Replicating Water from the Xi River and Making Tea With It

I’ve been wanting to try Chinese tea with Chinese water for a long time, because it would be so cool, but only recently did I stumble upon some good data that I could use to replicate Chinese water at home. This water is a replica of the Xi River in winter (seasonal variation in natural water is significant, as TDS changes around 50% from winter to summer.) The main branch of the Xi River is located west of Guangzhou, but the basin of the river extends all the way to Kunming, in Yunnan. This water is rather difficult to make, and can not be made without a Sodastream. I used a new method to get silica into the water, and decided to test the new method by adding double the silica that was in the data. I don’t think it should make too much of a difference, but I wanted to note it here. Silica is not an ion, so it doesn’t have as significant an effect on extraction, only on texture (as far as I know now!)

After a lot of work over two weeks, here it is.

2750 ml

The water was distilled from my local tap water, which recently tested over the safe limit for PFAs, a pollutant that can cause health problems. I get a kick out of removing pollution from water by purifying it – distilling water removes PFAs entirely, and I distilled this water three times. Two of these distillations were in glass laboratory equipment dedicated to water. This resulted in my base water being some of the cleanest and purest I’ve managed to create, with the downside being 10 hours of distillation time to get only 2750 ml. I’m sure I can cut that time down in the future. I’m just really happy I can get pure tasting water at all, as it was a big struggle just a year ago. The distilled can go side by side with lofoten and hold its own! It’s not perfect by any means, but it is around the same level as very good natural waters bottled in glass.

Once I had this base water, I had to add the minerals to it. It wasn’t too difficult really, and took around an hour and a half to get everything measured and added properly. I’ve shared the water with friends and family and they’ve remarked that it tastes like water, nothing is wrong with it, and it’s rather dry (not drying, but referring to not too sweet). I suppose that is a success as water is concerned, though I’d love to make water that makes you go “wow!” I personally find the water quite voluminous in a nice way, but we will get to that later. The big curiosity is, does using (replicated) Chinese water “work” with tea grown near it? Does it express the taste as nature intended? Let’s find out.

Aimed for 34 ppm silica, tested at 30. Quite close!
Calcium43
Magnesium8
Sodium7
Potassium3
Bicarbonate148
Sulfate30
Chloride5
Silica34
Ions
Hardness139 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity121 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.15
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)243 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, will not measure this high due to ion behavior)350 μS/cm
pH (measured)8
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (measured)303 μS/cm
Stats

Testing the Water with Tea: White2Tea 2016 The Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2

6.3g/100ml

I chose Treachery because it’s a tea that demands good water, all about power and subtlety, in an interesting stage of aging, just beginning to darken in leaf color. It demands a water that can bring out both the youthful and aging side of the tea. It also has an energy that I’d like to experience in a comfortable way throughout the session. Aside from those considerations, I’m open to any outcome here, as it would be interesting to see how water that may be similar in mineral profile to what the tea “drank” in order to grow will interact with the tea and the experience of it. I’m not sure that tea drinkers even use tap water in China, depending on the area, or if the tap water is not altered in mineral content from the river water, but it’s worth a try for curiosity’s sake.

The water hits the teapot, sending an immediate aroma of flowers and dried fruit upward. The rinse pours a pale straw yellow. Empty pitcher smells of sweets. The leaf in the pot is intensely fragrant, like sunscreen and leather.

After the first steep is poured, immediately scale is forming in the kettle. This water is rather heavy, so I expected this to happen. It is kind of strange how rapidly this occurs, but I think natural water of this heaviness would do the same thing.

The taste of the first steep – bitter. Watery. Smooth. Many subtleties immediately – I’m delighted! Oiliness focused on the front of the tongue, evaporating into many tiny flowers and fruit essences. This is the most clear this tea has ever tasted for me. A brilliant oily soapiness blooming into a rose flower aftertaste. ECA is mild.

