Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tea tasting event

The weather calmed down yesterday.
Instead of downpours and cloudy sky, we finally had a sunny, warm day in Bratislava after quite a long time (It's going to rain again today.).
And I'm glad, because, one of my favorite local shops, organized free tasting of 2010 Chinese green teas from Meng Ding area of Sichuan Province. As I've already mentioned before, the owners of this shop visited China in April and personally assisted in picking and processing of teas in this area. Therefore, they brought some really wonderful teas and decided to share their experiences through series of tastings and talks.
The tasting took place in a garden of their teahouse, close to the historical city center.

We drank six teas - five of them from Meng Ding and one quite mysterious, bought by them in a small pack from one local farmer in different province (of course, my poor memory can't recall which one it was).
All teas from Meng Ding were steamed instead of pan-roasted, which is quite untypical for Chinese green tea - but seems to be a common practice in Sichuan.
First was Meng Ding Shincha; I already tried this tea and wrote about it here.
Next four:

From upper left to right - Si Bei Xiang, Cui Yu, Mao Feng and Gan Lu. These teas were sorted by quality and date of picking, with Gan Lu being the best (and most expensive, of course) and Si Bei Xiang being the worst (still very nice, in my opinion).

Whole tasting was accompanied by really interesting talk and experiences from owner's trip.
Next, we had the mysterious tea -

I guess you can see why it was prepared in a glass cup. This tea was, unlike all previous, obviously pan-roasted, so it was an interesting alternation to the whole tasting.

Next tasting, this time of oolongs from WuYi will take place in the middle of June.
Personally, I can't wait for it.

Thunderstorm has just started outside, although the sun is shining at the same time. When will this weird and absolutely unpredictable weather calm down?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2009 Sencha Shigaraki by Marukyu Koyamaen

It's raining all day long again.
After two or three sunny days, storms and heavy downpours returned and the flood emergency had been officially reinstated. Local farmers must be happy, I guess.

So here is yet another Marukyu Koyamaen tea from 2009 Ichibancha, because my Shincha still haven't arrived. This time, it's Sencha - specifically the second from bottom in Marukyu Koyamaen's offering.

The leaves seem to be of Chumushi variety, which means that they are medium steamed - there is a higher amount of small, broken leaves, although there are also some longer needles. Overall, the leaves are still of very high quality. They are dark green, plastic-like, quite short and with this typical Sencha stickiness. Although the tea is already one year old, it still smells very fresh after opening the package, which is, as with most Japanese teas (and especially those from Koyamaen), very elegant and precisely made. This Sencha smells of flowers and fruit, although the creamy deep tones are present as well.

The first infusion is light green in color; I let the water cool down for quite a long while after it was boiled and decided to extend the brewing time. This way, the tea gave me quite an oil-like infusion with rich, full taste and very pleasant sweetness.

The second infusion is sharper in taste and a little bit less-transparent in color, although the brewing time was much shorter. Taste is still very rich, with fruity tones being more vivid. There is also some decent and delightful bitterness in this infusion.

The third infusion is, in my opinion, more similar to the first than to the second one, being less vivid and more creamy. The aftertaste is weaker than it was before, not so bold and with more astringency.

I made two more infusions, but the sweetness and milkiness were already gone. Instead, they were replaced by more vivid bitterness and somehow brusque woodiness.
This Sencha really gave me a relaxing feeling. It already isn't fresh, but still has much to offer - at least until the 2010 harvest arrives.

Until then.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tea in the park

Just a while after lunch today, I met with friends and we went to the park to celebrate the return of nice weather and spring. We drunk two 2010 Chinese green teas.
In the heart of Slovakia's biggest city, bustling with hundreds of thousands people, right next to the business borough...

Is the oldest public park in central Europe, Sad Janka Krala.

We had some Pre Ming Yunnan Mao Feng and Meng Ding Cui Yu, both wonderfully fresh and delightful.

And for me, tea always tastes best when shared with friends, especially in nature.
It also was a nice turnover from the hectic atmosphere of city; spending whole afternoon just like this - watching the sky, sipping the tea, listening to the trees and having some calm conversation with people I like.

Have a nice day, too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

2010 Meng Ding something or let’s act like Japanese Shincha

As I’ve already mentioned in my previous post, I got this mysterious sample for free along with other things I bought in one local tea shop. The owners of this shop visited China last month and, therefore, brought some really interesting teas from their trip – including this one.

