Updates- or Lack Thereof

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog, 3 months! In internet terms, that might as well been a lifetime. Here’s a quick snapshot of what I’ve been up to, not that anyone is particularly concerned…..

i) My little tea biz

- most of my blogging is done on the company’s tea blog but even that has slowed down. From 5 times a week, to 1 to 2 times a week.

There are three main reasons for that. Firstly, if you look at the latest articles, there is more research entailed, not that I used to write off the top of my head, but the latest ones are deeper and lengthier. And more time consuming to write. That is a change of direction on our part.

The second and third reason are the same as why this blog has slowed (virtually stalled)

ii) My tea books

The wonders of self-publishing!

Instead of worrying about getting published, e-books puts the emphasis back on writing, at least for the budding writer.

In fact I am writing 2 tea e-books. Initially, I started with a book on oolong, with information researched and culled from more than 20 Chinese publications, encompassing classification, more than 20 varieties of oolong, history, science and the like. That is still on-going, targeted completion end of 2014.

However, I realized that it might be more specialized and deeper than the casual tea drinker would be interested in. Then, the idea of a mini e-book was conceived.

Diary of a Tea Fanatic: From Introduction to Obsession in 30 days

It would be written in 30 digestible entries- focusing on practical and relevant topics like an overview of tea, introduction of each of the 6 major categories of tea, step by step brewing guides for all major categories of tea, introduction to tea wares, storage and selection guide, 30 entries that are targeted to help a new tea drinker (as well as intermediate ones) get started on the tea journey.

That is something I am targeting to complete by 2Q or 3Q this year.

iii) Other Writing Projects

Apart from trying to keep my tea shop afloat and the tea writings, I have other (read: non-tea) writing projects on hand. That is keeping me quite busy. If the Lord wills, those projects come to fruition, at least the way I had hoped it to be. 

What does it mean for this blog?

That is not to say that this blog will die a natural death, it might, but as of now it is entirely ad-hoc, if something tea related strikes me, like Detective Dee for example, then I will write something here, but there would not be a concerted effort to come up with material. (What you think bloggers make things up from air? There is effort!)

I would update on the various books/projects here though.

Cheers

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Confessions of a Tea Blogger- Tag

A game of tag for tea bloggers was started by Lu Ann of The Cup of Life.- Obviously I’m quite late to this party despite being tagged for a few days.

It consists of answering a list of questions in a blog post, and then tagging other tea bloggers.

I was tagged by Ricardo of the excellent My Japanese Green Tea blog. Technically he tagged our company tea blog

1) First, let’s start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea.

Growing up in Singapore, there is a mixture of British and Chinese influence in our society.

The first loose leaf tea I tried (more on that in the next question) was more than 2 and a half decades ago. My cousin introduced it to me and while pleasant, it wasn’t earth moving.

That would be almost another decade when my parents brought back some Meijiawu Dragon Well from Hangzhou. I was blown away by the huigan and brisk sweetness, how it linger in my throat in a soothing pleasant manner.

That was when the addiction was birthed.

2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried? 

It was a Darjeeling, Twinnings and unless my memory fails me, it was a tin can.

3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it? 

I started my blog in Jan 2011- I was going to start a tea shop and my motivation was to generate interest in

i) premium Chinese tea among the English speaking, or more accurately reading, target audience

ii) my little shop

4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging. 

Looking back on the past 1.5 years, I realized I had written more than 300,000 words on tea.

Some were indulgent, some were self-promotional while others were written when I was raw.

But filtering that, what I have written that was of value would have sufficed for 2 full length novels, and that is something I never thought I would accomplish.

As for the most discouraging thing about blogging is the lack of traffic which is ironic because I would have never imagined 3 years ago on any given day, there would be more than a hundred people reading what I write.

5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?

Rough estimates:

70% an oolong- Tieguanyin, Yancha or Dancong are the most frequent ones

20% green tea- most likely wok-roasted one

7% aged Sheng Puer

3% others- white/yellow tea or a black tea

6) Favourite tea latte to indulge in? 

None

7) Favourite treat to pair with your tea?

Air.

Air accentuates the taste of tea, helps me savor the aftertaste and smell the aroma.

Anything else is a distraction.

8) If there was one place in the World that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?

China is the obvious and lazy answer.

More specifically Yunnan.

Based on my preferences, the answer ought to be Chaozhou or Fujian but

i) I already spend time there

ii) I spend time regularly with Fujian or Chaozhou tea people as well

Not that it is ever sufficient to study the wealth of knowledge but Yunnan would afford a new spectrum to my understanding.

