Jasmine Oolong

October 6, 2006

I recently was lucky enough to win a trip to New York City and enjoyed a few days there with Kelly (my fiance). My main interest was to check out Chinatown moreso than the standard touristy stuff (which we spent a day doing things like Empire St. Bldg., Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Ctr., Central Park, and inadvertantly a gay parade.)

We loved it. I really enjoyed a fairly large Chinese grocery called Kam Man. They had everything, and if I hadn’t had to schlep across half of NYC and take a subway and then 5 blocks to my hotel in Queens I would have bought way more. But I did get a few loose teas and the Jasmine Oolong was a clutch buy. $4.80/lb. Yep, you read it right. And even more surprising is that the leaves are big a beautiful and it tastes amazing. I had initially bought it because I couldn’t believe the price and how good it looked. I was right. This particular oolong is a greener variety with a very nice and light jasmine flavor.

It seems like the jasmine flavored tea’s have been eating up a lot of my “In Cup” entries as of late, but hey it’s in my cup… It’s kind of my comfort tea, it isn’t particularly amazing except for the leaf size and quality, it is very forgiving with respect to brewing so it goes well at work, and hits the spot on a day when I can’t figure out if I want a green or darker oolong/pu-erh like today.

If you are in or around NYC, you owe it to yourself to check out Kam Man… I could have spent days just in there. Gaiwans, teaware, loose and packaged tea as well as select teas by the pound and all reasonably priced and good quality! I actually enjoyed the tea from here better than Ten Ren which is a much more snooty affair with overpriced tea in oversized tins handled by little attitude-filled Taiwanese women  that I did not enjoy at all.

Yixing Collection Photo #1

October 5, 2006

I’ve been wanting to have a place to post images of my Yixing teapots and teware, so here is as good a place as any. I’ll try to post up a new photo each week of a different piece from my collection, and I’ll be going in reverse order of purchase… so the first posted will be my newest.

Yixing Teapot Photo #1

This was a Christmas gift from my fiance (Kelly)  and a neat little teapot I liked mainly because of the unique script on it that I could not place. I could have done without the “artistic” painting done on it, but overall I like it.

I was lucky enough to have a great guy named Danny from R.F.D.T. translate it for me:

On the right it reads:  Fu Ru Dong Hai – May your Prosperity be as ample as
the Eastern Sea
On the left it reads: Shou Bi Nan Shan – May you lifespan be as long as the
Southern mountain
On the bottom it reads from right to left: Yi Xing Zi Sha – Purple Clay of Yixing

and another MarshaIN added:

These are standard phrases wishing someone happy birthday, although
generally reserved for older folks.  You wouldn’t normally tell someone
who’s 25 these things, but you would someone 65.
The script is an imitation of an ancient style, mostly used before
200AD, but I think it’s not entirely accurate and adapted to modern
I think the thing in the middle is a very stylized “shou”, which means

…It was further discussed and the script is  called “Seal Script” and was used in the Qin dynasty (221 – 207 BC). So basically I got an old person’s “Happy Birthday” teapot for Christmas! :) Good stuff!

The specs:

Price: Gift.

Tea: None Yet. Possibly Shui Xian since it is a tea that both myself and Kelly enjoy.

Owned: 1 Year

Feather Tip (Xin Yang Mao Jian)

October 5, 2006

mmmm. That sums it up well. Normally I turn off as soon as I hear “nutty” mentioned in a green tea. Reluctantly I tried this one, mainly because it was a sample, but to my surprise it was far more vegetal and green than nutty… actually I wouldn’t use the word nutty at all in a description.

Light, smooth, vegetal, and Chinese (I know that isn’t a description but it is inherently Chinese and not like Japanese greens… again words escape me for how to better convey it). All the things I love in a green. The downsides are that one steep is about all these leaves have to offer, and the leaves themselves aren’t so pretty or full, but small and broken and they weren’t as downy/hairy as I had hoped. So is it good for the first steep? Damn straight! Anything else? not so much. It would bee a good green to keep on hand for a little variety since it is much different from a japanese green like sencha/bancha. 2-3oz. would be enough though.

Shui Xian NYC Tea Gallery

October 4, 2006

Today’s cup is filled with quality tea from NYC (The Tea Gallery) that was graciously given to me by an online acquaintance, however it is not my cup of tea. It is a heavily roasted (double roasted) oolong that reminds me of light little bits of charcoal over tea. The leaves never really unfurl and become more than blackened twisted leaves, even over multiple steeps. The flavor is lacking IMO in that all you really taste is the roasting and very slight oolong characteristics. This may be for some, just not me.

Another Shui Xian I also received came from Singapore and was more normally roasted and was absolutely captivating. Lighter, more pronounced oolong flavor, and like a Chinese restaurant tea from heaven. It hit you with the aroma of tobacco or raisins dry, and turned into a wonderful brew that retained some of that raisin flavor as well as a bit of sweetness. It also had a slight earthy taste and a finish of light charcoal. That was much more in my range of happiness. However, I have sadly found that no more is available for purchase… and nothing makes you want something more and keeps you from being satisfied by other’s like the longing for that particular taste.

