I've forgotten about.

Nilgiri tea is produced South India at higher elevations than Darjeeling- the most interesting Nilgiri are the winter plucked "frost teas" that have a peppery tone.  I am happy there remains tea genres I have not yet tried and I want to save the experience.  The younger me would have ordered them long ago but now I can value the preciousness of being able to experience new things. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

India Black Teas

Egads! What am I doing with 70 samples of India teas?   For various pathological reasons, I have been drinking a lot of subpar bagged English blends in the morning.  I fell into a strange dichotomy. Whereas I will spend some serious mental energy selecting, brewing, obsessing over China teas,  I treat India teas as a basic commodity like milk that I grab off the supermarket shelves.

I cannot reliably start the day without a dark tea- my brain needs something uncomplicated and strong to wake up.  China hongchas (imperial dianhongs, lapsang souchong), shus and darker roasted yanchas and oolongs have become too mentally stimulating on a weekday and so I have reverted to India black teas as my morning workhorse tea.   I'm not trying to overturn my sinophile bias but I want to put a moderate amount of effort finding a supplier in India for higher quality leaf.

Drinking ageable China teas like puerh reflexively engage my prefrontal cortex from early conditioning. For the first few years of drinking puerh, most sessions became a fatiguing and somewhat frustrating exercise in long term planning. My mind was constantly evaluating aging/hoarding potential of a tea. Even if I want to, it's nigh impossible now to turn my analytical brain off with such teas.  But for India teas, I am blissfully immune.  Pretty good India teas are readily available so I just drink it and enjoy.  

I have been recently trying to avoid decision fatigue in the morning in an attempt to simplify my life.  Our decision making ability deteriorates with each choice made throughout the day regardless of importance and you don't want to blow your cartridge too early on inconsequential matters.  My husband wisely has only two different kinds of socks while yours truly considers socks an integral part of a fully color coordinated outfit and hence I make terrible late night purchasing decisions. A box of 70 tea choices could potentially wreak havoc.  However I find that because I am laid back about India teas,  I randomly pick something and am generally satisfied.  I just keep a booklet of gold stars and smiley stickers in the box to keep track of which teas stood out.

I had planned to try out a different India based vendor like teabox but got lazy and went again with Vahdam/Golden Tips as they carry a much larger selection of samplers.   In my second order, I got the summer flush sampler,  Assam party pack,  a chai sampler, various Earl Greys, and some Nilgiri.  The experience has been an altogether a pleasant way to drop a hundo- and really you could not get this kind of variety and quality with China teas for a hundred.

Egads! What am I doing with a mass produced slip-cast teapot lithographed with songbirds? It's probably a few decades too early for me to be going in this direction.  One late ebay night,  I found this English Heron Cross teapot for my husband to commemorate a pair of wrens nesting in our backyard. I excitedly mistook a mating pair of thrushes illustrated on the bottom to be wrens. Even with this misidentification, the husband (a bird lover) could not help but approve this pot after an obligatory interrogation on why we needed another pot.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Turzum's Enigma Black

 Behold the Turzum Enigma Spring Black. Yes black.

If you knew nothing about current first flush processing of Darjeeling,  you would be confused how a white tea got mixed up in your black tea sample.  Even the furry whites of the dry leaves looked like someone had sprinkled bai mu dan straight into the mix. You might wonder if this discrepancy is the meaning behind the name. It wrongly brings to mind the controversial case of Rachel Dolezal who was forced to step down from the NAACP for falsely representing herself as an African American.  Dolezal insisted she "identified as black" although she was born white.

First flush black Darjeelings now either skip or undergo the briefest oxidation process to bring forth their delicate flavors.  It seems to be internet tea gospel that this practice was driven by market demand from Germany and Japan for lighter teas.  teasnob pegs this trend as occurring in the last 10-15 years while this vendor post attributes the initial trigger to Germans as early as 1960s and 70s .  

Probably both are right and the lightening of first flushes may have happened in multiple phases. Many of these first flushes feel significantly under-processed compared to those I drank 15 years ago but since I haven't drunk first flush Darjeeling in 15 years, I don't know if the switch was more gradual.   Because producing green and white tea is relatively new to Darjeeling compared to the Chinese who have been at it for centuries, some of the tea estates haven't quite gotten it right. A few of my samples taste awkward and could not hold a candle to quality lu cha.  This organic Enigma is ripping my stomach with it's slow burn astringency which I did not detect in the cup. The Castleton Classic was also a bust unless you need a dry mouth.

