The-Rest-Of-2007 Classes

I’ve been scheduling classes for the rest of the year. More may come, but here’s what I’ve got so far. If you’re in Seattle on any of these dates, I’d love to see you there!  I’ll post updates to the schedule as things develop (I’m working on more classes at other venues).

25 SEP 2007: The Teas of Taiwan. Perennial Tea Room.
Only slightly larger than the state of Maryland, the island of Taiwan is known for its many varieties of wulongs (also spelled ‘oolongs’). From Bai Hao and Baozhong to Four Season Spring and Golden Lily, you can experience a wide range of flavors, oxidation levels, amount of roast, and leaf style just looking at Taiwan wulongs. Join Tea Geek Michael J. Coffey in a tasting tour of Taiwan teas. Sample a range of teas, including a far more rare Taiwan black tea, while learning about tea production and common brewing practices on the island.

6 OCT 2007: Introduction To Tea. Phinney Neighborhood Center.
What’s the difference between black and green teas? What about oolong or white? Is chamomile or mint really tea? These questions and more will be answered while you sample teas from around the world. Taught by a tea geek who’s studied tea for over 10 years, you’ll experience different brewing methods and discover interesting tidbits of tea history and culture.
13 OCT 2007: The Basics of Green Tea. Phinney Neighborhood Center.
Green tea is the most studied type of tea in the world, and the primary tea product of both China and Japan. China alone makes 3000 different kinds of green, and a uniquely Japanese green is used in their tea ceremony. Start your tea exploration with this, the original style of tea, while tasting samples from both Japan and China!

20 OCT 2007: The Basics of Black Tea. Phinney Neighborhood Center.
Black tea accounts for the majority of tea produced worldwide. Taste the differences of the various tea producing countries in an experiential class punctuated by tea trivia, history, and geography. Learn how unintentional the two major American tea “inventions” were! Find out the right way to brew and drink black tea. Is cream and sugar right or wrong?

27 OCT 2007: The Basics of Oolong Tea.  Phinney Neighborhood Center.
Tea and wine author James Norwood Pratt claims that there are more kinds of oolong than wines in the world, and he may well be right. Oolong (sometimes “wulong”) is the most diverse category of tea. We’ll explore how oxidiation and roast levels (and other variables) influence the taste of a good oolong. Samples from China and Taiwan.

3 NOV 2007: The Basics of White Tea. Phinney Neighborhood Center.
Can’t tell a Bai Hao Yinzhen from a Bai Mudan? One of the hot new trends in the tea world is including white tea—from facial products to sweetened and flavored beverages. But what is white tea, really? We’ll sample white teas from the most traditional to the more modern and fanciful variations.

10 NOV 2007: The Basics of Puer Tea. Phinney Neighborhood Center.
This unique tea made from fermented and aged leaves is perhaps the most unusual category of true tea—at least to most westerners. Try samples of a tea used as Imperial tribute for at least a millennium! Its tendency to improve (and increase in price) with age has caused increasing interest worldwide as both a “drinkable antique” and an investment!

And coming up next year:

* JAN 2008: Cooking With Tea
* FEB 2008: The Teas of Japan
* MAR 2008: What The Heck IS Puer, Anyway?
* APR 2008: The Teas of India
* MAY 2008: Teas for Cheese
* JUN 2008: The Basics of Green Teas
* JUL 2008: The Basics of Oolong Teas

Summer Tea Blues

I’ve got the Summer Tea Blues. Seems that two of my favorite teas are having problems this year. First, I got the news through my typical supplier of the Makaibari Estate Darjeeling that the shipping company bringing it to the US had some kind of problem along the way, and that most of it arrived in the country damp and moldy. There may be more on the way, and they did get in some large-leaf varieties, but I like the small leaf stuff of this particular tea. More news as I get it, and I’ll let you know when I taste the large leaf (assuming I can get some of that). Anyway, that’s disappointment #1.

Disappointment #2 is not so much a disappointment as it is the inevitable letdown that comes the year after a truly noteworthy year. I got a sample of some 2007 Bai Hao / Dong Fang Mei Ren / Oriental Beauty. It was nice. Good color, plenty of flavor, and a flavor profile that I’d expect from a good Bai Hao. In other words, it’s a perfectly good tea. It’s just not as good as last year. Last year was phenomenal, and this year just isn’t quite. I hear there weren’t enough bugs and the weather wasn’t very cooperative in Taiwan.

So what can you do? Drink good (but not phenomenal) tea for another year, I guess, and hope that the bugs come back in droves and the weather cooperates more next year. And that the shippers bringing second flush Makaibari Estate from India don’t leave the tea on the tarmac (or whatever happened) again.

