Written by: Cinnabar, published on March 13th, 2013
Take a look at the trailer for a CCTV documentary on tea culture. Note that the gentleman at the end of the trailer is Matthew London, who has done extensive and beautiful photography of tea culture, including powerful portraits of tea people.
Written by: Cinnabar, published on November 20th, 2012
Every so often I see Camellia sinensis written incorrectly, with a capital “s,” or not italicized, or in quotes. It always registers immediately as incorrect for me, but I needed more background on what is correct and why, so I did a little bit of research. The term “binomial” is used for this kind of scientific taxonomy and indicates a two-name system (obviously). We can credit the botanist Linnaeus for developing this system.
The binomial names were so much easier to remember that people soon started using them in place of the ‘correct’ names. Eventually they replaced the polynomial names completely, and became the correct names. The binomial system is the same one we use today–it’s how the scientific names of all organisms are constructed. The first part of the name is called the genus and is always capitalised. The second part of the name is called the species epithet and is not capitalised. In the correct format of a scientific name a person’s name (sometimes abbreviated) appears after the genus and species name, and this refers to the person who first coined the name. So the scientific name for the raspberry, Rubus idaeus L., can be broken down like this: Rubus (the genus name) idaeus (the species name) Linnaeus (the botanist who coined the name, often abbreviated). Taxonomists have formulated sets of rules for naming; all botanical naming begins with Linnaeus’ Species Plantarum in 1753 and animal naming with his tenth edition of Systema Naturae published in 1759.
Long story short, there is only one correct way to write the name of the true tea plant: Camellia sinensis. Additionally, the names of the two primary varieties should be written Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
Another interesting fact about the name of the tea plant is that until Robert Sweet recategorized it into the Camellia genus in 1818, it was identified with the genus Thea, so the true tea plant was called Thea sinensis. There are some sources which still use that antiquated term even today.
Written by: Cinnabar, published on October 4th, 2012
This weekend tea people from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond will gather at Seattle Center for the 5th annual Northwest Tea Festival. The festival has gotten larger and better each year, and I am confident that this year will be one you will not want to miss.
Unlike many of the large scale tea events held across the country, the Northwest Tea Festival is consumer focused, rather than a trade show for the tea industry. There are many vendors on hand with a wide range of teas and tea-related items, and many opportunities to taste and experience new teas.
Throughout the two days of the festival attendees will find a broad range of events and activities, from educational workshops, talks, and demonstrations to limited seating tea tastings. I will be presenting two of these tastings on Sunday: “Caked Black Teas” at 10:30am, and “African White Teas” at 11:00am.
Here are a few specific recommendations for what to do while you’re there:
“An American Pursuit of Puer Tea,” Saturday from 3:00pm – 4:00pm, presented by Jeffrey McIntosh
“The Art of Tea,” Saturday from 3:30pm – 4:30pm, presented by Guitian “Becky” Li
“Hei Cha – Chinese Dark Teas (Complete Survey),” Sunday from 11:30am – 12:30pm, presented by Charles & Laurie Dawson
“Tea Chemistry – Reactions in Leaf and Cup,” Sunday from 12:30pm – 1:30pm, presented by Michael Coffey
“Tea 101,” Sunday from 12:30pm – 1:30pm, presented by Brett Boynton
Written by: Chris, published on September 27th, 2012
Recently I had the opportunity to cup three different teas from Indonesia, thanks to samples from PT Harendong Green Farm. They are labeled simply Red, Green and Oolong. Exciting, huh? Well, yes indeed!
Each of the dry leafs appeared to have been rolled in a half-ball style, with leaves that were slightly distressed-looking once unrolled (i.e. steeped).
For each of the teas, I used about one mug of hot water poured over one level teaspoon of tea in a porcelain teapot, steeped for three minutes at what seemed like an appropriate temperature (see notes below).
All were eminently drinkable, and each had a similarly pleasant velvety mouth-feel and a lingering (if not necessarily strong) aftertaste.
The one to write home about, though, it the oolong: I found it delicious and rather unique, with a warm and soft quality to the flavor and aroma that I just adored.
Written by: Cinnabar, published on August 17th, 2012
My tea world has been an embarrassment of riches for years. So presented with the task of writing under the topic “my favorite tea” as part of the Association of Tea Bloggers‘ lead-up to the “Bloggers’ Choice Awards” it was quite a challenge to sift through that immense history of deliciousness and try to extract just one particularly deserving tea. But I tried to think of one special tea that had both surprised and impressed me, and one immediately came to mind: the “Qiyuan Jin Jiang Da Hong Pao” that was sent to me by the people at Tea Valley.
