Saturday, February 27, 2010

Compare, drink, enjoy or an ordinary day of a tea blogger

Tea knowledge can be found in books, on the web and in tea classes with a master/professor. There is a lot that can be learned like this. The first step is to gain access to reliable sources for the knowledge. However, tea isn't an abstract science, but a very practical one. So, the second step is to experiment with tea to understand what you've learned or just to train your tasting skills. Here again, it's important to have a reliable source to get your standards right. And the whole process of learning and testing should bring you joy!

So, today, I started with a first experiment: comparing 3 different Jinxuan Oolongs to better understand the nuances of this (sometimes underrated) tea. So, I had the winter Zhu Shan and the spring Lu Shan Jinxuans from my selection and one sample from this winter from Ali Shan.

I used my blue Cha Bu to create an appealing Cha Xi that, I feel, is in harmony with this light and fragrant Oolong type. They say students learn better when they are happy and interested in their subject... Such a setup required and received my full attention.

I could 'feel' the difference between the floral, bursting spring flavors compared to the colder and lighter winter flavors. I could feel the depth and concentration from Lu Shan. I felt something similar with Zhu Shan, but with a little less strength (due to a lower elevation). And I felt a dark and exhausted soil from Ali Shan. (This was the reason I hadn't selected it.) It's still difficult to put words to characterize the smell of jinxuan. I would try with light milk caramel with a fresh twist.

Next, I want to test different cups with shu puerh. To get into the mood for this tea, I flip my Cha Bu and replace a porcelain jar with big a stoneware jar. I use a (Shan Shui qinghua) gaiwan to get a neutral result that will be only impacted by the cups.

The gas fired industrial porcelain cup gives the lightest brew. It feels boring and flat compared to the three wood fired glazed cups. In these cups/bowl (more on them next week), the puerh feels thick and rich, smooth and sweet. They are an excellent fit with this tea.

There are countless experiments and comparisons one can perform. They all involve drinking tea and the satisfaction of learning!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New ivory porcelain teacup

My latest addition to my selection of teaware: this teacup is just 3 cm high and 7 cm in diameter.
It contains 2 cl only in normal use and weighs 46 grams.

Its small size makes it a good fit for small teapots and several drinkers. I like the simplicity of its lines. And, I like the little opening at the rim. This detail adds a lot of softness to the contact with the lip.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Montagnes de Taiwan en hiver

La verdure foncée et puissante de la forêt montagneuse de Taiwan ne cesse de m'impressionner. Le spectacle de cette nature au repos, mais toujours vivante et magistrale apaise et grise à la fois. Les sources chaudes ne sont pas loin...

En hiver, les Oolongs torréfiés dont j'ai envie ressemblent à ces montagnes d'hiver. Sous le calme apparent de longue conservation, ils offrent toute la substance de leur riche terroir. Ils contiennent la force du soleil printanier, le feu maitrisé de la torréfaction. Bien conservés, la vie reste bien présente. Et avec l'âge, ces Oolongs revêtent une aura majestueuse et mystérieuse. Ils font le lien entre le passé et le présent, entre la brume et les nuages, entre la terre et le ciel.

Force apaisée.

Douce chaleur.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bonne année du Tigre

Happy Chinese New Year! (A week of vacation for the blog!)

(Picture: Mémoire des vents du Sud, Doulce Mémoire and Han Tang Yuefu).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spring 2009 'Lily flower' Wenshan Baozhong storage test (2)

1 month later, I have retested the Spring Baozhong stored in 5 different containers. With more time passing the impact of the jar on the tea should be more obvious. (Also, I have kept the jars in a place in my apartment that has a rather strong airflow).

First, the smell from these 6 jars and 1 bag. I start from the left to use the plastic bag as a standard, since this is how Oolongs and Baozhongs are usually packaged

1. Bag: a plastic smell (of course!). As for the tea, it smells still fresh, strong and flowery.

2. Yixing jar: moisture and a weaker smell.

3. Pewter jar: strong metallic smell (sorry again for stating the obvious!). It feels not natural and 'green'.

4. Mini jar: big loss of fragrance

5. White jar: fine, but somewhat weaker smell.

6. Double Happiness jar: fine (refined) fragrance, ample and still concentrated,

7. Big Qinghua jar with plate as cover: similar to previous jar, but smell is a little more diffuse (probably due to the bigger opening).
Next, I brewed from the 5 most distinctively different jars. 3 grams in a competition cup:

1. Plastic: standard

2. Pewter: more intense, fresher and 'greener'. Even the brew was the greenest color of all 5.

3. Yixing jar: weaker taste, but sweeter and no astringency. No bitterness either this time. But fresh feeling was very subdued.

