Shincha and Erhus

March 30, 2011

Even with the terrible tragedies in Japan, I can’t help but think of Spring without dreaming of Shincha. It seems that the weather is shaping up for a late season but there are a few places taking orders. I have had a number of inquiries and questions on the safety of this year’s crop, and honestly while I am reasonably certain it will be fine, I have some reservations in definitively saying it is 100% safe. 99% I could do, maybe, but there are a lot of factors and issues at play. I’d love to hear other’s theories and thoughts.

Now for the Erhu bit. I own a number of instruments and play none of them well, but I love music and I do love experimenting and playing terribly. I also love music. I’m entranced by the Sitar and the Erhu both. A Sitar is a tad out of my price range and would require a lifetime devotion to be even bad at, same for the Erhu but it is at least affordable. :) So I finally dove in and purchased a decent beginner/intermediate Erhu. I honestly have no real idea what I’m in for and have not played a bowed instrument before, but I love classical Chinese music and know and recognize more of them than classical Western pieces. At the least I hope to be able to play a few basic melodies and maybe use it to sample for some digital creation, at the very least it will make a lovely piece of art!

So what’s been up?

March 16, 2011

Short answer, life. Long answer, life. :) A new job has been very demanding of my time and also has cut my access to the Internet and many sites during the days. I have gotten back into making art more often, which, next to tea is a great passion of mine that has lain dormant for too long. I’ve also been busy working to bring quality teas to smaller coffee shops and even individuals with an aim towards using the proceeds to help the families that make these amazing teas available for us to enjoy. I know I’ve promised updates, and they are coming very soon.

With the recent tragedy in Japan my most anticipated time of the year for Shincha and the first Japanese greens has been barely a thought at all. I’m just hoping for the best for all those affected.

My cup continues to alternate between the stalwart favorites of Huo Shan Huang Ya (Yellow Tea), heavily fired Shui Xian (oolong), and a cast of characters including: Darjeeling, Assam, Sencha, and Feng Huang Dan Cong, among others. I received a great compressed brick of Shui Xian/Wu Yi Cliff Tea that was wholly new to me, and very good, that I hope to cover in more depth soon as well.

With Spring I hope to help teasphere bloom anew with posts and photos and great tea… as well as whatever else tickles the fancy. Thanks for hanging around!

Updates coming, I promise!

January 17, 2011

teasphere has changed a lot and my life has as well, but I am still very devoted to tea… actually more so now! I apologize for letting the posts tail off for so long, but I hope folks are still around and still interested. I have begun working much closer with the growers and producers and offering many teas for sale in the U.S. that were previously unavailable. It is not a profit-driven venture either, but a goal of mine to actually give back to the amazing people that have created all of the awesome tea we all drink and enjoy daily. I’m always interested in the stories and culture and people behind the things I love, and too often they are easily forgotten or go unnoticed. The aim is to both bring their stories to the forefront and also give back in the form of education for the worker’s children as well as any other way that really has an impact.

I have some great information to share, and it will be forthcoming very soon. For anyone interested in the teas, a basic list can be found here: teasphere tea list

Big Things Coming! Huo Shan

March 4, 2010

Big things have been brewing and I have had the great fortune to become friends with a great local woman to Huoshan that loves the remarkable yellow tea from the famous mountain as much, if not more, as myself and has been beyond gracious and hard-working to bring this treasure into the spotlight it deserves. I have obtained a reasonably large sampling of each of the five grades of the tea directly from the source, as well as insight, and amazing photographs. Yellow tea is essentially unknown in the West, and while it is my personal favorite, it has always been a bit of a struggle to obtain and in high quality. I hope to help change this, also to demystify and bring this unique tea to many more people to enjoy as much as I do.

We often overlook the people behind the tea and the effort, passion, and devotion that goes into those small leaves. The story, culture, and history often makes the cup taste even better, and I’ll post a little teaser photo to hold you over until the floodgates open soon!



