Early in my tea journey I started to collect teapots from Tokoname, Japan. I was so impressed by this functional artwork that it spawned for me two pursuits. First, I wanted to visit Tokoname and see the studios and kilns of these artists. I was fortunate enough to be able to make this trip a few years ago, and I may write more about it soon. Second, I was inspired to make my own teapots.
As James explained in his review of 2020 Shui Jin Gui, Wuyi yancha is a very dynamic tea that quickly unfolds over 6 or 7 infusions. Lower grades of this tea might peak even sooner. This has led to yancha fanatics to create a few techniques to extend the experience. The first of these is the “return” cup, or simply having an extra cup or gongdaobei to set aside the rinse.
During a trip to Kyoto, I had the privilege to tour the main office of a 300 year old incense company. This company has a larger factory out of town for making their everyday grade products, but the best quality stuff is made here with a lot of human hands at every step of the process. In the beginning, raw materials like sandalwood are brought in as a fine powder, and blended together to form the recipe.
Another blessing shared by tea lovers is the rich history that has been handed down to us by our predecessors. It is transmitted in the form of rituals, writings, and treasured objects that have been preserved for our present enrichment, and to be passed down yet again. In some circles, the highest form of tangible tea history is said to be the Ido chawan. The Ido story begins in Korea, where potters made these rustic bowls for everyday use.
In the last post, we discussed some traits tea drinkers focus on when [evaluating or comparing teas] 1. In the second installment - we’ll call it the lab section - we can put these concepts to use in describing the relative merits of two puer. Visual Inspection left: 90s menghai grade 2 loose right: 80s menghai white needle golden lotus The White Needle Golden Lotus, a legend of the Menghai Tea Factory, has tiny buds coated in a delicate white frost.
For those of us who keep coming back to tea year after year, there is a much greater reward than a hot beverage or a familiar taste. More than the uplifting properties of caffeine or the calming effects of l-theanine alone. You could substitute most of these qualities in a dozen other ways. So why would someone focus as heavily on tea - and tea alone - as those reading here are known to do?
For a few years now, I’ve been watching the patina grow on my favorite teapot. In the Western market, tea drinkers often end up buying a few pots in the beginning that don’t quite “fit.” Maybe the size is wrong, the clay is poor, or is simply not a match to any of our desired teas. Perhaps the shape and craftsmanship are just not pleasing to us. Owning bad teapots, experienced collectors will remind you, is “tuition” that helps you start to recognize better teapots from the others.
After drinking a certain number of puerh samples, we start to develop a certain set of expectations about storage and different recipes. Two of the most popular -7532 and 7542 - are today’s focus. This blog has usually eschewed discussing a single specimen of tea. These teas are exceptional in this regard not because they are unique or have any particularly outstanding quality, but because they challenged my expectations. When Pamela arrived at the house for tea, we started with something that was a known quantity for me.
“The old teapot is different from the newer teapot because… the craftsmanship is very obvious.” Kingston teaches us about a pair of late Qing dynasty Shui Ping style Yixing teapots - made of Duan Ni clay - for King Rama V of Thailand. “It’s ability… when it’s perfect, but not mechanic. When it’s mechanic - it’s like you are printing a straight line with a computer, using a printer. But if you draw a perfect line with your bare hand, that’s the beauty of art.
The Green Puerh class hosted by Timothy and Michael provides an opportunity for something a bit different from our usual fare. Michael began with a young, unblended single estate tea, 2008 Bing Dou. Timothy contrasted this with a semi-fermented, classic Menghai recipe, 2002 7352. The duo did their best to explain the differences between the small batch and factory teas, but having a full house of new and old tea lovers alike, a number of insightful questions arose.
There have been wild accusations around the ’net of me being one to spill the beans. To live up to this unsavory reputation, I offer you all a tour of the as-yet unnamed collaboration between The Tea Gallery and The Mandarin’s Tea Room. Somewhere along the way, we noticed that the phrase “The Tea Gallery slash Mandarin’s Tea Room” is a “mouthful." There are still mountains of boxes to be unpacked, but I was invited to visit the new tea room on the twenty-sixth anniversary of my birth.
One year after our first meeting, inaugural members of the NYC Tea Club gathered once again at The Tea Gallery. When all the guests finally arrived, Winnie suggested a matcha to lift everyone’s spirits. She prefers to use a new tin of matcha fairly quickly to enjoy its freshness, and fearlessly ladled several large scoops of bright powder into her chawan. The initial result was some of the strongest Usucha style matcha I have experienced.
