Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Orchid in tea

Flower in mirror, moon in water. Jing4 zhong1 Hua1, Shui3 zhong1 yue4. This analogy is to describe beauty in illusion. I am able to capture orchid in tea. Half reality, half illusion.

Picture is taken this afternoon during tea sampling. I have a bunch of commercial DCs to sample, so to decide what to stock for the year. As the sun turned, my orchid plant landed in my tea, mystical in the mist of tea. How Divine!

Fate of green and black tea

Just want to translate this story speechlessly.

A girl likes black tea, the strong flavor she likes. A boy likes green tea, refreshing the way he likes it. She dislike green tea, too mellow is the reason. He dislike black tea, too heavy is why. They met at a convenient store one day. She grabbed her bottle of black tea without a thought. He took a bottle of green tea next to a black tea without batting an eye. Everyday from then on, she takes her black tea, he grabs his green tea at the same time. They became friends, then good friends, eventually they became lovers. She discovered the refreshing flavor of green. She thinks of him when she drinks green tea. She begin to like green tea. He discovered the smoothness of black tea. He feels her presence as he sips black tea. He begin to like black tea. Smiles are bright and life is sweet for the two.

Not many days later, his ex-girlfriend resurfaced in his life after a bad break up. He no longer smiles. She felt his sorrow and silence. Her tears, his absence, they drifted apart. A letter came from her one day with a short message, soaked with sadness.

We are not meant to be together. Just like green tea and black tea are not meant to be mixed. You have your own sweet aroma, I have my strong flavor. If forced to be mixed, I am no longer a black tea, you are no longer a green tea which is what I like. Not the tea you are today. Happiness does not belong to this mix. Do not look for me as I leave the city. Do not wait for me. Find your green tea and treasure her. He tears on to the letter in his trembling hands.

Many years later, he's still on his own with a successful career. Her presence never left him every time he smells the black tea aroma. He did not look for her, she stood next to his heart. What a frightful thought if they will never cross path again. He fears.

A business trip takes him to another city, he walks into a convenient store, reaches for a bottle of black tea. Upon turning around, she stands in front of him. A long silence later, she smiles at him bright as sun ray, as nothing has ever changed. In her hand is a bottle of green tea.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

16 teas and a hang over

The past Saturday was a special day for me. We celebrated our 2nd year anniversary with lots tea. Although 2 years is relatively short, but it is something to be thankful for during a time like this. I am sure the 10th anniversary would be something to look forward to. At the mean time, I am grateful for all the supports you have given us! :D

A few tea heads i refer to as drinking buddies and myself drank like fishes for a day. 16 teas in total from 11:30 till closing.

Huo La Cha - Fire Spice 09
She Men - She Entrance 09
Zu Ye - Bamboo Leaf 09
Da WU Ye - Big Dark Leaf 08
Zhi Lan Xiang - Cattleya Orchid Fragrance 08
Hong Cha Tou 04
Huang Zhi Xiang - Orange Blossom 08
Song Zhong Jai 09
Song Zhong #4 08
Ping Jai Tou Qi Zhong - Unusual Varietal 07
Mo Li Xiang - Jasmine Fragrance 09
Jiang Hua Xiang - Ginger Flower Fragrance 08
Jiang Mu Xiang - Ginger Flower Fragrance 09
Honey Orchid Gold Medalist #1 08
Hai Mei Zhan 98
Gui Hua Xiang - Osmanthus Fragrance 09

After drinking 9 or so Dan Congs, I was quite drunk. Using Roy's friend Thi's words, my consciousness was push out of my body. At a subconscious, spirit out of the body period, my palate was able to identify 2 most outstanding teas out of the 16. Mo Li Xiang - Jasmine and Jiang Mu Xiang - mother tree of Ginger Flower. I had no recognition of the aroma and taste at that point. But the creamy texture and fullness sets them apart.
(I bought a jasmine plant last week unintentionally. This is the first bloom today. Although the Jasmine Dan Cong isn't scented with Jasmine flowers like the "Jasmine tea". It seems appropriate that it blooms as we sip a cup of Mo Li - Jasmine Dan Cong.)

