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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The tea shop I work at stocks Global Tea Hut founder Wu De’s book “The Way of Tea.” Out of curiosity on a slow day I started reading the display copy behind the counter. Now before anyone says anything, this post is not about my opinion of Global Tea Hut. This post is rather about a specific quote in that book:
Master Rikyu said, “imagine your life without tea, and if it’s any different than it is now, you don’t understand tea.”
I actually can’t find any sources that contain this quote other than this book. Regardless of who said it, the idea is interesting to think about. If I imagine my life without tea, I would be yawning constantly. The time spent brewing tea would be spent doing something else… video games, music making, or hanging out with friends. Speaking of friends, I wouldn’t have any of my tea friends, and I would not work at a tea shop. So of course my life would be different! This seems trivial and must not be the actual meaning of the “quote.”
So what does it refer to? It does seem that my quality of life would be different, but just as fine. It is not necessary to drink tea to be happy. The point of the quote to me is that if you can’t apply what you have learned from tea to all aspects of life, you have not made the most of your tea practice. If you can do the dishes the same way you make tea, that would give you a happier life. The quote’s condition isn’t that you never had tea (of course you would not understand tea if you never had it), but that your privilege to have tea is taken away. Perhaps the essence of tea can remain when the actual tea is no longer present.
After all, it is not advised to have tea constantly all day. Most of our lives are spent without tea, although it can be in our system for a few hours after drinking. We should not be clinging to tea so tightly, and should be willing to let go of it: not by giving it away, but by letting it be.
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.
Here’s another picture:
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.
I had a non-tea-drinking friend ask me once, what is the point of having a nice teapot? Why does it matter how nice your tea comes out? To me, it’s obvious; the tea tastes fuller, a fast pour gives me more control, it enhances the entire experience. Even with that, he still didn’t seem to get it. I wondered where that question was coming from. Perhaps he didn’t want me to spend a lot of money on something that has no practical use. I mean, it’s only tea. I think other people see tea obsession as a distraction, something that gets in the way of more important things. They see it as a waste of time and money.
He might have a point. What’s the point of making better tea? Why do our standards have to be so high? Tea is a beverage.
But tea is also a secret. The best cups of tea cause the drinker to be silent. It’s hard to explain, but when I’m having tea, there’s something in the air. I’m not obsessed with the energy of everything, but I feel a certain energy. What is that? Why is there no word for it?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions and not answering any. That’s because I don’t know why I have made tea such a significant part of my life. Well, I actually do know why, but I don’t have the words to say. I guess it’s a secret.
First, meditate for around thirty to forty-five minutes until you have settled into a deep connection with your qi body. Otherwise you will not detect the body feel of your tea, which is why it costs so much in the first place.
Next, boil your water, but don’t let it actually boil. While this is happening, gather your tools. Use your puerh knife to loosen off five grams of tea without using a scale and without damaging a single leaf. Put the leaves in the pot with a very expensive scoop. Oh crap, you forgot to warm the teapot and cups. You already messed up, you dingus. So dump the leaves out back onto the scoop, warm the teapot with the hot water and rinse the cups, using bamboo tongs to avoid touching the cups with your hands. Rinse the tea leaves by pouring hot water into the teapot which you have filled with the leaves that you took out earlier because you forgot to warm the teapot and cups. Pour out the water into the cups. Or right into the waste bowl. You choose.
It’s time to make the tea for real. Get ready. Pour the water into the pot, then into the pitcher or the cups, or the cup. It really depends. Don’t burn yourself. Make sure you have not lost touch with your qi body. Drink the tea. OUCH! Too hot. If you have guests, someone choked on the tea and is now coughing. Everyone is listening to them coughing. Now you are afraid to cough. Don’t worry, the qi is setting in and will guide you. Make sure the water is boiling and not boiling at the same time, and make another infusion.
You know what to do from here. At the end of the session, don’t forget to use your digger wimble.
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.
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.
