zaterdag 26 januari 2013

Hojo's Ali Shan

I'm back home for the weekend and was eager to try my new teapot that had arrived a couple of days ago together with some samples. The teapot is a red mumyoi clay pot made by Watanabe Tozo. For some purists it might be strange to drink Chinese tea with a Japanese teapot, Korean cups and European grown flowers... but I like this kind of cultural mix up, it is a good representation of our today's society where country borders are starting to fade away.

This Ali Shan is a spring harvest and from the Luanze cultivar (qingxin) which is for me the archetype of gao shan oolong, perhaps because my first introduction to high quality oolong came from Teamaster's, who always has a great selection of this particular cultivar. The dry fragrance is strong and flowery from the start and will form the red thread through the whole tasting progress.

Yesterday when I tested the teapot with a tea that I know pretty well, I noticed that it made the tea 'chewier'. The bass notes became a lot stronger and the higher ones were more polished. From that moment on and I knew that I'll have an amazing journey together with this teapot, love at first sight doesn't seem to be a fairy tale after all.
In contrary to many people, I actually prefer the first brew of a tea; it's the sweetest, creamiest and most fickle brew of them all. When it's hot, it's sharp and flowery with a hint of caramel sweetness yet to come. When cooled down a little bit, it becomes the opposite: thick, caramel creamy; I almost dare to say vanilla-ish.

The other brews are not remarkable, just an excellent gao shan that is still suitable for an every day cup of tea. They start of flowery with an aftertaste that reminds us of the flesh surrounding the apricot's stone. When brewing such teas in a gaiwan, they might be more perfumy and aggresive, though in this teapot it becomes more balanced. Both brewing vessels has it own characteristics.

On the left you can clearly see the spear shaped leaf that I find so typical for this cultivar. They are thick, elastic and slightly oxidized. This tea would be an excellent pick for every day brewing, complex enough to keep it interesting but not over the top. When brewing there isn't any astringency at all which makes it very forgiving for those people who sometimes lose their track on time - during this tasting session I was watching a squirrel jumping from branch to branch while the snow was falling down from the trees, they are such a little daredevils!

One last picture to end this blog. The contract of the red clay and the dark green tea laves is magnificent, it reminds me of big red mountains covered with trees. When soil and plant embrace eachother again, wonderful tea is the result.

zondag 20 januari 2013

Teamaster's Gankou fresh

Finaly I've found some time of peace during the hectic exam period. This tea has been on my mind for quite some time but I didn't find the right moment to do it justice, now is the time! The windows of our house are fully covered with snow, hence the lack of light. To introduce this tea I'm just going to say what I found on Teamaster's blog. This particular tea is grown on a very low elevation, about 100m above sealevel. The cultivar that produces this tea was imported 100 years ago from wuyi mountain and is surrounded by big trees to protect them from the harsh, salty seawinds. It's harvested in this year's Spring and slightly roasted.

It's one of the strangest oolongs I've seen so far. The shapy is very irregular, some of them are round while others are flat but the characteristic that surprised me the most was the pale, grey colour. It looks like it's covered with salt, straaaaangeeeeee or what? The smell feels dry, bit like poffed rice. Once I heated these little fellows up, the smell stayed exactly the same but only stronger..... kind of expected more that time, not knowing yet what was about to come.

When brewing this tea, my nose picked up odors of sour blueberries. This tea can't get any stranger! When sipping, it has a big minerality and a rather full body. It might not be that complex but its basic compounds are outstanding, it's like a rock hitting you right in the face. Around these basic flavors, some interesting notes start to develop. There is this sour touch, reminding me of fresh blueberries. When cooled down, the fruity sourness becomes more prominent and it has this oxidation character (which I always like to call the 'plastic flavour', and suprisingly it's a flavor that I adore!). It feels like I'm reviewing a wine instead of a tea. The sourness increases in later brews, as well does the sweetness - I suspect somebody added some honey to my tea while I wasn't looking.