Tea Art

February 5, 2010

I have a number of interests and hobbies and sometimes it doesn’t even occur to me when two intersect, this was one of those times. A while back I had the idea to try to paint with tea as the medium. Sure, people overbrew plain tea or coffee to stain or paint, but with such a deep knowledge of different teas and their various hues I figured I could really do some neat artwork. While I have done a few samples and have a ton of ideas racing around in my head, I sadly haven’t had the time to make them a reality yet. But they are coming. I did however do one piece where I stained the paper itself with some Shui Xian oolong and then did a minimalist brush painting on top. But, since in my mind my art-world is separate from my tea-world, I never thought to post it here. Hope you enjoy it!

Yixing on oolong

Yixing teapot on Shui Xian oolong tea-stained paper

(4″x6″ ink on tea-stained paper. I would consider making unique limited, signed pieces. The paper would be individually stained for a one-of-a-kind pattern with the image then painted upon it. Leave a Comment or email if interested in details.) Note: This image was scanned, digitized and compressed for viewing on the Internet so some detail is lost/altered slightly.

Zojirushi CV-DSC40 Electric Kettle – Initial Impressions

January 28, 2010

A few days ago I received the Zojirushi CV-DSC40 I briefly wrote about following the initial purchase. I have had it in my home and functioning for a couple days and wanted to go through some of my experiences and usage so far. There is very little information, especially in English, on this product so I wanted to get info out in stages to help anyone else who is looking.

Pulling the unit out from the box, one is struck with just how nice it looks in person compared to the photo’s online. The exterior is a very nice stainless steel and the top is a mid-gray plastic which is a bit darker than most photo’s capture. You can tell that it is hard to fit the English words on the buttons meant for Kanji, and honestly if I would have been more familiar with the unit (or if I ever buy a replacement) I would have gone for the Japanese version. You can tell it is put together and designed with a lot of attention to detail and care. I liken it to a finely crafted automobile, sure the majority is just luxury but quality components and engineering do make a difference in the long run. Plus, since it is a well known and established company individual parts like lids or gaskets can be ordered extending the life far beyond a cheaper alternative.

The instructions state to fill the unit and boil the water, dispense 1L and then let the rest cool and discard to help eliminate any off flavors from manufacturing or packaging. I filled the unit with about 4L of water from a tap-mounted filter which registered as being 60 degrees F. To check the initial boil time I watched the clock, and when the happy little musical alarm played it had only been about 25 minutes to reach 212F! That is far faster than their very conservative estimate of 37 minutes and helped allay one of my initial concerns. The ambient room temperature was probably about 65F since it is winter here. I pressed the Unlock button and then the Dispense button to expel 1L and discarded. I quickly realized though, that I’d have to leave the lid open if I wanted to discard the rest and have it cool since it is so well insulated that the temperature drop is just 1-2 degrees every half-hour or so. Even with the top open it retained heat extremely well and I finally just poured it out at 190F. You do have to detatch the plastic lid and pour from a designated notch to protect the electronics, which is a bit of a pain, but nothing major. This seems like it could have been better accounted for in design.

I refilled 4L and again boiled in about the same timeframe. I made some Song Zhong Dan Cong so that if some off flavoring was still present the more robust flavor would mask it over a delicate green. I could certainly still taste the unit’s off flavor int he tea. I let it cool some and dispensed another liter or two and then decided to try some green tea near the end of that fill and it was completely overpowered by the taste if the unit still.

I discarded the remaining water and refilled it before going to bed. This was my chance to try out the timer function. The translation is very sketchy in the manual and it is not very clear how this actually works. Does it heat for the set number of hours and then shut off? or does it heat the water over the set number of hours to attain the desired temperature at that point? My guess was the latter, and it turned out to be correct. I chose 8H for 8 hours of slumber and awoke to 195F water as promised! Perfect for my morning commute tea in my Bodum travel press. Even though a bit low I selected some loose Puerh from 2008 I had a craving for. A quick rinse and then about 12oz. of water and I was off. Obviously this tea would hide more water taste than my other selections, but after paying close attention, I don’t really notice any. Hopefully we’re past that stage.

