I was tagged

So Michael J. Coffey tagged me to answer these “confessions of a tea blogger.” Here goes

1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.

Growing up in Hong Kong, I don’t think anyone is actually “introduced” to tea. You just drink it as a matter of course, because it’s everywhere, whether it’s the diluted tea water you get at local crap restaurants or the stuff you get when you go out for dim sum, you encounter tea every single day, in all shapes and sizes. So tea, as it were, was always a part of my life. My grandfather was never far from his tea – in fact, he almost never drinks plain water. So some of my earliest memories are people just sipping their cups when they come to visit, etc.

As for falling in love with it, I suppose it took place during college, when I bought a little bit of mingqian Longjing, wondering why this particular Longjing cost 5x the regular stuff. Well, turns out it was indeed a lot better than the regular stuff, and it’s been a one way street since.

2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried?

This is when you know the questions were written by someone who drinks mostly Western style tea, if we can call it that. Blends? I don’t know, probably some Lipton tea they use in restaurants here in Hong Kong. What else? I’ll be surprised if this isn’t the answer for pretty much everyone out there.

3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it?

January 28, 2006. That makes this blog almost 8 years old. It started out as, really, just a journal for myself to record what I drank and what I thought about the tea, on that most horrible (and now dead) of platforms, Xanga. Back then I think there were only three blogs on tea that I know of – Teamasters, which is still in the same business; Chadao, which has been dormant for a long time, and The Mandarin’s Tea, which has morphed a bit. There was also the Livejournal Puerh community, which has died a long time ago (and LJ is not far behind). Things were a lot simpler back then.

4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging.

Rewarding: meeting people, sometimes in real life, who I otherwise wouldn’t have met, because I write this blog and they read it and we get in touch somehow. Discouraging: when obvious misinformation is spread and sometimes, despite my feeble attempts, it persists. The tea world is a much better place without all the myths and sales pitches.

5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?

Darker oolongs or puerhs, depending on the day.

6) Favourite tea latte to indulge in?

Huh? No thanks.

7) Favourite treat to pair with your tea?

Usually nothing.

8) If there was one place in the world that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?

I haven’t been to India yet, and would love to go see some tea plantations there. It’s a totally different mode of operation.

9) Any tea time rituals you have that you’d like to share?

Don’t complicate things when they are not necessary.

10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?

Afternoon, usually. People act surprised when I tell them I only have one tea a day normally. I try not to overdose.

11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?

More people caring about it and less marketing-speak, but there’s no chance of the latter, I’m afraid.

– Whom do you tag?

I think Dr. Hobbes is untagged until now.

Emails sent

Last posting about the curated samples #1 in a while – I just sent out emails to everyone. You should’ve gotten an email either for 1) getting a sample, 2) not getting a sample, or 3) being on the wait list. If you didn’t hear from me at all and the email didn’t get spammed, then I probably mistyped your email address and you should contact me at mail@marshaln.com

I’ll probably post my own notes about the teas in a few weeks, but I don’t want my voice to colour what others might think of them, so I’ll wait until at least most people have gotten a chance to try them. In the meantime, the blog will be back to the regularly scheduled programming starting tomorrow.

Packing and shipping

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One of the most painful things about moving is packing up everything.  What you see here, alas, is only a fraction of what I have.  Teaware, as we all know, are fragile, breakable things.  Pots, cups, dishes, kettles, everything is breakable, and everything needs a lot of wrapping.  I find that a lot of it is really difficult to do right, and sometimes people who pack and then ship these things don’t do it properly, resulting in breakage.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to pack a teapot with the lid on the pot itself and just wrap the whole thing with bubble wrap.  That’s dangerous.  The lid, while it sits on the pot, can easily be rattled in shipment and comes loose or, worse, get damaged, as happened to one of my pots.  One of the pots I bought recently was shipped to me with only a little tape holding the lid onto the body.  Of course, when I opened the box, the lid was loose.  I was really lucky it wasn’t in pieces.

There’s also the issue of cushioning.  Ideally, you want space between all pieces of stuff — some sort of buffer in between each and every piece, so they never touch during shipment and will never come into contact with hard surface.  They also need to be cushioned against impacts along the walls of the box, so there needs to be space there too.  Boxes that are too small are disasters waiting to happen.

Shipping metal is no less difficult.  While tetsubins are pretty hardy and can take a lot of abuse, things like tin, pewter, copper, or silver are much more fragile and will dent or scratch easily.  With these, you have to be extra sure that the cushioning is enough to support all kinds of blows to the box — especially since some of these are heavy and if they are allowed to shift in the box, the momentum will create a greater force to dent what’s next to it.  I’d suggest shipping them singly, if possible, or if one must ship them together with something else, do so in a way that minimizes the chances of breakage with the way you place different items, etc.