This tea was produced in Meng Ding this April, completely made by Japanese method of processing Shincha.

I was really looking forward to try this.

Dry leaves are almost indistinguishable from high quality Japanese Sencha (or Shincha, if I want to compare these two.) Long, dark-green shiny needles with marvelous deep, fresh smell. There is also a little bit of this characteristic Shincha plasticity and stickiness in these leaves, too.

I had a funny dilemma about how to prepare this tea – I mean, whether to use Chinese gaiwan, or Japanese kyusu teapot. I decided for the first one, as this, after all, still is Chinese green tea, even though it doesn’t look nor smell like one at all.

The shop owner told me that this tea should be prepared just the way you usually prepare Japanese Shincha, therefore with slightly higher temperature of water (80˚C / 176F) than I usually use with Sencha teas and shorter brewing times. I know that some Japanese are preparing Shincha even with boiling water, because it’s believed to be the best way deliver up all the desired tones – but I think it’s way too brutal, so I prefer preparing Shincha this way.

First infusion was a little bit too mild, although I let it brew for quite a long time – longer than I formerly wanted. I think these leaves needed some time to awake.

After the first infusion, leaves were already emitting that wonderful milky, creamy fresh smell of good Japanese teas, accompanied with subtle, almost imperceptible fruity tones, typical for Chinese spring green teas.

Second infusion is already bold and vivid, with deep creamy taste and outstanding freshness. There is also a little bit of delightful astringency, caused by higher content of water in dry leaf -another characteristic so typical for traditional Japanese Shincha.

Third infusion is very similar to the second, with astringent tones growing a bit stronger.

I also made fourth infusion, but the taste was already fading away, being weaker and less outstanding. Fifth infusion would already be futile.

This tea left me confused. It was wonderful, but… If Chinese are already this good in imitating Japanese teas, will we be able to distinguish real teas from Chinese “fakes” in the future? I mean… it still isn’t the same, it still misses something that can be found only in Japanese tea, but they are somehow getting closer every year.

However, it still was a nice experience and pleasure especially for me, being so impatient for fresh Japanese teas these days.

My real Shincha is supposed to arrive around May 26, so at least I hadn’t died of abstain until then. :D

Thursday, May 20, 2010

2009 Kawayanagi Ujimidori by Marukyu Koyamaen

Marukyu Koyamaen teas never let me down. Therefore, I’m not afraid to buy anything from them without previously trying it – I had numerous of their Matchas and Sencha teas, each of them really delicious and unique in some way.

Luckily, there is a shop in my town directly importing most of their products along with other wonderful teas and pottery from all over the world. I’ve also got a sample of some 2010 steamed green tea from Meng Ding, completely processed in Japanese method – which I will review next time, hopefully.

According to Marukyu Koyamaen website, “Kawayanagi teas are made from the thick and big leaves removed during the sorting of Kabusecha and Sencha. Kawayanagi teas have only small caffeine content. They are gentle and mild with a fresh smell.

So this is, in some way, another waste material.

And Japanese tea waste materials always seem to be wonderful.

After opening the air-tight package, heavy herbaceous smell, reminiscent of fresh mint leaves fills the room. It really stands for its description – the smell of dry leaves is very fresh, actually much fresher and somehow lighter than in usual Japanese teas.

Dry leaves are mostly long, flat and shiny-dark green, containing some stems as well.

This tea is really quite refreshing, with dominant sour and seaweed-like tones. The infusion is bright Sencha-green, although it lacks the typical opaqueness present in most Japanese teas. This goes along with the lack of milky, creamy tones which can be found in most high-grade teas, but are completely overbore by vegetal, refreshing character here.

First infusion is very mild, decent with slight scent of mint. This tea is obviously quite different from classic Japanese teas, being much more herbaceous and less “full” in character.

Taste doesn’t change that much in further infusions; I would only mention that it gets a little bit sourer with each new pot.

Another difference is that Kawayanagi is able to produce more infusions than regular Sencha or Kabuse teas; I prepared five satisfying infusions on this session.

When I taste the leaves after last infusion, they are surprisingly sweet, leaving absolutely no bitterness in my mouth. Leaves are also bigger than in most Japanese teas, but after all, it’s written in the description, so it would be strange if they won’t. I also noticed the beautiful shape of these leaves – maybe it’s caused by their size, but they aren’t so broken as in Sencha and their color is really nice, too.

As I’ve already said, Marukyu Koyamaen teas never seem to let me down. They always stand to their description very closely, so that you always know what you are buying.