The leafs of this tea are a bit more oxidized than usual and very stiff, matches its character perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed this tea. Don't expect a 10 minute long aftertaste or a perfume explosion in your mouth from this tea, instead it will give you big, strong flavours with lots of character. It's such a great drink for its price, I regret that I didn't buy the roasted version as well.
Well, I'm going to drink another cup and go back to study; agricultural laws and regulations..... fun!

zaterdag 5 januari 2013

Hojo's Tie Guan Yin Lan Yun

This morning I was lying peacefully in an orchid field with the sun on my face, cutting some lemon skin for my dry martini and taking bites from a dangerous succulent apricot. Meanwhile a farmer was loading up fresh hay on his rear trailer..... oh forgive me! I meant I was drinking some darn good TGY on a rainy, grey day; atleast it made me feel good! To be honest, I don't drink that much TGY and I felt it never competed to my so beloved Taiwanese gao shan. This one on the other hand is coming close, just not there yet. According to Hojo's newsletter, this tea was harvested in late Spring because they tend to wait till the buds are full grown leaves. After the harvest they receive a strong fermentation/oxidation together with the stems, when this step is completed, they remove the stems and the red edges. This explains why the tea is looking so damaged, I always thought I was drinking some low quality TGY. The dry leaves looked intensely green and long, the aroma was quite strong and flowery.

The first brew was delicate, buttery and smooth. Contrary to the brew, the leafs were releasing strong scents of fresh hay, citrus fruits, orchids and a slight hint of vegetables. The second brew became stronger and more intense in every aspect, this trend continued till the 4th brew. Not only the floweriness became stronger, hints of apricot fruits also appeared in the play. In the beginning the colour was quite pale but again, later on it turned more orange.

As you can see on this picture; the leafs are big, stug and ragged. It was interesting to try another TGY, gives me more information about what to expect next time- I can honestly count the times I've drank TGY on 1 hand.  It's good, it's refreshing, it's elegant but for me it lacks a bit of complexity and sharpness. My mom would love this tea for sure; she detests any kind of bitterness in tea. So conclusion: it was quite the joy drinking this tea, it just wasn't a groundbreaking experience.

PS: apologies for the picture quality, for some reason my camera doesn't perfom well when it's grey outside. It needs natural light.

woensdag 2 januari 2013

Tea centre Antwerps- Hung shui from Nantou

I've been drinking this tea for some time now since I bought at Mei Lan's place, back there it convinced me with it's spicy, cinnamon notes. I don't have much information except that it is a hung shui from a less known mountain in Nantou. The dry scent is already a bit spicy, also a bit similar to wheat biscuits. They look more brown than the usual hung shui, who have a more darker appearance. The brown look of the leafs already reveal that this one will be quite high in oxidation. The balls also seemed to have loosened a bit up during the roasting.

I decided to brew this roasted tea in my teapot because I feel they receive a fuller, more rounded body. The first odors of the warm leaves is a combination of honey covered bread with Eastern spices (cinnamon, clove), swiss milk chocolate and a bit of oakiness - it almost feels like i'm describing a speyside whisky over here. It smelled promising and the taste didn't let me down, it felt exactly like the nose. It might be a bit boring sometimes, when the nose is exactly the same as the mouth but you know what you'll get. It's extremely frustrating when you've got a great nose, get your hopes up high and then everything falls apart with the mouth. When the tea was still hot, I also could notice some citrus and flowers in the end with an aftertaste that didn't stay there for too long but long enough. As it cooled down, the milky chocolate notes became more prominent. One of the later brews (I think I made 5 in total), I did in my gaiwan to see what would be the difference. The creamier, chocolate notes disappeared but instead I received a nice bouqet of flowers.

In the last brew, the tea turned a bit more red/brown and started to show off lots of red tea similarities. Some of the leafs are big and stugg while others are still small and contain buds. You can clearly see the stronger grade of oxidation. It's a interesting every day tea with a strong personality and for it's price/quality.