Second steep – the mouthfeel is so very soft, the silica is making a huge difference. The tea sort of inflates in the mouth. Juicy. Qi hits here. Downward qi, clarifying. The wateriness persists, refreshing. Extremely smooth, a lot of rear activity, experience of drinking moving from front to back to front. Leather and tobacco fairly obvious here, but the body and watery quality make this steep seem almost crystalline.

The Pyrex pitcher has never been more relevant

Speaking of crystals, unfortunately there’s a colossal amount of scale forming unlike any I’ve ever seen, forming crystalline globs on the bottom of the kettle. Luckily they’re not actually stuck together, just powdery scale collected in various spots on the bottom of the kettle. I’m sure this is changing the mineral content quite a bit, removing calcium carbonate from the water. This scale looks different than usual, so it could be silica in the scale too.

Lots of scale.

Third steep was similar to second.

Fourth steep – great bubbles on the surface of the tea, meaning we haven’t lost too much bicarbonate to scaling. Beginning to be a more full-mouth-all-at-once-experience. Darker, deeper, tannins showing up. Something that reminds me of citrus, like deep tangerine, or bitter orange juice. Smoother than any water I’ve ever made by far. 30 ppm silica is a big difference. The water holds together nicely. Huge focused relaxed energy. In tune. Heating in back. Not very sweet, like a very dry orange wine (white wine with the skins kept on) or a wild ale. Big pollen huigan!!

Seriously.

Fifth – Under-lid aroma is flowery, in a settled way, not like a brand-new tea would be, balmy. The scale is not showing up in the cup at all, though, which is nice. I’m very happy right now, for many reasons – the base water is good, the tea is good, the mineral composition is natural, the result is somewhere in the liminal space between natural and… well, not artificial… what is this? I guess this water is a secret, nobody has ever tried it, let alone with tea, except maybe people in the Xijiang Basin have this running in their house all the time. That’s a secret from me, I’ve sort of taken this water out of context and placed it in a new context that reflects a reality that I’ve probably made up. Not the first time this has happened in tea culture. Please contact me if you know if this water is used by many people. I believe it is similar to Guangzhou tap water, which is taken from six tributaries of the Pearl river, and the Xi is one of the main tributaries. I’m aware of water pollution in china too, so if everyone uses bottled water, or if it’s a mix, I appreciate the info. Back to the session – I’m getting a woody-stemminess, and awesome petroleum power. The tea isn’t heavy though, it still floats and has structure.

Sixth – What is this water? I mean, when you have a beyond burger, it’s kind of natural, but it’s fairly obvious you’re having something that’s been built from something else. But with this, I distilled water, which is what nature does with clouds and rain. Then I added minerals, which is what happens when water flows over rocks. There are some things missing, like the volatile scents of rocks, which are a real thing, such as the many volatile compounds that cause the petrichor effect after it rains. But chemically, it’s nearly identical to natural water at this point. It’s more like a photograph, or a sculpture of nature.

artificial (adj.)
late 14c., “not natural or spontaneous,” from Old French artificial, from Latin artificialis “of or belonging to art,” from artificium “a work of art; skill; theory, system,” from artifex (genitive artificis) “craftsman, artist, master of an art” (music, acting, sculpting, etc.), from stem of ars “art” (see art (n.)) + -fex “maker,” from facere “to do, make” (from PIE root *dhe- “to set, put”).

Earliest use in English is in the phrase artificial day “part of the day from sunrise to sunset” (as opposed to the natural day of 24 hours). Meaning “made by man, contrived by human skill and labor” is from early 15c. The word was applied from 16c. to anything made in imitation of, or as a substitute for, what is natural, whether real (light, tears) or not (teeth, flowers). Meaning “fictitious, assumed, not genuine” is from 1640s; that of “full of affectation, insincere” is from 1590s. Artificial insemination dates from 1894. Artificial intelligence “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” was coined in 1956.

Sixth (cont.) – present. Roots, like fennel, parsnip. Dry huigan, dry mouthcoat, but not drying. Dry in taste in every aspect. Rather elegantly dry. The idea of sweetness is still there though, thank goodness.

