October 20, 2016

Favorite Tea Ware - Jeff Cleary of UNYtea Guy

As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the chasen to the yixing teapot. Everyone has their favorites! This series showcases the favorite teaware of folks in the tea blogging community as well as people who enjoy drinking tea. The series kicks off this fall with tea objects from UNYtea Guy blogger, Jeff Cleary. You can also find Jeff's luminous photographs of tea @unyteaguy on Instagram.

One thing that is equally exciting for tea lovers other than tea itself is teaware. There are so many different vessels and tools used to make tea. One person could look at a “gong fu cha” setup and wonder what all the clutter is about, but each piece has a purpose. So, here are my top pieces of teaware.

Totem non-slip tea tray
from Totem Tea

This tray is small and light and has a thin coating that keeps your teaware from slipping and sliding. I love using it with my cupping sets when I’m doing tastings. It also makes a great tiny travel tray.

180ml Duani yixing pot 
from Yunnan Sourcing (no longer available)

I bought this little guy very lightly used from a tea friend. A few factors make this a favorite. The unique lid and its simple, smooth design is what originally peaked my interest. The pot functions very well, it pours well and holds heat for an appropriate amount of time. 180ml is a little on the big side, but nobody says you have to fill it all the way!

Mixing cup

I bought this at a local market soon after receiving my Duani pot because I needed to find a cup that came close to matching my pot. After not being able to find anything that matched the way I wanted it, I “settled” with this cup for $3 at a local lounge. This cup is a perfect example that great teaware doesn’t need to be expensive or flashy. Everything about this cup works for me; its nice and smooth and feels nice against my lips, it stays warm but doesn’t get to hot to hold, and it holds the perfect amount of liquid (50-60ml). If you like oolongs or puerh tea and you're into that whole seasoning thing, get a simple yixing cup, you’ll thank me later.

Hu Cheng (pot stand/support)
from Bitterleaf Teas

Every now and then we all need a little support, even your teapot. This is more than decoration because it is made of clay and holds heat just like a clay pot or gaiwan. As your tea session goes you just pour a little water on your pot to keep it warm and cozy. Any excess water will drain into your tea tray helping maintain a clean, orderly setup.

I've long admired Jeff's Duani yixing teapot so am glad it's one his favorite tea objects. A non-slip tray seems almost essential when you are styling your teas and wares for photo shoots. Although these pieces were purchased from different vendors, they make a lovely set. A big thanks to Jeff for giving us a peek into his teaware collection!

P.S. Catch up on all the posts in the Favorite Tea Ware series.

October 19, 2016

Floating Leaves Tea - Da Yu Ling, a Taiwanese Oolong

I'm going to tell you what the Floating Leaves Tea Da Yu Ling oolong tastes like in the sixth sentence of this review. I enjoyed this tea but I couldn't pinpoint exactly its essence. I had not completed my session but decided I would take a break and run a few errands. One of my errands allowed me to flip through magazines one of which had an interview with Giada de Laurentiis. In the article Giada mentioned cooking farro risotto with cherries. And just like that, I knew that Da Yu Ling is like a risotto flavored with cherries. The oolong doesn't literally taste like risotto but drinking it is similar to eating a creamy risotto. I have never eaten cherries with my risotto but I can imagine it and I think this comparison is pretty accurate. Even if this assessment is merely figurative, Da Yu Ling would pair well with a risotto.

I followed the steeping directions provided my Floating Leaves Tea: 7 grams in 120 mL of (195F) water with infusions times of 25s, 20s, 17s, 20s, and 35s. The dry leaves of the Da Yu Ling smelled similar to the other high mountain oolongs I've been drinking from Floating Leaves but it was sweeter smelling. The rolled leaves were bigger with visible stems.

The first infusion was pale colored with rich, green smelling leaves and a light creamy liquor which reminded me of the sweetness of a gyokuro. (Yes!) There was a hint of flint in the end note. The second infusion was buttery with a detectable fruit note of fresh cherry to maybe strawberry jam. The liquor from the third infusion was noticeably more robust. It smelled floral, buttery and like green leafy vegetables. It had a smooth, buttery texture with an fruit end note. The front note reminded me of a hot breakfast of oatmeal topped with brown sugar. This tea has so many facets. The fourth infusion made me think of a tieguanyin's floral and vegetal characteristics but these greens were buttered and the liquor lingered with a cherry/blackberry flavor. The final infusion was one dimensional in contrast to the previous steeps. Poured out of the pot it released floral notes, drunk from the cup it tasted like butter, and finished with a cherry stone aftertaste.

Da Yu Ling is a high mountain tea or gao shan cha. Dayuling is part of the Yu Shan (Jade Mountain) range, and the tea gardens there are "among the highest in the world, at an approximate altitude of 8,500 feet (2,600 m)" according to Kevin Gascoyne et al. (2016). In response to the environmental conditions present at high altitudes, teas produced from these regions have deeper and more complex flavors. I'd say this is true of this Da Yu Ling from Floating Leaves Tea. I look forward to drinking more of this tea and using different steeping parameters.

