Revived from the dead

This little puppy is now fixed

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All of a sudden it doesn’t look like the $30 pot that it was, but rather more like the silver vintage kyusu that it is. The handle is ivory, which made me apprehensive about sending it overseas to get it fixed by the very good Jeffrey Herman. I didn’t want the item get impounded or anything, since I have no proof that this was manufactured before the ivory ban, and nosy customs type can get into stuff when you don’t want to. Instead, I asked some antique dealers in the city for recommendations, and one, Helis & Tang, graciously answered my email with a name. The guy who fixed it is some old man who sells various kinds of metal awards and what not, but clearly loves dabbling in smithing. He was quite excited to see my piece and fix it up – had it done within 24 hours. The work is not quite as fine as Herman’s repair of my kettle, as you can see obvious repair marks and rougher edges, but I’ll take it.

Too bad though that now I have very little time to drink tea seriously on a daily basis, and am reduced to drinking bad tea in the office, grandpa-style. At the moment, this little kyusu will have to sit there on the shelf and look pretty.  Oh well.

A hidden treasure

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If you saw an eBay listing with this item and a few other unattractive pieces of random wares on a cardboard box in a blurry image, how much would you pay for it?  What if it’s listed under “kitchenware”?  Keep in mind I already rinsed this thing — it was much dirtier when I got it.

What if I told you this is a Japanese vintage pure silver kyusu?

Of course I was taking a gamble when I bought this lot of what looked like random junk.  The nasty cup and ugly little salt container (or whatever that is) really didn’t inspire the shopper in me, but the pot looked interesting, even though it was on top of a dirty cardboard box and the lighting was dim.  I could tell that it was metal, and the handle might be bone or ivory.  The dark sheen on the pot made me think it might have been a silver-plated pot, rather than a real silver one.  I figured for the price I paid (shipping cost more) I could afford the gamble, and it paid off.  This pot definitely falls into category 3 of my musings on buying from places like eBay.

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You can see the maker’s mark and the silver mark on the right side of the spout.

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There is, unfortunately, a catch – the angle at which the pictures were taken means that I couldn’t see that there’s some damage to the pot, namely along the handle.  Looks like another job, perhaps, for Herman Silver.

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All in all though, I’m pretty happy.

Resurrection

A few years ago, I bought a silver kettle.  Only problem is, it leaked.  The part where the spout connects to the body was falling apart, so while it was ok to make, say, matcha with it, since matcha doesn’t require a lot of water, it was impossible to use the kettle for Chinese tea, when I need full pots of water.  The joint was visibly cracked.

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So for the past two years, the kettle’s been sitting in a tomobako, waiting to see the light of day.  I almost forgot about it at one point.  It’s hard looking for a silversmith — the few I did find in real life didn’t handle this type of work.

I knew the work had to be done, sooner or later, and finally worked up the time to do some research to find someone who can fix it.  Some googling later, I decided on this guy, Jeffery Herman of Herman Silver.  (Yes, this is a plug, because I liked the end result)  I must say it took a bit of courage and trust — after all, you’re sending a valuable piece of silver to somebody you’ve never met, and you really have no idea how it’ll turn out, or if they’re even legitimate.  I figured, though, that if he’s no good, I would be able to find something about it on the internet, and I couldn’t.

I finally got the kettle back today, after about two to three weeks of work.  I must say I’m quite pleased.

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Looking like new, and he even cleaned up the interior of the kettle, which had some yellow deposit.  Most importantly, of course, he re-soldered the spout, and it no longer leaks.

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It’s not the cheapest – $250 for all this work, but I am quite glad I did it, because now the kettle can serve its intended function again.

Silver revelation

Today I drank a sample that I got recently, without any real labels or anything.  All I can remember (and discern) is that it’s some sort of an aged oolong — not really aged, just a few years under its belt, with a little sourness in the smell and that characteristic aged smell.  I brewed it up normally, did not think much of it — seems a little hollow, and one note, but not particularly interesting.  I brewed two kettle worth of water with it, and decided to basically call it a day.