Seventh – a 45 second steep, lighter than expected, too short of a steep. Taste is fairly mild here. I’m surprised at the slow extraction. Still has dried raspberry, creamy, qi. While the next steep is happening, let me talk about the chemistry of this water. High in bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, higher potassium than normal, medium-low sodium. Low in magnesium. The potassium and sulfate contribute to the dry flavor and depth. The low magnesium and high calcium create a smooth and settled profile, and may cause the slower extraction.

Eighth – 2 minutes, good color, more present. Still quite watery in a way, but I’ve heard of this tea being like this. It’s watery but not underextracted. There’s plenty to chew on here. Oats and grains, definitely. I love the purity of the base water, free from plastic. My body is refreshed, back sweating, butter and bubblegum aftertaste. The tea is always shifting, elusive. Foresty taste, dense deep mouthcoat.

Ninth – Ripe peach. Only noticed this obvious note now, the florals were so distracting earlier! Getting more and more ethereal, focused on aftertaste, so vivid. There’s something natural and microbiological about the tea, as if some sort of fermentation is happening in the cup, like wine. It’s not close to sour or anything, but complex and active, alive.

Tenth – I am out of water in the kettle, let’s see if a fresh boil will revitalize it. A smell in the glass water container confirms that this water is indeed odorless, which is great. Tenth steep, still from the first boil, same boil as the last nine steeps, is a bit flat, but still nice. Suntan lotion, banana, bubblegum, irises, corn. Mouth is happy, not dried out at all. Pleasantly coated in tannins.

Eleven – fresh boil, 3 minute steep. Actually not enormously different. A bit more vitality and strength. This session overall is very relaxed, yet bitter, watery, yet potent. I love a good paradox in a cup! Sessions with other waters have been sort of similar, but not as bitter. It’s much less bitter than, say, the Truth Serum water recipe would make this tea. Grape skins, red and white.

Twelve – Final steep, ten minutes. Still so smooth, mild, chewy. Tobacco, simmered root vegetables, oils, coconut. Such an endlessly interesting profile and cohesive texture.

Session rating – 8.8/10

Water rating for this tea – 8.5/10

Reviewing the Water Itself

Drink up!

55ºF. Odorless, it hits the mouth, very thick and full for water. Holds together well. Mildly sweet, can taste the air in the water. It really is smooth and dry in the same way that the tea made with it is. Aftertaste is pure enough, could be more pure. Extremely slight CO2, not as much as Saratoga. The sulfate expresses itself with a thickness and presence. Really smooth, not particularly crisp, heavy but empty. Satisfying water with a sort of plain, ordinary and natural character. Could be more thirst-quenching.

Water rating – 8.1/10

What did I learn?

First, Xi River is really heavy. Unless there’s something I don’t know about how to get scale to stay in water and not precipitate out, it’s just a water that scales aggressively. I feel like the time investment that it took to make this water was worth it in the same way that the money investment for Treachery is worth it. I learned that silica makes a positive difference. I also learned that I can make good base water now, albeit with great effort. I got to know Treachery more, the qi was extremely comfortable and beneficial. This is good tea water in my book. I thought it could be a bit more present, but there was a sort of authenticity to what I was replicating here, or at least my idea of it, having never tried it. It tasted ordinary yet elegant, and seemed to express the tea in a beautiful, rather emotional way. I want to improve my process and make more water – I have plenty to replicate and even more water to create and design. I really enjoyed this session and process – it is like reverse-engineering nature.

tea is only as good as the water you make it with

I’ve come across a lot of analogies when talking about water for tea. A memorable one is: tea is the music, water is the speakers. Thats pretty close to how it is, but maybe tea is the music and water is the orchestra playing it. Both of these analogies involve the reproduction of music, but with the orchestra analogy there’s more responsibility given to the water. Furthermore, the orchestra would have a conductor, which would be the human brewer. But then, is the teapot the first chair, the best player in the orchestra? Or would that be the dominant flavor? No, the dominant flavor is part of the musical composition. Then, the cup must be the acoustics. But isn’t the acoustics the actual space that the tea drinking is happening in? The teapot might be the instruments that the orchestra is playing. So the water is playing the teapot, which is playing the tea into the cup; all led by the brewer.