Tea at the Night Market

My partner Loren and I went down to the second (ever?) night market in Seattle’s International District. As you might expect from a second night market, it wasn’t as vibrant as you might find in Vancouver, BC, or any of the more famous night markets. But it was fun. There was some REALLY bad karaoke–and some good singing as well, people chopping the tops off of coconuts for an authentic tropical drink (just add a straw!), games of weiqi and majiang going fast and furious, and so on.

While we were down there, we went across the street to New Century Tea House (416 Maynard Ave S. / 206-622-3599) and sat down with Grace at their ENORMOUS new tree-root tea table and shared a little shop talk, restaurant recommendations, and Longjing (Dragonwell). I wish I had brought a camera so I could show you the size of the table and the King-Of-All-Tea root throne that went with it. A tea tree that's been used for making puer for generations

Speaking of pictures, though, the last time I was in, Dafe Chen gave me a picture of the tree one of his new puer bingchas was picked from. Since I mentioned a New Century puer in the last newsletter, this is as good a time as any to share the picture, right? Isn’t it lovely, in a I’ve-provided-tea-for-generations kind of way?

I’ve edited down the photo a bit, and linked it to a larger one–click to see it closer up. Thanks, Dafe, for the cool picture!

Wiki Help Wanted

Today’s post is a request for help.  Recently, the TeaGeekWiki has seen multiple attacks by spammers and that’s really put a cramp in my tea-information-collecting style.  You can help me with this by writing a little in the wiki.  I’ll handle the deletion of articles that don’t belong, and banning users who create nothing but lists of links to vendors of cheap drugs, video games, and enhancement of the naughty bits.

If you would be so kind as to visit the wiki and post something that you know about tea, or look at the Planning Page and find something you’d like to research and write an article on, it’d make the TeaGeekWiki a much better resource for us all.

Thanks so much!

New Horizons

Well, as I mentioned in the recent Tea Geek newsletter (which you can sign up for here), I mentioned that Saturday was my last day at the Perennial Tea Room. We’ve parted on good terms, and I’ll still be doing classes there. However, that leaves me free to do more with Tea Geek.

Part of this love-fest of newness, is a new kind of entry that I hope to have every so often on this blog. I’m going to do an occasional series of interviews of people in the tea world. And, since the most popular post on my blog is the one about Aaron’s tea tasting (and because he was the first to respond to my requests for an interview), I’ve included the interview with Aaron Armstrong of Team Tea below:

TG: What’s your favorite tea?

AA: The worst tea I can find. The more bad tea I try, the more I appreciate a good one.

TG: How did you start on the path to tea geekdom? Briefly describe your history of tea exploration.

AA: I have always enjoyed tea, but didn’t always know what it was. I began truly enjoying tea after I was introduced to a tea ceremony master in Japan. One of the kindest, most gracious, most generous people I have ever met. Tea isn’t about flavor or aroma, it is about who you drink it with. Well, I guess after that it is about flavor and aroma, but only then (^^).

TG: What aspect of tea do you find most fascinating?

AA: The shear enormity of it. One silly plant and so many varied delicious teas.

TG: Who have you learned the most from?

AA: I have had help from many. This is a difficult question, because each person has something different to share.

TG: What tea resource (book, website, person, etc.) would you recommend for a tea novice?

AA: Floating Leaves Tea in Seattle, Washington

TG: And what’s your own favorite tea resource, potentially for more advanced tea geeks?

AA: The tea.

TG: What does tea mean to you?

AA: It is what one puts into it. It can be a flavor, a feeling, a person, a community. To me it is friends enjoying one another’s company.

TG: Name your biggest pet peeve in the realm of tea and tea drinking.

AA: That some people think that there is a “RIGHT” way to drink tea. There is a wrong way, but there is no right way.

TG: If you could let everyone in the world know or understand one thing about tea, what would it be?

AA: It is just a beverage.

TG: What’s the craziest/weirdest/most obsessive thing you’ve ever done in pursuit of your love of tea?

AA: I carried a cast iron Furou (the cauldron and fire pit set for preparing
maccha) on the plane back from Japan? Is that crazy? It was quite heavy…

Thanks, Aaron!

Photos from ‘Learning A New Brewing Style’

The Great Tuna [ed. note:  now mysteriously revealed to be called “Chris”], who was present at the tasting where I learned the new Japanese cold brewing style, sent me these photos he took. I post them with his permission (click on them to enlarge):

Japanese Tea Tasting

This is Aaron shaking the teapot into the little cups. I believe this is a hot brew because of how much liquid is in the cups. (We did two cold brews and two hot of each set of leaves.)