4. White jar: Loss of some freshness and fragrance. A little strange and artificial astringent taste. This jar (without the foil) isn't suited to store fresh Baozhong. (It was better with roasted Baozhong). Maybe the design of the lid explains the loss. It would help to keep it wrapped in some fabric to reduce the air flow.

5. Double Happiness qinghua jar: Conentrated and fine. The tea feels less fresh than from the pewter, but it is more refined, rounder and harmonious (natural). Possible explanation for this good result: this jar was wood fired and not made industrially.

Update: Here are the pictures that Chris requested in the comments section.
The lid of the qinghua and zisha jars are simple and cover the neck of the jar. I
The pewter has a two lids.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Maison de thé près de chez moi (2)

Nous sommes retournés à cette maison de thé ce weekend. Cette fois-ci, j'ai ramené mes accessoires. Je n'ai gardé que la bouilloire et l'eau sont fournis par l'établissement. J'ai choisi un zhong afin d'avoir un accessoire polyvalent pour préparer les 3 Oolongs que j'ai amenés (Shan Lin Shi du printemps 2009, Ali Shan Hung Shui Oolong et top Oriental Beauty de Hsin Chu).

A l'arrière-plan, sur la gauche, on peut distinguer un pin très semblable à celui sur mon Cha Bu noir!

La porcelaine blanche ivoire de mon set provient d'une production moderne et industrielle. La technique est parfaite et aboutit à un résultat pur et lisse. Chaque tasse est un clone parfaitement identique. Mais trop d'uniformité froide tue la beauté. Ce qui 'sauve' ces porcelaines dans le Cha Xi est la présence du thé. Dans cette tasse en forme de tulipe, l'infusion chaleureuse et dorée lui donne de la vie, de l'imprévu. Dans ce cadre vivant de culture chinoise, la porcelaine moderne contraste avec le passé. A petite dose, cette porcelaine n'est pas entièrement froide et inerte car elle absorbe la vitalité de son environnement (et du thé). Mais un monde de porcelaine industrielle me ferait penser à '1984' d'Orwell.

Dans le domaine de l'art, on pourrait comparer cela à ceux qui disaient que la photographie, reproduction parfaite du réel, allait remplacer la peinture.

Mais de même qu'il y a des photos ratées et des photos réussies, il y a des porcelaines modernes meilleures que d'autres. Mais si l'on veut atteindre la beauté la plus sincère et la plus humaine, ce n'est pas de ce côté-là qu'on la trouvera.

Dans mon Cha Xi ci-dessus, à côté de mon bras, il y a ce bol de longue cuisson au bois de Terre et Feu. On voit combien il se fond bien dans ce cadre naturel:
Il y a une personnalité, une vigueur, une histoire qui se dégage de chaque centimètre carré. On peut le regarder sans se lasser et trouver à chaque fois de nouveaux détails. En même temps, il s'agit tout simplement d'un bol, l'objet le plus primaire qui soit. Il peut contenir boisson ou aliment. On peut toujours lui trouver un usage, une raison de le toucher et de le mettre à notre service. C'est de la beauté humaine, sans prétention, au quotidien.
(Dans un autre article, j'irai un peu plus dans le détail comment juger la beauté de telles poteries.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

"Splendidly beautiful" and "gorgeous" Cha Bu

These are your -my readers'- words, commenting this Cha Bu in my previous article. I couldn't agree more! The repeating pattern of this Chinese painting looks great even with no accessories on it. Because of this, each Cha Bu is a little different, depending on where the fabric was cut. Some emphasize the bamboo, other the pine tree:
I made this Cha Bu a little smaller than the previous one. It measures 52 x 33 cm approximately. The smaller surface makes it a little less distracting for the eyes. And it also makes it more affordable!
This reversible Cha Bu has 2 options for the second side. Either a burgundy red (see left) or light beige matching the color of the painting (I will post a picture on another occasion).

