Friday, December 03, 2021

Winter Tea Reflections

Of all the sensual experiences available, I don't know why I have fixated on tea as my vehicle for pleasure and stimulation. In middle age, some choose a young mistress but me, I yearn for certain kind of leaves in a teapot.  I'm not looking for a perfect cup of tea as much as where the brew will take me. 

Just as certain music can induce complex moods, certain cups of tea have brought indescribable reverie of complex emotions. I haven't written about it much because, well I resist writing such intimate tea thoughts for any random stranger to chance upon.  But what is a tea blog but the very place for sharing tea thoughts.  So here goes. Sometimes the mood is joy, sometimes it's sadness, but mostly it's many emotions fused in inseparable ways. These feelings are very different from the usual wellspring of emotions that bubble, much more existential but not angsty. It's purer, less clouded by my individual self.  

But unlike music that will naturally pull from you as a passive listener, finding this altered tea state requires a bit more active engagement.  I have to be attuned to it to be carried in and I have to make a conscious effort not to think which will carry me out.  I imagine wine and scotch are much less finicky to bring about this type state with the aid of alcohol or certain drugs but some how I desire this specifically from tea. 

I don't know what brew of brain chemicals is exactly triggering these episodes and why I think tea is the conduit.   I've thought perhaps because I drink tea often and it's incidental that I wrongly attribute tea drinking to be the vehicle. But definitely puerh brings about this state than most.  And I need the tea as the doorway for now.

Winter is upon us at least in the northern hemisphere. Dear reader, I hope you are bundled up and warming yourself up with a hot cup of tea.  From my favorite games, I've made a quiet playlist for you that is suitable for carrying you to sleep. Enjoy.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Shu oatmilk latte + other abominables

A few years ago when I used to prance around downtown Oakland for noodles and bobas, a new boba joint was offering puerh macchiatos. At the time, I was curious (and somewhat disgusted)  but not enough to forgo my usual matcha latte.  And now that cafe is long defunct and I no longer frequent boba joints. 

A few months ago, I had been quaffing some pretty good shu ('09 YS Lao Cha Tou Sheng Yun) and it was not flagging anytime soon.  There's only so much straight up shu a girl can take.  At the 5th brew, I decided to switch it up with some oatmilk remembering my missed opportunity.  It wasn't so bad and soon this combo grew on me that I finally finished last of my brick that I opened in 2017.

Whence came mold?
I went to fetch a new brick only to find white mold spots on the outside wrapping. The brick underneath appeared to be unharmed. It's been a really humid week with the pineapple express drenching the Bay Area with buckets of water.  Inside the teacloset it's 41% RH right now. The shu is stored outside in the overflow area which is at 50%RH.  I guess it's good that there's humidity enough but one doesn't want a mold outbreak either.  I'll have to do a complete inspection which I haven't done in several years.

This lao cha tou and my other shus in general has not aged well, the exception being the lighter shu with a sheng blend. The earlier lively tastes from a few years ago are no longer present.  There is some controversy over whether shu can age and I would say paying a lot for aged shu is probably not the best idea.  

So what to do with a cabinet full of badly aging shu? It's definitely drinkable and at worst I'll have it as latte. The oatmilk really rounds out any off fishy flavors. There are purists who think milky additives are an abomination on proper tea. While I wouldn't defile high quality leaf this way, I'm going to take any route that makes my  shu more fun to drink.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Coffee Drinking PSA for Teaheads

I've been struggling to push off coffee yet again and dear readers, I no longer have the will.  When I last kicked the habit with double strength assams, I perhaps could have stayed clean permanently had I lived alone. Yet I live with another coffee drinker and seeing a loved one constantly and enthusiastically extoll the delicious virtues of coffee every morning makes my abstinence nigh impossible.

It's not that tea vs coffee is some analog to weed vs cocaine. But the higher levels of caffeine combined with the easy delicious taste entices you in such a warm embrace.  I'm a mere mortal buffeted by various whims and desires and I have to utilize my precious and limited will-power on things that are life critical.

I can't seem to resist the bean especially if I have not had proper sleep which is a lot these days.  Why would somebody like me consistently stay up all night for? Well, mostly gaming  but yesterday I tried my hand at choreographing a machinima music dance video.  Making modded characters dance was definitely worth the relapse in coffee.  Enjoy the 3 minutes of pure entertainment!

If you love Skyrim and the Witcher...

Friday, September 17, 2021

Taboo of Reroasting Coffee Beans

Early this year I chanced upon two pounds of "artisanal" coffee beans that my husband had completely forgotten about under his desk.  Often he will be gifted coffee at work which he promptly deposits at my bean bank. But this one being an undesirable light roast somehow languished hidden for about a year.

To a puerh drinker, a year really is a blip in time and the beans grind up to a better than expected highly drinkable brew.  But these Honduran beans are exceedingly lightly roasted barely past first crack giving me the jitters.  It's too old to giveaway to anyone and I can't drink anything this light so I had the notion to just re-roast it to a darker level.

Anytime anybody asks about re-roasting on a forum,  roasting snobs come out of the woodwork to naysay re-roasting, a technique they haven't ever tried.  Given there is precedent for re-roasting in oolongs, a far more delicate brew than coffee, I could see a re-roasting home experiment was in order.  I found mention of a Swiss technique of double roasting for a more low acid smoother brew. Lo and behold a cafe chain in Hong Kong serves double roasted beans:

"the new blend Double Roast are roasted until its first crack, then left to cool down for 48 hours, and thereafter roasted again until the desired roasting level is achieved. The cooling phase in between the 2 roasts causes the sugar in the beans to caramelise without burning, allowing the transformation of the beans to evolve into a sweet, deeply rich finish with low acidity."

