Taste as Meditation

A lot of people make a separation between those who “nerd out” about tea and those who are spiritually connected to the tea. The zen people say “don’t think about the taste of the tea just make it and drink it” and the tea nerds say “don’t worry about stories about zen monks and health benefits just make it and drink it.” The “just make it and drink it” is common to both approaches, of course.

For a very long time, I have been just making and drinking my tea, with a sort of soft focus and presence: I pay attention and relax. But recently, I have been consciously analyzing my tea as I drink it, like some kind of sommelier searching for flavor notes. Now why would I do such a thing?

The level of focus required in order to determine what kinds of flavors are present in the tea is surprisingly deep. The fact that taste is subjective doesn’t change the fact that the tastes are there waiting to be uncovered. Perhaps they don’t need to be labeled, especially because I can’t tell my longans from my gardenias, but at least you can group your raw tea-drinking sensation into different dimensions of flavor. For example, low notes vs high notes: you can think “this taste, although I haven’t a clue what it resembles, is low.” Also, does it last a long time? When does it arrive, and when does it leave? Do the successions of notes have a rhythm?

Yun

Yun is a term that, according to chinese tea lexicon Babelcarp, means “literally Rhyme, but in a tea context, Aftertaste, or more generally, the elusive essence of experiencing a given tea.” It’s used as Yan Yun when it refers to a Wuyi rock oolong’s “rocky” taste/aftertaste. Now why would it be called rhyme?

My personal view on Yun is that it occurs when the succession of flavors has a rhythm. In poetry, a rhyme only happens with a rhyme scheme, which is essentially rhythmic:

I drank my tea alone today

It seemed to me sublime

For when I focused deep within,

I found a splendid rhyme.

The rhyming words go in a specific place rhythmically: if they were anywhere else in the poem, it would feel different, and probably not rhyme at all.

I sipped a tea with a friend

She hated it because

It didn’t have a rhyme at all,

It wasn’t a very good time.

See, that’s awkward and bad. So, when a tea has Yun, or rhyme, it is because the interplay of flavors over time is rhythmically structured. By focusing and bringing these flavors to consciousness in real time, you can experience the essence of the tea as if it were a poem and a song. This strikes a perfect balance between the meditative and the enthusiast approaches to tea, which usually oppose each other. I used to look for qi more than yun, but perhaps they are two sides of the same thing!

Leaf of the East’s Charcoal Roasted Dong Ding: Review #1

 Hello!

I am back. Sorry for not posting in a long while, I have a lot of interests and sometimes I just want to drink tea and not blog about it. But today, I do.

Leaf of the East is probably not well known throughout the blogosphere compared to other vendors. It feels cool to know that there is good stuff that isn’t well known, but hopefully I can help spread the word.

Clean-ness

The goodness of a tea is very subjective, but I think clean-ness is rather objective. You can look for grime and residue as a sign of a tea that isn’t clean, or a feeling of pinchy-ness in the throat, or a feeling of unrest and anxiety. There’s a lot of “organic” tea out there, but organic is just a certification. You don’t need a label to tell you if a tea is clean and pure or not.

Full disclosure, I know Markham, the man behind leaf of the east, through his tea. This doesn’t influence my review, but it’s why I have the tea, because I like his tea and I know him. Ok, moving on.

The dry leaf in the pot smells immediately like someone is baking something. It’s very intensely aromatic. I like dong ding because it’s commonly roasted, and you get that depth. I think the more in-depth tea market is craving some darker roasted stuff now, since everything has trended so green in the past decade. This one isn’t that roasted, but it’s about perfect, kind of lighter dancong level of roast.

It’s bright like a dancong too, with bright fruity tones. But it’s also deep. I’m still talking about the smell of the tea.

It’s clean, pure, it rings like a bell. I don’t know, I like it a lot, it makes me happy to drink it. What’s it taste like, honeysuckles, mango, baking chocolate, how’s the body, thick yet refreshing, but beyond that, it feels good to drink. Like an amazing meal feels to eat, made by a passionate team of cooks. This tea has good karma, or something. It’s so clean.

Very very good vibes from this tea.

I got a Lin’s kettle recently, and it makes gongfu a lot better. You get to hear the wind when it gets up to temperature, it performs well with just one hand, and there’s no metal or plastic involved. It’s out of stock now at camellia sinensis, but they have a purion clay one still.