One of the first things that hinted at the specialness of the tea was the small gold box that contained it. Packaging can be overly fancy or deceptive, but this looked simple and elegant. And the tea itself is absolutely fabulous. It was an award winner at the Wuyi Mountain People’s Choice Tea Competition in 2008, and although it is, of course, not leaf from the original TRUE Da Hong Pao bushes it certainly comes from bushes that have been very well cultivated and cared for. Rich and tangy, with a depth and complexity revealing its famous ancestry, it is a tea that I would bring out for a special occasion, and only if the other people who were going to drink with me were people I expected to appreciate the tea’s quality.
Unfortunately, Tea Valley’s website is offline right now, and I’m unable to find much detail about their company. They were located in Renton, Washington, just a few cities away from where I am. With teas this good, I want to see them continue to make them available!
The two runners-up for teas that I really, really like and recommend to other people quite often are Royal Golden Safari, one of the fine offerings by Royal Tea of Kenya, and Yulan Dancong, one of Canton Tea Company’s wonderful oolongs.
I want to know what YOUR favorite teas are. Let me know in the comments. More details on the “Bloggers’ Choice Awards” will be posted soon.
Please read the other posts by ATB members on this topic:
Written by: Cinnabar, published on August 14th, 2012
Last Friday I had the opportunity to experience a very special caked, aged tea that is seldom seen outside of Korea. My friend Eric Glass, of The Fragrant Cup, arranged ahead of time to bring the tea to Phoenix Tea, generously wanting to share the experience with me and Brett Boynton. Eric provided the tea and olive pit charcoal, and we had all of the other tools and supplies on hand that would be needed in the four+ hour process: a Chou Zhou stove (we could have used a Japanese Ryoro, but decided that the coal pit was too deep), chopsticks, a portable burner for lighting the coals, a glass kettle, an electric hob (cook-top), a sookwoo (cooling and serving vessel), and Korean tea cups with saucers.
The tea is called 떡차, which is Anglicised in a number of ways, including Tteok-cha, Ddok-cha, and Ttok-cha. For consistency I am going to use the spelling used by Steven D. Owyoung, Tteok-cha in his article on Tsiosophy, “Report on the 2012 Korean Tea Exhibition: Tteok-cha.”
Tteok-cha most commonly comes in two different types of cakes: hand formed, which are smaller and less precisely shaped, and coin-shaped, which are pressed into molds and have a hole in the center which is used to string the individual pieces together. The rare tea that Eric brought was made approximately ten years ago by Master Kim Song Tae, and was a small, thin very dense but lightweight cake. It was acquired through Korean ceramicist Cho-Hak (Arthur Park), of Morning Crane Tea.
Tteok-cha was originally developed for use medicinally, and is brewed by decoction rather than by infusion. Preparation of the tea has two basic stages: roasting the tea over a charcoal fire, and then simmering it over heat for more than three hours.
Tteok-cha, before roasting
Tteok-cha, after roasting
The roasting process is straightforward, particularly if one is familiar with working with a small tea stove. I had never had the opportunity to use olive pit charcoal before, and although there were some slight issues with the grating in the stove being large enough to allow a couple of the pits to fall through, it was clear that this charcoal is vastly superior to the hardwood charcoal I’ve been using, which tends to spark quite a lot during lighting. (Unfortunately, olive pit charcoal is a very elusive commodity in the US currently. Eric brought his back from Chou Zhou.)
Roasting the tea was a straightforward procedure of holding the tea over the coals with chopsticks for about 10-15 minutes, until the disc became more pliable and would retain a fingernail imprint.
We had already set the kettle filled with spring water to warming, so by the time the tea roasting was done the water was close to boiling. We dropped the little sliver of tea into the water and started the long wait (which consisted, naturally, of drinking other teas).
We kept the heat at a level that was as close to a steady low simmer as we could manage, and throughout the 3.5 hours of brewing very little water evaporated. One remarkable thing about the tea was that even after several hours the tea did not break up at all, remaining one solid piece throughout.
For the sake of comparison and to test its progress, we tasted the tea after one hour of brewing, and it was interesting, but clearly nowhere near what it was going to eventually yield. It was also pretty pale in color. When we tasted it again after three hours, Eric determined that the dark red liquor was close, but still needed an additional 20-30 minutes over the heat.
Finally, after the full 3.5 hours we removed it from the heat and poured into the sookwoo, and then into our individual cups. The rich, brothy tea had a flavor unlike any tea I’ve ever tasted. While it was complex and very delicious, it did have a somewhat medicinal quality to it, though not at all unpleasant. This special tea was very enjoyable to drink, and it was great to have the opportunity to experience this unique type of tea. Thank you Eric, for making it possible for us to experience this tea with you.