I’ve gotten feedback on discord from people who tried a different water and were struck by how big of a difference it made, more than teaware, brewing temperature, ratio, or any other parameter. Water can be heavy, light, vibrant, muddled, astringent, subdued, dense, spacious, fluffy, metallic, smooth, and more. Water can, by the way it extracts, cause tea to be any of these things. You can even have a smooth water that makes astringent tea, so there can be a mismatch. That’s like how a shy violin player can play quite loudly and with great presence on stage.

The point is, there are many different kinds of water, and different levels. You wouldn’t yell at a 6th grade orchestra for not sounding like the Vienna symphony. So, either you have to accept your water as it is, with its flaws, or you have to figure out something better. I’ve found that there’s not much you can add or change with a bad water to make it better, just like there’s not much you can do with a not-so-talented orchestra to make it world-class. For the orchestra, you basically have to kick out all but the best players, and then replace them with better ones. With water, it’s similar. By diluting the water, you make room to introduce a better group and balance of minerals. Since every water is different and mineral content reports are so spotty and often incomplete, it’s hard to know what to add to the diluted water. So, it’s often easier to simply throw out the old water and get a new one.

With the modern recycling crisis and the expense of water transport, coupled with the non-availability of good water in glass bottles for any reasonable price, and the difficulty of making 0ppm TDS water to make recipes with (home Reverse Osmosis filters make 10ppm usually, depending on starting TDS, and distillers don’t make good tasting water, at least that I’ve tried) we as tea drinkers have to get lucky with our tap, or make do with a difficult and imperfect solution for the time being.

Impractically Pure Water

Tips for having a good tea session

Concerning the body, just let it go with the flow. Concerning feelings, let them follow their course. If you go with the flow, you avoid separation. If you follow the course of feelings, you avoid exhaustion.

Chuang Tzu

So you like tea. If you like tea, you probably want to get the most out of each tea session. You may have some special expensive tea that you’ve been saving for the right moment… but how do you make sure you get your money’s worth?

Focus on what you can control, let go of what you can’t

It’s okay to have high expectations, but don’t let them get in the way and throw everything off. The fear of making a wrong choice at the tea table is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s easy to overcompensate for the fear of failure by trying to make the perfect tea session guaranteed. Here’s an alternative strategy. If you’ve had a good tea session recently with a less expensive, but similar tea, use the same water and teaware as that session, but substitute in the precious tea. This gives you a very good chance of having a good session, with the added bonus of familiarity.

Another thing you can control is your mental state. Don’t be afraid to take a walk in nature before your session, or meditate if that’s something you do. Tea is meditative, but it’s easy to get caught up and to lose focus if you’re not reasonably grounded and receptive to start.

Stay focused, even if you feel like the session has totally gone south. Tea can surprise you. Imagine you’ve used distilled water for an aged puer in a very porous pot, and there’s almost no taste. You could switch water, but you could instead just notice what’s missing, and appreciate what’s not missing. This will make your future tea sessions more rewarding and will make you smarter. You will at least enjoy using your teaware and being calm and quiet for a half hour.

One recommendation is to put your phone away. Take pictures on airplane mode and play music, but tea is a good opportunity to get some space from the internet. Make posts and discussions later, or save them for more casual daily sessions. I really enjoy reading a book or e-reader while drinking tea.

I don’t recommend trying a new water with a special tea session. Have a couple sessions with daily drinkers that you know and love to calibrate how the water behaves, and decide if you like it. Fancier water does not equal better tea.

Don’t burn your mouth. You may be really excited, but take your time. As the little cards that come with white2tea orders say, steep slow and be patient! If you rush the session, you’ll burn your taste buds and won’t be able to taste very well.