I know there is a wide gap between 48 hours and a whole year of resting but where is the fun in life if you don't try.  In the end, it's me and my husband that will be quaffing this suboptimally roasted coffee and only the results down our throats will confirm whether it's a viable technique.  At worst, it would still be leaps better than coffee on an airplane and superior to anything a field solider would have gotten during the Civil War. 

Not having my hands on a more convenient popcorn popper,  I  first opted for the simplest frying pan method, not really ideal with surface heat. I've since tried a closed pot that I shake vigorously at higher heat every 5 seconds that works much better.  In my first attempt with the fry pan, I was timid with the heat and was whisking these beans for over half an hour. Even with the vigorous shakes and thorough whisking, it was an uneven roast with a few burnt beans.
Nobody will lend me their popcorn popper...

How was the end result? Pleasing. The coffee is smooth and drinkable with the taste even nuttier after a few days of curing. I guess it might be an affront to coffee snobs as the more delicate flavors of this Honduran has been burnt out.  The single roasted brew had fruity notes and a light sweetness on the tongue.  Honduran coffee tends to be mild, sweet, and offends no one so it's hard to say what of the unique characteristic it lost during it's year of sleep.  The bag did not specify the varietal and I'm not one to notice the taste difference in taste between the arabica varieties. 

I'm not going to serve this to guests and enjoy it as a breakfast brew.    Given the dramatic price inflation of boutique beans (these would have been $20 for 12 oz which seems steep for a Honduran),  I'm happy at this fortuitous experimentation.  Before when the roast in the bag is lighter than expected. I've often given them away but now I'll just re-roast. 

*Yes, from this post you may garner that I am back on the coffee train after weaning off.  I was drinking Assams daily and puerh occasionally during 2020 but it was the fraught elections that sent me seeking something more robust and non-complicated to carry me through. 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Garden Tea Party, agedness of '04 Yiwu Purple Changtai

For the first time in a long while, I invited a tea guest to my back yard, a dear friend I had not seen face to face for more than a year. Being way past mandated isolations, vaccinations should have ushered in a more joyous return to gatherings. However I find it harder to loosen my grip on my hermit ways.  

I brought out a '04 Changtai Hao Yiwu Purple remembering it to be a pretty tea worthy to serve.   Whether it's purple leaf that doesn't age well or bad aging in the arid confines of my Berkeley home even with a decade in Guangdong, I'd wager it's a combination of both.  August is Fogust in the bay area but somehow the dry zone inside my tea closet doesn't relent holding tight to 45% humidity. I didn't have the foresight to condition the leaves beforehand in a ceramic jar.  But the occasion being friendship and company, any tea might have done.

After party for 1
Even though the teapot was crammed full of leaves, the taste was indistinctly mild with a huigan so imperceptible to declare this brew was definitely not to pleasure our senses.   Yet the brew exerted enough potency to knock down my coffee loving husband.   

It didn't seem right to take pictures during our tea session so the above photo is  after the party, I soldier on past the 8th brew trying to recapture some of my earlier fonder memories of this cake from 6 years past but my mind is too preoccupied by my first tea party of the decade and news of friends.

I brew up this Yiwu again this afternoon having left a chunk in a ceramic jar for a few days.  Due to the caution of the times, I had refrained myself at the party from sniffing deeply the leaves and the teapot lid which is one of the great pleasures of a good Yiwu. So brewing solo now, my nose happily sniffed away at the brown sugar scent.  The signature Yiwu huigan is definitely there, light and pretty but... but accompanied by a mouth drying astringency which wasn't so prominent before.  

I half-heartedly vow never to waste money on aging purple cakes again and to serve purple teas young and lively.   For the curious, I sent away an entire hundo for a 200g mini beeng 7 years ago for the vain hope that purples age well enough to justify the steep cost.  The personal answer for me in Berkeley is sadly nay nay. I wish I had spent that sum for a terabyte of SSD instead.  Sigh.  How have I gotten so sensible to prefer NAND disk over leaf disk but one really can never have enough solid state storage even if one's m.2 slots are full up.  

But an hour past my first sip, a pretty lingering sweetness gets stronger in my tongue and left throat making me smile, but not enough to reverse my last sentiment. The best Yiwus can tingle obscure parts of the mouth. I've had dormant tastebuds in the undersides of my tongue sparkle. I should have listened to Jakub and gotten that 2010 Hai Lang Hao Chawang Yiwu. 

Did the conditioning of the tea chunk in a ceramic canister improve this tea or is this Yiwu too delicate to be appreciated as a back seat tea where there is too much other stimulation? I'll put this Changtai Yiwu down as being a finicky shy tea needing full attention to enjoy.  More than half the Changtai beengs and bricks I have tend to be a rugged lot asserting their shengness in mouth punching ways although no where near as brawny as the mouth kicking Menghai newborns.  

It's been almost a year since I've brewed a Yiwu.  Truth be told, I've fallen back to drinking coffee midway through as the pandemic which demanded something more robust and less complicated.  But now as I'm sipping this Yiwu, I feel entirely ready for a change back to checking out aging of my other beengs.