I have been leaving it on the 195F “Keep Warm” setting which maintains the selected water temperature from the selections of 205F, 195F, or 175F. The second night I had selected the “Vacuum Insulation” mode which is essentially an off mode where the water just slowly loses heat naturally but as much heat is kept in as possible like a thermos. Before I went to bed it had been around 195F and when I woke, it was at 130F which is pretty good. I hit the reboil button before taking a morning shower and it was back to 212F when I returned past it maybe 10 minutes later. Very fast for an 800W device.

So far, so good! No real limiting factors and it outperforms my estimates. The single flush recommended in the manual is optimistic at best, I’d imagine it needs 3-4 boils and flushes before it is not tainting the water noticeably. I’m also very sensitive to flavors so 2-3 may be enough for most, but no matter what, it is more than one. I’ll be following up at least once more after about a month of use to get a better long-term perspective. Too often review are written days after arrival and never updated, which is never enough time to properly evaluate a product and for flaws to appear.

GSI Backpacking Kettle Field Report

January 24, 2010

A little while back I wrote a short piece on a new GSI backpacking tea kettle I had received (Original Post) and while I had done a couple tests in the comforts of my home, today I got to use it for real. I love rainy days so a rare ~50F degree winter day promising steady rains might not spark much excitement in the normal person, but to me this meant a great day for hiking! I never claimed to be normal. Rain normally spoils most hikes, but for me I would rather hike in the rain than the sunniest of days. Good rain gear is essential, but it’s not that hard to do. A Marmot Precip lightweight rain jacket over a fleece and synthetic long-sleeved t-shirt and some polypropylene long-underwear under a pair of nylon zip-off pants, and my North Face Surge daypack and I’m off. I brought along the GSI kettle and my Coleman F1 Ultralight stove with a small canister of Jetboil fuel… and most importantly some Song Zhong Dan Cong. The darker flavor with hints of peach would be perfect after a few hours of cold and wet hiking.

After about 5 miles I found a small wooden bench along the trail which would be the perfect spot to test out the kettle and down some tuna salad and crackers. I set up the stove and poured 16oz. of cool water into the kettle which rested perfectly stable on the diminutive backpacking stove. From the initial flame to boil was about 2 minutes, maybe 2.5 at most! That’s pretty fast! I brewed up some tea in my stainless steel mug as the rain poured down and the warmth of the mug was sublime on cold hands. The tea was exactly what I needed, and with about 8oz. of water left in the kettle I made a quick packet of Lipton chicken noodle soup. Belly warm and full I began to repack the gear for the journey homeward. The kettle was completely cool in just the short time it took me to drink the soup! A big bonus. The stove took a bit longer to cool down for packing. The only drawback was that when pouring the last of the water for the soup I had to tilt the kettle almost vertical and my initial concerns about the loose-fitting lid were correct, it would flop out if not held in place during pouring. They do have a nice rubberized handle on the lid to make this easy even with bare hands, but it just seems so unnecessary. I’ll probably make a small modification to have the lid fit snugly, but it really isn’t a major deal. When I repacked the small fuel canister, it felt barely used! Since the rain was picking up and the stove was still hot I decided to just heat another 10oz. of water for a second cup for the last 2 miles. Less than 2 minutes to the start of a boil, even with cold rain and wind! packed it all away and enjoyed the last leg while sipping some hot Song Zhong which made the miles seem like feet.

Completely happy with the performance and utility of this kettle in about as poor conditions as possible. Even after the second boil I would mistake the small canister for a fresh one! Almost no major fuel use which is a massive plus for this kettle. A great addition to the pack.