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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Japanese Tea Galore

I've been drinking nothing but Sencha (and one Kabusecha) for the past week and a half, ever since my order of organic tea came in from O-Cha. I remember when I first started drinking tea, I wasn't a big fan of green teas; the flavor was too subtle and grassy for me. I'm surprised how nuanced my taste preferences have changed. I think I'm really starting to enjoy Japanese tea, because of its simplicity and complexity.


It's simplistic, because they're all green tea. I know that there is bancha, genmaicha, some Japanese black tea, etc. but in terms of the type of tea, there aren't as many varieties as Chinese teas. However, at the same time, it's complex because there are nuanced differences between regions, processing, season, etc. I think Japanese teas have complexities in their flavor profile that I can't really find in Chinese greens.

I'm also liking the fact I have so much new information to learn, and it's really helping my brewing technique. Most of the teas I drink are Oolong, so I don't really care about temperature. But for Japanese greens though, temperature matters, and I'm beginning to be more methodical about my brewing. I'm even heating up the kyusu now, which is something I didn't do with Gaiwan or Yixing too often.

It's still frustrating though. I still haven't gotten the leaf amount right, and it's a little harder because I'm sampling organic teas. I started off with 5-6 grams for my 300 ml kyusu, but when I upped it to 10 grams, it seemed a little too bitter. I'm trying 8 grams now, and hopefully it'll turn out better. I had hoped to do a proper review of my teas by now, but it'll have to wait until I'm satisfied with my brewing technique.

Two other things I thought I'd throw out there. When I first bought my kyusu I kept on the plastic protector cover, but after reading a thread on TeaChat about it, I decided to take it off. I like the aesthetic quality of my Tokoname without. Hopefully I won't regret it. I also gave into the Matcha devil. I bought a nice Chawan off Rikyu, and all the accessories and Matcha off of Yuuki-Cha. I can't wait, and I'm praying that somehow everything gets here by Monday.

Experminting with B&W. I like how austere it looks.

Note: Ah, I forgot to mention a small "Tea Experiment" I had today. Inspired by a thread on TeaChat I decided to make Genmaicha out of the crappy Sencha I got from a local tea store (it's actually a decent everyday Sencha but it's nothing compared to what I'm drinking now). I wish I had taken pictures, but it was a spur of a moment thing...next time, next time.

I poured out some brown rice into my wok and cranked up the heat. Almost immediately, a nutty burnt smell emananted through the house. My sister, whose room is all the way in the back, even asked what the smell was. I was surprised by how fast the brown rice toasted. I think it took three to five minutes. I had thought I had too much toasted rice for my Sencha, but I realized that the dry leaf would expand, so I'll remember to toast even more brown rice. Apparantly you can pan-fry Japanese tea to make hojicha (right?) so I might try that next. Another thing I like about Japanese greens: how you can use them even if they've gone stale. I mean, what can you do about a Chinese green that's gone stale? Sure, you can re-roast your Oolong, but you can't completely change it into something else, can you?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Taiwan Oolong Madness

I love being home in southern California for two reasons: I get to use my large-sized tea tray, and I can take advantage of the sunny weather for my photos. My grandmother is staying with my family for a while, and she brought a ton of Taiwan Oolong. I've been busy with my job-search, but I finally sat her down so I can properly document what type of teas she brought. She had forgotten what the vendor told her, so we decided to have a tea tasting between myself, my mother, and my grandmother.

Taiwan Oolong "A"

This tea was harvested in Spring 2009, and it comes from the Li Mountain, which is located in central Taiwan. My mother liked this tea particularly, because of the low astringency and the better flavor. When we felt the wet tea leaves it seemed a little bit "thinner" compared to the others. This tea is about $18 for 50 grams, but since the standard of living is a little lower there, I'd say the tea is worth about $30 for 50 grams. The tea has minimal roasting, if any, and I love the soft floral flavor.

Taiwan Oolong "B"

This tea was also harvested in Spring 2009, and it also comes from the Li Mountain region; however, there are some big differences between the two teas. We noted that this tea has a very distinct floral aroma. When i smelled the wet tea leaf and the tea itself, I was reminded of TGY. The wet leaf was also thicker than the others, which I'm assuming means there's more concentrated flavor in the leaves, and that the leaves are probably older. This was slightly more astringency, which was a hui gan, so we enjoyed it quite much. The flavor itself was so-so, I think Oolong "A" had better flavor, but Oolong "B" had better aroma. This tea was slightly cheaper, about $14 for 50 grams.

Taiwan Oolong "C"

It was much easier to tell this tea apart from the others, because there is some light roasting. My grandmother forgot where exactly this tea came from, but she distinctly remembered being told it was of lower quality. From what I've learned from different tea vendors in Taiwan, light green Oolong are preferred to roasted Oolong.Even there isn't too much color variation, I could smell the roasted aroma was the dry tea leaf. The tea had a nice roasted aroma that contrasted nicely with the other teas. Wasn't too much to write home about though. Not suprisingly, the price reflects the tea's quality: $7.00 for 50 grams.

So I have a lot of Taiwanese oolong, so if anyone is interested in trading samples, please let me know. I'm looking for some Shincha/Sencha, Gyokuro, Dancong, and Wuyi.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back from Hiatus, and with a New Tokoname

Hopefully there are some people who are keeping up with this blog, and if not ... well, there isn't much I can do, is there? I've been away from from my blog because of my last semester at college kept me plenty busy, and I've been desperately looking for a job that I've neglected this blog until yesterday. Even though I've been on hiatus, I've still been drinking tea, mostly some Oolong my grandmother brought for me from Taiwan (if anybody wants to trade samples please let me know!), but I've been dabbling in some Indian and Japanese tea.

I've found a small teashop in my town, and although the selection is kind of small, I'm glad there's a brick-and-mortar tea store I can rely on now. Even though I love buying tea online, because of the variety, I love buying the tea in person, because you get to smell and actually see the tea leaves in person. I'll post some photos and write a short review the next time I visit.

So back to my introduction to Indian and Japanese tea. I've been trying the usual suspects of India: Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. There isn't much variety at the tea store so I decided on some on the more inexpensive ones.

I visited yesterday to pick up a sample of Darjeeling when a small Tokoname caught my eye. It wasn't too expensive either, and the quality seems decent. Even though I could've bought a tokoname with more pedigree online, I really wanted to be a patron of the store. Besides, I figure I can buy the authentic stuff when I'm more knowledgeable.

And here's a shot of what the inside looks like. I'm hoping that the mesh filter won't affect my tea brewing too much. I think it holds around 300 ml, and I love the creamy whiteness along with the rustic brown ring around the lid.

I bought some Shizuouka Sencha, and from what I've researched on Teachat, it's a pretty commercialized region for Japanese tea. I was considering buying the Gyokuro, but being afraid of brewing it improperly I'll try that next time. I use about 5 grams of tea leaf, and brewed for about a minute and a half, adding 30 seconds for each additional infusion. I really enjoy the flavor, and I'm reminded of Huangshan Mao Feng for some reason. I'm trying to learn more about Japanese teas, because I enjoy them more than Chinese green teas. I'm really excited about it, because it's like I'm learning about tea for the first time, and there's so many new things.

I'm still looking for employment, so there will probably be fewer tea reviews, but hopefully I'll still have alot to write about. Also, if anyone knows of teashops in Los Angeles that's hiring ...
once again, comments are welcomed