Then, late night, I thought I wanted some more tea, but adhering to my one-tea-a-day rule, I had to just boil more water for my tea, instead of using new leaves.  For some reason, I picked up my silver kettle instead of my usual tetsubin for the water.  In the water goes, out comes the tea…. and the tea seems to have gained new life.  All of a sudden, the taste is richer, with a fuller body and a deeper penetration into the back of the mouth and the throat area.  The high note, which was already present in the original brewing, is now really obvious, but has undertones to support it so that the tea is not bland and hollow anymore.  All in all, the tea is now good, and I want more.

This of course confirms what I already know, but sometimes forget – silver tends to be better for the teas with lighter notes.  Sometimes, when faced with teas like aged oolongs, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going to happen, and experimentation is necessary.  Now I wonder if I should go back and test some other recent teas with the silver kettle, which, until today, has been neglected in the back of my teaware cabinets.  I think it’s time to work on water again.

The Demon Revealing Mirror

The Demon Revealing Mirror is one of those somewhat mythical and fantastical items in Chinese lore that supposedly will show who (or what) is a demon and who is really a human.  You just shine the mirror on the object, and you’ll get your answer.

A friend of mine in China who presses his own cakes has likened a good silver kettle to one of these mirrors, and I must say I agree.  I’ve been experimenting with my kettle the past few days with different teas, and comparing to what I think of the teas using the tetsubin, and I think one thing is clear, and that is how different they taste with the two kettles.

The two teas I’ve tried recently are both 2006 Yiwu, one being a fall tea that this friend pressed, and another being the 2006 spring Douji Yiwu.  When I drank them with the tetsubin, the fall Yiwu tastes a bit flat and boring — rather unremarkable, in fact.  The Douji, on the other hand, was quite nice.

All changed, however, with the silver kettle.  The fall tea was very fragrant and strong.  The Douji, on the other hand, turned out a little bitter and rough.

What to make of this?

Well, I think the silver kettle does a good job of telling you what the tea is like and highlighting the fragrant notes, while tetsubins are often softening — they round out the rough edges of the teas, and adding to the body of the tea.  In this case, I think that’s exactly what happened — the Douji was rounded out by the tetsubin so that the bitterness and the roughness were subdued, leading to a rather pleasant drink, while the fall tea gets a little more subdued.  Since it has few low notes to speak of, it doesn’t get much benefit from the tetsubin.

I’d hesitate to say that the silver kettle is more honest — highlighting the fragrant notes is not any more honest than smoothing out rough edges — but it does present a very different side of the tea.  Here are some spent leaves for you to look at.

Changing tastes

I rarely repeat the same tea two days in a row, and never with the same teaware.  I think one of the joys of drinking tea is to thoroughly explore all the varieties that it offers, be it young, old, roasted, green, black.  Add in the variety that you get with changing teaware, and the combinations are endless.

Weather was nice today after a nasty week of rain, so I decided to drink out on the balcony while my cats decide to soak up some sun.  Rather than using my usual tetsubins, I opted for one of my silver kettles instead

This is something I found on Ebay, of all places, for a rather reasonable price.  It’s Korean in origin, and on one side is inscribed the words “For Mr. and Mrs. Henderson”.  I’m pretty sure originally it was intended for use as a teapot, but it’s very large for a teapot, and I’d rather use it as a kettle, which is exactly what I did.

Water from silver kettles tend to accentuate the high notes in a tea.  With good tea, the aroma will coat your mouth and linger for a long time.  What it won’t do is to add to the body, and if the tea is sour, it may make that show up more prominently as well.  So, whether it is really a good idea to use a silver kettle for the particular type of tea you’re drinking really depends.  I don’t think silver kettles should be used universally for all teas.  Tetsubins are much more versatile, I think.

The first tea I had today was an aged shuixian that I bought in Beijing almost three years ago.

It tasted very different from the last time when I made it a few weeks ago, using my usual tetsubin.  I think I actually prefer this tea with the tetsubin — the water from a tetsubin accentuates the qualitites of this tea.  It’s not the highest grade of shuixian, just some common stuff, and perhaps it only deserves the commoner treatment.