Ten Ren Jasmine Green

October 3, 2006

I’m a big jasmine/green fan (in case there was any question ;) and no matter what exotic or high-end tea I get stuck on for a bit, I always come back to cravings for a solid jasmine green tea. Today was one of those days. I picked up a 1/4lb. of Ten Ren’s, in NYC, 2nd grade Jasmine green tea and it hasn’t seen much action since. I found it slightly lacking and had better options so it was put into my second string AKA my work teas. Teas I can brew at work with minimal to medium brewing needs and the ability for me not to cry when I have to walk away for some time only to see it go cold and need reheated or topped off with fresh hot stuff.

But this tea is a strange animal, there is more than meets the eye in there. Today I spent a good bit of time concentrating on it and playing with the brewing times and water temps and I have uncovered a wonderfully enjoyable green tea under the somewhat overpowering jasmine. If brewed right you can make the green tea “pop” and it has the flavor of a fairly high-quality sencha with more subdued jasmine notes. Which is very nice indeed. I almost gave up on it and wrote it off as another semi-expensive flop, and to some degree it still is, but I think half of this will come back into my home and be at least a bench warmer to the starters.

Haw Flakes

October 2, 2006

I’m a pretty adventurous person in most respects and one of my favorite past-times involves choosing one or two complete unknowns during my trips to different Asian markets and giving them a shot. They could be odd fruits, strange frozen goods, even stranger meats, strange frozen goods stuffed with stranger meats, or some things that defy categorization and might not even actually be edible. Sometimes it is a big mistake (Durian popsicles, candied dried/salted squid, Bao with fish balls inside, beef leaves, and many more) but sometimes it works out. Enter Haw Flakes. The first time I bought these I found a small package with 10 Necco-sized rolls that appeared to be fireworks or something akin to mothballs… but the one Chinese character I could make out was for sugar. So I felt it was relatively safe to ingest the little red discs. Not far away from a mothball taste-wise, but it was sweet and red… and surprisingly this was OK to me and made me want more. Yeah, something ain’t right upstairs :)
Then I came across high-end haw flakes, nice deep red discs in a vaccuum packed pouch that were moist and delicious. Now we were getting somewhere! Then Haw roll-ups, and haw candy, and anything I could find with some haw in it… I was hooked. They are sweet, slightly bitter, berry/fruity flavored, and a damn good time. Then I actually figired out what haw was, and that it grows like weeds all around me and known well for big thorns that are not friendly during treks in the woods.

In fact as an aside, my grandfather recounted a story about how when he was young they would get a nice whippy willow branch and then load up on haw berries which they would stick onto the end of the branch and fling at each other at high rates of speed for fun. Depression-era paintball was thus invented.

I now tend to enjoy the jellied roll-up style haw over the flakes by a large margin, but still keep a package of rolls within reach of anywhere I may be: work, car, home, desk, shed, or bathtub. OK so maybe not the shed or bathtub… but maybe…

Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty)

October 2, 2006

OK, now we are starting to get serious, just to show that I really didn’t start a tea blog to talk about basic Asian market finds… not that there’s anything wrong with that though. This particular Bai Hao comes from a “mainstream” company called Numi. The reason you will see this brand crop up every now and then around here is that I have a fairly good source for this loose tea and while it is not top-notch it is very good and fairly priced for the most part. A grocery store chain called Wegmans about 2.5 hours away from me (but near my alma mater so I am in the area every now and then) has a whole section of the store devoted to tea and large canisters of every Numi tea known to man sold by the pound. However, they have no minimum weight requirement so I could try one of everything and still spend less than $20… and I have. Occasionally they even have some super-rare and fresh selections which vary by season.

This Bai Hao stacks up fairly well to much better leaf I’ve had, and is priced around $30-40/lb. (or $16/lb. on Amazon!) I lack the vocabulary to properly describe it, but I’d place it in the realm of a white tea taste but in an oolong. Slight astringency, very very slight citrus and a hint of bitterness, but overall smooth and light to almost slightly medium in body. The leaves ufurl nicely and are fairly large and in tact… however not anywhere near a much higher quality Bai Hao.
It’s a good daily drinker Bai Hao that won’t break the bank, but won’t take you to the moon and back.

Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang

October 1, 2006

Wow! This Phoenix Oolong (Dan Cong Mi Lan Xiang) from Zhong Guo Cha is simply amazing. This was a sample sent to me by the owner and it doesn’t disappoint in any way except the fact that I need more… much, much more of it. This tea has gone from a small sample to the tops of my personal favorite list all in the first brewing. It has the amazing vegetal hints that I cherish in greens, and then a flavor that captures every quality I love: Sweetness, vegetal, light, smooth, and even a hint of almond to finish it off.

I was recently looking to sell my soul for some more Shui Xian that I tried from a friend which came from Singapore and of course is impossible to get a hold of… but my soul may be safe now that this tea is in my cup and quite available. Saved.

Update: After more time with this tea and further brewing it does also have a wonderful citrus note that can be picked up subtly. Also that “smooth” taste I mentioned could also be described as a little “woody” which is a good thing. It may have been somethng I had eaten changing my palate during the first brewing that kept me from noticing the presence of citrus but it is certainly there and very light which is nicely refreshing.