I suspect my oolong bias will shift, at least in some part, to Puer over the years and I would like to learn more about the tea mountains there.

In addition, Yunnan is the birthplace of tea and home to some of the most diverse and unusual methods of consuming tea, particularly among the numerous minority tribes there.

9) Any tea time rituals you have that you’d like to share?

Not really ritualistic but depends on the type of tea.

Since I drink oolong tea daily, gongfu tea is part of the routine.

10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?

Daytime, at night I only drink aged teas unless I want to keep up all night.

11) What’s one thing you wish for tea in the future?

Deeper understanding of the diversity of tea and appreciation of Chinese teas.

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Why I can’t be a reviewer- Part I

Or more specifically a tea reviewer.

Well, besides the fact that I sell Chinese tea and perceived independence is lacking.

After all, it would be pretty fun to share my drinking journey with the world at large.

Not to mention the fact that it is an easy source of inspiration for this blog.

The second point is not something to be sneezed at, with the serious stuff at the company blog where I talk about brewing techniques, selection of tea, history, geography, chemistry blah blah blah, this is basically the more whimsical blog but at the same time I am mindful that my rants can be rather irritating. The long and the short of this is that- I don’t always have any inspiration to write here.

But it is just not in me to be a reviewer, for the following reasons:

1) Consistent Format

As I see it, a review blog should provide information to help readers decide whether to make a purchase or not.

Image from sxc.hu

Image from sxc.hu

A good example of this is CNET- one of the most popular electronics blogs.

When I am buying a phone or a laptop, I often read the reviews and a consistent format helps me to compare different models.

In fact, at one stage many reviews sport the exact same photo taken from the phone camera to illustrate the prowess (or lack thereof) of the camera function, a key consideration in an age where ‘selfie’ is a ‘proper’ word.

So, if I write a tea review blog, it would be a fairly consistent format:

-          Same type of photographs

  • Dry leaves on a white background
  • Liquor in a white cup
  • Wet leaves on a white background- preferably one leaf that is fully unfurled with a standardized unit of measurement

-          Brewing method clearly stated

-          Simple but descriptive

Why this is a problem will be explained in tandem with point 2).

2) Privacy

For someone who blogs and promotes my company through social media like Facebook, G+, Twitter, this sounds a tad odd but I am a rather private person.

That means if I write a review, it is all about the tea.

You won’t read stuff like:

“Today was a horrible day, my girlfriend and I had a massive fight and she moved out.

Desolate and despondent, I slumped on the couch and wept. Yes, I know it is not manly to weep but indulge me.

Thankfully I remembered Derek from Peony Tea S. or is it Penny Tea I can’t remember had kindly sent me some samples of some a Tieguanyin.

Oh, Tieguanyin, I still remember the first time I had it was with her.

Damn, note to self, she walked out of the door, remember!

The tea was just what I needed for a time like this.

I will survive, I have tea! Who needs you!”

Combining 1) & 2)

Image taken from sxc.hu

Image taken from sxc.hu

It can be rather boring to be honest.

Seeing the same type of photos, writings and honestly if you don’t play that game of imagining obscure flavor notes that show off your superior palate but proves utterly useless for other purposes, it reads 80% like any other review of the same tea.

Intensity differs, how long the fragrance/sensation lingers differs but keeping to the CNET format, it is not so different from others.

After a while, it can get a bit boring.

Especially since my highest praise for a tea goes something like- “This is how Tieguanyin should be, good ‘Yinyun’” as opposed to the other end of the spectrum “This is scarcely worthy of being called a Tieguanyin, no “Yinyun” at all”.

Useful for one to assess production quality but rather banal.

There are another 2 more reasons which is a story for the next post.

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Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon- The Tea House Booboo

I just watched Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon. Quite entertaining for what it is- Tsui Hark’s stylish action sequence, a charismatic as always Feng Shaofeng, Angelababy who is always pleasing on the eyes plus Chen Kun’s quirky but entertaining cameo.

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

But anyway, anything on this blog has something to do with tea, no matter how remote the link may be and here goes.

In the movie- without giving away any of the plot, a tea house is mentioned- Qing Xin Cha Fang- which produces a tribute tea for the royal family known as “queshe” (雀舌) or sparrow’s tongue.

Nothing much there, if you’re just a casual tea drinker. Of course being a tea nerd, my sensors go up the moment there is any tea involved.

Since it is just a movie and it has nothing to do outright with tea, I can go ahead and criticize its lack of research :) No harm done to them anyway, no one would demand a refund or stop watching because of these inaccuracies.

So anyway

1) Tribute tea

Everything is claimed to be tribute tea, even today. So this is not surprising.

