Saturday 8 September 2012

The Big Day

This year is quite busy and there is a couple of milestones which happen during the year 2012, among others perhaps the most important day of my life. Wish me good luck :).

E + N

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Water, and the lesson learned

Water is an often discussed topic among the tea drinkers and every one who takes the tea drinking a bit seriously faces this issue sooner or later. I think it is important to find a good water (source) which suits for tea. 

I wanted to write about this issue for a while and some recent experiences made me to do so. In Italy I was quite lucky since I found a good bottled water named Guiza Alpe, with TDS around 100mg/L and with slightly basic pH. The water had a sweetish taste itself and suited well for most of the teas I drink, moreover the price was excellent, around 1 euro for 12 litters (6x2L). 

The situation back home was a bit more complicated. I struggled to find a good water for quite some time. The tap water is very hard and heavily chlorinated here, so I looked up what kind of bottled water are available. Most of them had higher mineral content and I was also discouraged by the relatively high prices (what is interesting since our country is rich on natural mineral waters). So I went for filtered water. I bought a simple brita pitcher with filters, what helped to reduce the lime from the tap water but the filter had to be changed every to week. The frequent filter change made me think and I figured out how to overcome this problem. First I boiled the tap water in a kettle, then let it to cool down.

During the cooling the limestone precipitates what can be filtered off using a Brita pitcher with a filter cartridge which is not active anymore, so the filtering is only mechanical not chemical, thus the cartridge doesn't have to be changed. After this step the water is still not very good for tea due to the salty taste what comes from the decomposition of chlorine. The "chlorine" used for disinfection is sodium perchlorate which decomposes to oxygen (O2) and sodium chloride (NaCl, kitchen salt). Therefore, the water after the first filtration was filtered again using a second pitcher but this time with an active cartridge. The resulting water was soft. But softness itself is not enough to get good tea.
I was developing this system of getting the right water every now and then when I came home for a couple of days but after I returned 3 weeks ago and I have had more time to test this water, I realised that something is not right with it. I was re-tasting shengs from my collection and many of them which I remember as excellent tasted strange. In general they missed the thickness and the taste was often sour, especially in the case of younger shengs, though for Japanese greens and lighter oolongs it worked relatively good.

There is one important thing about filters, namely that the result is not constant. Activated carbon need some time until the filtering power reaches its maximum. Then, after each filtration, the efficiency drops resulting in different water, and at the end, in tea with different taste. It is also not the same if the water is filtered right before it goes to the kettle or if it's left in the pitcher for a couple of hours during which the activated carbon has more time to absorb the minerals. And lets face it, going through the procedure I described in order to get the right water is ridiculous, especially if the results is not as good as it should be. So there left nothing else just buy some bottled water in the local supermarket and test them. I found one with lower mineral content (148mg/L) but the tea with this water wasn't good, it had a metallic taste plus a sour-acidic finish. So I started to add another water with higher mineral content (388mg/l, water meant for babies). At the ratio softer / hared = 1/2 the taste was surprisingly good. Another interesting thing is how the water influences the colour of the brew. I was steeping the same tea with softer and harder water and the colours were quite different (harder water results in darker brew).
1) The water used for the tea preparation is more important than I thought.
2) Soft water doesn't always gives better tea. If the water is too soft the tea becomes sour-acidic and flat, on the other hand, if the water is too hard the tea may be fuller but its character and taste is suppressed by the soapy-salty taste of minerals (that's especially true for fragrant teas). 
3) When there is scale developing in the kettle it doesn't necessarily mean that the water is bad.
4) The hardness of the water has a significant effect on the colour of the brew, therefore comparing the colours of certain teas makes sense only when the brewing parameters, including the water, are the same or similar. 
5) For shengs the mineral content around 300mg/L seems to work well. Basic pH (above 7) gives better result and also helps to buffer (or neutralise) the potential acidity of the tea.

Finally one important note. A couple of months ago MarshalN wrote on teachat that he uses harder water for darker, heavier teas. Tim wrote the same and I was surprised and also sceptical that such water can work. Now I know how right they are.

Friday 17 August 2012

2005 Changtai - Quian Jia Feng

It’s summer, the weather is just about right, so lets take the tea corner from my room outside to the garden. Outdoor tea sessions are very pleasing for so many different reasons. We are lucky since our backyard is full of trees and neighbours with other gardens what makes it a kind of an isolated island with a high level if privacy. I also brought my laptop but the sunlight makes difficult to read the monitor so the attention is focused fully on the tea. 

Today I sampled another Changtai cake from 2005. Nearly 7g of tea goes into the pot; the dry leaves smell youngish with some nutty-woody elements but without any particular sweetness. 

After the first rinse the liquor is particularly clear. The wet leaves keep mainly the woody character but as they cool down the sweetness is more pronounced. Whereas the fragrances of the tea are not that intense (probably due to the fact that the garden is so full of other things which scent intensively in this period), the taste is definitely there. 

