Sunday, October 24, 2010


Ah, free-time. I suppose people usually fall into two separate ends of the spectrum: either not having enough free time to accomplish everything they wish to or being bored out of their mind from too much of it. These days, my daily life is quickly moving from the latter to the former, giving my time management skills a formidable test. Luckily, I have been able to maintain a steady flow of tea through my veins, perhaps at the detriment of some of my other tasks.
Anyway, in order to reinforce my commitment to this infant of a blog, I decided to make use of the time I spend on my public transportation commute outside of the city to write a new entry. Hopefully the less than perfect conditions won't make me sound any more incoherent than normal.

These days, I have been thinking a lot about the significance of tea-ware on the enjoyment of tea itself. For most people just beginning to explore the information available online, the emphasis on tea-ware can often be quite overwhelming (and may often sound a bit ridiculous).
Just cruising through teachat's tea-ware section one can see numerous threads asking about which pot or gaiwan would give them the best results for a specific tea. Other threads give rave reviews of tea-ware with seemingly magical properties ranging from sweetened water to rounder tea.

While I don't doubt the fact that certain tea-ware can enhance certain aspects of difference teas, I think that it is dangerous to get too caught up in this idea and put too much of an emphasis on imagined “needs”. This is a danger that I have all too often fallen into, lusting after shigaraki kyusu, silver kettles, and expensive yixing pots. However in the end, I feel that nothing has had a greater impact on my enjoyment of tea than learning to pay more attention to brewing mindfully. If the urge ever creeped up to splurge on more expensive tea-ware, I often put the money on better tea.

With all that in mind, I recently set out to fix a weak point in my brewing and ended up finding my own "magical" piece of tea-ware For months I had a problem with keeping the water from my glass kettle hot enough to brew anything other than green tea. For oolongs or Puerh I would end up running back and forth to the range to re-heat the water after 2 or 3 infusions. This not only ruined my focus and enjoyment of the tea but it was practically forcing me to drink only green teas that didn't need higher temperatures.

Of course, this sent my tea-ware envy into high drive and I felt the need to purchase something like a ceramic kettle or even a plain stainless steel electric kettle that would keep the heat longer than my glass kettle or at least eliminate the need to go back and forth to the kitchen. However, remembering my need to keep things simple I began thinking of alternatives. The alternative that I ended up going with works extremely well and not only has increased the enjoyment I get from my sessions but the increased focus has allowed me to taste every tea on a new level. The best part is that it only cost me a couple dollars!
Take a look at my new setup: the rack was originally intended as a vegetable steamer but it works perfectly to hold my kettle while the candles underneath keep my water steaming-hot long enough to even outlast my most durable teas. Even after an hour of drinking the kettle steams and still occasionally lets out a satisfying pop to let me know just how hot the water really is.

Gear-lust subdued. Let's enjoy some tea.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2009 Kim Shin Ho Jungjak Green

For this tea, I would like to keep things short and sweet. I didn't approach this tea with any expectations--picked in spring 2009, this was another tea that was certainly reaching the end of its lifespan. With this in mind, however, I was able to simply enjoy the tea for what it had to give me: a comfortable and relaxed brewing experience without having to think too deeply about tasting notes. Sometimes, these sort of sessions are great to keep the whole experience of tea simple and uncomplicated.

Overall, this was a nice tea that, although past its prime, hinted at the quality that could be enjoyed in a fresher harvest.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2010 Kim Jong Yeol Korean Sejak Green

After my experience with tea master Kim Shin Ho's 2010 Sejak I thought I knew what to expect from this tea before I even cut open the foil packet. After a quick clean snip I smelled inside the packet an immediately realized that this tea was altogether different than Kim Shin Ho's version. If anything, this is a true testament of just how much the skilled hands of these two masters can 'sculpt' the leaves into two different outcomes.

Not only was the aroma of the dry leaf a bit more subdued and less "spring-time foresty" than the previous tea, but I also noticed that the leaves themselves were quite different as well. These leaves seemed a bit longer and fuller with less buds and stems from what I can tell.

As I went through the familar routine of boiling water and warming up my tiny gaiwan, I measured out half of the packet and set it beside my slowly cooling cup of water. While the water continue to cool down to a more gentle temperature I placed the dry leaves in the gaiwan and made notice of the aroma once more before the water was poured in. Once again, the aroma was fresh but this time it more resembled the aroma of familiar greens.