Japanese Tea Tasting

In the above photo you can see several aspects of the tasting. On the left you can see how tiny the teapot is. In the lower-right you can see a typical gongfu tasting cup, next to one of Aaron’s cups with just a tiny amount of white glaze in the bottom, and a tinier amount of tea. That’s about how much we got from the cold brews. In the center of the table, we had four senchas brewing and we’d go back to them over time to see how they’d developed. The large bowl between the spoon rinsing stations was our slop bowl.

Japanese Tea Tasting

This is a closeup of the four senchas, the spoon rinsing bowls, and the slop bowl. For those who haven’t experienced this kind of brewing, the leaves are put in a bowl with water, and a spoon is used to dip out a little into your own tasting cup. Between dips, the spoon is rinsed in a cup of clean water. That way people can share spoons and drink out of the same bowl while not sharing their germs and not cross-contaminating tea flavors.

Learning A New Brewing Style

Just when I thought I was starting to know something about tea, along comes Aaron Armstrong of Team Tea to show me that the vast expanses of things I don’t know yet is even vaster (more vast?) than I’d thought. He showed me a way of brewing tea that I’d never heard of, let alone experienced, and it was certainly something to experience.

He learned this method of cold brewing in Japan (he wasn’t sure how to translate the Japanese name for the method, so I’m just going to call it “Japanese cold brewing”). He used a tiny unglazed clay yokode kyusu (side-handle teapot) smaller than his fist. In it, he placed a small amount of sencha–lovely, very fresh, and straight from the farmer–but less than you’d use for a gongfu brewing and more than you might for a British-style brewing.

Then he did the crazy thing that caught my attention. He added room-temperature water. And about the same volume as that of the tea. Think about that for a second and let it blow away some of your preconceptions about tea brewing: he used a 1:1 tea-to-leaf ratio, and room-temperature water. After four or five minutes, he poured it out.

I suppose I should clarify. “Pour” is used very loosely here. He shook out a handful of drops for each of the five guests into some of the tiniest cups I’ve seen. If you think of the smallest gongfu cups you’ve seen, you’re starting to get the right size in mind. Bigger than an actual thimble, but not by much. The leaves in the kyusu had absorbed almost all of the water. In fact, the first time ’round, he showed us that the leaves on top still hadn’t really absorbed much water–they were still a bit dry.

So, there I am with my thimble holding maybe eight drops of liquid in the bottom. Like a good tea taster, I check the color. It’s a jade green that’s ever-so-slightly cloudy. Not dissimilar to what you’d expect from a good sencha. I check the fragrance. BAM! That tiny little cup is giving off as much fragrance as an English teacup full of green tea.

Then I tasted it. The fragrance was a mere shadow of the flavor. I think my head must have exploded or something because for a moment I had this sensation of flavor that I can only describe as dense in the space where my head had been. If you could distill an entire eight-cup Brown Betty teapot’s worth of sencha into eight drops without changing or diminishing the flavor at all, you might get something like this. And the strange thing was, it was so incredibly sweet without any unpleasant bitterness or astringency.

That, and the flavor kept on coming. Two hours later I could still taste it (or the amalgam of the six or seven teas we tried that way). Aaron did two cold brewings of each–water poured on the side so that the leaves floated on top first, then water poured on top the second time–and then a regular brewing with hot water a couple of times.

Even if you don’t have a kyusu, you can use a gaiwan or any kind of small container. Aaron told us that the clay was more dense than used in yixing pots, which are much more porous, so glazed teaware is fine to use. Whatever you use, give this brewing a try with a high-end Japanese green tea like sencha, guricha, or gyokuro. My next experiment will be with a delicate Chinese green like biluochun or a maofeng.


Cute Tea Story

I was recently catching up on my blog reading and read the rest of Corax’s series on his trip to Taiwan and China. In particular one post struck me. It was actually one paragraph in that post that stood out amongst all of the other fascinating tea information:

Ms Yu’s tiny daughter, perhaps three years old, ran into the room, hurled herself into her mother’s arms, chattered away in Chinese, and then set about brewing an infusion of the tea herself. I marveled as she expertly manipulated the gaiwan (her mother handling the kettle of hot water), poured the tea into the sharing pitcher, and then poured out several cups of the tea, including one for herself. Ms Yu asked her if she knew what this tea was: ‘Da Hong Pao!’ said the little girl with emphasis, and everyone laughed. She watched me with huge dark eyes, then ran out of the room, returning with a tiny packet of fisted wu long cha. ‘Tie Guan Yin,’ she announced with a smile, and pressed it into my hand. Could I have been any more charmed? And: is this the fifth generation of the same family’s tea work, getting an early start?

How many three-year-olds in North America know the difference between Da Hong Pao (大红袍) and Tie Guan Yin (Simplified: 铁观音; Traditional: 鐵觀音)?  How many could actually brew tea, let along perform gongfucha for guests?  I continue to be amazed at how integrated tea is in most world cultures, and how little we’re aware of it here.