There is a third layer, an absorbing cotton fabric, between these two sides to absorb the water and tea drops that fall down during brewing.

The fabric can handle some drops here and there, but best is to keep them to a minimum. Compared to a bamboo tray, this may seem a drawback. It's not. It's an incentive to be more focused, precise and careful on how you pour. Concentration helps to pay more attention to details, make better tea and enjoy it thoroughly! It isn't just about aesthetics. It's functional as well!
Here, with the second side, I use the same ivory porcelain and Duo Qio teapot. But this time I brew some 'perfect' Hsin Chu Oriental Beauty from 2007. Day and night.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Spring 2008 'classic' Dong Ding Oolong

Cultivar: Luanze Oolong
Place: Feng Huang, Dong Ding, Central Taiwan
Harvested by hand on April 21, 2008
Roasted in May 2008.

I purchased this Oolong in spring 2008. The roasting was pretty strong at the time. So, I decided to let it rest. Now, 20 months later, the tea feels smoother it feels right to add it to my list. (Also, the spring 2009 'classic' just sold out. It was roasted more lightly).

The color of the brew is golden, pointing to orange, and very clear.

The smells are dark chocolate, malt, brown sugar and ripe fruits.

The taste is sweet, drying and full body. It stays on the tongue and above.

The leaves are quite dark, but they open up completely. The roasting is indeed quite strong, especially compared to the 2009 version of this tea. But it's very comforting and warm on a gray winter day.

In the past, it took a long time for the tea to reach the end customer. Roasting was a way to preserve the leaves during the long journey. Nowadays, air shipments and modern logistics have cut delivery time to days or weeks. This is also a reason why Oolongs have gone 'green' lately.

If the fresh teas like speed, then this 'classic' Dong Ding prefers to go slow. And this is the best way to enjoy it: simply and slowly!
For this Cha Xi, I'm using my zhuni Duo Qio Hu on an 'ivory' white plate, 3 'ivory' white tulip cups and a matching mini jar. The new black Cha Bu features a Chinese painting of bamboo and pine tree. (I will show you this Cha Bu in more detail in my next article.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Dégustation d'un Jin Cha des années 1930

Il s'agit d'un puerh en forme de champignon, issu du Mojiang (Yunnan) et destiné aux moines du Tibet. Pressé manuellement, on voit encore bien sur le pied la marque du tissu enroulé ; cela fait comme une spirale. Le plus étonnant, quand on prend ce puerh en main est l'impression de légerté. Il est complètement sec.

Mon généreux hôte en décortique quelques grammes. Il préchauffe trois fois une petite théière ancienne en zisha d'aspect rustique et crue. Elle n'est pas élégante pour un sou, mais elle est vraie, dotée d'une personnalité forte. L'eau chaude la réveille et ses pores se mettent à briller.

L'infusion dure une ou deux minutes.
L'infusion est sombre, mais pas opaque.

Les impressions sont d'un thé pur, épais, bon, puissant. Je pense bon avant de penser vieux. Il a gardé une force limpide. Mon esprit s'éclaircit tout d'un coup. Je me sens bien. Dans toute la bouche, il y a comme un film épais et doux qui reste et me donne du plaisir. En odeurs, je sens du vieil encens très fin et précieux. Dans la coupe vide, je sens du chocolat noir et de la Kahlua (liqueur de café). C'est léger, c'est harmonieux, c'est parfait.

D'où viennent ces feuilles? Elles venaient des vieux arbres de puerhs qui poussaient naturellement aux environs des producteurs. Dans les années 1930, personne n'utilisait d'engrais ou de désherbants. Le Yunnan était une région pauvre. La demande relativement faible ne nécessitait pas de nouvelles plantations. La méthode de production était relativement simple. Il n'y avait pas de recettes ou de gradation. Tout était pressé ensemble.

L'ingrédient le plus essentiel, c'est la qualité de départ de ces feuilles d'arbres sauvages. C'est de là que viennent la pureté et la force de ce thé si vieux et si vivace à la fois.