The Mo Li-Jasmine DC leaves are particularly beautiful, even size, nicely rolled with a sheen of shine, very tender leaves of even redness-sign of even fermentation. The aroma is beautiful as well. It's a master piece. I called today intend to hog the rest of the stock, only is too late. All sold out I was told. Oh well, there will be next year, there will be others. A few trees are coming soon tho, I hogged a few trees this time. Plus a reward for my 3 years of hard work, 1/2 a pound of my teacher's private reserve.
Mo Li - Jasmine DC:

2 years ago, one of the nicest Dan Cong I had was Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong, 1 of the top 10 most famous trees of Phoenix Mountain. I had a brew of it again today, the aroma and sweetness sipped through every cells of my body. It reminds me what is excellence among the excellence. Well, this secret private stash of my teacher's is way better than Chuan Du Lao Ming Cong according to him. The tone he used when describing the tea sounded like a lover melting in a lover's arms. That's some serious love shown by a mature Chinese man. In case you are not familiar with Chinese culture, males hardly if ever show their love/feminine sides. I wish they have wings and fly my way this instance!

Saturday was the drunkest I have ever been from tea. I couldn't sleep till 3:30 and woke up with a hang over at 7:45. My head was light, my steps were cloudy, my consciousness was still out of my body till I went to the gym and had a steam in the oven. Dopey...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tea session

I am in the mood for a full on tea session today. All the necessary gears are out. Orchids and fresh cut peony flowers add a nice touch to the environment. The fragrance is well liked by passersby. It's much healthier than incense and oils.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

4 seasons and tea - Spring

Spring, after a winter long of saving energy, it's time to sprout, "spring" out from the enclosures. Flowers bloom, creation of seeds. It's the energy of creation, vitality and life. Because of this energy, Spring teas are particularly alive and active. Youngsters in teens and 20's are also considered "spring" in human life span. Therefore the energy of a young person and Spring teas goes hand in hand, hence you'll find younger people handle fresh green/green oolong teas better than matured people. People in 50's and 60's, on the other hand may find the energy too active, tell tails are stomach upset, break outs, increase heart beats.

Assuming we live 80 (national average) years, divide 80 by 4, each 20 years is a season. However, human has the potential to live 120 to 140 years. So 20 to 30 years is a season in human life depending on the person's health condition. In Chinese medicine terms, what keeps the body alive is Qi and blood, Qi is the energy that pushes blood circulating. Qi is stronger at younger age, as we all know younger people are more energetic.

Many customers of mine asked me why do they have upset stomachs after drinking green teas, and the outrage is "If green tea is so good for you, why do I get upset stomach?" The mass population follow the most current trends, when the media say green is so and so good for health, they must be good for everybody equally. However it isn't true. Each body is different from another, it's different from it's own at each season, each mood, each hour of the day, each stress we face. The media also show science results of selected teas, not all teas by season, region, grade, type, and age. The results are measured base on a standard condition, rather than suitability of a human body condition at various times.

When it comes to selecting a tea, there isn't a best tea for health. There is better tea by grade, but not for health. Therefore green tea is not the best tea out of all for health as most customers of mine assumed. I tell my customers not one tea is suitable for everybody. Select a type that your body agrees with. Our bodily mechanism is much more intelligent than our own brain when it comes to health and what is better for our body.

Friday, June 12, 2009

4 seasons and tea

Most of us are aware of the characteristics of 4 seasons, the changes that impact how we live, how we dress, how the surroundings changes along, trees, water flow, animal behaviors, etc..

We tea drinkers also have seasonal craving of teas, when do we drink green, black, oolong or aged teas. We mostly associate it with mood. Sure, stress, happenings, people around us all contribute to mood swings. However our body supersedes our mind, the weather or should I say nature supersedes human and human behavior. Human today believe our mind can conquer all, hence under estimate the wisdom of our body. If so true, why can't we become immortal as many has tried? Our brain can not even control disease let alone death, although we have control over not to get sick. We have control to comply with nature's changes, hence less prone to sickness.

According to Huang Di Nei Jing - Emperor's Inner Cannon, an ancient Chinese Medicine text written thousands years ago, each season dictates how living things behaves.

Spring - is the time to sprout.
Summer - is the time to grow.
Fall - is the time to harvest.
Winter - is the time to put away and store.

I just realize this is a very broad and deep subject. I will divide the article into 5 pieces. Each season will be talked about in details separately.

Tea Habitat Anniversary Open Tasting

Tea Habitat has opened to the public for more than 2 years now since June 2007. It's been an exciting ride in the business with many challenges and many great happenings.

To commemorate our 2nd year anniversary, we are hosting an open house tasting on Saturday June 20th from 12 to 7 pm. There will be endless tea drinking and snacks. Everyone is invited to come join us on this special day!