Only the finest

My water today is Foodtown brand spring water. Bought on a whim at $1.09 a gallon, I was floored from the first sip. It comes from a company called fox ledge, and it hits all the marks. 100%. Refreshing, thick, carries flavor well, clear, clean. And it comes in a big plastic jug! For $6.99 an ounce or so, this dong ding and this water are similarly pleasant surprises.

Does this tea have any flaws? Not to me! It’s quite balanced and has many good qualities.

Score (out of 10): 8.1 (blown away)

https://leafoftheeast.com/shop/wulong/charcoal-roasted-dongding-wulong/

The Genius of Jiri Lang’s New Pots

A little while ago, I accidentally broke my favorite sheng pot, which was made by Jiří Lang and purchased from pu-erh.sk. I saw an Instagram post saying there would be new teaware from him in a couple months, so I waited. When they came out, I bought two – one for young sheng and one for all-purpose. With new designs and a new clay, I anticipated that his new work would be something special. I have noticed nobody has really been buying these pots, maybe because Jiří Lang is a bit lesser known, but they are some of the most ingenious and beautiful objects I have ever come across. Here’s why I like mine:

Style and Substance

Notice a few things. First, the body of the pot goes above the lid. This actually prevents tea from spilling down the sides of the pot when you put the lid on or pour. Second, there are three finger indentations on either side of the spout. I am not sure what they do, but they go all the way in to the inside of the pot, so maybe it prevents clogging. Third, it’s wood-fired to stunning effect. It looks like tiger skin or something, and feels rough and smooth at the same time, as if it were coated with varnish, which it is not.

The Lid

What is this lid? Usually lids are convex with a short cylinder going down into the pot. This one is just a concave disk with a hole in it. You can see the underside of the lid in the picture. It’s very simple, but Jiří (or Jura, as he is also called) obviously got creative with this. Not only is it creative, but it makes sense with the design. The body of the teapot, rising above the opening, holds it in place.

img_2914.jpg

The Clay

This clay is some of the lightest I have ever seen unglazed. It’s white with many black spots. I knew how this clay would interact with the tea the moment I saw and touched it. Basically, it’s like porcelain, but porous. In a regular glazed porcelain gaiwan or pot, the tea can end up “slippery” if that makes any sense. Here it comes out mild, smooth and natural. The taste is pure and front-focused in the mouth. There is not much muting going on. It is just clear, but superior to glazed porcelain in roundness and texture. It’s not like the other Jura shibo I mentioned in the Veins post. That one was more typical European coarse clay. This is unique, and every new unglazed pot by Jura has this clay.

Tilting the concave lid

Showerability

With that lip all around the lid, you might ask, how can I pour water over the pot; wouldn’t it pool in the top above the lid and spill everywhere? No, I tried this, and it blew my mind. Watch the video below.

Yeah. The water drains through the spout! You lose a little bit of tea, but not too much, it actually pushes some cooler water out to make way for the hot.

The Pour

Because of the lid design with low center of gravity, you don’t need to put your finger on the lid until the very end of the pour. I know this works with some other pots, but this lid stays on even though it has no inner ring.

Hidden Value

From the description of Jura’s work on the site: “It’s pieces has a special character and hidden value that will come up during their use.” Hopefully I showed you some of these hidden qualities. You can get one for yourself here if you scroll down as there are plenty in stock. Let me know if you have any questions about the pot in the comments.

I wrote this post not to show off my teapot, but rather because Jiří Lang is underrated. From what I gather, he is very humble, but underneath that humility is an emerging genius, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Tea Secrets Party 0.75 Recap

I had tea with Joey the other day at my place.

Tea #1: 2016 Tyler in Two Different Pots

_94A8589
Joey’s pot on the right, mine on the left. All pretty pics in this post are by Joey

Fun fact about Tyler: Joey actually helped create the wrapper for Tyler! If you ever need a puer wrapper made, he’s your man. We wanted to see how the tea did in two different pots. My pot by Jiri Lang from pu-erh.sk seemed to concentrate the flavor more forward in the mouth, while the yixing pot gave us more throat action. The pour on the yixing is much slower, but the fact that it’s a bigger pot compensated somewhat for the increased infusion time. Overall, the tea was very sweet and quite relaxing. The water here was just me chucking a bunch of minerals into some filtered tap water. It was a pretty good water! Mostly gypsum, some calcium chloride, some epsom salt, and a little bit of baking soda. It did the job. I then tried a steeping with something I call jar-char water, of which Joey remarked that it had a layered quality, almost like when it goes into your mouth, it has a solid structure, but once you taste it, it breaks and melts all over your tongue. More on this water strategy in a future post.