And this tea is definitely worth a try, at least because it’s so different from “regular” Japanese green teas.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2009 winter crop Nantou Mingjian Tsui-Yui oolong

As the name of this article suggests, this is tea from Mingjian township, located in Nantou County, one of the most productive tea regions in Taiwan. Although these teas are quite massively produced, they still maintain decent quality and are, on Taiwan, very popular for everyday drinking.
There are generally two types of Tsui-Yui (also called Green jade) tea, one being labeled “light” and the other one “medium”. These two teas actually vary a lot, as the first one is a newer invention, accommodated to, in my opinion, bigger demand of those sweet, floral oolong teas nowadays (great example is Chinese Tie Guan Yin, which is originally supposed to be on quite a high oxidation level, but lightly oxidized versions are much more popular, at least in Europe) and the second one is more traditionally processed, being darker in color and whole character.
This is the second type.

Typically for this kind of tea, leaves are curled into little balls, which are, in this case, even smaller than in most Taiwanese oolongs. They are also a little bit darker, but the difference between light and medium version isn’t that big in color.
Smell of dry leaf is more roasted-like, with tones of chocolate and almond typical for amber oolongs, but also floral, fruity notes of lighter oxidized ones. This tea is labeled as “medium” oxidized, so this is all expectable.

Infusion color is honey-gold, really bold and with smell of flowers. This tea is, as most Taiwanese oolongs, able to produce several great infusions, all of them full and rich in taste. As a result of stronger oxidation, it’s a bit more spicy and “deeper” in taste, smell and whole character. A little bit of decent astringency is also present.

Taste doesn’t change that much in further infusions; instead of that, it maintains the same mild, delightful character and vivid aftertaste with noticeable roasted tones.

I once again am tea-drunk. And once again, it feels better than anything else.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

2009 Ichibancha Karigane Sencha and Korean poetry

I’m being impatient.
The weather is more and more awful everyday, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano still refuses to stop fuming and, therefore, air transport is unstable and often not working at all.
I’m worried about my 2010 Shincha. If this will continue, there is a high possibility it won't arrive.
I'm soothing myself with Karigane, tea, which is always here. In my flat, it's a constant certainty. Just like there is always a can of salt and sugar, there always is an air-tight porcelain jar filled with Karigane Sencha, specifically one from Kyoto, imported by one good (as always) Czech company.
Karigane (also known as Kukicha, but I prefer the first name) is Japanese tea, or, better said, waste material made of stems, stalks and twigs, just if you don't know. Thanks to its low caffeine content, it's suitable for drinking even in late evening - I am a good example, drinking it all day long.
Nowadays, as a result of my longing for this year's first harvest of Japanese tea, I'm drinking even more of this stuff than ever before.

(At least I was able to go out and pick some new flowers, even though I got drenched to the bone. It was still worth it.)

The infusion color is beautifully green, with this opacification typical for Japanese teas. Taste is smooth, milky and creamy with all notes of high quality Sencha (as this actual Karigane is made of Sencha stems; there are also versions made of Gyokuro and Kabuse, which are sweeter and "heavier" in character), but there is a little bit of Karigane woodiness, the result of stems being the main part of this tea.

As always with Japanese teas, I made four infusions, beginning with quite cold water and increasing the temperature with every new infusion.
First infusion is still much more creamy than woody, with no tones of bitterness at all. So is the second.
Woodiness starts to dominate in third infusion, being, along with spring freshness, the main part of taste in fourth. However, there still aren't any tones of bitterness at all.
I often wish Japanese teas would give out much more infusions... But then, I realize that good things always go in small quantities. This doesn't apply for sheng puerh and jade oolongs, because they are obviously witchy.


Another thing - Few weeks ago, modern Korean poetry caught my attention. It all started with this little, inconspicuous book titled "The light of extinction" (my very estimative translation from Czech, can be different) by O Se-jong.
Interestingly, these poems were different from anything I've read before, different from our, European poetry and different from poems of other eastern Asian countries, such as Japan and China.
Few days later, I bought Ko Un's Flowers of a Moment.
I just have to share some of his poems.

