Recently I have been very focused on the art (doodles) side of the blog and I haven’t had much to say about tea – for the same reason as I mentioned some time ago. That is, there are some serious tea connoisseurs out there writing very interesting and informative posts about tea with much more knowledge on the subject than I have. So once again for those interested, here are a few new (to me) tea blogs. Sir William of the Leaf has a quietly serious approach and thoroughly describes the ins and outs of all kinds of tea. Life in Teacup is more light-hearted but no less useful for the serious tea appreciator. the_skua steeps is interesting since the author is a potter as well as tea lover. If you like to look at beautiful hand made tea things, you’ll see some here.
The photo above was a tea tasting session from a while ago. Lately I have gotten out of the habit of photographing the process. I am still drinking tea though and learning more about it all the time.
Wow, I can hardly believe that I started up this blog a year ago already. On the other hand, in many ways this year has seen quite a lot of change in my life – so in that way it has been a long year and not always easy. I am feeling self-congratulatory though – I have produced quite a lot of drawings during this time, made 127 posts and had 6,500 views!
I plan to have a very nice cup of tea today to celebrate! If I can’t find anything suitable in the cupboard, I may just use this as my excuse to buy some good puerh tea… or else that (very) high mountain wulong from Taiwan that was so delicious at the tea tasting session… decisions, decisions…
I was walking on the mountain yesterday and noticed a crow perched on an improbably high branch which inspired this doodle. It was a lovely day – soft (for February) with a pale winter sun occasionally breaking through the clouds.
This morning we participated in a tea tasting – just of Taiwan wulongs! ten different ones… It was quite eye-opening. Although I already had a good idea that there is a huge range of flavours within this family of teas, it really was remarkable. The aged Wulongs had an especially strong range of flavours. While I often enjoy strong flavours, I found myself gravitating towards the greener, fresher-flavoured varieties. I won’t get into the details of which one seemed to me like over-ripe olives, which like burnt chocolate and which like flowers on a sunny day… There are real experts out there discussing tea and if you are interested in the world of Chinese tea, check out the links to the right. If particularly in Wulongs, here’s an interesting article on Taiwan Dong Ding Wulong. (Note: due to transliteration differences, Dong Ding = Tung Ting and Oolong = Wulong)
You may have noticed that it has been quite a while since I posted any tea tasting or other tea comments. This has been in part because I am having so much fun with the drawing and in part because I have discovered quite a few excellent tea blogs which for quality of content and images are so outstanding as to put my slight offerings to shame…
Sooooo, if you, like me are really interested in tea, here are a few of these remarkable blogs which you might like to check out.
The Mandarin’s Tea is a beautiful and knowledgeable blog. Being focused on both the tea itself and the accoutrements makes for an attractive blend! (He also posts about cigars… not one of my interests! lol but the tea posts are great.)
A recent favourite of mine is a blog called Tea Obsession. It is written by a woman in L.A. who has a shop specializing in one particular kind of single-tree produced Oolong (Wulong). That’s quite a specialty!! She is passionately devoted to her tea and it shows in the writing.
Another beauty is The Half-Dipper. As I have been doing more reading on Puerh tea I now understand more of the references to various types of tea cakes and the factories where they are produced. Ah, yet another field on which one could spend a lifetime of study… which is why I’m recommending you to this great blog if you really want to learn some interesting things about tea and have your eyes pleased by wonderful images at the same time.
There’s even a live journal Puerh Tea Community for those very serious about Puerh tea. Following some of the comment strings is very enlightening – and makes it clear both how much there is to learn as well as how difficult it can be to get straight answers about Puerh!
And there are more! …but I think that will do for now. By-the-way, the above is a basket fried green tea ready for the water to be added. Don’t forget to let your water cool down after boiling to about 90 C in order to enjoy the best flavour for most green teas. These leaves have a particularly interesting flat appearance due to the special basket frying method of processing. The flavour was fresh but subtly smoky. I’m not sure that it will be one of my favourites despite the pleasant visual effect.
Last weekend, I visited a local teashop to participate in their inaugural tea workshop. The atmosphere was relaxed and intimate with just 5 of us plus the proprietor/tea expert. We sipped our way through 10 teas starting with the most delicate white tea, Bai Hao Yin Zhen which had a subtly sweet overtone and turned out to be an all round favourite with most, on to 4 very different greens teas, to the Wulongs which I love, then to red teas and finishing with a warmly earthy and strong Puerh, Ker Yi Xing Shou Bing Cha. It was interesting that in the end I liked the most extreme ends of the scale best this time even though for day to day, I mostly drink green and wulong teas. Perhaps it’s time to make a change!
Definitely a very pleasant as well as informative way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday morning – highly recommended! In case you think this would be just for people very familiar with Chinese tea, we took a friend with us who is a tea neophyte and she enjoyed herself thoroughly as well.
