Friday, April 20, 2018

Fire and water

Xu Ci Xu, Ming dynasty scholar, author of the book Cha Shu – Tea Sort.

One section is dedicated to boiling water.  Literal translation:

Best choice is hard wood charcoal.  Charcoal may not be fully carbonized, smoke may be present when burning, odorizes the water, hence water is not good.  Let the charcoal burn to amber, rid of smoke, the heat is at prime, water is fast to boil. When the charcoal is amber, put on the kettle, fan with fury, the faster the better, do not stop. If stop, discard and start a new pot.

Tea is nourished by water, water is placed by kettle, boiling water is succeed by fire, 4 essential elements in tea making, one falls short will fail all.

I can see why I speak broke English now! :D

The old Chinese text are precisely concised, but incredibly poetic and expressive, however direct translating to English is a whole different presentation, not quite as eloquent as it sounds in Chinese.

So what it means is that use hardwood charcoal, because the density of the wood, it burns longer and the heat is higher in temperature. But most charcoal still contains organic materials residues other than carbon, smoke will be released at burning initially. Allow the charcoal burn to red amber, until smokeless, at this point, the heat is at prime, it can bring the water to boil fast. Only put the kettle on the fire when the charcoal is amber with flame, continue to fan the stove, faster the better and do not stop until the water boils. If fanning is interrupted, the water is no longer good enough, start a new pot. Momentum! Momentum! Use full force whole heartily! Use up the water one boiled kettle at a time, also do not reboil cooled off water. This is why Chaozhou Sha Diao are made to contain only a couple brews worth of water volume. One reason why I didn't like water boiled from large kettles, tea made from it taste sluggish and muted, in other words, lack of livelhood, lack of vital energy.

There is tea drinking, there is serious tea drinking, and there is optimal tea drinking. The best possible way to make an ideal cup of tea has been documented centuries ago. We may have all the elements, however we must know how to operate them to get the best results.

The serious tea drinkers may know the tangibles such as tea selections and tea wares, but it is the intangibles we must learn from experience, either from our own practice, perceive with our own body, our own senses and mind, or learn and digest from others. It may take a long time to reach the optimal, but it's an understand and sensation one can not forgo once the practice becomes apparent and with ease.

Laying out all the elements, the materials and the operating method, the picture clearly puts everything into track, once again law of nature, the fundamental of universe, transformation of energy! In this case, maximizing the energy and its effects between earth, water, wood, fire and human!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Monday, April 02, 2018

Water and its relation to tea.

Water being the most essential part of tea brewing next to good tea.   In my opinion, the role of water is more important than the tea leaves itself in tea brewing.

Water is important because it directly influences the outcome of a cup of tea, it can enhance a tea and it can destroy a tea.  Tea leaves are given, whether good or bad, they don't change until the water hits them.  Ordinary tea drinking under subconsciousness does not center around maximizing the potential of a tea leaf, as everyday life goes on, we are more focused on other activities and less on more important things such as what we put in our body.  We the tea maker/drinker have the choice and control, although the tea leaves do not.

All the years, I have encountered many different sources of water, Chinese old text documents about water properties, various regional tea wares that are capable of enhancing water flavor.  My own experiences came to a statistic summary after my final once missing piece of tea ware is now no longer missing.

The first type of water, available conveniently without alteration.  Tap water, spring water from natural resources, filter water, human-engineered/formulated water.

The second type of water is enhanced water with purifier and minerals etc.   Additional water treatments being done on available water, charcoal added to further purify water, minerals added for flavor.  Imitating the nature, aquifer underground spring water went through the crust of the earth, sandstones, gravel, coal, etc. that purifies the surface water.

The third type of water is altered by tea kettle materials.  The kettle material alters water contents hence changes the taste of water.  Stainless steel, raw iron, silver, plastic, various regional clay, porcelain, glass kettles, used on various heating sources, gas burner, electric burner, wood/charcoal burner.

The available sources are wide and abundant, the combination of the water, kettle and heating source furthers the selection.   The relationship between a tea leaf and water is amazingly homogeneous to human relationships.