Tea #2: 1990 Wild Brick

_94A8624.jpg
The arrangement of the plate on the tray just happened spontaneously

Old, a little tart, powerful qi, smooth mild natural taste. That’s about all I noticed. I’m fond of this one.

Tea #3: 2018 Daydream

_94A8662
I like the light in this picture

27 cents a gram and free shipping. I brewed this mostly to convince that it’s worth more than its price and could stand up to much more expensive sheng. We quickly realized that a CLT blend is very different from a W2T blend and it’s hard to even compare like that. It’s a fruity and floral tea with great sweetness. It won’t blast your face off, but it’s very full and a joy to drink. Then we got pizza.

Tea #4: 1990s Blue Mark (W2T)

_94A8706
Wow

Unfortunately we only had 3.7 grams of this long sold-out tea, which used to cost something like $1000 a cake. It was light for a bit, but we got 8 or 9 long steeps with great depth and an awesome profile. All we wanted was more leaf, but you take what you can get. Time flew by with this tea. Oh also I got a toy helicopter which we flew around for a while.

Tea #5: Tsukigase Zairai Sencha (Hojo Tea)

_94A8601
No pictures were taken of this tea, so here’s a jar

I just wanted Joey to try one cup of this sencha. It’s not grown with any fertilizer, so it has a very non-umami profile with some throatiness. This tea made us both so dang tea drunk we had no idea what to do. A strange way to end a session like this, but I don’t regret it one bit.

Are You Making Your Tea Right?

How do you know if you’re making your tea right? What I mean is, how do you know that someone on the other side of the country or the world is not making the same leaves taste ten times as good? People’s steepster reviews can be so vivid; is this a reflection of their imaginations or do they have the perfect trinity of great water, great teaware and great tea just by luck?

The same goes for cha qi. When mgualt has waves of frisson going up his ribs and down his back, and I only feel a little loopy, and we are drinking the same tea just in different parts of the world, how do I know if it’s a difference in our selves vs. a difference in our resulting brewed tea?

IMG_2920
Bubbles.

It’s fairly clear this is a not-so-good way to look at things. Your tea is your tea, and you should enjoy it in that context. However, it is always in the back of my mind, the question, is this good tea?

Sometimes I look for the ten qualities of a fine tea (living tea/GTH) or Relaxation, Oil, Aroma, Liveliness, Finish (deadleaves.club) but I could have teas that should tick all the boxes that aren’t for some reason. The only way to know is to have tea with people all over the world, and I haven’t gotten the chance to do that yet. If anyone would invite me, please drop me a line.

For now, I’ll be playing with water to gain a better understanding of how vastly different tea can taste with seemingly subtle changes.

A Big Tea Party

I went to a tea party! We had twodog from white2tea serving a whole bunch of us. I won’t say too much about the tea; it was great. I got to serve some Yang Qing Hao 888 at the end, but it didn’t come out too well. I still consider myself a tea novice among this sort of company. Anyway, it was good people, good tea, good music, good food, good drink, what more can you ask for?

Amazon Tea Quotes

If I could give you any advice, don’t buy tea on Amazon. The people who do sell tea on Amazon do have some very helpful tips though:

“do not drink ten pounds of Pu’er tea”

Puerh tea has “many benefits”

Make sure your tea cake is Grade:AAAAA+”

It “May good for burning fat and managing weight”

Enjoy a Dark and stormy night infusion”

“tea light holder body effects body nutrition tea for colds tea k cups for keurig tea gift set body oils for women body oil for dry skin tea party decorations tea gift basket organic green tea tea bags for loose tea kids body wash tea water bottle tea with caffeine tea infuser cup body lotion for dry skin tea k cups fat jack sex tea for weight loss tea light candles fat removal”

This tea has More longer time, more fich aroma”

Buy the brand name! Cheap Pu Erh are made from tea trees next highway and polluted land/air”

“The tea is processed using LongRun’s signature 86 step refining method”

As we all know, “Dai nationality girl can sing and dance well and this product is also from their craft”

“This tea is 100% natural and organic without corrosion remover or pigment.”

