Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Helping an Aged Oolong Touch Up his Stinky Navel

Old tea is great. But old tea can also be flat and muted, if not just straight gross. Specifically I'm talking about aged oolong. I think this may be the most misunderstood category of oolong tea because it demands either a skillful and attentive merchant or a capable drinker to maintain it, and the disconnect between the great tea lands and our humble tea community is still rather large.

This became obvious to me the other day when a wonderful tea friend (read: tea teacher) and FLT tea source-er brought in an aged mainland Tieguanyin. He lit a candle with an old teapot suspended over it like this (a) and placed a gaiwan lid over the top, like this (b).



My friend waited a few minutes and held the gaiwan lid to his nose. "Stinky!"

He handed it to me. The moisture that had been trapped in the leaves had started to evaporate and re-condense on the apex of the lid. I smelled it. YUCK! It smelled like a stinky navel. So that's what I'm drinking when I drink a long-stale aged oolong. This made the utility of touching up or re-roasting an aging tea very concrete to me. I don't want that stink in my tea! Gross!!

On top of removing stink, my own touching up experiment was more vibrant, clear and strong than when I've drunk it stale. I tried the other day on an aged Miao-li area oolong in the shop, and even the energy of the tea hit me hard and immediately, whereas that tea has always felt sleepy to me. The only problem with amateur roasting-touchups is the tea tends to get a drying feeling in the mouth that it wouldn't have otherwise. And the way I understand it, most of the time if you set it to rest after the touch-up it will go back to the way it was. "Locking in" a tea when touching it up, or roasting for any reason, is necessary for aging. Roasting is no easy skill, and locking in a tea so it remains relatively consistent takes direct experience, oral teaching, and a 'warehouse full of mistakes'. I hope one day I have enough tea to experiment like that, and eventually learn to lock in teas with a good roast. For now I'm just happy I could refresh a tea at all! Very rewarding session.


This is the aged Miaoli Oolong that I was playing with.

Disclaimer: Here's a link to the Miaoli oolong I was experimenting with. I just want people to know I DO work for the company (FLT) selling that tea. I only work there part time and don't profit directly from any sales, but I am involved with and love the company. That being said, I work for her because I really respect what she's doing and love the tea she sells.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Getting Back to the Throaty

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about reworking a gentle touch back into my tea brewing. In the subsequent sessions I've really enjoyed going back to teas which I thought I had figured out, and realizing that the tea has so much more to show me. It's such a great feeling when a new idea breaks through the barrier of a stagnant period! I've found that a little fresh spring water can really help out, too.

Mr. Z brewing Tea

I revisited a tea which I've been having an off and on affair with for a few years now. I bought a jin (Chinese pound) at the time, and now I'm down to a little more than a quarter jin. And just as the tea has started to run low, I started my experiments with lower leaf amounts and felt that with these changed parameters (less leaf, more time) this tea is ALL ABOUT THE THROAT. As I'm sipping on it, although there is plenty of mouth illuminating salivation/stimulation, the first place I notice the tea is in my throat. It's like this tea is pointing deeper past my mouth, saying 'drink from here'. As always with Mr. Z's tea, the lingering aftereffects stay with me as long as I care to pay attention to them. And as always, there's a really clear, heavy energy that makes itself comfortable down around my belly button. But brewing this before, the mouthfeel was so strong (due to my heavy handed pot-stuffing) that the throatfeel suffered for it. For right now, I believe the tea is finally getting across what it wants to get across. At least it's a step in the right direction. Thank you so much, Farmer Z, for making a tea that has continued to teach me over the course of the two years I've owned it. Even a hardy tea can benefit from gentle treatment.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We are Tea Gatherers

It's true that I love to squirrel away my little jars and nubs of tea, but what I mean is tea can help us gather together. Everybody has their proverbial two cents today. And it's my personal scheduled blog posting day, at that!

I believe no matter which 'side' you were on during this drawn out and exhausting election season, re-integrating this divided/polarized society should be at the top of our agenda. Tea has helped me to come together with all sorts of people and have both fun and difficult discussions. Now more than ever, as tea people we should still extend a warm cup peacefully to bond with those that are close to us, but also to heal the wounds of division with people we don't agree with politically. I feel very blessed to have this community of tea people across the US and the rest of the world.

photo cred: Nomadic Samuel

Gathering together is at the center of gong-fu cha. They say each person you drink a tea with, when you both really are feeling the tea, increases the wonderfulness of the tea tenfold. So let's promote tea-ism and use this plant soup to mend our community!

Your humble tea gatherer,

PS Any readers who are in or coming through Seattle, contact me and we can share a tea in real spacetime. I want to extend a sincere invitation to all you good teafolk.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stay Entish! We are a Kind of Plant People

I had yet another moment this week in the tea shop where I peered deeper into the abyss of tea knowledge. It's times like these where I have to keep my novice cap on, and not let ego break up my good vibe. I hope this lesson can help my fellow tea steepers!

I have long been a proponent of pushing a tea as far as it can go. When brewing, I would try to put more leaf, and let the tea steep longer, pushing it just to where it's about to break into an unbearable strength. I enjoy sessions where I have to fight with the tea a little bit. And I envy the hefty tongues of Chaozhou brew-monsters.

"Do not let us be hasty"

But if you're always fighting with a tea from the get go, you might not ever see what the tea is 'trying to show you'. After manhandling the tea version of a wise old grandma, my tea friend gently brought me down a few pegs. She said that there's a reason tea buyers in Taiwan will test teas by steeping small amounts of leaf in a big bowl for 15 minutes or more. They want to let the tea completely open up. It's not going to be the most enjoyable session with that tea, but you can really get a feel for its potential that way. Following this train of thought, when trying out a new tea in a gaiwan or small pot it can be handy to be gentle, put less leaf, and let the concoction to set for more time.

Metaphorically, when you come in contact with an old grandma, you should let her relax for awhile, and resist the urge to demand all her wise stories in one sitting. She won't be sharing any good stories with a hasty dumb-dumb.