For me, the best tea sessions feel effortless. If you go with the flow, suddenly it can feel like you’re watching the tea session – rather than “making tea” you are experiencing yourself making tea. Then feelings come, and you really start to “vibe.”

Engage your five senses! Even if nothing seems to be happening, or you’re waiting for the water to heat up, there’s plenty to see, hear, smell, feel. You can touch the teaware, but also tune in to your body and feel what’s going on there. And remember to taste even when there’s no tea in your mouth! Aftertaste is one of the nicest parts of a tea session and can keep you very engaged.

If you’re bored, or the tea seems boring, there’s not much you can do. Try it again sometime with whatever different teaware or water you feel like, and see if it was just a bad session or not your favorite tea. If you don’t like it so much, you can use it for a quick mug in the mornings to wake up.

Err on the side of underthinking. Tea is not a problem to solve.

Say hi at http://instagram.com/teasecretsblog!

Opportuni-tea

Why do I keep drinking tea?

Sometimes there are tea sessions that just aren’t good. People don’t talk about them usually because they just aren’t notable or interesting – they are moments of failure. Usually, the explanation for these sessions is “I just wasn’t in the zone.”

During tonight’s ripe session, after a full day of water research (yes, I’m diving deep into water for tea), I was kind of bouncing back and forth between the computer and the tea table, sort of half focused. Suddenly, a song came on: Mind Mischief (The Field Remix) by Tame Impala. I have been listening to both Tame Impala and The Field for years, but didn’t discover this song until I heard it repeatedly on White2Tea’s Instagram and Snapchat stories. When I kept hearing it there, I started to wonder, “yeah, it’s a cool song, but what does Paul see in it that makes him listen again and again?

This is a pattern of thinking that I believe is central to modern tea culture. What do people see in Yang Qing Hao that makes them buy it by the tong? What do people see in old Yixing teapots that make them obsessed? What makes people buy those $130 samples of old Liu Bao from Essence of Tea? And on and on.

I closed my eyes as the song played and suddenly I was lulled into a sense of happy peaceful nostalgia (yes this reads like a bad college admissions essay but it’s the truth) where my old neighborhood flashed before my eyes, the cul-de-sac with its fresh mulch, the happy feelings of freedom so different from what I find most of the time in my young adult life.

When I opened my eyes, I saw everything with startling clarity – I mean to say that colors were more vivid, details were more pronounced. The texture of the modern zhuni teapot contrasted against the plate, the whiteness of the porcelain, the waste bowl, the chabu (tea mat), everything. I suddenly felt like I was capable of greater things, to transcend my everyday life.

When you invest time and or money into tea and or teaware, you are buying opportunity for moments like this. It’s not about always having the best tea session; that can be taken away, but nothing can take away the opportunity for an incredible, eye-opening experience.

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Beginners and Experts

In the world of tea, what do we gain with experience?

What’s the difference between an experienced tea drinker and a relative novice? I’m not an expert, but I’m closer to being an expert than I used to be. I’ve also interacted with many people I would consider to be experts, especially in certain areas. Here are a few things people seem to collect along the way.

Tea and teaware

I’ve not met any tea enthusiast who does not have a sizable collection. From people with over 100 teapots to those with entire rooms full of tea, there exist tea-fans so obsessed that they have gone beyond practicality. The more you learn about tea, and the more tea you learn about, the more temptation there is to buy it. Marketing is getting better and better, limited releases are everywhere (white2tea, pu-erh.sk, others), and the selection of teaware is unbelievable. It is very difficult to purposefully reduce the size of your tea/teaware stash over time, and the best way is a sale or swap.

The ability to relax and enjoy

In order to fully enjoy tea, one must drop everything else (aside from possibly a good book or album). I mean to say that worry and tea don’t go well together, especially not worry about tea. I see most (not all) beginners quite concerned about if they are making the tea “right.” Eventually, an expert learns to let the tea make itself. This is done partially through development of personal style and habit, and otherwise learning how to relax and make tea at the same time.