I purchased this and other oolongs in the Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Sampler from Floating Leaves TeaCurious about teas in the sampler? Here is my review of the 2016 Spring Ali Shan.

October 13, 2016

The Tea Planter's Wife, a Book Review

When I lived in Virginia last year, I attended the Ceylon Tea Festival at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington, DC. I enjoyed many of the teas I drank so when Crown reached out to me about reviewing The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies, a novel set in Sri Lanka, I happily accepted the offer.

The mood evoked by the book jacket design is carried throughout the plot. While the book is not a thriller, it is suspenseful and contemplative. There are so many secrets! Although tea is not a central character per se, the politics and economics of colonial tea production inform many of the relationships in the book. The landscape is described so evocatively in parts that I could imagine myself watching the action unfold. Nuwara Eliya, described as "to Ceylon tea what Champagne is to French wine", is the setting of the novel and coincidentally that is one of the teas I received as a parting gift from the tea festival.

An international bestseller, The Tea Planter's Wife has been marketed as a story about a tea planter who's secrets could drastically alter the future of his new family. However, I think a different framing could widen the appeal of this novel. Following Gwen(dolyn), the tea planter's wife, one becomes aware of the racial bigotry, ethnic tensions, and class and gender relationships that infused plantation life in pre-independence Sri Lanka. I actually found these dynamics to be the most compelling element of the book and look forward to reading more about the history of tea plantations in former British colonies.

Read the novel for its mysterious plot set on a tea plantation. Or read it as a window into colonial tea society.

Thank you to Crown for a review copy of this book.

October 06, 2016

Totem Tea - Wen Shan Bao Zhong

Before I started drinking tea, I was unfamiliar with the word shan. It means mountain. In fact, before I started drinking oolong, and Taiwanese oolong specifically, shan was not a term I regularly encountered. Wenshan is a district in southern Taipei. I believe Wen Shan translates to Fist Mountain. Bao zhong, which translates to "wrapped in paper", is another term I did not encounter before drinking tea and specifically oolongs. The practice of wrapping a particular twisted oolong in paper was developed by Wang Yi Cheng, an Anxi merchant and was adopted by tea producers in Wen Shan. I don't know if modern day baozhongs are wrapped but the moniker does refer to twisted leaf oolong from Pinglin in Taipei.

I received a sample of this tea from Totem Tea and enjoyed two sessions. I used the recommended water temperature of 195F for both sessions. The suggested steep time was 60s which I followed. I failed to double subsequent steep times but my decision did not negatively affect my experience. The dry leaves were long, about 2 inches, and twisted and smelled sweet, creamy, and woody. There was an even mix of leaf and stem. The leaves were green and medium and very dark brown in color. The quickly rinsed leaves smelled floral, a bit herbaceous and woody, sweet, and creamy. The infused leaves looked and smelled like a steamed green leafy vegetable.

The average color of the liquor was a pale golden yellow. I infused the leaves five times during each session. I detected tropical fruit possibly papaya. Although the floral notes were dominant, there were contrasting savory, vegetal aromas. This tea was very easy to drink; it was smooth with a creamy, velvety texture.

September 29, 2016

Tea Q&A: Resting Puerh

When I posted the above photo to the Notes on Tea Instagram feed. In the caption, I wrote the following:
Did you know that puerh does not travel well? I did not so appreciate the advice to rest my 2016 Spring "Hidden Song" and "Jingmai LOVE" @crimsonlotustea.
The reason I mentioned resting the puerhs was because this suggestion is printed on the tea wrappers. A reader asked, "What does "does not travel well" and "resting it" mean?" I did not know the reason behind resting puerhs. I considered a web search to craft a response but decided to reach out to an expert, Crimson Lotus Tea. I am glad I did. I have posted their answer in its entirety below.
It's a good question. It's something I've experienced first handover the years and anecdotally from customers.

I've received puerh that has been shipped on boats that was different than when I packed it up. After time letting them acclimate they're back to what they should be. There's something about puerh that does not like being cooped up. It might have to do with environmental changes or altitude changes. I don't know what it is exactly. It could be any number of things. Or multiple things.

When we make the suggestion to let the puerh acclimate we're trying to give the puerh the best chance to have a great first experience. We occasionally get emails from customers who have had a bad experience with our puerh and our first suggestion is to tell them to let the tea rest a few weeks. They brew it again after letting it relax and the tea is amazing.

It's a tough journey for the tea after being packed up. It can be on hot boats left in the sun or heat. It can change altitude quickly in a plane. It can go from hot to cold and vice versa quickly.

Puerh, unlike other teas, is biologically alive. Extreme changes can affect it adversely.
Do you rest your puerhs? Have you drunk an unrested puerh and had a less than ideal tasting experience? Let me know in the comments!
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