I don't subscribe to this new fangled regime of minimal processing.  Some light fermentation brings out the complexity in Darjeeling  and thus far the samples with slightly more fermentation has been superior to all the white and green "style" first flushes.  The Goomtee Muscatel has been the standout but I am only on sample #7 out of 36.

What to do with all these bags of under oxidized Darjeeling?  My ever reliable husband states they are fine for him.  I might use a few pinches here and there when I make my afternoon blends but I am hopeful more gems may be hiding in this first flush party pack.  I realize that delicate lady teas like Darjeeling have a limited scope in my tea life because the role of hongcha in my day is to knock my noggin awake in the mornings.   I had better go in search of something stronger, maybe a Nilgiri that is said to be a real man's tea. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Revisiting Darjeeling

In a rare moment of weakness last Saturday morning, I was seduced by the potential thrill of swimming in Darjeeling.

Last month I spotted Jeff Koehler's monotome on Darjeeling during my weekly trip to the library. I chuffed exactly in a way any puerh drinker might in seeing the over-capitalized tagline "the WORLD'S GREATEST TEA".   I checked this book out solely to see how the author would go about staking such a grandiose claim but of course for an empiricist like me, only a thorough taste test will validate or invalidate such hyperbole.

Koehler's historical narrative behind the formation of the Indian tea industry is what I found most compelling out of his 230 pages.  Breathless reporting of record busting auction prices- not so much.  No puerh head is gonna get impressed by two thousand dollars for a kilo of tea- that's just a ho-hum $45 a pot.  If monetary price is any measure of value- clearly the WORLD'S GREATEST TEA is PUERH!!!

Darjeeling tea trees are not native to Darjeeling but descend from tea seeds and plants smuggled out of Bohea Hills or Fujian in 1848-1851 by Scottish botanist and adventurer Robert Fortune.  His was one of multiple attempts for the British to grow their own tea instead of draining their national gold reserves to the Chinese for this wildly popular beverage.  Building a tea industry from scratch to supply the nation was a slow going business and the British were savvy enough to recruit a few willing Chinese tea manufacturers to jumpstart the endeavor .  Unfortunately the Opium Wars raged on long before India eventually supplanted China as the England's top tea producer.

The specimens of Camellia sinensis var sinensis first smuggled out of China in 1830s by an earlier party did poorly in the sweltering heat of India low lands but the British had stumbled on the fact that India already had a native tea plant Camelia sinensis var assamica (yes the very same variety of our beloved puerh).  The massive tea trees grew wild in the jungle and the hill tribes that "brewed" this tea were not altogether happy to aid the British.  Despite all the struggles of clearing jungles and work force  dropping from malaria and other tropical diseases,  it's this coarser larger leaf variety that has come to dominate Indian tea production and culture.

One of the most intriguing passages  in the book comes from the very first FAQ published in the english language about tea growing in 1838.  I leave you the title to explain itself-  "An Account of the Manufacture of the Black Tea as Now Practised at Suddeya in Upper Assam, by the Chinamen Sent Thither for That Purpose. With Some Observations on the Culture of the Plant in China and Its Growth in Assam" by Charles A Bruce (available free on Google Books).

Koehler's book included the first question and answer and I was happy to track down the second statement about hongcha's shelf life.  Since I find hongchas and roasted yanchas more pleasurable after the second year with the brashness mellowed out,  I was happy to see this confirmed.

So back to Darjeeling tea- the Chinese transplants thrived in the niche ecosystem of the south eastern range of the Himalayas of about 70 square miles or 48 thousand acres. Because Darjeeling is so geographically limited with 87 tea estates, it is a tea genre you can readily access and wrap your head around.  From a puerh drinker perspective- it's refreshing to know you can sample a large part of the region's best offerings for even less than the price of a new Yiwu beeng.

