This Christmas my generous friend and mentor Mr. Chen gave me a very special gift. It is a small tea tumbler lined with yixing clay.
As is often the case with Chinese gifts, this tumbler came in a very handsome silk-lined box. The package also included a pretty little booklet providing some history of Yixing clay and some information about the company that produced the cup. The design is titled bai jia xing (百家姓) and features over 500 golden words printed on a red background. For me it was love at first sight.
I've never used a cup like this before. On those rare occasions when I take my tea-to-go I usually just use a mason jar. Mason jars get the job done but the tea gets cold so fast and they will not fit in my car's cup holder. I also have a polycarbonate Chinese tea tumbler (seen here) which I use during longer trips or vacations but I was never crazy about that plastic teacup.
Since Christmas I have used my clay lined tumbler many times. It has become my vessel of choice when I take my son to preschool on these cold winter mornings. First I brew my tea in a small teapot, usually it will be a Chinese black tea like dian hong, qimen, or bai lin gongfu but I've also tried it with dong ding and shui xian oolongs, then I decant the liquor right into the cup. To me, the flavor from this cup is much better than tea drunk out
of an all metal tumbler. It is noticeably smoother, richer and sweeter.
Right now I'm not overly concerned about mixing different types of tea in this cup. I realize the clay will continuously change and that will affect the flavor of the teas, but as long as it tastes good I'll be happy.
Recently my family and I visited my wife's aunt Mel. Mel is a wonderful person, an incredible chef, and a connoisseur of spices and coffee.
One afternoon, Mel showed me a pretty tin of Chinese tea that a friend had given to her. She had no idea what kind of tea it was or how best to prepare it. She had tried several times to enjoy it but unfortunately she was never able to brew it well.
I recognized the four Chinese characters displayed on both sides of the tin. They said Yixing Ming Cha (宜興茗茶) which I translated as "young and tender tea leaves from Yixing." A close inspection of the dry leaf indicated to me that this is a green tea with lots of fuzzy silvery buds. It looked like it was already a year or two old but the combination of a foil bag packed inside of a tin seemed to have benefited the leaves as they still had a nice aroma. I told Mel what I knew about Yixing, and their famous clay teapots, but I admitted that I didn't know too much about teas from this area.
The dry leaf.
I made a noble effort to brew the tea using Mel's six cup stoneware teapot and tap water boiled in a sauce pan (we couldn't find her tea kettle). Mel, my wife, and I all tried a mug and agreed that it was flat, boring, and grassy. When I suggested that this tea might taste much better if it was brewed in a gaiwan using spring water Mel gave me the tea.
Today I'm giving this Yixing Ming Cha my full attention. I used fresh spring water at 170° F, one rounded teaspoon of dry leaf, and a small gaiwan. My first infusion was ~1 minute.
Turns out this is a good tea although it is getting stale. It was probably picked in the early spring of 2012. The liquor is light with medium body. It is not at all nutty or roasty but it's a little bit sweet with a clean aftertaste. During four satisfying infusions I got some subtle notes of honeydew melon and a brightness in my throat that reminded me of decent white tea.
This session inspires me to keep a look out for Yixing tea in the future. Have you had any experiences with, or do you have any more information to share about, teas from this fascinating part of China? Also, what is the difference, if there is one, between Yixing (宜興) and Yang Xian (陽羡)?
Every three years I do a comparison cupping of two 2006 Gold Medal Long Yuan Hao (金級龍園號) puer teas. The Bing (cake) (餅) is called Banna Yin Xiang (Banna Impression) (版納印象) and the Tuocha (沱茶) is called Banna Tai Zi (Banna Prince) (版納太子).
The first time I cupped these two together was way back in August 2007, the second was July 2010 and the third is today! When they're not being brewed, these two sheng puer teas (生普洱茶) live on my puer shelf (located in the corner of my bedroom behind a curtain). I haven't brewed either of them since 2010 and I did not reread my two previous posts
prior to writing this post so that they would not influence my taste buds.
Lets get brewing!
The cake is on the left and the tuocha is on the right.
I brewed these teas in two identical 6 ounce glass mugs using boiling water, 3 grams of dry leaf per tea, and ceramic soup spoons to ladle the liquor into drinking cups.
The color of the tea soup was yellowish-orange with a little more red and amber in later infusions. The aroma was sweet and woodsy with a hint of pleasant smokiness.
I'm really enjoying both of these teas and I don't remember being this impressed 3 years ago. Also, for some reason, they are tasting very similar to me today. Both are smooth and mellow with a touch of honey flavor. In the end, the tuocha came out ahead, but just barely. It had a more earthy, Autumny, sweetness and a hint of lingering beeswax aroma. The Bing had a slightly thinner mouth-feel and some infusions had more pronounced notes of grass and artichoke.
Back on the shelf now fellows. Next time I see you you'll be 10 years old!
This summer my family and I have been very busy and productive around the house. We cleaned the basement (no small task), had the exterior of our house painted (dark blue with white trim), and set up a workspace for our daughter as we begin planning her project-based, home-school kindergarten.
In our garden, this has been a good season for potatoes, apples, cucumbers and blueberries. We might get some pumpkins (time will tell) and have been picking a lot of grapes and blackberries from around the neighborhood. Plums will start to ripen next month and I am sure they will be plentiful.
My wife and I have been taking care of our good friend's wonderful kids (a 1.5 and a 3 year old) three days a week for most of the summer. Because of that, plus working at Phoenix Tea and cooking at Seattle's best vegetarian restaurant, St. Dames, there has not been much time for online pursuits.
Still, we have found time for play! My kids (age 5 and 3) have enjoyed plenty of great playdates and birthday parties and we've all savored a few awesome days swimming and picnicking.
Even though I've been busy I still make time for tea! If the day is going to be hotter than ~85° F (thankfully a rarity in my little corner of the world) I'll usually drink hot tea in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon. Otherwise, I'll drink hot tea all day. It's hard to pin down just what I'm drinking. It's a little bit of everything really with a lot of spring 2013 high mountain Taiwanese oolongs, darjeelings, and Japanese greens.
Phoenix Tea and Eat Local are working together to present a tea event at Eat Local's Burien, Washington store on Saturday, August 3rd.
Our event is called Around the World in 8 Teas. It will be a fun and educational tea
tasting featuring teas from China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Kenya. I will discuss international tea
traditions while offering freshly brewed tea samples. I will also explain how tea is a healthy beverage
as well as a sustainable agricultural product when grown and sourced
Eat Local will offer several samples of food to
complement some teas.
After the event guests are invited to visit Phoenix Tea (less than one block away Eat Local Burien) where they will
receive a 10% discount on any tea or tea ware purchased that afternoon.
This event is $20 per guest and space is limited. Please RSVP yes on
the facebook event page if you will come. You may also call
206-495-7330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.