The ability to make good tea

Of the ten thousand ways to make tea, not all are good. Making good tea is about maximizing good qualities and minimizing bad ones. It is an iterative process that comes from many attempts. The more pots one has, the longer it takes to learn their nuances, and the worse the available water is, well, you gotta figure out a solution. The better the water is, the easier it is to make good tea. The point is, people usually get better with experience, or at least develop some character and style in their resulting tea.

Positive memories

Some tea sessions stick out over others for various reasons. With experience, the list of memorable tea sessions lengthens. That time I had HK Henry after a long, stressful day. The outdoor session at the pond in the woods. That six-tea marathon session. The tea masterclass where the puers just got older and older. That time the tea made me tear up (it happens to more people than you think!) That first bitter-turning-to sweet taste of raw puer. And the list goes on.

Friendship

I’ve met some people online and offline in the tea community. Some of these friendships go beyond tea, but it’s perfectly possible and okay to have deep friendships entirely about tea. There are one-sided relationships too – some people serve as the experts and others as the novices. The best way to put your own tea journey in context is to show others what you are doing and compare with what they do. This is not to say that people with more experience are necessarily correct, but that they may have reasons for what they do that you can think about as you decide what to incorporate in different ways.

Personal opinions / the (dis)respect of others

The tea culture is a generally polite place full of different opinions. Most tea-learning is confirmed by experience, and people don’t easily let go of that which they’ve learned from experience. There are usually reasons for differing opinions but they are not easy to figure out. So, there are commonly long arguments about, for example, tea storage, unglazed vs. glazed clay, vendor choices, whether a tea is good or bad, and water (this one seems especially contentious). This is what makes tea so exciting to an expert, especially one who is willing to change their mind.

Appreciation of non-tea

The more one learns to enjoy tea, the more that enjoyment spills over into non-tea elements. Whether it’s the world of alcoholic beverages, from single malts to wine to beer to eaux-de-vie, or just appreciation of nature, tea is about exploring the richness of the world to the fullest extent. Eventually, one learns to enjoy simply living and breathing.

Patience and its rewards

Patience is a virtue, and tea requires patience. Waiting for the water to boil takes patience. Waiting for the hot tea to cool a bit takes patience. Waiting for those loooong steeps at the end of a session takes patience. And all that patience is rewarded with a slow, steady adventure. It’s quite uncomfortable to wait so long doing nothing when you are a tea novice, but eventually it becomes clear that doing nothing is the gateway to a clear experience of reality, or something like that.

Learning from mistakes / Beginner’s mind

It’s easy to mess up a session, or brew a tea for a significant other that evokes the reaction of disgust, or spill tea all over your pants. It’s also incredibly common to have your most expensive tea with your favorite teaware and be completely let down by the result. This is learning, and why the best approach to tea is not as an expert, but as a beginner, open to whatever may happen in the current circumstance. The tea experts I respect the most don’t have any pretentious attitude, but simply know how to enjoy and share tea in their own way, and especially are good at listening to experts and beginners alike.

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at puerh brooklyn

P.S. I’m doing a lot of hard, time-consuming, mildly expensive work with water, and plan to share it with the world around March 2020. Sorry for the wait, but distilling water takes many hours, and my glass lab equipment is in customs. Thanks for reading!

One week without tea

If you’re getting tired in the evenings, consider how much tea you drink. I just did one week with no caffeine, when usually I would have around 9 grams of tea per day. Now, with only two grams of gyokuro I can reach my caffeine limit, where I have a sufficient buzz and my heart tells me “no more, that’s enough.” I noticed that now when I have my sessions, since I am more sensitive I am enjoying the sessions so much more. When tea is not necessary in an addictive sense, it is much more of a joy.