Enter my large box of tea not from Kunming Post.  For a price cheaper than my lunch last Sunday,  I have 10 grams each of 31 first flushes with free express shipping from India(3 day turnaround). I had tried Golden Tips assam sent to me by Emmett and so bought from this same vendor with confidence. This collection includes from top tea estates you might recognize- 
  • Giddapahar 
  • Goomtee- I see this is a Hojo choice
  • obligatory Castleton- yes the moonlight first flush
  • obligatory Glenburn
  • Margaret's Hope- tea estate with the most tear jerker name and a good mother's day gift
  • Singbulli
  • Sungma- yes the Adagio supplying Sungma, I won't hold it against this sample
  • Thurbo
  • Arya (Mariage Frères)
  • organic Okayti- Mighty Leaf used to carry them
Noticeably absent are Ambootia and Maikaibari- the two I do remember treasuring around the new millennium but this first flush party pack does not appear to be lacking.  They threw in a clonal, Long Ding, and two Nepalese estates.

The first flush has delicacy and a certain shyness.  If you don't like the touch of silk, the second summer flush is stronger but autumn may be the strongest of the  Darjeeling flushes. I used to prefer the first flush because if I wanted stronger- I would go all the way with assam!  Of course a second flush party pack is planned forthwith- it's just that I felt sheepish about putting in a 3 figure order.  No act of tea restraint goes unpunished.  I ordered from the old Golden Tips site on the morning that they appeared to have rolled out a new website under with slightly higher prices.  The samplers I was going to purchase are no longer offered. It's situations like this that turns on my tea over-buying switch.  

I started with a gentle Phuguri autumn flush from a different Darjeeling sampler(ahem, ahem) this morning- undeniably lovely and enjoyable.  If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, puerh surely must be scotch.  And those who drink scotch tend not to gush over champagne. I have to admit I don't know why I would have forgotten or resisted tea that is so disarmingly easy to drink, delicious and inexpensive (by puerh standards).  I stopped drinking Darjeeling soon after I took up with puerh but everything comes in cycles and thanks to a chance encounter with this book I'm enticed to give Darjeeling another go.

Friday, May 06, 2016

A Serviceable Travel Kettle

After decades of grousing about making do with meagre hotel tea making facilities,  I've finally procured an acceptable travel kettle spurred on by a recent trip to New York City.  For $320 a night, one cannot expect too much in midtown Manhattan and a mere $35 investment provided the luxury of piping hot tea in my jammies before bedtime and first thing in the morning.

I had the option of two competing water heater designs on Amazon,  half size kettles like this one or an immersion heating element which would be lighter but looked like an inevitable burn hazard. The most common problem with a bare heating element is burning it out with careless dry boiling.  Just read the complaints and it's clear carefully immersing the entire rod in water is too much of a challenge for most humans.

My Unold half liter kettle performed admirably with a stainless steel interior providing water without any off flavors.  Despite hopes for excellence if not reliablity in German engineering, the shutoff is confusing. It is supposed to automatically shutoff 5 seconds after boiling but it did not appear to be the case so I manually popped the cord off after boil. Also this thing is a bulky 2 pounder but the benefits clearly outweigh any negatives and I am planning to lug it to Chicago at the end of this month with a proper tea kit. It's not my dream kettle but it's good enough that I am moderately grateful I finally have a travel worthy kettle.

My New York trip was all in the service of my eleven year old niece helping her knock out the top three off her bucket list- NYC, the Statue of Liberty and a Yankees game. When you travel with a child, you eventually become a zombie servant.  If I was a rehabbed addict, I might certainly have relapsed.  Almost every child requires extraordinary inhuman efforts to raise to adulthood and I have to salute parents willing to submit to such modern forms of slavery.

As an adult- the night pleasures of the city are many but I was limited to those places where you can legally take a child. I choose our hotel as it was directly across the street from the MOMA in hopes of squeezing in a few visits. I have feeble notions of art being the redemption of humankind and I had some half baked hopes parading the last centuries finest art before my niece's eyes might enlighten her jaded mind.

The current exhibit at the MOMA was Degas for which I was expecting endless scenes of ballerinas with tulle tutus or naked backs of plump ladies.  However when my eyes spied these landscapes,  I literally gasped as did my mother.  All the travails of NYC battling the masses starting from Penn Station evaporated.

Degas painted these experimental landscapes around 1890s past his mid fifties when his vision had deteriorated severely.  He had long been an insufferable hostile curmudgeon and even had dissed landscapists with fighting words like
“If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on the people who paint landscapes from nature.” 