At sunset

a wish:
to become a wolf beneath the moon


If I lie down, I’ll be done for
an ailing animal
staying standing all day long

It’s been that kind of day in the world, my dear


April 30
Look at that pale green hue on So-un Mountain

On such a day
what love
what hate


Hey, May beetle
shaking your wings
even you are singing

Read his books. Drink tea. It's worth it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

2009 Uji Sakuraba Sencha (Yabukita cultivar)

I miss spring sun.
Thunderstorms sure are an inseparable part of unpredictable spring weather, but I still prefer those sunny, warm days with ever-present scent of flowers in the air, those days when you just have to smile as you walk the streets.

What I want to say is that the storm season already started in central Europe today, accompanied with heavy downpour. And with warning that some high floods may come soon, as the rain probably won't stop for the next whole week.
I miss the scent of flowers and the sun, so my tea of choice today is something I usually don't drink much. It's actually tea with additional aromatization, something I normally avoid - except for some Jasmine teas and this one.
Sakura flavored Sencha, because this tea represents all I miss right now.
This tea is from one of my most favorite Japanese tea importers in Czech republic, so I wasn't worried to buy it, even though I had some bad experiences with aggressive cherry flavoring before.

As you can see from all photos except for one, I had to use flash light, because there is almost no natural light outside. The sky is completely overcast, even causing depression to some people.

This is not the common kind of cherry-flavored sencha you usually get in most tea stores, scented with flowers or, in worst case, some kind of sweet syrup - instead, sakura leaves were used as a flavoring. I prefer this method, as I find it less aggressive and the final product is somehow more "conservative" in a positive way.
As you can see, the dry leaves are quite crashed and small - this is the result of very deep steaming (fukamushi sencha). They somehow lack the plastic dark green color and stickiness of higher grade Japanese teas, but after all, this tea wasn't expensive at all, or at least not when compared to normal prices of good Japanese teas.
I would say this is, for those who like the gentle cherry flavor, affordable tea for everyday drinking - it isn't a high grade tea, but it's nice nevertheless.

(note: this photo was made before this actual session, because I wasn't able to capture the actual color of infusion today; that explains the natural light here.)

After tasting the first infusion, unconventional taste accompanied by gentle sakura smell hits your senses. There is a little bit more astringency compared to other senchas, but it still isn't anyhow annoying.
Once again, I would say the second infusion is the best - creamy, deep, with milky tones and refreshing at the same time.
These tones continue in the third infusion, except for the milky one, which is receding. I can also feel a little bit sour tones in this infusion and, especially, in the aftertaste.
Fourth infusion is the last; the taste and smell are weaker and less vivid. Creamy tones already vanished, leaving only herbaceous grass-like character, which wasn't present in previous infusions.

I wouldn't be able to drink this tea very often - that is also the main reason why I still have some from 2009 Ichibancha (first) harvest left.
But at times like these, when you really are in need for the smell of flowers, so that you won't forget what spring is all about - pleasant.

My Shincha 2010 from Teamountain should, if there won't be any complications, arrive in a few days.
Already can't wait to see what this year's version of Japanese tea will have to offer - I believe there is a lot to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2009 Bao Zhong, spring harvest

It already is spring for some time, the season I like enjoy to its fullest - and I usually drink mostly fresh Chinese teas nowadays – but today, I was just in a right mood for something different.

I purchased this tea in a local teahouse about half a year ago and, as I found out today, there still is a little bit left on my shelf. It’s Wen Shan Bao Zhong from the 2009 spring harvest.

My probably most favorite part about this Bao Zhong is the smell. It’s hard to define – some would say floral, some spicy, some would say anything. I would say it’s simply the smell of Bao Zhong. Personally, I can also smell something slightly similar to dried bananas – it really is a very complex, unique scent.

The infusion is golden yellow, different from green teas and different from jade oolongs – just as I would expect from Bao Zhong. Same goes with the taste – it’s neither green nor oolong, as it’s rather unique on its own. There is a little astringency in it – that kind of astringency you have to like, because it just goes with the whole character of this tea perfectly. It’s also fairly present in this tea’s wonderful, long aftertaste.

As you can probably see, I’ve got inspired by Matt’s wonderful blog and brought some little flowers from my usual walk today - and actually, I was really surprised about the good feeling these two bitsy florets fetched into my room. It’s wonderful just to look on them quietly, while sipping the tea from cup.

Overall, I made five infusions, personally preferring the second and third one most. Just then, the leaves were fully awakened, able to produce wonderful beverage for me to drink. Other infusions were great, too, each in its unique way.

I’m pretty much looking forward to 2010 version of this tea.