I suspect that for most tea people in the United States, the most familiar high-end Wuyi rock oolong is Da Hong Pao (“Big Red Robe”), but it is not the only famous tea at the top end of this respectable family of teas. I recently had the opportunity to taste some Bai Ji Guan Yancha Tian Xin Yan (“White Cockscomb Rock Oolong”), a member tea of the Si Da Ming Cong (four famous Wuyi tea bushes), and very different in character from Da Hong Pao, and I found it quite wonderful.
The tea was among four Wuyi Rock Oolongs sent to me by Vicony Teas. Each of the packages was identified only with its product number, and I thought it would be most interesting to taste the teas without finding out much about them first, so I chose the one with the lowest number to taste first (WYA05), not knowing anything at all about it, not even the Chinese name.
The first thing I noted about the Bai Ji Guan was that the tea was really beautiful in dry leaf form, with slender, twisty leaves. They did not look dramatically different from most other Wuyi oolongs I’ve had, although they were a little more reddish and less black. But as the tea infused there was much more of a marked distinction from other Wuyi oolongs, with the leaf unfurling to show yellow and light brown.
The liquor was not very aromatic, but the taste was rich, deep and flavorful, somewhat reminiscent of dried stone fruits. Another distinguishing characteristic was the color of the liquor, a golden yellow, much lighter than any other Wuyi yancha I’ve ever seen. Overall the taste and mouthfeel of this tea were very satisfying and complex, exhibiting new qualities with each of the five infusions I took the tea through.
One thing this tea has in common with Da Hong Pao is a fanciful story. This is the accompanying legend, as described on the Vicony Teas website:
Legend goes that one day a monk saw a rooster sacrifice its life while protecting its child from an eagle. He was moved by the rooster’s courage and then buried its dead body in the ground. However, after a few days, a tea bush grew from the spot where the rooster was buried. In the memory of the rooster, the monk gave the name of White Cockscomb to the tea bush.
Later today I board a plane to take me to Las Vegas to attend the World Tea Expo. This will be my third year in a row attending, and I am looking forward to it. For me the Expo is a rare opportunity to focus entirely on tea, tea culture, and tea community, and it’s a refreshing break from the ordinary.
This year I will be helping Royal Tea of Kenya at their booth, and also with the Kenya segment of the Day of Origin presentations. This is the first year that Kenya is featured as a significant tea origin, although it is fourth largest in worldwide tea production. Joy Njuguna has a great deal of fantastic information to impart, about the emerging specialty tea market, and her connection to the lineage of tea production.
One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me over the past several years is that the tea industry is driven in some significant ways by personal relationships. Having so many tea people converge in one place each year allows for reminders of these connections, and in many cases allows for the opportunity to meet people in person with whom I have only had online interactions with. If you’re also going to be there and run into me, please introduce yourself or track me down through social media. I’ll be easy to find.
Up until a couple of years ago I thought I’d be able to avoid the inhospitable crucible of human misery that is Las Vegas entirely, but I found when I visited the first time that it wasn’t as horrible as I anticipated. This was in large part due to the Expo itself, which is such a great experience.
Written by: Cinnabar, published on March 23rd, 2012
Tomorrow, March 24th, from 1:30pm until 2:30pm, the Seattle Chinese Garden will host a Han Style Chinese Tea Ceremony, presented by Mei Collier, owner of Eight Cranes. Ms. Collier is a frequent speaker at the Asian Museum in Pasadena, and at many California universities. After she heads back to California, she will conduct a tea ceremony for the Liu Fang Garden at the Huntington Library.
In the first ten minutes of the event Ms. Collier will introduce the ceremony, followed by the 45-minute ceremony itself. She will be available afterwards to answer questions.
Cost for the event is $5 for members of the Seattle Chinese Garden, $7 for the general public. The garden is located at the north entrance of South Seattle Community College, 6000 16th Ave SW. Contact the garden, by email or phone to make a reservation, 206.934.5219.
Excerpted from the Eight Cranes website:
Mei is native Chinese, born during the Communist era under Mao. Raised during The Cultural Revolution Mei grew up in a society that did not reward independent thoughts and ideas. Fortunately, Mei was lucky enough to see the world through the eyes of her famous parents who were actors in China. Her parents taught her to be independent, razor sharp, and to experience arts and culture by embracing them fully. Mei’s father was a famous radio and stage actor, Tong Xing Jin, who was well known for his voice and performances on stage and in movies. Her mother, Guorong Chen, was also a stage actress with the national theater company in Beijing and after moving to the U.S. worked in Hollywood films such as “Joy Luck Club”, “RedCorner”and others. Mei credits her independent nature, vivid personality and focused character to her parents.