Around a year ago, I read in the book “The Ancient Art of Tea” that water can be seen as the limiting factor of tea. To paraphrase, if the tea leaves are 10/10 quality, and the water is 8/10, then the resulting tea will be 8/10. It’s well known that water affects the quality of the tea. In fact, MarshalN said that water is more important than tea leaves in terms of potential to improve the quality of tea for your money, although I can’t find that specific post right now for some reason. Here’s some more evidence from the blogosphere that water matters:
I started drinking tea with friends right when I started thinking about water as it relates to tea. It quickly became apparent that because of my water, my tea sessions at home did not meet expectations. Flavor was muted, body was thin, and instead of enjoying the tea with friends, we felt really unsatisfied and ended up experimenting with water instead. It took many attempts before I figured out a water “solution” that works for me.
First, I tried the babelcarp water app. It tells me how much epsom salt and gypsum to add to my filtered tap water to approximate a mineral water. I added enough to approximate volvic because I had decent results with that brand in the past. It sort of worked, but not really. I could try that again, but the problem is that epsom salt and gypsum are both sulfates. They don’t contain any carbonates, which would help make calcium carbonate, which thickens the body of the tea. So, I found that to be a good step, but not completely what I was looking for. I also tried using sticks of bamboo charcoal in my kettle, but that made the tea lose its vitality entirely. I think it was overpurifying the water and removing dissolved gases.
Then, I tried making water based on this brewing water calculator meant for mineralizing water for beer. The resulting concoction was much too thick for tea, and left a sort of slimy feeling on the teeth, but it was making my tea ultra thick, which was a step in the right direction. Without thickness, tea (puerh in particular) isn’t very fun, and you’re not extracting the full flavor.
I started trying every conceivable brand of bottled water that I could get my hands on. Iceland spring, Volvic, Crystal Geyser, the local supermarket brand, and then finally Nestle Purelife. Some waters were thick, some left a layer of scale on the surface of the tea, some were harsh, and some were quite refreshing. Volvic was thick but muted in taste, while Iceland Spring was refreshing but harsh. Shunan Teng, who runs Tea Drunk in New York City, told me that Nestle Purelife is the only bottled water she likes for tea. So I was using that for a while, with decent results. I realized that I could actually reverse-engineer Nestle Purelife to make my own. I bought calcium chloride, epsom salt, and baking soda, and added it to my filtered tap water with my estimations of how much is in Purelife based on reports on their website. And then, suddenly, my tea came alive.
My tea became thick and full, miles better than the pure filtered tap water without minerals added. It was even coming out a bit better than Purelife. I tried white2tea’s carbolic soap oolong with it, and it was phenomenal. Tried again without the minerals, it tasted weak and underwhelming. These minerals were helping me get what I needed out of $1/gram tea. The water was no longer limiting the tea, in other words.
I have been tweaking my recipe ever since. I have found that potassium bicarbonate and potassium chloride tend to make the tea ultra ultra harsh even in very small quantities. I stick with epsom salt, calcium chloride, and baking soda, because they react to produce calcium carbonate (chalk) to enhance body, and the dissolved magnesium enhances the flavor.
One thing that helped my tea immensely was switching water filter pitcher brands. I had been using Brita and Nakii pitchers, but once I ran out of those filters, I decided to try the Waterdrop. I am in love with this pitcher. Sometimes, I make tea just with the filtered water from this pitcher, and it’s really decent. I decide to use the mineralized water when I just want that extra juice from my tea. This is with Brooklyn tap water, so your milage may vary.
My current recipe is, for every gallon of filtered tap water (you could also try distilled water, but I haven’t done this), add 75 mg baking soda, 75 mg calcium chloride, and 75 mg epsom salt. (UPDATE: My current recipe is 100 mg baking soda, 75 mg calcium chloride, and 50 mg epsom salt.) This results in a water that is still refreshing, with enhanced thickness, taste and throatiness. Hopefully you can try this, let me know if it works for you, and maybe it will save you from the headaches I have had on the way to figuring this out. Water is very very complicated; there are whole books on water and there are even water sommeliers. With water, it’s much deeper than it seems on the surface.