This is Part Two in a two part series about evaluating Yixing pots. It is inspired in part by Michael Wong of The Tea Gallery And Now the Conclusion… After testing the pot with water, the logical next step is to add tea to the equation. The most obvious thing to do might be to add some leaves, hot water, and taste some tea. Instead, this test allows you to diminish the differences in thermal properties or pour times that might add variables in such an experiment, and focus for the moment on the effect of the clay on the tea liquor.
This is Part One in a two part series about evaluating Yixing pots. It is inspired in part by Michael Wong of The Tea Gallery. The world of Yixing teapots can sometimes seem a daunting mystery. Among tea lovers, few subjects garner so many strong opinions. Preferences among collectors can be based on size or shape of the pot, the type or quality of clay, age, or craftsmanship. In this short series, we make no claims about the desirability of any of the above properties.
Today we had a chance to examine a beautiful pair of pewter teapots from the Qing Dyanasty. They are owned respectively by a pair of real life tea pals. The handle of the smaller pot was expertly repaired with silver “nails.” The repair is indicative of workmanship from long past. The tall pot had its original spout carved from stone. So it goes in the case of these two collectors, and many others among us, that your favorite tea buds are also friendly rivals.
The Philly Tea Club (and guests!) assembled in the back yard for an introduction to Chanoyu. Being far from a proper tea room, Pamela L - a third year student of the Urasenke school - performed one of the more casual forms, o-bon temae. This ceremony is performed with the utensils arranged on a round tray, and draws hot water from a tetsubin rather than ladled from the kama.
This Thursday at the Random Tea Room Philadelphia, the crowd was hanging from the rafters for the chamber music flash mob “Classical Revolution," and, of course, tea. In their own words: “The mission of Classical Revolution is to present concerts involving both traditional and modern approaches while engaging the community by offering chamber music performances in highly accessible venues, such as bars and cafes, and collaborating with local musicians and artists from various styles and backgrounds”
Step One: Enlist some tea loving friends. Step Two: Add 7g of leaf to a 100 ml gaiwan (preheated). Replace lid. Allow your guests to appreciate the fragrance of the dry leaves in the hot gaiwan by smelling the edge of the lid, then replacing the lid and passing to the next guest. Step Three: Pour boiling water to the top of the gaiwan. Use the lid to remove the bubbles that form on the surface of the tea in a single, horizontal scraping motion.
Using room temperature water in the inner tea bowl, boiled water in the outer bowl, slowly brings up the temperature of the leaves. Adjust the time from 30-60 seconds depending on the thickness of your gaiwan (thicker walls, more time.) This will give your greens a much different character. Steps: Preheat gaiwan Add room temperature water to faircup Add leaves to gaiwan Fill gaiwan with water from faircup Steep for 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on thickness.
Our friend Evan has been prototyping travel pouches for Yixing, made from fine silk (with some additional padding.) The quality and construction have advanced rapidly, and he is ready to show off. Check them out and drop him a line - I collaborated to fit some common sizes, but they can be custom made to your own specifications. Larger sizes are also good for your favorite chawan.
Our good friend at The Mandarin’s Tea has spent the better part of a month researching, experimenting, and practicing to share his findings on Long Jing with us. As you might expect, trying to pack the level of detail the Mandarin is known for into a short blog post makes for some very dense verbiage, and you might not catch everything that was intended. Hoping for forgiveness, I am breaking down what I learned from this post into practical application.
Sharing tea is one of the greatest joys I have found. Quite often, people are generous enough to share with me as well. After enjoying the contrast of two grades of Shan Lin Shi, fresh from Taiwan, our friend Benito offered another special treat. This mini-beeng is made of very high quality leaves. It isn’t punchy in its youth, but rather sweet and buttery. If you are only drinking alone, you are missing half of the experience.
We made our second trip to the Royal Orchid Tea Museum, currently under a serious program of improvements. The event carried a water theme - an exhibition of Shui Pin Yixing teapots from Ming to modern, and, a sampling of several Shui Xian teas. I offered two pots of my own - 1970s hong ni and 1930s zi ni. Kai suggested my elder pot was originally made for export to Japan.
Mr. MingLiang Lu made a surprise visit to tea with us. He humbly introduced himself as an “art teacher.” After a few rounds of tea, he produced some small sheets of black paper and a pair of scissors and began cutting. Within minutes, a detailed image of Kyle’s face emerged. He mounted it with two small pieces of tape onto beautiful paper bearing his chop. I wondered at first why he seemingly put so much care into the cutting and the mounting seemed so simple.