Today I had YS 8891 red label in a YS Hei Jin Gang clay yixing. I used to think the pot was terrible (too porous, no flavor) but actually it makes the tea so soft, the notes that are left over are very enjoyable and on average the tea is thicker than in porcelain. Speaking of porcelain, look forward to a post on comparing different porcelain cups.

Since I am so sensitive, I just ordered a 45ml (tiny) yixing so I can enjoy a strong, yet tiny session with only 2.5g of sheng. I have a 50 ml shibo from stefan andersson but it burns a bit when holding it and I’m beginning to see the deep benefits of yixing.

I have yixing pots and european clay pots and it will be interesting to note the similarities and differences. Overall, to refresh your tea experience, go a week without it. It’s the best thing you can do.

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!

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?

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Raw Puer and Clay

I like young raw puer in unglazed clay. Specifically, I like it in jianshui clay because it brings out the sweetness. But ever more special to me is this european clay from teaware made by Jiri Lang.

I actually broke my pot recently, but I had a shibo from the same clay laying around so now I use that. The downside of this shibo is that it is very easy to burn your fingers on it. Here’s a picture.

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Here’s another picture:

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So what does it do to the tea that gaiwans don’t, or for that matter, yixing? Well, look at the inside clay. How does it look to you? Now how do you think it would affect the taste and texture and feeling of the tea? It makes the puer rocky, not by applying a rock taste, but by filtering the taste of the tea through microscopic pores in the clay to its own unique effect. I get a lot of throatiness from tea made in this shibo. But furthermore, it gives the session a different feeling emotionally. I like young raw puerh because there’s something tough and natural about drinking it; it’s strong stuff. My jianshui pot is very fun and cute, but this one is something else, almost reducing sweetness to bring out other subtleties.

With a gaiwan, you get the pure taste of the tea, but you miss out on this dimension.

Happy New Year!

 

Deciding What to Drink

Deciding what tea to drink can be very simple or extremely complicated. In the evenings, when it’s too late to drink tea, I often spend time thinking about what tea I would drink if I could, and that ends up being the tea I have the next morning. But then, I try to dismiss that idea, thinking that if tomorrow I just make the decision in the moment, it would be a better choice.

So we need to decide how to decide what tea to drink. There are many factors that influence the decision: for example, is there a new pot you want to try out, do you want something intense or more relaxing, do you want something you haven’t tried before or would you rather drink something you are familiar with, do you want to try a familiar tea with a different pot than usual?

When do you drink your daily drinkers and when do you drink your special occasion tea? What constitutes a special occasion? Is your Japanese green tea going to go bad if you don’t drink it today?

It becomes much harder when you are going to have tea with someone. How many teas to bring to their place? How many teas can you handle in one sitting? What is a good order? Young to aged, or old to young, or mellow to strong, or strong to mellow? What will they like? What do you want them to like?

When you start thinking like this, it is easy to enter a state of paralysis. This is because they are verbal thoughts that come from the ego. Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of Alan Watts. But what is the alternative to this? How will you decide what to drink without thinking verbally?

Here’s a little technique I like to call “consulting the void.” Basically, without thinking, just choose a tea with your eyes and hands. This works because there is no wrong decision unless you make it a wrong decision. If the tea you choose doesn’t taste good or feel right, that doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice. Without bad tea sessions, there can be no good tea sessions. If you are trying to make all your tea sessions perfect and amazing, you will be disappointed. However, if you have an open and quiet mind, your tea sessions can be much more fulfilling and harmonious.

You can extend this technique to choosing your teaware. Just choose without choosing. It works very well and you will grow as a tea drinker this way. I am trying to “consult the void” more and plan my tea drinking less.

Today’s choices. I cannot say why I chose them, but I also cannot say that they were randomly chosen.

Oh, and if your Japanese green teas go stale, that’s just the way it turned out. Use them to absorb odors in your shoes, make a smoothie, cook something with them, or let them age until you run out of tea and it’s the only thing you have left. If it’s not going to make you happy, you can also throw it away or give it away.

Do you have trouble deciding what to drink? How do you decide? Leave a comment if you want.