Paranoia

I’ve always been a little paranoid about putting all this stuff online. Being an aspiring academic, I don’t like the possibility of somebody taking my work without any sort of attribution. At one point I had my photo album closed off for precisely that reason, although I’ve since decided maybe it’s better to leave it open.

So things like this really has me paranoid. Now I’ve added a little Creative Commons license icon on the bottom right of this page. Not that it has stopped people, but it does, I hope, serve to remind people to respect other people’s work, however publicized it might seem to be.

Busy…

I’ve been rather busy trying to pretend to write, so things like blogging and, really, drinking tea the usual way, has taken a bit of a back seat.

That doesn’t mean I’m not drinking tea — plenty of it, in fact. I’ve been downing my aged baozhongs in a mug, which has all the benefits of an easy to brew tea that will never get bitter, while having none of the problems of, say, a black that will make my head hurt.

Now all I need is a tea that will make me work faster….

Thanks

According to sitemeter, this blog has gotten its 70,000 visitor sometime yesterday. Those of you who use RSS, you don’t count 🙂

I guess that’s a large number, since when I first started it was really merely a way for me to keep track of my tea drinking, not expecting more than maybe the average 7 daily readers for your average blog. Over time, it grew into something else. I’ve gotten to know people who I otherwise would never have met. I have also learned more about myself, and my tea drinking.

So, a thank you to all of you who read this daily ramble, and to all those of you whose comments and correspondences make all this more enjoyable.

The Leaf

I neglected to do it last time because I was caught up trying to finish some urgently needed work, but this time around, I have no such excuse.

There is an online magazine out there, if you haven’t heard, about tea. Aaron Fisher puts it out, and it can be found at www.the-leaf.org. Take a look. It is advertising free and has some pretty interesting articles. Don’t read the ones by yours truly though, it’s not very good.

Teaware liquidation sale

After my recent housecleaning (more specifically, tea closet cleaning), I’ve finally gathered all the stuff that I realized I have in excess. I am now offering them on sale. Everything in the below pictures (including the tray) are on offer.

As you can see, cups make up for most of these. Many are small tea or wine cups. Some are Japanese guinomis. There is also a pot, a gaiwan, and a chahe. Most of these cups I have somehow bought or got through one source or another over time. Some I don’t even remember when and where I got them. Others I acquired fairly recently. Some are brand new — never used or almost never used, while others are old when I got them. It’s too complicated if I try to list them all here in detail. If you are interested in anything, please email me at marshaln (at sign here) gmail dot com for more details and we can talk.

A visit to Miaoli

Miaoli about an hour and half from Taipei by train, and generally speaking, not much there holds interest for a foreign tourist. I didn’t really go there for the sights today though, as I was there to see Aaron Fisher, most recently of the magazine Art of Tea fame, as he’s the Editor in Chief of that publication.

After picking me up from the train station, we went to his place and quickly got down to business… tea drinking.

We first started out with a Taiwanese oolong he picked up recently, I believe, from Lugu Village in Nantou County, which is a major center of tea production in Nantou. The tea, he says, is organic, etc, and he used his silver teapot to make it. It’s an interesting thing, because I think the silver teapot does achieve a certain concentration of flavour that you otherwise won’t get, although since I haven’t tried the tea any other way, it’s hard to tell if it’s a function of the pot or if it’s just the tea. The tea is very good though, sweet, clear, smooth, a touch grassy, very good qi, and overall very pleasant without the sort of overbearing aroma that I dislike in some Taiwanese oolong. It’s I think reasonably oxidized but not roasted. If I can get a hold of this, or similar tea, I wouldn’t mind getting some.

We then moved on to an aged oolong, a 60s Gaoshan Oolong, if I remembered correctly. Now, he whipped out his silver kettle, a gorgeous little thing, somewhat similar to the one I saw a few weeks ago, but with a smoother surface and a more refined look. I tried a cup of water from the silver kettle (before the water boiled) and it tasted sweet. Then, without thinking about the experimental implications of it, tried a cup of the same water without going through the silver kettle. Not so sweet. Very interesting. Various vessels do change the way a water/tea taste. I do wonder how reproducible this is, but I think it should be fairly reproducible. Then, it’s a matter of whether or not such things are worth the price of admission… and that I suppose depends on your personal preferences, priorities, etc

I’ll buy a silver kettle before I buy a big screen TV though.

Anyway, the aged oolong. As I’ve said somewhere before, I think all aged oolongs tend to converge in taste so long as it’s been stored properly and of reasonable quality. This one is the same — a very pleasant aged oolong taste, no roughness or harshness remaining at all, with that “old” taste that is so characteristic of a tea of this type. I am a big fan of aged oolongs, and I think anybody who hasn’t tried one should definitely try to get their hands on some of this stuff. It’s I think less of an acquired taste than puerh, and it is also usually without all the potential health worries that some people have with puerh, primarily because if an aged oolongs has any mould growing on it… it’s no longer good. Too bad such things are rarely available outside Taiwan, and if they are, they’re too pricey.

We took a short break, and then went back at it. This time it’s a dry stored puerh from the early 70s. I believe the dry storage claim, because though the tea is a reddish black, the leaves are very clean, it doesn’t smell of musty books, and it is very light, meaning it has lost almost all water content. The tea brews a clear ruby liquor, round, smooth, one might say fruity. Oddly enough, the brewed leaves are rather dark, but then, lighting was not bright in the room so it’s difficult to tell for sure what it is like, but whatever, it doesn’t really matter. One need not pursue such things too much as long as the tea is good in the cup. This tea lasted, basically, the rest of the afternoon.