I usually pride myself in being able to rattle off the 8 to 10 teas we drink during the course of a meetup. However, in the company of Dae and David I finally met my match. Dae says she hasn’t drank this much tea since her trip to Taiwan - I am indeed struggling to remember every tea. I’ve done my best to recall them in no particular order. 1996 Huang Yin - Sun Sing 1997 Menghai 8582 1980s Xiaguan Traditional Characters 2004 Silver Tip Puerh - The Tea Gallery
Our amazing hosts Dae and David effortlessly produced a never ending parade of colorful and delicious foods. A breakfast fitting of Amish champions. Hong Kong bun. Korean corn pancakes with a warm, gooey cinnamon and sugar center. Al dente pasta Bolognese with whole garlic cloves and a secret ingredient for the bold - chili oil. A special recipe from Chef David.
Besides tea, music, and arts & crafts, the festival offered plenty of food options. We made sure to sample as many as possible. Before digging in, we cooled off with some chilled noodles. Then, grilled fish balls on a stick. Short ribs in broth. Rice and tofu? Taiwanese burrito - sticky rice and beans. We were hardly the only ones trying to get our hands on the delicious eats; some of the vendors ran out of food before we made it to the front of the line.
I was quite surprised to hear a fairly distinctive band doing a stage set at Passport to Taiwan. The Hsu Nami are a post-rock group held together with the fluid sound of the erhu. I also hear nylon guitar on one track. I picked up both albums, but if it isn’t your thing, don’t sweat it. Photos by Pamela.
One of the main attractions at Passport to Taiwan was the booth for Fang Tea. Of course, for an event of this size, they brought in the heavy hitters - Kyle was brewing up tea under one of their green tents. He served us Fo Shou and a nice Gao Shan before we moved on, allowing the gathering crowd to have a seat.
Kung Fu Cha - Red versus Blue Setting aside the Jade tea for awhile - it is reported to brew satisfying tea for several days - Tim challenged me to a kung fu face off. He doses out the tea into small bowls and we each build our own pot carefully layering crushed and whole leaves. He is a bit more delicate than I, and manages to build a denser pot in the first round.
As guests arrived we began to set up outside and drink the remains of a fine tea - 2002 Big Green Tree from Best Tea House CA. I have been drinking this potent tea for 3 days and the leaves had plenty left to share with our guests. Puerh Pairing Straight back into young puerh, I demonstrated breaking a sample from a 2008 cake, previously mentioned, from Luh Yu Tea Emporium.
The first flush - a selection of photos from the first ever joint meeting of NYC and Philadelphia tea enthusiasts. Nearly all of the photos are snapped by Jeremy, not myself this time around. Best to leave these things to the professionals. In Pt. 2 we will share more photos and details of the meet. Edit: Music updated to something more date-specific per our music editor Michael V.
Spring has arrived on the east coast, finally allowing us to enjoy tea in a more natural environment. Few people are more adept at blending nature and tea ceremony than the Taiwanese, so it makes little sense not to emulate them now. A 2009 winter Li Shan fits the weather perfectly. This morning’s tea recalls a weekend spent among friends in Flushing, NY. Both times I have been here I often felt I had been transported outside the US for a few moments - I think this is the closest you can get to Asia without leaving the North East.
The second meetup was hosted by Tim in his spacious studio. Taking a page from Taiwan tea evaluation, we used a competition tasting cup and spoons to distribute the tea. Brewed tea from the pot or gaiwan was decanted into a competition cup, and passed around. Each guest ladled 3 sips of tea into their tasting cup using their own spoon. The spoon could be used to judge the aroma by smelling top and bottom.
In search of the elusive Tea Pearl, brave friends gathered at The Tea Gallery for the first NYC Tea Meetup. Being the inaugural I decided to document this one in some detail - I expect that I may drop off sooner or later as the journal of record. Mystery Formosa Oolong When I arrived Tim had already wrestled Winnie out of her seat and had taken over as Tea Master. In a large pot of Taiwanese clay, Tim brewed up several rounds of the unknown tea.
Today is warm, and I sit outside drinking tea from the fantastic Tea Gallery. It is very nice to finally have some natural light for photographing. I don’t have much to say about this tea that Brent hasn’t already written. I am using more leaf than him (half a stick in a tiny 60cc gaiwan), so the mineral-y-ness is very intense. This subsides after 4 or 5 intense steepings. If candy bars tasted this good, I would be a very fat man.