The tea is strong, nicely coats the throat creating a good mouthfeel. The kuwei induces salivation and turns to sweet with some delay, as a proper huigan does. Good stuff! The tea still has mainly young character but I notice the plummy taste which can be usually found in some dry stored (semi)aged shengs. The tea opens relatively slowly and the sweet-bitter characters peaks around 3-4th infusion with steeping time still around 3s. The leaves keep on giving flavor steep after steep and at the 8th infusion I am quite full so I decided to stop. The tea is left to steep overnight to season the pot. The tea has a fair amount of kuwei but I didn’t notice too much astringency, that’s very important for me.

There is a huge walnut tree in our garden

Now, let’s do the comparison with its sibling. First of all, the storage is different; while the Yi Bang has a wetter character, it seems that this one spent the last 7 years in a drier environment (though with enough humidity to provide some ageing). The Yi Bang is smooth and round with a noticeable aged character in its profile, its qi is relaxing but not particularly strong and I had no problem to fall a sleep after it. On the other hand the Qian Jia Feng still has the edges in both the taste and energy. The tea is active on the lips, induces sweating, and I finished the session with a strong urge to eat something (even though I ate just before I set to drink the tea). Its overall qi is strong. 

The conclusion is that the Yi Bang is nice tea to drink now and there is still room for further ageing, possibly in a bit drier environment which would eliminate the wet storage character.
Quian Jia Feng is also relatively nice to drink now but with less leaves. For those more sensitive tea drinkers the bitterness can be a bit disturbing. On the other hand I am fairly convinced that in proper conditions this cake can turn into something really nice. 


Ps:  The natural sunlight has a significant positive effect on the quality of the pictures.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

2005 Changtai - Yi Bang

After I defended my degree I decided to give myself a present, and what else could it be than half dozen of pueh beengs. This time I made the ordered form Red Lantern and I went for slightly older shengs, mainly form the 2005 vintage. After 3 weeks of waiting finally arrived …wait for it… the bill for the custom fee. This always rises my blood pressure since 20 % from the total price (including shipping) is not negligible. But I payed it, the package arrived and after the opening (which reminds me myself as 7 years old on Christmas eve) I did the usual fist contact ceremony: sniffing and smelling each cake a couple of times. This gives and idea about the storage. For instance I rarely buy Kunming stored puercha which is older than 2008-2007 since in that dry climate the teas age very little and makes no sense to pay the extra money. But this time the scenario was different. The 2005 cakes are dark with low and heavy fragrances, some of them with developing aged character. I picked the one which seemed to be the most aged. 

I never had tea from the Changtai brand before, but Hobbes usually writes positively about them, what can be promising. 7g of leaves goes into the zisha pot (100 ml) dedicated for those shengs which have already a bit of age. This session was done at the evening after a rather hectic day what can alter the overall impression, but nevertheless, here comes a brief review of the first trial. 
After the rinse the wet leaves show a sweet – crispy smell with a basement touch. The taste feels aged, sweet and smooth with some spiciness. The storage seems to be wetter which may be disturbing for somebody but certainly not for me. I personally prefer a bit wet than too dry. The tea also have a cooling effect on the early infusions what I usually take as a good sign. The fragrance from the aroma cup is intense on the sweet-woody side. My mother stops by and asks for a cup of tea. She also likes this sheng a lot what makes her to stay for a while to drink tea and chat with her son who happen to roam in Europe lately an such moments are becoming more and more rare.The leaves at the end of the sessions are fairly large and on the dark green - brown side. 
This sheng is a nice surprise with his full body and the developing aged character, but I miss some kuwei what would make it even more interesting. Its comfortable to drink it now and I am curious what will happen with it in the following years. Meanwhile, it goes to the drier part of the puerh cabinet.

Monday 13 August 2012


Yep, that’s right. 

The last couple of months were pretty intense, but finally the thesis is done and the long expected period of relax and rest is here. Write down a book is not trivial. There have been so many data generated during the last three years and just to organize them can take several weeks, and once you have it the actual writing can start.
Writing is an interesting thing. The beginning was very difficult and as further I was with my thesis, as easier the writing seemed to be. Once the work is heading to the end, the situation becomes again complicated, since the structure of the work is often edited and re-organized. The day of printing is very relieving, but the day after usually brings some anger since errors and mistakes are found (but as others said, that’s how it goes). Meanwhile, I had to finish the projects, work on publications, solve the housing issues and figure out how to move all my stuff back home. 

I came back home two weeks ago and I think it is time to return to my blog. I drunk so many teas in the last months and plenty of samples are waiting to be tested. I will try to share the outcomes here.      

Sunday 3 June 2012

How to enjoy a tea

Things are starting to calm down, and here is finally a weekend which is not about the writing of my thesis. This time I would like to share a couple of thoughts about the way I enjoy a tea. 