Of course, Detective Dee is set in the rule of Empress Wu Zetian & Emperor Tang Gaozhong which dates it from 655-683 AD.

According to Lu Yu’s Cha Jing- Classics of Tea- tribute tea about 100 years later was in the form of tribute cakes- similar to our Puer cakes today.

Not loose leaf tea which is what Queshe is. Loose leaf tea existed then but it was considered coarse tea and for the lower classes, definitely not for royalty.

2) Method of Production

Chaoqing

Of course they didn’t show the method of production but on film a wok similar to the above appeared.

Now the tea house must be really avant garde because chaoqing was believed to have started sometime in the 13th to 14th century, not the 7th century.

At that time, the tea leaves were steamed, much like Japanese green tea today. Only centuries later did they discover that chaoqing or pan-firing makes the leaves more fragrant.

3) Queshe

Queshe means ‘sparrow’s tongue’ which is used to denote tea leaves made from 1 bud to 2 leaves picking requirement.

The tea in the movie though was shown to be similar to a tuocha, not a queshe.

Of course take nothing away from the movie, it is pretty enjoyable and to be fair it is not the first to have poorly researched tea related scenes.

 

Posted in Culture, General Knowledge, ramblings | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Today in Tea News

Most people stop blogging because

i) lack of time

ii) lack of inspiration

iii) lack of interest

None of these news were from BBC but you get the idea….. Image taken from Wikicommons

Can’t help you with the first and third one but sometimes local news provides ample fodder.

Take today’s tea related news for instance:

Man arrested for sipping tea ‘suspiciously’, HC slams cops

This event or non-event actually occurred some time ago and appeared in my “tea –party” alert but it popped up again for the High Court’s response:

“”This is bewildering. We were unaware that the law required anyone to give an explanation for having tea, whether in the morning, noon or night. One might take tea in a variety of ways, not all of them always elegant or delicate, some of them perhaps even noisy. But we know of no way to drink tea ‘suspiciously’,” the HC said in its judgment. “

“Drinking tea suspiciously”, that’s news to me.

Not as in drinking suspicious looking tea- that happens frequently when I accepted samples from producers (don’t do so anymore) or drinking tea with a healthy amount of skepticism but drinking tea while APPEARING suspicious.

What did he do? Drink while casting furtive glances everywhere.

Which I actually do sometimes, I drink in a sneaky fashion on occasion for fear my wife would exclaim “are you STILL drinking tea? How much tea do you drink in a day?” which you think she would have given up asking by now, nearly 5 years into married life, but I digress.

Or drinking tea while sniggering sinisterly (ooh, there’s an adverb, kill it!).

Which actually has happened before to yours truly.

“Ooh, you call this a Dahongpao/Tieguanyin/Longjing/etc etc? …. hiak hiak hiak”

Unbecoming of me I know, but in defense I do so in solitude.

Methinks the suspicious manner the man was drinking was making up “flavor notes” to confuse his companions, depriving them of proper enjoyment of tea but maybe not.

Here’s another one.

From Cheryl Cole to kinky sex, bondage, tea and spanking at Trumpington Village Hall – all good, clean fun at Cambridge laundry

Sensationalized headline aside, it was pretty tame news but you would probably click on the link to see for yourself. BDSM insinuations can do that to people.

Next up is this

Teacher makes stomach-churning video of himself squirting tea from a hole in his CHIN after football header reopened old wound

Despite this appearing in the Daily Mail, there are no metaphors. The part about “squirting tea from a hole in his chin” is to be read literally.

Eww, that ranks up there with an Assam CTC or “fake” oolong (i.e. half oxidized black tea) in terms of disgust factor.

Nevertheless, in the hands of a master, this headline could sprout a blog post.

I’m not a master as conjuring blogs out of (near) mid-air though, so I needed 3 headlines to craft this post.

Posted in Culture, ramblings | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Travelling with Tea

Most of the time, I don’t have this problem since those travels are to tea places. I would literally spend virtually the entire day drinking tea and I use a taster mug to perform covert tea comparisons in the morning. Not to mention the fact that I like to buy some tea wares when I am in China as well.

Of course as my wife likes to remind me, there is more to life than my Chinese tea shop. Once in a while, I do take a real vacation. But even so, I don’t think I can truly relax and enjoy myself if my tea quota is filled with tea bags or mediocre tea.

Travel tea set

Travel Kit

This travel tea set is a lifesaver.

Not the most fanciful stuff but has the essentials.

