Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tea and Time: Two Different 2010 Saejak Nokcha Teas

This lovely sunny day called for something special. And since I started it by watching Kim Ki-duk's highly praised film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring", I've decided to continue in a similar Korean spirit – by drinking two teas I've had at home for more than a week already.

Samples of these two Korean greens, along with two other yellow teas were kindly sent to me from French CoreaColor. Both of them are of Saejak grade and were picked before the end of April 2010. I'm not sure about the exact area of origin of these teas, but, considering information found on CoreaColor website, my guess would be Jiri Mountain (correct me if I'm wrong).

Originally, these samples were labeled by stickers with numbers 1 and 4, but, unfortunately, these glued off on their way here – therefore, I will use letters “A” and “B” to distinguish them, preparing both teas at the same time.

left: A, right: B

The first obvious difference can be spotted on the dry leaf – these two Saejaks come from two different family companies and thus, the leaves are quite different from each other with A being smaller and more curled than B (though not that much smaller as it may seem in the picture – I wasn't able to take both photos from the exact same distance and angle). Smell of both teas is already clearly affected by their age - more than one year after harvest, most of the freshness these teas definitely used to possess is already gone. Even so, I can still sense remains of the typical scent I personally tend to associate with Korean greens, something “forest-like” and nutty. Naturally, there is a difference between these two teas – A is a bit more intensive and slightly acidic while B seems to smell more humble, deeper and nuttier. After being placed into the preheated Shiboridashi pots, smell of both teas significantly changes – as if the heat retrieved more of its original fresh character.

top: A, bottom: B

Being infused many times, more differences between these teas gradually reveal – both teas have very transparent, clear brew, though A is more yellowish in color than B, which is more of a light green. Taste is very similar to dry leaf's smell in many aspects – A is less nutty, more intensive and somehow “sour” - though it isn't exactly the most annoying kind of sourness, I believe it wasn't present when this tea was fresh. B, on the other hand, is lighter and nuttier in taste with still noticeable creamy sweetness. Very similar results can be found in all infusions as well as their aftertastes, which are generally stronger and more acidic for A and sweeter and more humble for B. I stopped brewing A after the third infusion, as I no longer found it interesting – B, on the other hand, was still able to produce a few more enjoyable brews.

left: A, right: B

Personally, I've enjoyed B more than A. The result might have been different if these teas were in their fresh state – but like this, I think B did better job in withstanding the effects of time, preserving more of its former beauty.

This can also be seen on the spare leaves – B seems greener and somehow more lively than the light-yellowish A. Drinking these teas indeed was an interesting experience – both as a study of time's effects on different green teas as well as the general broadening of my Korean tea experience. Thanks, once again.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

By the creek and by the forest

Just a nice weekend, spent away from civilization, surrounded by deep forest.
Accompanied only by the sound of the creek's pure water's flow, tea means so much more.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spoiling my taste buds: 2011 Imperial Bi Lo Chun in the Probuzeny Slon teahouse

It's been a while since I last visited Brno, the second largest city of Czech republic - honestly, I was beginning to miss the city. Finally, thanks to June being a free month for me, I'm spending few days here since this Monday (and am going back to Bratislava tomorrow). And such visit wouldn't be complete for me if I haven't visited one of the city's amazing teahouses - specifically and most frequently, the Probuzeny Slon, which I've already mentioned a few times. This teahouse sources its teas from LongFeng and Teamountain, known to the readers of this blog as two of my most favorite vendors.
It is a place where I head every time I feel the need to spoil myself, tasting teas which I probably wouldn't buy in larger quantities on my own. This time, my immediate choice after checking the offering of fresh teas was the 2011 Jiang Su Dong Ting Shan Bi Lo Chun Imperial, the highest grade produced. Whole production of this tea was just a few kilograms and this year's pick was said to be of exceptionally high quality. A true statement, I think, even though my memories of last year's version are already quite blunt. I'm not going to talk much more about this tea as it pretty much speaks for itself, being one of a kind and having all I would expect from such tea and even more.
Thanks to the fact that I met the teahouse's headman there and to his generosity, this Bi Lo Chun definitely wasn't the last tea to drink that day, and I left after hours with stomach full of exceptional tea and also a purchase of three simple, inexpensive 2011 greens for daily drinking.

On a different note, I've found this statue while wandering around the downtown - I don't have any clue as to what is it supposed to mean or why is this life-sized statue of Japanese warrior located on this building's roof just a few meters from the city's main Gothic-revival cathedral, but it definitely caught my attention.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Teaware Again: The "Question-mark" Shiboridashi & Teacups by Petr Novak

Visiting Teatrade.sk's shop in downtown Bratislava the day before yesterday, I couldn't resist to buy something when I'd seen the newly unladen pieces of teaware - among these were also some works by Petr Novák and other Czech potters. Specifically, two different Shiboridashis caught my attention and I immediately knew that one of these has to be mine (even though I don't necessarily need it - but well, buying things we do not need is what makes us strangely happy, after all). After hours of thinking, comparing two equally beautiful pieces and drinking some great fresh teas brewed by Teatrade's owners, I've finally decided for this one, as it seemed much more well-suited for Japanese green tea than its competitor.

The reason why I nicknamed this 80ml beauty the "Question-mark" shiboridashi becomes obvious when the lid is closely observed - there are two noticeable unglazed parts on it, forming a shape of "?" together, at least in my eyes. Other than that, the glaze is quite shiny both on the outside and inside walls, giving the pot somehow more sophisticated and different impression compared to my older Petr Novak shiboridashi, which is significantly more rustic both on touch and look. Even so, this new piece still has the very natural charm, encouraging one to go outside and enjoy some fresh tea under the green trees, which I've experienced with this pot's older sibling.

The tea it brews also appears to be more subtle and, especially, clear - I credit this to its thinner walls and fitting lid and spout, which leaves just a very narrow cleft to pour the tea. Even so, the flow is very fluent and fast - a proof of skilled craftsmanship.

It comes with two small cups, which are, in many ways, in contrast with the shiboridashi - unglazed on the outside, quite rough and both different from each other at a glance, they seem very rustic, natural and traditional. Yet, they fit the shiboridashi very well and enhance the drinking experience even more, seemingly like a single, harmonic set. Personally, I'm especially looking forward to using them for Gyokuro, Kabusecha and, generally, "sweeter" green teas, as they posses the feeling of having the ability to make such teas even better.

Their inside is just as interesting and diversified as the outside; while the top, slightly smaller cup has quite a simple, modest whitish glaze with only a small spot of different color on its bottom, the second cup seems much more patterned and brindle, reminding me of inside walls of some empty sea shells.

As the newest members of my teaware family, the Question-mark shiboridashi and its two teacups have already proven themselves as a perfect brewing and drinking devices and a joy to look at. The opportunity to choose from two different shibos every time I drink suitable tea is also a big advantage - similarly to tea, certain teaware just fits certain weather, season and mood better than others.