We have plenty of great teas to try for the day. One special tea I must mention is the mother tree of Ginger Flower Dan Cong. This tea was sold at a whopping $7k price tag a pound. After 2 years of persistent begging, I have a small sample of the 2009 batch. It's merely enough for 2 sessions. We will be tasting that on the 20th. I have not had this tea myself and anxiously waiting for the right gathering to share with tea enthusiasts for a special occasion. :)

To thank our valuable customers, we are having a 15% off sale on our website during the entire month of June, discount apply to all teas including our special old Single Bush Dan Cong oolong teas and Aged teas as well. Great time to stock up and try the 2009 teas!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday afternoon tea

I had some tea today with a friend who came back from a trip. We were just catching up and snacking away. We start carrying various California grown dried fruits last week. They are wonderful tea snacks without guilt. :D Dried persimmons and cheeries are out of this world. Cheeries were harvested and dried last week. Fresh!
Dug out some dishes from home. My most favorite China styles are Qing Hua (blue and white), Celadon.

If you look close, center of the dish has wave patterns.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tea at UCLA

NCAM Organizers, Will, Louise and moi

NCAM at UCLA invited me to talk about tea last week. I was excited and honored to have the opportunity to open the door of tea world to young minds. About 40 to 50 students attended the event. Thanks to Will and Louise for helping with tea tasting. :)

Will's explaining steps of Kung Fu Tea

In more than 2 years of tea business operation, I learn that many people are interested in tea but not knowing where and how to start. Given that there are many products available, living habits and lack of information, it's a confusing world of tea in the US and other areas in the world, including China itself.

During the UCLA event, I did not know what to expect from the students. So I planned the topics safely, the normal introduction to tea. During the question session, I am delighted that this group of students are well informed at the level where they ask logical questions. Many of which are helpful for me to reorganize how I should teach in the future.

One question I particularly love is How to identify good tea. The original question is where and how to find good tea? This is a very important topic for novices. I could easily say buy my teas. :P But seriously, its about how to identify good tea more than where to find it. We all go through a learning curve, whether you drink tea since 3 or lead down the tea path when you meet that lovely spouse of yours, or whatever reason. For myself, I have drunk tea since I can't remember, then one day I tagged along a friend for a tea class and has been steeping in tea ever since.

Looking back at my learning curve, I find that sampling various types of tea during one session is actually confusing. Because each type is entirely different from an other. What you can learn from that is the flavor/aroma difference of the teas, but there are much more to it than the flavor/aroma. Given there can be grade/flavor/aroma/texture variations, tasting a Long Jing, Tie Guan Yin and a Da Hong Pao at the same time is like comparing apples to oranges and cherries. One can say I like the taste of cherry, and the orange is better than apple. But that does not reflect how good the cherries, oranges and apples are.

My advice to any one is taste the same kind of tea at the same time to learn the difference in grade. Pick a tea you are interested the most. Say 3 or more Long Jings from various sources or grades at a session, or 3 Da Hong Pao at a session. There ought to be a better one out of 3 right? Then set a palate profile and memorize it, use that as a standard, compare it to future purchase of the same type of tea, raise the bar as you go. After the first one, use the same method on the next type, once you get a hang of this for 3-5 types, you will be able to identify good teas no mater what they are, where they come from. This is a skill to identify good tea, not just to find the flavors you like.

Whether to try various types of tea, or try various grades of the same type of tea first at the beginning of your tea journey, is a personal choice. But the later might save you a few pennies and some shelf space down the road. You'll have to pay tuition no mater what, so don't be afraid to buy something nice and expensive.

Another question I was asked, where should I start, green white or? Well, most tea drinkers who spend the effort to learn and explore Chinese teas, most likely end up with Oolong and/or Pu-erh after trying many many types of tea. That's more than plenty to try for the next 5 years. It's necessary to try as many types of teas as you are willing, it's a process to find your preferred flavors. This is a different process from identifying a good tea.

In my opinion, a good tea is great in flavor, aroma and the most important of all substance. Characteristics of substance are texture, sweetness, long brewing duration and lingering after taste. I can't stretch enough about texture and how it separates the good from bad. Old high mountain teas of 75+ years have this thick texture like a film coats your tongue and mouth. In Chao Zhou local terms, the tea's got bones! Meaning you can feel the tea in the mouth other than the taste, it's not watery. Try drinking a cup of water and some chicken stock side by side, you'll know what I am talking about. Don't focus on the chicken stock flavor though. The substance of tea can not be imitated or hidden, flavors can change, aroma can change, taste can change, but texture will not change and can not be faked.

3 essentials when making good teas: good fresh leaves, skilled master and suitable weather. Without good leaves, a skilled master can make decent teas in suitable weather. With good leaves, an average tea maker can make not bad to good teas in suitable weather. Good leaves with substantial substance are god given and are the base of good tea regardless of the other 2 variables. Of course the tea maker and weather will later influence the out come.