1- Tea tray- which you can connect a drainage hose that links to the sink in this case

2- Small drinking cups

3- Filter

4- Cha Jia (茶夹) or Tongs to handle the cups either for hygiene or due to the heat

5- A Fairness cup

and of course most importantly- a Gaiwan

So you can really do a proper gongfu cha of sorts with this kit. It is not exquisite porcelain but in the circumstances it works.

CAM00808Some other tips to get the most of tea when you are travelling:

1- Water

Unless you have been to that hotel/resort before, you don’t really know the quality of water you are going to get.

If you look at the photo, you can see a bottle of Volvic in the background.

Probably the first thing I get when I am travelling is bottled water, if I am drinking distilled water or any old mineral water is fine. If it’s for tea, I usually go with one that doesn’t have too high a mineral content (but not too low as well), Volvic is my favorite, Fiji a second.

Boiled tap water tastes terrible, tea made with boiled tap water is mediocre at best.

In my opinion, this is the most important, even if you brew tea with the hotel glass or mug but use good water, it’s probably going to taste better than if you use a gaiwan but crummy tap water.

2. Tea leaves

This is obvious my personal experience but travelling with a 3 year old (a point of writing) means luggage has to be minimized. Not to mention the fact every holiday I think of it as a chance to complete some Hugo or Dumas tome (read: heavy).

Anxi TieguanyinSo free luggage space is a premium. Rather than explain why I need to lug a pewter tin, I usually use a small tin and bring 2 types of tea: a Tieguanyin and a Taiwan high mountain tea.

My Dancong and Yancha are too wiry and easily broken to survive the journey intact and these rolled tea leaves take up less space.

Tieguanyin is kinda self-explanatory since nary 3 days go by without me drinking it while a Taiwanese High Mountain tea helps me get my green tea fix- sort of.

Sure I would miss my Dancong and Yancha but it sure beats seeing their crumbs when I remove it from my luggage.

3. Kettle

- most hotels supply kettles. Not having stayed in the Shangri-Las and Ritzs of this world I usually see crummy plastic jug kettles.

At least check for the scale residues and ask for a replacement/baking soda if it needs descaling.

Posted in Brewing, Experience | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Is there a wrong way to brew tea?

In the matters of personal preference, there is no right or wrong, isn’t it?

The only thing that is absolutely wrong is telling someone they are wrong.

Hence, when it comes to brewing tea, nothing is wrong.

What do you feel about that statement?

At first glance, that seems to be right, how can you tell anyone they are absolutely wrong? They are free to enjoy tea the way they want.

If you see someone adding Coke- either Coca Cola or Pepsi it matters not- to a glass of Chateau Lafite of 50 year vintage, would you not be horrified?

If that person is your friend would you not stop him from wasting it?

What happened to respect for personal preference and what not?

Now brewing tea is a lot like that.

Firstly, I would be horrified if someone adds milk and sugar to genuine Xihu Longjing for example.

Absolutely mortified.

But drinking tea differs from drinking wine in that you don’t pop open a bottle and drink away- you infuse the tea leaves (with a host of variables) and then drink away.

Hence, sometimes you look at some brewing methods and think- that is a waste of good tea.

Of course there is a fine line.

People ask me: do you think your method is the best?

Of course, that’s why I use it- with certain caveats and limitations of course but it is almost certainly always what I feel to be the best given those circumstances.

That’s why I use it.

Of course this is a moving goalpost.

However, I don’t see the point in debating the finer points of pouring- chest height, shoulder height, wrist height, circular, upward and so forth.

Nor do I quibble over 5 degrees temperature or 20 seconds infusion time and the like.

Honestly you may be making tea in Alaska and by the time your water hits the leaves, it may have dropped by 5 degrees or more, who knows.

Or type of Tieguanyin you are using or the thickness of your gaiwan.

However there are times when you look at the article/photo and think, that is a freakin’ waste of good tea.

My pet peeves:

- Machine brewing- why? Brewing tea is a integral part of the enjoyment

- Monstrously big (>250ml) vessels for oolong- what are you brewing for an army? You want to cook your leaves?

- Ludicrously low ratios  Scratch that, basically not gongfu brewing oolong tea. I don’t gongfu brew everything but I do for oolong, always. It makes a world of difference, really. Seeing someone use mug brewing (low leaf to water ratio + long infusion + low temperatures) for good quality oolong makes me want to weep. Just like how you would look at Kobe beef covered with Heinz tomato sauce.

 

Don’t think you can truly look at every single brewing method and say- hey you’re free to do what you like.

If you truly think that way, go to a Michelin star restaurant and insist on adding Heinz tomato sauce to everything. Tell the chef there is no right or wrong way.

 

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