 However these landscapes were exquisite in their seemingly abstract dabs of color.   As seeing how happy my mother and I were before these paintings, my niece promised to buy me one of these when she becomes a billionaire.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Chinatown Treasures

I was wandering around Downtown Oakland when I spied more than a jian of puerh on the top shelf of a new dried seafood super store. One does not behold such a sight very often in the States- that many tongs in retail nor that many jars of dried seafood critters in the $1000 to $2000 per pound range.

The dried fishy aromas wafting out the door of the store were so powerful, I had to compel myself to go inside to investigate. You can see beneath the tongs a row of various beengs (shu and sheng) in open gift boxes.  I would imagine the dried seafood odors have irrevocably infused into the oils of the tea. 

I'm sure a lot of these dried up sea cucumbers will end up at a new year's banquet if not a Chinese wedding banquet.  I really wish I was in the market to buy one with this kind of selection available, but like any Korean, I like my cukes raw and crunchy- preferably freshly dead.  Since I've seen sea cucumbers plentifully littering the ocean floor while snorkeling, I would not dream of spending good money on one but I spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure out which sea cucumber I would take home with me.

Here is a situation not unlike puerh buying in the old days. There are a few scant english websites guiding you(here and here) on how to buy a sea cucumber but you can't really gauge the quality and texture until after you buy and reconstitute it.  Then you have to contend with overpriced misrepresented sea cucumbers to outright fake counterfeit sea cucumbers made with konjac jelly. Vendor trust while important I think only goes so far.  Much of the shorelines of the world are unfortunately polluted and so one can't know what kind of pollutants lurk inside a bottom feeder like a sea cucumber. 

How to choose a sea cucumber when you are confronted with a vast range of grades from $20-$2000. The big leap in price is differentiated by culinary use vs. medicinal use as $1000+ cukes possess magical anti-cancer properties.  Even so,  I think it's easier and cheaper to become a sea cucumber connoisseur than pursuing puerh.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Cure for Tea Greed

Recently I began fasting on a weekly basis, giving my body a 20 hour rest with water and tea as my only sustenance.  In the last few years, the news has been awash with scientific studies touting the health benefits of intermittent fasting.  I had been curious but non-committal until the WHO rained on my bacon parade last October by unequivocally proclaiming processed meats were the short road to cancer.

Of course I was acutely aware of bacon's dark side but I'm gonna go to my grave with bacon breath. Cancer however is not to be taken lightly and to mitigate potentially harmful effects, I have decided on a compromise.  Fasting kicks the body into cleaning and repair mode called autophagy which breaks down potentially pre-cancerous old and abnormal cells.  I figured a day of fasting more than compensated for my two slices of weekly bacon.   But I was doubly motivated by the golden premise of enhanced brain function as an evolutionary adaptation to fasting- our hungry fore-bearers had to become mentally sharper to nab their next meal

Initially I had planned to drink teas and shop for more teas during my fasts.  But
this simple practice of weekly fasting has unexpectedly tamped down my tea hoarding instinct and I ended up not even looking at tea vendor sites.  I don't know how and why fasting would subconsciously upend a decade long condition that my husband's tireless efforts could not. Perhaps it was experiencing the positive effects of deprivation that is now effectively preventing more tea shipments out of China into our household.  Hoarding is mainly driven by a fear of scarcity.   Once I severed my system from a continuous feed and found I could easily stop eating for day,  I felt a strange sort of freedom by not having.  Cutting the mental shackles to food must have also weakened my pathological need for ever larger amounts of tea.  I now feel if I can have good tea of any kind a few times a year, I would be content.

I really thought this fasting was something onerous to be endured for the sake of my beloved bacon but it turned out to be something I look forward to. I am extremely productive and flowing with energy on my fast days.  Tea also tastes better on fast days.  When you're hungry,  your olfactory system becomes heightened so the teas taste more intense than when you are satiated.  Oolongs taste intensely floral.  Amplification works in all directions and rank basement aged sheng becomes even more unbearable.

Perhaps the most gratifying side effect to fasting is that food tastes most deliciously wonderful when you break your fast.  But so too is your last meal before starting the fast.  I am partial to the coconut pandan waffle with black sesame at this Hong Kong Snack House which was my last provision before fasting on Saturday.   How can happiness be bundled in such a chewy glutinous interior...