Tradition share one thing for certain is the concept of such tradition has been tested and proven to be effective as better if not best options.  Chao Zhou Gong Fu Tea is the most comprehensive when it comes to tea, with a simple principle in mind, maximizing the potential of tea, any grade, any time, anywhere, any how.  Consider all parts and elements in Chao Zhou Gong Fu Tea making, live fire, local clay, size of the kettle and its relation to the stove and boiling time, type of charcoal for vitality and aroma of water, not only scientific but naturally expressed in an understated extravagance.

Silver kettle is popular in British tea service, in fact, anything related to food and beverage, and then some.   A sign of status for its value.  However, silver has not been a popular dinning ware choice in Chinese culture, including tea wares, alcohol wares.   One thing I learn from history is that you can always find answers to why something exists and some don't.  And if you can't figure out why, like why swimming pools do not exist in Chinese homes before modern day, just follow it, do as so, you can't go wrong.  Take silverware for example, after a few days of testing many teas with silver water, the overwhelming result leads me to conclude, it is in fact not the best choice for tea in general.  It is extremely unforgiving to the point of brutality.  It can empower a good tea by 10 folds, it can also destroy a salvageable tea, one flaw can be blown up 10 times harsher.   As some old wise man said, utilize the best function from a matter, utilize the best skill from a man.  It does not mean that matter or man is the best of its kind, even the lowest ranking of such matter can reach its own best.  All meaning the same fundamental principle, maximizing the potential of a being!  Obviously, silver kettle does not serve that purpose well.  A silver teapot serves a purpose only if the tea is excellent, one can enjoy 10 times the pleasure, but not necessary to magnify the discomfort 10 folds.

Let's get back to Chao Zhou Gong Fu Cha, silver kettle is not a constant choice become apparent, it has nothing to do with the cost, Chao Zhou business men are the Jews of China, the area is filled with money for a long time.  The only reason is that the local red clay pots boiled water can enhance most teas, not only a few privileged selections.  Majority of the tea productions in the world are bad to good teas, rarely excellent teas.   All of which deserved to be reached its best potentials with good water and skills.

In recent days, I begin to advise people to read classic books of Chinese philosophy, medicine, Daoism, they concluded the universal truth of human, earth and beyond.  Tea being a small part of nature, viewing from bird's eye view so to speak, it becomes obvious in all aspects of its existence, history, mutation, migration, cultivation, changes with human touch, in relation with time, climate, seasons, man, water, earth and its impact in human at last.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Philosophy of tea

A constant friend from my close tea friend group, as his wife puts it "the Imen's tea family", came to me after the Pasadena Tea Festival event was over, said something heartfelt to me.

Tea operation is about business, selling a product.  So is my goal, everyone has a family to feed even if a family of one.  But as we grow with the business, the knowledge of the product contents separates the business itself from personal growth.  Knowing all the paper worthy info about a bunch of teas, region, geology, season, cultivation, processing, maker, grades, etc is fundamental.  All of which are hard facts, researchable.

With the convenience of being in the industry, a tea operator usually have more access to other related information which can further enhance tea enjoyment at a social setting or personal level.  The extensiveness of such understand and living in part in a broader horizon sets one from the pure professional operation.

The only way to do something well is when one is doing it for oneself, from within, not an outward show-off.   Like the essence of a tea leaf, quietly unleashing the richness only when we need it.  The richer the essence, the shinier it will be, physical being cannot conceal the wealth of such substance.
Tea has long been a philosophical subject in Chinese culture, it's beyond Zen, it's beyond tea ceramony, beyond any form of ritual.   It's a way of living, which is the most fundamental of human philosophy.  It is the law of nature, a universal Daoism.   The interaction between men and a leaf is a very basic exchange of energy, creation and consumtion in industrial terms.  Taken away the desire of ownership, the end result of any relationship between human, or plant, animal, water, verbal or physical contact are all universally nothing more than exchange of energy, good and bad energy,  whether consciously or subconsciously aware of such exchange.   Conscious awareness can magnify and intensify the experience,  be it positive or negative experience.  It takes conscious awareness to choose what is good for you, the right diet, the right tea, the right partner.  The sensation should come within, processed within, even inspirations comes externally.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Why do high end teas have less flavor?