The pot I used still baffles me though.  For those of you familiar with bankoyaki, it might look awfully like one, and I still don’t know if this is actually a Yixing pot or not.  Although the seal says “Yixing County Mengchan Made”, I have my doubts as to its geographical origin.  Maybe the potters out there can tell me if this looks like a thrown pot or a hand built one.

Not quite having enough tea, I had another, this time an aged oolong from Taiwan that I recently acquired.  It’s nice and mellow, but works much better with the silver kettle.  All in all, a pretty good day for tea.

Continuing experiments with silver

These days I’m drinking not much more than traditionally stored puerh, cheap Wuyi, and the like. I am pretending to be busy with work…

What I have been doing though is sometimes starting out a tea with the tetsubin, and then switching over to the silver kettle later on. It’s an interesting contrast, and predictable in its effect. The silver kettle water makes tea that comes out cleaner with much higher fragrance. The tetsubin water is always heavier.

I do need to test this out with, say, a stainless steel kettle in order to have some sort of a control to see what comes of that. I have also been told by a friend who has tried different silver kettles that they seem to have different effects — thinner silver, he says, makes better water, which is an interesting observation.

There is one hazard with silver kettles though — they are VERY hot to the touch, which makes sense, since silver is a fantastic heat conductor. It does mean that when using it, it’s easy to burn yourself if you’re not careful, and water will cool very quickly if it’s not kept warm.

I do wonder how Japanese used it back before electric ways of heating things — did they keep it on a charcoal brazier? Without heat? What happens?

The power of silver

It can make my $3 huangjingui taste like $30 huangjingui.

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, since the tea is still weak and a bit flat, but at the same time, I got the most incredible throatiness for what is certainly a mediocre tea today, and the only variable is the kettle used. For people like me who look for such things and appreciate them in tea, it’s a nice plus. The taste also changed a bit — cleaner, as I’ve mentioned before, and a little sweeter. Tetsubins can be heavy sometimes for the lighter teas, and huangjingui is on the light side of things.

And for those who remain skeptical — the difference should be obvious, not subtle. My friend who owns a silver kettle said the same when he first tried it — he thought it would only be a minor difference, but it turns out the changes are quite dramatic.

This, however, is not an endorsement to go out and buy a $3000 kettle. They’re not worth that much money.

Silver kettle

I got a heating plate (you can see a corner of it in yesterday’s picture) so I can safely heat my silver kettle without running a high risk of screwing it up. I noticed that a flame will help tarnish the silver, even just a little. I decided I’d like a more even and less risky method of heating the thing.

I brewed some wet stored Vietnamese puerh today, and at first, used a tetsubin. Then, near the end, I switched to the silver kettle…. with a remarkable difference. The fact that they’re different is of course not surprising, but exactly how it’s different and what’s different is, perhaps, still a little startling when drinking it. The tea comes out much cleaner in taste, and also much sweeter. Maybe it loses a little body, but it’s definitely a different tea when using the differently prepared water.

I wonder how the Huangjingui will taste with the silver kettle. Time to experiment.

Drinking matcha

I find that among all teas, matcha gives the highest caffeine rush. Yes, I sound like a true addict, but I’m being serious here — most of the time, when I drink a tea I don’t notice the caffeine, not immediately anyway. With matcha, however, I KNOW I just had some caffeine injected into my system — it shows up right away in more measure than one. Yesterday I had some matcha, partly because I only had half an hour to my next appointment, which meant that it was impossible to drink a full sitting of tea, but partly because I wanted to play with my new toy and matcha seems the most appropriate

And I noticed, after drinking one bowl of that stuff, that my heart started pumping a little faster, my mind got a little clearer, and I was having a bit of a caffeine buzz. Of course, it probably was more obvious than usual because it was late in the day for my first dose of the stuff (5pm) so it might have accentuated the effects, but regardless, it made me wonder if that’s why so many people like drinking matcha. A friend recently told me that although she is a die-hard coca-cola drinker, she recently took a liking to a new kind of Pepsi. She couldn’t figure out why, until she noticed that Pepsi Max includes, among other things, a double dose of caffeine compared to regular Pepsi. Small wonder that she likes it more.

So, if in need of a caffeine kick, drink lots of matcha.