Monday, September 26, 2011

The tea jar 'magic trick'

Origin: Shan Lin Shi
Elevation: 1500 meters
Cultivar: Luanze (qingxin) Oolong
Hand harvested on April 25, 2011
Process: charcoal medium roast

This High Moutain Hung Shui Oolong is best brewed after it had time to rest after its roasting. In the past, before trains and planes, this helped preserved the freshness of the leaves until they arrived (by boat, horse carriage...) to the customer. Now, they arrive vacuum packed within days of ordering and without having really rested. When the foil is opened, the fragrance of young roasted Oolong is much less pleasant than that of a fresh High Mountain Oolong.

Teaparker's storage book, confirmed by my experiments,  showed that a good jar is key to good Hung Shui. Unfortunately, industrial porcelain doesn't improve the tea very much (that's why I stopped selling those jars when I realized this). Antique porcelain jars can have excellent results, but are difficult to find and quickly expensive. That's why I have worked with David Louveau, Michel François and Petr Novak to produce traditionally made tea jars.  

What is truly magic and amazing is that just a few minutes inside such a jar will change the fragrance of the tea, and, ultimately, even its taste! The plastic, unnatural smell goes away very quickly and a sweet, refined fragrance appears. Teaparker likens this effect to a wine decanter: a young red wine will open up much faster after being poured in a decanter.

 Petr Novak sent me some cups and 3 jars in early 2010. This gave me the opportunity to test which clay and glaze reacted best with tea. Later, he sent more different jars and one made with the same clay, glaze that I liked best, and with this simple shape: roundish with a single cover on top. And since this jar had the best results, I asked him to make more.

The clay is technical porcelain (not 100% pure, but more natural). Petr has thrown and trimmed these jars by hand on the wheel. After a first bisque fire in electric kiln to 1000°C, Petr glazed the outside and the inside with Czech soda feldspar with a small amount of white clayand. Then he fired the jars in a wood kiln for 20 hours to around 1300°C.
The inside of the cover lets appear unglazed portions. It's a good place to see what the clay is made of. Notice the small impurities.

Made in June 2011, I have already washed them once. However, I recommend that you do it again after you receive one: immerse in clean water, wipe the surface with a clean cloth and let the uncovered jar dry under the sun.

(The problem with most -all?- industrial porcelain jars is that even if you clean it well, it will continue to have an unnatural smell inside.)

The jar fits approximately 150 grams of rolled Oolong. (More or less, since each of this handmade jars is a little bit different). The price of such a jar by Petr Novak is the same as Michel François' jar in my current list. And, it includes a well padded cloth with belt to protect the jar like seen below!
 Petr also made some matching, big 10 cl cups (for thirsty drinkers!) with the same clay, glaze and process.

The tea tastes well balanced and mellow from this cup. The color is darker than in the ivory white cup, as the glaze is a little darker and the cup is deeper. It's not a small gongfu cha cup, but one that would well suit a little bit more casual drinking style.

It weighs approximately 100 grams and costs the same price as a white porcelain competition set in my selection.

So, how does this Hung Shui Oolong perform after being subjected to a short stay in Petr's jar?

The dry leaf fragrance in the jar smells like a light, but powerful bouquet of spring flowers. This natural smell doesn't irritate the nose (like artificial flavors do) but stimulates the palate and makes me salivate. It's so pure and refined! 
 The brew is golden and clear. It tastes smooth, lively and sweet. The aftertaste is so fine. Is this divine liquid still tea, or is it the kiss from Shan Lin Shi?
Advice: to use a jar as a 'decanter' instead of as a permanent jar helps to make a more efficient use of it. For most tea fans, including me, it's just not possible to purchase a jar for each roasted Oolong we keep. However, with just one good jar, you can refine all the roasted Oolongs you'll drink, if you use it as a decanter! Just make sure to clean and air it after each tea. (And once you see its use, you'll want to start to store for a longer time...)


Steph said...

It's a beautiful piece, and so lovingly thought through.

TeaMasters said...

Thank you, Steph

Jean-Benoît Fortin said...

Je m'étais toujours questionné à savoir si les contenants étaient si pratique, considérant que je n'ai pas de thé que je conserve pour une longue durée - ormis quelques Puer. Cependant, ce post m'a convaincu, j'irai sans doute me procurer une pièce en porcelaine faite ici, au Québec, pour mes Oolong cuits.

Sinon, quel est le nom de cette fleur qu'on voit dans la dernière photo?


Isabelle said...

Beautiful post and tea jar (and cup)...

Does it also work for green and red tea as well ?


TeaMasters said...

Merci pour ton commentaire, Jean-Benoit. N'hésite pas à nous donner ton avis.
Je ne me rappelle pas du nom (chinois) que m'a donné la fleuriste. Désolé.

For green tea, I think that pewter would work better. For red tea, I'm also using such a jar with success.

Marlonm said...

Have you attempted to use a jar like this on roasted Chinese Oolongs? Do you think it would improve upon a well-roasted yan cha?

TeaMasters said...

Yes, it works on roasted Yan Cha as well.

Thécat said...

Bonjour Stéphane,
Combien de temps fais tu décanter les wulong torréfiés dans un pot à thé?

Merci pour ces informations et expériences que tu partages avec nous.

TeaMasters said...

Bonjour Annabelle,
Je 'décante' le plus longtemps possible, car le repos en jarre est bénéfique. Mais on sent les effets dès quelques minutes! Aussi, ce n'est pas trop grave de ne pas avoir mis les feuilles à l'avance. On peut les mettre dès qu'on a choisi le thé qu'on veut faire. Ensuite, le temps de faire chauffer l'eau et de préparer son Cha Xi, la jarre aura opéré de sa magie!