Every once in a while I get a polite question: why do teas taste so light but so pricey?   Teas cost less have more flavor than these.  Or something like: can you brew it stronger, it's flavorless, I can hardly taste anything.

I did not know how to explain that with lack of scientific understanding for a very long time.  The only reasoning I can console myself with is each person is different, our sensitivity vary a great deal due to our diet,  body chemistry and exposure to tea.  But it is much more than that.

In Chinese term Yun is an intangible sensation.  The Chinese translation is "containing compound", I suppose it means it contains substance of richness that can be sensed rather than measured.  The term Yun often describes a musical piece of texture, density, thickness, range, width, layers with richness.  The concept can be borrowed to describe tea as well.

Yun and flavor are two entirely different concepts in tea.  More often than enough that high mountain old tree teas have thick rich Yun, subtle flavors that linger a very long time.  While low altitude young crop teas have more obvious, detectable flavors.  My advice to tea drinkers is emphasize less on the flavors, flavor is manipulative artificially by human hand, on the other hand the "contained compound" leaves are born nobly by older trees living in the environment that protect and nourish before they sprout.  You can only feel them!

In scientific studies, three key substances influence the taste of a tea, here taste does not equate to flavor.  Taste including flavor and texture, while flavor is only flavor.

1, Polyphenol = stringency
2, caffeine = bitterness
3, amino acids = sweetness and refreshing taste

Polyphenol ratio and amino acids ratio play teeter totter with each other, one goes up, the other goes down.  Summer harvest, mature leaves contain more poly phenol, hence more astringent.  Spring harvest, high altitude, younger leaves contain more amino acids, hence sweeter and less astringent, also less stimulating to the taste buds as astringency and bitterness.  To less experience drinkers, there is less flavor due the the absence of those two flavors.  High mountain and shade grown teas contain more amino acids than low altitude teas due to sun exposure.  Polyphenol are substances released by plants to protect itself from the sun, insect bites and other environmental impacts, therefore the ratio goes up in Summer harvest.

Polyphenol by nature is a protective substance, therefore it also protects human as an anti-oxidant.  Amino acids are in forms of proteins, amino acid residues form the second-largest component next to water of human muscles and other tissues.   Hence it's a replenishment to nourish our body, and is the "essential" for humans.  *quote from Wikipedia*

Teas that contain more polyphenol are processed in ways to emphasize on flavor, cover up or mute the enstringency and bitterness, enhance aroma by manipulating with roasting or oxidation in the case of oolong teas.   While the best tea materials are usually less tempered with to preserve its natural greatness.  Same concept as in food preperation, the best ingredients are less spiced in the the cooking process, Cantonese and French food are the finer examples of that.  However a Szechwan person with a life long palate of hot spicy diet would not have the same appreciation for Cantonese cuisine, and vise versa.

My point being, you can't expect every tea drinkers have the same sensitivity to feel teas the same way.  Otherwise, what are the tea growers going to do with the summer teas, and the alike.  Or those who are lucky enough to discover the secrets of Yun would not have enough good teas to go around.

A flavorful tea stimulates your taste buds, a great tea stimulates you internally, energizes you.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Writing a novel of tea stories

For a long time, I've wanted to write a tea book.  At first, tried translating a Chinese book, it didn't float my boat due to technical issues, lost in translation the least.  The second time I want to write something about what I know of tea, then I felt I don't know well enough to make it a reference book.  The third time I want to write a fun read tea book with tell tails of my travel to tea mountains and markets, but not sure how to link them all together.  Finally inspired by a novel my best friend introduced me to recently, I finally know what I want to do, not just tea, more than tea, a romance novel that links tea, travel, and self-integrating experience.   As tea started me on the horizon of self-discovery journal, it has been self-realization, revelation, toward self-liberation.  Tea has been the loyal guard at the entrance of a palace who took my hand then lead me into the grandeur of spiritual world, enrich and deepens my understanding of human nature, relationships amongst human and with nature.  When to challenge and when submitting to nature's courses is absolutely necessary.   Running through the rose bushes can be painful, yet one can find beauty and comfort in the colored petals and sweet fragrance as we must meander through life the same way.