Monday, May 10, 2010

开花茶, or perfect present

Flowering teas, or how to give tea to your not-so-tea-loving friends.
This is Shuang Long Xi Zhu, one of those small bundles made of tea leaves and some flowers - jasmine, marigold and gomphrena, in this case.
I don't drink this kind of teas very often - just when I get it as a gift or when someone wants to impress me with some good tea.
But it seems like everyone like these, so I decided to buy it as a present for person who has already got too much books from me and I don't want to repeat myself anymore.
I simply enjoy giving tea. There is something special on it.

Wish me luck, so that the gift will be accepted happily.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

2009 Trà Oolong Cao Cấp

I pretty much like Vietnamese teas. It doesn't matter whether they are green, oolong, or black, I like them. There is some kind of reliability in them, something that never lets you down. Not to mention that they mostly are, in consideration of their quality, unbelievably inexpensive.

The pot is preheated and these leaves, curled into the shape of small balls, are put in. Immediately, the flower-like smell, resembling Taiwanese mountain teas more than anything else, spreads out and fills the room.

The taste is sweet and fruity, very refreshing and, once again, very similar to Taiwanese jade oolongs. Another thing I should mention is the wonderful aftertaste - very full and complex. It's that kind of flavor that is still present even an hour after drinking.
This tea never gets bitter. I forgot to pour the third infusion on time and left in in the pot with leaves for about five minutes - but still, the tea was just a little bit stronger. The sweetness and fruity taste were remaining.

Seven infusions, all of them really decent. And I bet it would be possible to get out even more of this tea - but I already am sort of... over-drunk.

In the most positive way, of course.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday morning with Korean green

Today, I decided to spend my morning with this unspecified Nokcha from 2009 harvest I've got as a gift some time ago.

Formerly, I used to prepare this tea in Gaiwan and drink it from small Gong-fu cha cups, but I later found out that I prefer using my little kyusu - it somehow moves this tea to another dimension, making the pear-like taste and smell in first two infusions even more vivid.

This cup was made by Czech potter Karel Žíla. There is a small spiral-like pattern on it's bottom. I really enjoy using it, especially for fresh green teas.

After the fifth infusion, the tea started to loose it's smell and taste very quickly and I knew it's the end of my small morning session. I tossed the leaves out of the pot, unfolded them on the tray.
And ate some, because I always do, if I enjoyed the tea in it's infusions.

春茶, or my thoughts and photos on this year's Chinese fresh spring teas

...or, to start this whole blog thing,
my thoughts and photos on this year's Chinese fresh spring teas.

Yunnan Mao Feng Lü Cha AAA Grade 2010.

This Mao Feng is what I would call a momentary favorite. It was the first fresh tea I had this year and, as it usually is with the first love, it maintains it's uniqueness and some kind of special place in my heart.

Meng Ding Cui Yu 2010.

Personally, from these three teas, I like this one the least - I'm not telling it's bad, it isn't at all. What I'm telling is that it probably isn't my "type" of tea. The taste is very similar to Japanese greens, which is a result of processing - this tea was, unlike most green teas from China - steamed. Although I used to prefer Japanese teas lately, I now am again in a mood for that special fruitiness of Chinese ones, so...
It is a great tea, but not exactly the one I am longing to drink on a sunny spring day.

Yunnan Gao Shan Cui Ming 2010.

This one is similar to Mao Feng, except for the scent being a little bit softer and more creamy, which is in contrast with the fruity, herblike aroma of Mao Feng. These two teas are however very similar, therefore I often can't decide which one to drink these days.

What I want to say is that this's year's harvest of Chinese green teas, especially those from the mountainous province of Yunnan, revived my old love in Chinese greens. I haven't been drinking them for about two years, or at least not in large quantities - the Japanese greens had been enjoying my full attention instead.
But now, I only drink these teas again.
Until now, I've tried three spring teas,
as you can see thereinbefore -
each from different seller - and they were all absolutely magnificent in their own, specific way.
For me, these teas - their taste, smell, look and their whole character - represent the true charm of spring. There is everything - the gentle sunshine, the ideal weather, which still isn't too hot, but isn't cold either, the gentle warm breeze in trees, the blooming flowers... et cetera. It's all present.

The ichibancha harvest in Japan has already started, and I can't wait to see how the farmers beared with the not-so-pleasant weather that struggled there this year - hopefully, I can soon start drinking the results of their work and compare them to the already very favorable results of their Chinese colleagues.

And for now... I'm going to get some long nap, so that tomorrow can be much nicer day.