Teas are easier to deal with, especially if they’re of the oolong variety and come in bags.  That’s almost a no brainer, so long as the box itself is relatively air tight and (hopefully) won’t be exposed to high temperature or sunlight.  Puerh cakes are a bit of a pain, but generally speaking when I ship these things I almost expect damage — it’s just part of the cost of shipping them.  Broken edges, roughed up wrappers, and missing teadust are par for the course.  If they’re not flooded I’m happy.

What’s really difficult is deciding to get rid of some pieces.  I have a lot of teaware that I think I should probably cull from my collection, either because I no longer use them at all, or in many cases, never really used them in the first place.  In this picture alone I see three pieces that I never use and I should probably get rid of, but I have a hard time bringing myself to do it.  On one level, I’m a hoarder at heart, so I want to hold onto them.  I also feel, somehow, that selling these things is not quite right.  I sometimes gift items away, but you can only gift so many things, and not a lot of people take tea related gifts, in any case.  Sometimes they’re also pieces that I don’t deem gift-worthy — if I’m not going to use it, why should I inflict it on someone else?  Then there are the tuition pieces.  At some point I’m going to take pictures of all of them and then show them here, so that others can learn from my tuition mistakes, but those pieces I’m sort of stuck with forever, and all I really need to the resolve to throw them in the trash.  All in all, the problem of too much teaware is really a dilemma that has no good resolution.

A tea meeting in New England?

I know there are plenty of tea drinkers in New England, more specifically in the greater Boston/Massachusetts region.  Is there any interest, anywhere, for a meeting of some sort?  I have been thinking that perhaps that would be a useful and interesting thing to do, if we can find the time and, more importantly, space for such a meeting.  Is there any interest?

Learning old lessons

This is, according to my new blog dashboard, the 1000th post on this blog.  I’m slowly going through the process of re-titling all my posts and retagging everything, because when I exported all the information from Xanga, those two things were lost in the process.  Xanga’s tagging system was particularly idiotic, so it is a nice change to have a much more sophisticated way of dealing with old posts.  I’m only back to early 2008, when I was living in the metropolis of Gambier, Ohio, and in the process of reading through old posts, I am relearning old lessons.  For example, I actually did a video on how to wrap a puerh cake, which some of you may find useful.  There were old experiments I ran with different kinds of water, which echoes a recent post on the relatively new blog Listening to Leaves.  I am also reminded of how my young puerh pot used to look like, and old lessons playing with toys that I don’t own.  Most importantly, memories of meetings I’ve had with friends, and teas on important occasions.

I am hoping that I’ll get this whole re-tagging business done before long, so it’ll be easier to refer to older things, which are probably not too useful for anyone else, but reading them again reminds me of things I learned over time.  Keeping a blog has helped me with organizing my own thoughts about tea, and of course, preserving a record of it.  Some people (Hobbes, for example) keep a physical record of it too.  Either way, I think it is probably the best tea-related decision I’ve ever taken.  If you don’t keep a record of your tea drinking, you should.  It will make you a better tea drinker.

Welcome

Welcome, all, to my blog’s new home.  Please say hi, and I hope you find this a more pleasant experience to deal with than the old site.  I think everything transferred here without too much of a hitch.  Some things, such as titles for posts, will need to be fixed, and so will categories/tags as well as other sundry minor issues that shouldn’t interfere with your reading experience in any significant way.

There has been one change though — my feed will no longer give you the full post, but only a snippet.  This is mostly to deter feed thieves who, in the past, have stolen my posts wholesale and published them elsewhere.

If you have any suggestions for how the site looks (or, for that matter, any problems with it, technical or otherwise), do let me know.

Growing culture

I didn’t realize that it’s possible to grow mold in heavily chlorinated water, which is what I get from the tap.  I added some water to two glasses and put them in my storage closet for my puerh.  I left them there for a few weeks, figuring there’s no reason to bother them since they had not evaporated.  I went back a few days ago to check on my tea, and I saw a thin film of white and black mold on the water.  Yum.

The tea, however, is fine — no evidence of mold outbreak.  Not sure what to make of it, really, but this is a first.

Emails

Once upon a time, everybody used Hotmail as their default free webmail address.  Then, Gmail came along…. and the world has never been the same since.

Long story short, today I just re-logged into my long unused hotmail account, and to my horror, there were a number of emails from well meaning readers to which I have never responded — obviously, since I haven’t seen them.  To those of you who’ve written to my hotmail address and never got a reply, I offer you my sincere apologies.  If anybody wishes to write me an email, please direct your emails to my gmail account (username + gmail.com).  In the meantime, I’ll have to go through my backlog of emails to try to rectify my errors.

Thanks