The first important question is when.
I used to drink tea at the evenings after the work, however it had a really bad influence on my sleep and digestion. Moreover, it is not so easy to focus on something after a hectic and tiring day. So, I switched to the mornings. I wake up earlier, have a proper breakfast then sit down with a good tea. I think this is the best time to enjoy the energies of certain teas. Some of them wakes me up after the first couple of infusions, whereas others have a calming or tranquilising effect after which I would like to crawl back to the bed :).

But in general, after a morning session I am fully awake and ready to go to work. It is much better than pumping caffeine to my brain at the evenings. 

How much
In my usual setup I use 5-6 g of tea for ca 90 ml of water. This works well for young shengs and wu yi yancha. For black teas, i use 6-7 g of leaves for 140ml of water. For old teas the ratio is higher: 5g for 50 ml.  I almost always weight the tea I am going to drink, especially if I would like compare different teas. Some people eyeball the amount of leaves, but frankly, it requires years of experience to be able to say that weight of a compressed chunk of tea, in my opinion. 

In what
Yixing pots seems to be very popular these days and I also like them, but it is so difficult to pick the right pot for a certain tea. To avoid this I go with gaivan for everything what is fragrant or "green". In this category belong green tea, young sheng (<10 years), Anxi oolong and Wu Yi yancha with lower oxidation/roasting. For things such as aged sheng/oolong, shu, black tea and stronger yancha I have zisha pots. I  almost always use pitcher which helps to cool down the tea a bit and also give a chance to observe the colour and the fragrance of the liquor.  The tea from the pitcher goes to a sniffing cup or directly to small white sipping cups.

Steeping time
There is usually a rinse at the beginning which is discarded. The first steep is a bit longer with 10s, while the following infusions are just water in - water out. At the point when the tea starts to loose its depth, the infusions are becoming longer; 10s, 20s, 30s, 45s up to the point when there is no flavor or the tea starts to be harsh. With the teas which are infused in yixing pots, the last infusions are left for longer time (overnight, overday)

How long
I like to take my time, especially with strong teas it can take 1-2 hours until I finish. It is also necessary  to give space for the aftertaste which can appear minutes after swallowing. I don't like my tea to hot and I prefer to wait until the soup cools down quite a bit, especially with the early infusions. If I drink my tea to fast my taste buds gets saturated and it becomes difficult to pick up the tastes. Moreover, a gongfu is mostly about relaxation, so no reason to hurry. 

Activities during
I must confess that in most of the cases I am browsing on the web during the sessions. I like to answer emails at the mornings or just read the news or tea blogs. If I am at home I enjoy the tea with my family so we are just simply chatting. 

Some teas can fairly mess up my stomach, usually there is no problem during the session, the signs starts to appear after. To prevent this, I found that if I drink pure water after the session I can prevent the problems. Probably it just dilutes the gastric fluid. After an hour of so, I have to eat something more solid. 

So this is the general setup, and I am aware that different people enjoy tea in different ways, so feel free to share. 
All the best

Friday 20 April 2012

1970s Pingling aged oolong

I sampled a couple of aged shengs so I am a bit familiar with this group of teas and as more I drink it more I like it. On the other hand, the area of aged oolongs is unknown for me and for some reasons I was avoiding it. However there are a couple of reviews out there which encouraged me to include a sample of this aged oolong into my last order from EoT. 

The fragrance from the sample bag is very particular, I never experienced something like this with other teas. It is heavy spicy reminding things like mayonnaise and mustard mixing with the typical wu yi frangrance. The leaves are in good shape, relatively long and unfragmented, but fragile and delicate on touch.
I pack 5 grans into my new 60ml zisha. 

The first rinse changes the scent of the leaves quite a bit revealing a fragrance very similar to aged shengs with the creamy sweetness of oolongs. The spicy character is still there but with lower intensity. The taste is also unique but also reminds an aged sheng at some points; a mixture of woody-nutty-spicy and sweet, very interesting. It is strong but without edges.  The taste becomes prominent after the swallowing and stays for long time. After the first couple of infusions I am very excited. The taste is developing nicely and reaches the peak around the 4th steep. 

The qi is particular. I don’t know if it is uplifting or calming but it is strong and slightly euphoric. I watched a few episodes of the two and a half men during the later infusions and I was laughing on every sketch like I am high. The last infusions are simpler and I would describe it like a mixture of aged puerh with the roasted sweet taste of yancha. I have done around 4-5 very long steeps at the end which still delivered pleasant soups.
It was a very nice experience to drink this tea and I was thrilled after the firs session. As I was drinking it I remembered the “wow” moments which I had when I first time tried high grade da hong pao or aged sheng.

The next day I drunk some young sheng which was good but somehow boring this time, showing me the difference in complexity of a young and old tea. 

And the conclusion is that I have to dig more deeply into the world of aged oolongs.