At last, I poured in the small cup of water and let it brew for around 45 seconds to a minute before pouring back into the warm cup. Once again, I felt that the aroma was more subdued and almost "generically green." Not to say that it was weak or disappointing but I simply felt the aroma of Kim Shin Ho's version to be more unique and inviting.

The tea itself more or less followed the aroma, producing a mild sweetness with slighly more astringency than I noticed in the previous tea. This tea was less smooth and rich than the previous tea and felt more like a characteristic green with more of a cooling sensation than was experienced in Kim Shin Ho's peculiarly warm version.

One similarity was this tea's uncharacteristic endurance, giving me more infusions than most other greens. I feel that this is largely a testament to the tea's quality and partly a testament to my rather large leaf-water ratio for a green tea. Despite that large leaf-water ratio, however, this tea doesn't bite with bitterness or astringency.

Ending on a positive note I must say that the leaves of this tea were a pleasure to look at. The bright green color of the soft wet leaves really takes me back to the great Spring I had in Seattle and reminds me once again of the Spring that is just underway here in Auckland.

Spring memories

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010 Kim Shin Ho Korean Sejak Green

For a long time now I have thought about starting my own tea blog, not necessarily because I have any unique knowledge or experience to add to the tea blogosphere, but because I was interested in recording my own experiences and thoughts about something that has quickly because a great fascination and passion of mine. I put it off for months and months and the thought slowly drifted to the back of my mind.

However, thanks to recent generosity of Pedro of Dao Tea and Matt over at Mattcha's blog, I was given the chance to sample the Korean teas from Dao Tea in return for nothing more than tasting notes. What a perfect way to kick me into action! And so, with that reminder of generosity I would like to begin this series with a look at one of the teas that I enjoyed the most out of the series, Kim Shin Ho's 2010 Sejak.

After receiving the package I patiently waited for an afternoon where I was certain to be able to enjoy a long uninterrupted session with this tea. I carefully snipped open the well packaged sample and was greeted with an aroma quite unlike any tea I had experienced before. In all honesty, the aroma was more subdued than something like an aromatic Sencha, but it nonetheless exuded freshness and vitality in its own unique way. Not so much grassy as much as it was spring-time foresty...if that makes any sense.

The leaves themselves were small, mid to dark green in color and fairly uniform in appearance. As was made more clear after viewing the wet leaves, this tea was a mix of mostly small leaves and what appear to be thin buds, along with a few light green stems.

Around 2 grams were added to my warmed gaiwan. The aroma intensified and I slowly and gently poured warm water over the dark green leaves. After a few admittedly anxious moments, I poured the brew directly into a cup and noticed the color of the liquid was a slightly warm shade of green. The smell of this first brew was wonderful. While sipping on the first cup I noted that the tea was especially smooth; I did not experience any astringency or bitterness despite the relatively high leaf to water ratio of my smallest gaiwan.

The flavor itself was again unique, something I couldn't compare to any tea I have had before. I will leave the more detailed notes up to those with more experience but I will note that the flavor was richer than what I am used to with Japanese or Chinese greens. It was neither grassy nor nutty, neither sweet nor bitter but altogether enjoyable.

This tea was also very generous, giving me more than the 5 typical steeping that I would push a Japanese green. Even the very last steeping produced a smooth flavor; this tea lacked the roughness that I often experience in the last steep of a green tea. It is clear that this is a very high quality tea.

I will have to admit that I would have liked to see more impressive leaves, given the hand picked and hand processed nature of this tea. For me, a large part of the enjoyment of tea comes from seeing nice full, unbroken leaves and buds that appear as if they could have just been picked and dropped in my cup. While I am sure that the fragile nature of the leaves combined with international shipping all the way to New Zealand might have contributed to this small shortcoming, I did notice that few of the leaves were fully intact.

Still, I felt this was a wonderful tea that combined fresh spring-like qualities with warmer and fuller characteristics than are typically found in a green tea. I felt that this was really the perfect tea for me at the moment as the weather in Auckland is reminding me that my second spring of 2010 is just around the corner. Overall, this is a tea that I would love to get to know over many more brewing sessions.

Again, a special note of thanks goes out to Pedro and Matt for this experience.

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