Of course, during all this time we’re not just talking about tea, or teaware. Conversation wandered, and tea was just, in some ways, serving as a lubricant for conversation. Tea is fun, but it’s only part of the fun.

We went to one of the teashops in town that also sort of doubles as a vegetarian restaurant, and then ended up having a little more tea there — this time an 80s tuo, wet stored, but quite decent. It lasted many infusions, and is reasonably priced. Not dirt cheap, mind you, but perhaps worth considering. I’ll have to do some more thinking in that regard.

As if all that was not enough, my host sent me away with many bags of teas to try and experiment with, including some truly interesting pieces of tea (or bits, or balls….), as well as all three issues of the magazine in print and a cup that he designed. I felt ashamed that I didn’t have much of anything to reciprocate, the bad Asian that I am. I’ll most likely talk about all of these things in the not too distant future in detail, as I drink/use/play with them. For now, though, I must thank my host of the day for his hospitality, and I’m quite sure I will bother him again before I leave Taiwan.

Water preparation

One of the perculiarities of Taiwan that I’ve noticed is that it runs a dual voltage. While most household sockets deliver 110v, some deliver 220v. I’ve noticed that it’s not just my apartment either — the subway station has clearly marked “110v” and “220v” sockets. Why any country would run two systems is beyond me…

But being mostly 110v, it means that I can’t use my water boiler from China. What I used to do was to heat up the water in the electric boiler, and then transfer it to my glass kettle with the alcohol burner. Since I couldn’t find the right fuel at first, I resorted to using the stove, which is basically a heating plate of sorts, with my glass kettle. It worked, but there was one problem — water was either not boiling, or boiling too quickly and reached a rolling boil in no time. I also couldn’t keep it on a constant heat easily, since it behaved strangely.

Thankfully, I finally located a place that sells the right kind of fuel. As an added bonus — it no longer smells at all, unlike the stuff they sold in Beijing. I wonder if there were some nasty impurities in the Beijing stuff.

What I do now is to use the stove to heat the water up sufficient so it’s close to boiling, and then let the boiling happen with the alcohol burner. I think this actually achieves a better boil — the water temp is kept high throughout a session easily, and I can also control the water temperature better by adding splashes of cold water throughout the session. With using the stove it was more like an all or nothing issue — since I don’t brew tea right next to the stove. Now I’m a happy man with the right water making equipment 🙂

I think I would recommend something similar (not necessarily glass, although glass is useful for letting you look at the water). I think a small flame is always preferable over a heating plate type thing, not necessarily because of contact with metal or any such thing, but rather because it lets the tea maker have a much better sense of the temperature of the water being used and to maintain a more or less constant temperature throughout a session.

Searching for good tea

Action Jackson has been in town for a few days, but it was only yesterday that we finally met, mostly thanks to the wonderful typhoon. We agreed that today we’ll go tea shopping, as she will be leaving tomorrow.

Since I don’t know where we might find decent tea shops, I decided to take my chances with the Yongkang area, since Corax said on Chadao that it has quite a few teashops. I figured it won’t hurt to try.

After having a vegetarian lunch, we eventually made our way to a shop that looked interesting enough. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there, not having found time to go anywhere else.

After browsing around a little, we settled down for some tea tasting. The first we tried was a 2000 Xiaguan tuo. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but it looks dry stored. It turned out quite decent — much mellower than a new Xiaguan tea, sweet, fragrant, still youngish and not much like an older puerh. 6-7 years isn’t that much for a small tuo, and it shows. Not too expensive either, so perhaps it’s worth an investment.

After going through 10+ infusions, which still hasn’t exhausted the tea, we went on to a Mengku “Pristine Forest” cake from 2005. Special order, so the storekeep says. It was one of those “wild wild” teas, darker in colour and …. weird in taste. I don’t find those teas very attractive, preferring more orthodox tastes. We had a few infusions of this when some Japanese tourists came in and interrupted proceedings.

After the tourists came and went (they bought a bunch of Taiwan oolong) we had a 1998 Menghai tuo. This one’s obviously weaker than the Xiaguan, but the flavours are of deeper tones — two years of storage, as well as differences in material and worksmanship, has done something to the tea. It brews a darker liquor, a little rougher on the tongue, but it didn’t last as long as the Xiaguan. I think the Xiaguan is a superior tea, quality wise, but which one you prefer depends greatly on what you’re looking for.

We then had a 80s 7542, which was quite delightful. I should figure out how much it costs, because if it’s not too pricey, I might look to buy a few for future consumption. It was beautifully stored — certainly some “wet” storage at some point, but it has the nice, sweet taste of the Traditional Character Zhongcha cake sample that YP gave me, and which I dearly love. Slight differences, as they’re from different factories, but overall the general characteristics are quite similar. The liquor is a gorgeous amber, clear, robust, and flavourful. If I can afford it, I will definitely get it.

She gave us a few cups of a 70s tea that she brewed yesterday, and which is still a bit sweet and mellow to drink. By this time, however, we were really quite full with tea, and with her next appointment due, Action Jackson had to go, so off we went, with two tuos in hand for her to bring back to Shanghai. It was a pretty good day.