I recently bought this lovely green tea, fresh from this year’s spring crop in mainland China. They were brewing it in the shop I was in last weekend and after a taste, I had to bring some home. It is not as light as some green teas, by that I mean that there is a feeling of some thickness on the tongue which makes it seem subtly richer, almost nutty. You can see above, the lovely, transparent colour of the brewed tea.
I like to make my green tea in that pot. It is an Yixing pot from China. The clay from that area is famous and reputedly makes the best teapots. They come in all shapes and sizes. More on that one day perhaps! (For more information right now, click here!)
You can see in the photo below how beautiful the leaves are… very fine and green.
I had been waiting for the new spring tea crop to come for a couple of months and so it was a great pleasure recently to attend an event celebrating the arrival of the new spring teas at a local tea shop. There were several teas to be sampled and a demonstration of the tea ceremony for three types of tea as well – green, wulong and pu-erh. I found it all very interesting and discovered anew how much I prefer cooked pu-erh to raw… the cooked type has a much smoother, richer sort of flavour while the raw is more astringent. There were a couple of spring wulongs from Taiwan (my favourite) to try and I took home some very high mountain Wulong from Yushan (Jade mountain) in Taiwan. Brewing it at home in my new teapot was a pleasure. It yields a subtle yet distinct flavour characteristic of Taiwan wulongs although perhaps not as fragrant as some of my very favourites. On drinking several tiny cups of this deliciousness, Max said solemnly, “I will never drink Lipton tea again.” lol
Bodhidharma, also known as DaMo in Chinese, is famous for many things. Born in India around the year 440, he converted to Buddhism and traveled to China where he is credited with introducing Zen Buddhism (called Chan in Chinese). According to tradition, he spent much time at the Shaolin Temple establishing the famed martial arts practiced there and also managing to meditate in a cave for 9 years.
During his years of meditation, he fell asleep (once!) and in his determination to keep it from happening again, he cut off his eyelids. Where his eyelids fell, the first tea plants sprang up to help him (and all the rest of us lesser mortals) stay awake while enjoying the pleasures of tea at the same time. (Well, the pleasure part isn’t mentioned in the histories.) This explains why representations of Bodhidharma always show him with bulging, lidless eyes.
Other ways of telling that a painting you’re looking at is of DaMo is that he is either crossing a river on a hollow reed (how he was said to have crossed the Yangtze), sitting in meditation in a cave and usually facing a wall, or often, with one shoe on a stick over his shoulder. The story goes that some time after DaMo’s death, an official said that he had met him in the mountains heading back west and saying that he was returning to India. He was carrying a staff on which hung a single sandal. The monks back at the temple got curious and decided to open up the tomb. They found just one sandal inside.
Much of this content is common lore regarding DaMo/Bodhidharma but a lot of information can be found in the preface to The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma translated by Red Pine.
Well, I think we are all familiar with jasmine tea. Unfortunately, mostly what people experience as jasmine tea is a lower quality tea bag version available in most Chinese restaurants – and even that can be fairly pleasant although it’s not really the same drink as a good jasmine. If you never have, I encourage you to go to your local specialty tea shop and indulge in a really fine quality jasmine tea to experience the difference.
What you can see in the photo is a nice leaf jasmine. You may see some light colour but this is not flower blossoms mixed in with the tea leaves – the blossoms are carefully removed by hand after the scent is absorbed by the leaves. The leaves themselves can have a silvery bloom in good green tea. At a shop you may also find something similar but hand rolled into little balls – sometimes called dragon pearls. This type is lovely as well. When you brew it you’ll see the full size of the leaves expanded in the pot.
One word of caution though – it is very important with jasmine tea to let your boiling water cool down a bit (to about 75C or 165F) before pouring it over your leaves, otherwise you will end up scalding the leaves and creating a bitter pot of tea. With the right temperature though, this tea has the exotic flavour and flowery scent of an Asian moonlit night so it is well worth experimenting until you get it right!
The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat.
The second shatters the walls of my lonely sadness.
The third searches the dry rivulets of my soul to find the stories of five thousand scrolls.
With the fourth the pain of life’s grievances evaporates through my pores.
The fifth relaxes my muscles and bones become light.
With the sixth I find the path that leads to the immortal ancestors.
Oh the seventh cup! Better not take it! If I had it the only feeling
Is the fresh wind blowing through my wings,
As I make my way to Penglai.
Lu Tong, Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907)
Such a beautiful poem by Tang dynasty poet, Lu Tong! I have seen it on many tea websites and blogs with various translations but I have not found a name to credit with this particular lovely poetic version. You might want to know that Mount Penglai, mentioned in the last line is the mythical home of the immortals in the Eastern Sea.
As cranes are a symbol of immortality, they are flying away over the misty mountains to accompany that fortunate tea drinker on his way – should he drink that seventh cup!