As you can see, Amazon is a great place to learn about tea, even if it’s not a good place to buy it.

 

Veins

When I see veins on a puer tea leaf, I think “old arbor.” While I was drinking White2Tea’s Demon Slayer today, I noticed some particularly healthy-looking leaves. At 16 cents per gram, this is on the very low end of raw puer pricing these days. I wouldn’t expect to see old arbor material in this price range.

Huangpian means literally “yellow piece,” but I’m not seeing too much yellow here either. The w2t site says that huangpian refers to the larger leaves in puer production, also referred to as matured leaves in other places. I suppose it can mean one or the other.

With a huangpian cake, I guess you can get the cost down to really put some old tree material in there. For my taste, I might rather have this than plantation tea made with smaller leaves. It depends on the day though, because I also love this which is quite a bit cheaper and is all plantation tea.

I get much more relaxation and power from the Demon Slayer, probably because of those nice leaves which are very uncommon at this price point. The taste was great too. It seems very happy in my storage (a large enameled stock pot with a boveda pack).

Also, this session was with unglazed, wood-fired clay teaware made by Jiri Lang, which beats a gaiwan any day. This goes to show that memorable sessions do not belong to only the pricey teas.

img_0037
Cheap Tea

Tea Secrets Party 0.5 Recap

Yesterday I hosted a gongfu session with my friend Joey. I had my whole six-hour music playlist set up, with my tea table moved to the middle of the rug. We started at 10:30 AM, sitting on little cushions. My mind was clear, I had plenty of water, and I knew this would be a great session. All of the teas were made with unmineralized filtered tap water, except for the Diangu which was made with Lurisia. We burned some nice incense from minorien.

Tea #1: 2001 Zhongcha Huangyin

We started off with this tea in a Novak pot. I used to structure my sessions from younger to older, but I thought this one would be great to start strong. It’s stimulating and heating and really gets straight to the point. Lots of activity in the throat. The sun was shining through the glass kettle making rainbows all over the tea table, so the session started off special.

Tea #2: 2018 Maocha

Joey brought some maocha which he made in my jianshui pot. We got nice bitterness and huigan. It’s fun switching brewers; it demonstrates equanimity and it is nice to experience tea from both sides of the table.

Teas #3 and 4: Tea Masters’ Qing Xin High Mountain Oolong vs. Leaf of the East‘s High Mountain Oolong

Two little gaiwans with two rolled oolongs. We liked the one from Leaf of the East better. They were both good, but the Qing Xin made us feel heavy and sleepy. The one from leaf of the east was a little bit darker. Both were complex and clean. We were ready to move on after four steepings of each.

Tea #5: Hua Yuan 1992 Ripe Tuocha

I told joey that an aged ripe would probably put us all the way to sleep, but we found that it provided a very comfortable feeling. This tea was made in a glazed pot from teawarehouse. This was absolutely delicious.

Tea #6: 2018 Xizihao Diangu

After a lunch and music listening break, we made this in a gaiwan. This tea was purchased from Liquid Proust. We chose this tea because I knew it would be interesting. The furry leaves smelled like red tea to joey but it became apparent when brewing that it was not red tea at all. It’s a raw puer with intense florals (jasmine is most striking to me) and an energy that made us laugh.

Tea #7: Beyond

This tea is no joke. Brewed in a small QSN yixing from tealifehk, one sip of this purportedly vintage loose puer and we were blasted into a new dimension. Joey said at this point that he felt like he was “a different element.” We could not stop cracking up. This is what a tea secrets party should be. We were not comfortable, but not uncomfortable, or maybe we were both. We got stomach aches from this tea and had to stop drinking. Could be because of over-wet storage. This concluded the five hour session.

Tea Secrets Party 0.5 from Tea Secrets on Vimeo.

 

Making Tea Sing

Is tea something to consume, or are you trying to make it sing?

When you sit at your tea table, is it like sitting at the bar, or at the piano?

Are you distracted or do you focus deeply?

Does tea get in the way, or does it enhance your day?

Does tea isolate you, or bring you closer to people?

Do you drink your tea fast, or do you savor it?

Do you buy more tea than you can ever drink, or do you buy just enough?

Is your tea space messy or clean?

Do you taste what the vendor says you should taste, or what you taste?

Does tea make you anxious or calm?

Is tea boring or exciting?

IMG_0005.JPG