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!

10 Teas to Start With

October 22, 2009

Now that we have covered some basics of brewing, we need to lay some ground work on determining just what teas to brew. There are thousands of types of tea and even within a specific type of tea there can be hundreds of variations, it can be daunting. Today we’ll try to compile a list of 10 teas that cover a wide enough spectrum that will quickly show you what types and characteristics of tea you, personally, enjoy and which you do not. This will allow you to explore with some confidence from that point without simply relying on luck. So let’s get to it:

1.) Ceylon – Smooth and generally mellow, this tea is probably the closest  to the standard teabag many are familiar with but a nice upgrade in flavor and quality. It is a fairly rich taste with a very slight bit of astringency and bitterness.

2.) Sencha – A Japanese green tea that is very light, bright, and refreshing. This is a true green tea in every sense of the word and miles apart from what is often sold as “green tea” in most stores.

3.) Long Jing – A very popular Chinese green tea with a bright and almost “nutty” flavor. This is a nice contrast to Sencha and showcases a different side of green tea. Also known as Dragonwell.

4.) Shui Xian – This oolong tea is often associated with tea served in Chinese restaurants. It is a nice basic introduction to oolongs and isn’t that radical a departure from many of the flavors of standard teabags, but the medium fermentation and roasting adds complexity. Also known as Shui Hsien, or water sprite.

5.) Tie Guan Yin – A greener oolong with a slightly floral aroma and flavor. The split in oolongs generally runs along the more roasted/fermented/fruity lines such as Shui Xian and the greener/floral ones like this tea. Again comparing this to the Shui Xian should yield a personal affinity towards one or the other, many enjoy both. Also known as Tie Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.

6.) Silver Needles – White tea is often shrouded in mystery and mystique, but it is really just minimally processed tea leaf that isn’t roasted or fermented, just dried. It is delicate and often has a sweetness. Also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, or Yin Zhen.

7.) Keemun – A black tea in the Chinese style which is rich, sweet, and full-bodied. This would be a great introduction tea for coffee lovers since it is not as subtle as many of the others. Some keemuns exhibit a smokey flavor which some may find desirable.

8.) Darjeeling – Sometimes referred to as “The Champagne of Teas” this Indian tea exhibits a wonderful array of flavors from sweet to nutty to grape-ish muscatel notes. Within this one category almost anyone can find at least one or two specific teas that matches their preferences. This type alone could be an entire lifelong pursuit, so try a few different ones in this category before making an assessment.

9.) Jasmine Green – I’ve included this option in the list to offer an idea of what flavored tea is really about. Almost all low-end tea and widely available tea is so heavily flavored and imbalanced that many have lost sight of the fact that the tea itself is the star. A delicate jasmine scent added to a quality green tea is a nice balance and gateway between the overpowered offerings in most cafes and the ultimate goal of the unadorned beauty of the leaf itself. Jasmine pearls are often the best choice in this type of tea.

10.) Puer – This is the single-malt Scotch and cigar of tea. It is highly prized and often aged for many years, and has a dedicated following of devotees. If you like earthy, smoky, and oaky flavors in your wines or enjoy the aforementioned Scotch and cigar, this may be a tea for you. If this doesn’t sound like your style you can skip this one altogether or at least try one to say you experienced it. Again, this is a complex group and requires quite a bit of initiative to dig into properly, there are a number of great resources on the web for those interested however. Sometimes spelled puerh or pu-erh.

These 10 teas certainly won’t show you everything tea has to offer, but it will cover a very wide breadth of styles and flavors that will act as a springboard to further exploration and enjoyment. Feel free to ask questions and post comments and most importantly, Have Fun!

Japanese Sencha – Upton Tea

June 6, 2008

TJ10 Japanese Sencha is the lower grade offering from Upton as far as Sencha goes. I actually prefer it to their Sencha “Yamato” which is supposedly better. It is still far short of expectations though. I would easily put it in the same class as some cheap Hime Brand Bancha, and the Bancha actually has larger full blades of tea than the heavily broken bits in this. It is very vegetal, nicely green, and not much else. I did make some iced tea with it though because after just two attempts to drink it I just gave up and wanted to use it up. It makes very good green iced tea, actually better than the Bancha does. Who knows. My tasting notes are almost non-existent because it just wasn’t worth my time and I have better things to try still sitting around, so I apologize but I just couldn’t get into it.

I hate to say it but this is most likely the last tea I buy from Upton. I can tolerate lower quality teas, so it isn’t snobbery… just that I can generally buy Upton quality tea from a local Asian market for a buck or two and in some cases be better off. I will admit though that my tastes have seemed to refine again and I now do crave a mid-high quality tea or I’m just not fully satisfied. I just hope I maintain this level for a while because the next step is to the top-shelf stuff which is going to get quite expensive.

Japanese Sencha Yamato – Upton Tea

May 22, 2008

OK, so finally back on the horse again and out of the rut I’ve been in. The Sencha Yamato is Upton’s superior grade Sencha, which they claim to have a “brighter flavor and smoother aftertaste.” So how did it stack up? I’d have to say somewhere near the middle, but to be fair the top of the middle range.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the leaf quality as there were a lot of fannings and broken bits. It was however a very verdant green and did posses a bright scent. The flavor fell a bit shy of the dry smell though. It brewed to a pond-water green cup with little in the way of nose. A bit roasty, vegetal, a bit astringent, barely a hint of fishy/kelpy flavor, a touch thick and smooth, and as promised a smooth aftertaste. It was less what I would consider “bright” though as they state in their description. Nothing stands out as being in any way bad or wrong, just nothing really stands out as being amazing.

I do admit that Japanese greens are a special area of interest for me, so I do tend to be a bit tougher to please. It is only because I have tasted so many truly spectacular greens that I don’t relegate Sencha automatically to some lower, pedestrian, tea as it can sometimes be thought of. Will I enjoy the rest of it? Sure. Will I be clamoring for more? Probably not.