The skeleton of the story is about an American young man lands in China for a work project in Hang Zhou, meets the girl in his dream and learn a great deal about law of nature from her grandfather whom went through a turmoil period of China and still stand-tall quietly in his tea mountain, great wisdom to be told, counteracting this overbearing society with a simple cup of tea!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

When is the best time to start drinking a tea

Here are a few questions from a dear customer recently, I thought I had written related topic since it is some of the more frequently asked questions, but I couldn't find it in my blog,  it must be in the emails.  I should have this written down for good. Here we go.

***How do single tree dancongs like your private stash develop with time? 
More specifically, is it preferable to let them rest for some time after the harvest and processing to harmonize and develop? If so, how long after the harvest are they usually at the peak, and when do they start to fade and lose aromas you want to keep?
There are several elements determines the taste of tea in time: tea substance, fire, storage. What this means is when is the best time to start drinking a tea, any tea that is.  Most of us like to buy fresh teas in general, what's left over the year is considered expired psychologically,  even though aged tea drinkers would consider buy a selected few type such as puerh and a few aged oolongs.  While taste is a personal preference, I am here to talk about my own preference of when is my preferred time to drink a tea. 

1, Substance of tea is the fundamental, fiber and chemical substance ratio determines how long it will take a tea to break down, more fiber the longer it will take, more matured old leaves the longer it will take. 
2, In general, all teas are processed through fire more or less.  Green tea, white tea, yellow teas endure less firing process than oolong, lower temperature and lesser time on fire.  Higher temperature fire takes longer to subside.  
3,Storage condition of tea is crucial at the final step, aside of sealed, keep away from light, odor and moisture, storing temperature should be considered in storing the type of tea.    

Nothing is absolute especially in tea, all parameters are forever changing along time, a combination of situation presents here:

Green tea, despite the common belief it should be drunk within 3 month from harvest, unless you are a young man with stomach of steel, go ahead.  The freshness also contains fresh fire, the fresh polyphenols can be harsh on the stomach, it is much better to drink it 9 months to a year later stored in freezer or refrigerated, minimum 6 months in the fridge.   This also applies to green oolongs, particularly Tie Guan Yin and Taiwan high mountain teas.  Freezing is necessary for teas with high moisture contents.  

For medium and up roasted oolong teas, white tea, black teas, also takes 9 months to a year for the fire to subside, especially the high fired teas such as dark roasted dan cong and wuyi rock teas, some heavy fired teas takes up to 2 years for the fire taste to subside.  While the fire disapates, the substance of the tea goes through a break down, enzymatic oxidation, blending with each other process, polyphenols turn in to Cha Huang Su theaflavin which benefit our health in many ways.  Due to the long time and or high fire process of these teas, moisture content is less in general, hence cool dark seal is all it takes to preserve them, even for a long period of time.  How long can this be kept depends on the aroma, if you prefer fragrance aroma, the preservation under the best condition should withhold 3 years, at most 5.  5 years late, the aroma will subside as the substance changes into Cha He Su- theabrownine.  
Dan cong tea, old tree teas in specific, due to the rich amount of substance, after a year of post development, the taste and texture is much fuller, dan cong teas are known for the floral fruity aroma, recommended to finish drinking within 3 years, however if sealed, it can be put away then forgotten 20, 30 or more years, it will become another amazing tea.  

To sum it all, all teas come from a plant, they all share similar properties,  fire does the exact same thing to teas, the result differentiates by the content of the tea, which in turn determines how long it takes to oxidize and break down.  Depending on the fermentation, lighter greener teas needs refrigeration, high moisture contents requires freezing.  
Puerh tea is a different animal, but similar, we will skip it this time.