Monday, March 31, 2014

Tasting Two Green Teas

Today, I am drinking two green teas I had for a while. Green teas are valued for their freshness, so neither of these two teas I am drinking are at the peak of their flavors.

The first one is named “Taiwan Native Green Tea” that I bought at the “Double Fire Brand Store” in Yingge, a northern Taiwanese town known for its pottery. Taiwan is very Oolong-centric. Majority of the tea was made into Oolong for domestic consumption. Only a small area of northern Taiwan produces green tea.

The dry leaves are dark green, irregular string-shape, some tips with white hair. Dry aroma is surprising sweet and toasty.


... and turn!

I am using a competition / cupping style tea set, consist of a cup with handle and lid with a notch in the rim instead of pour spout, a bowl, and a dish.  

The liquor is clear pale yellow with very slight green tinge. The aroma is forest, seaweed, and cornhusk. The flavor is grassy and mineral. The mouthfeel is lingering and astringent, especially towards the back of the tongue and mouth. The returning sweetness is strong, reminiscent of honey and dry fruit. Overall impression is rustic and serious.

On to the next tea.

The second tea I am drinking is “Bilochun Green Tea” sold by Ten Fu’s Tea, that Kevin got as a gift. Bilochun is one of the best known Chinese green tea, originated in Jiansu province, especially around Lake Tai area, nicknamed “Fragrant Shock” for its intense aroma. However, this is not the real Bilochun. The description on the package called this a “Fujian Bilochun”, “using Fujian province’s fresh spring tea leaves, hand-made with unique Bilochun style process”.

The dry leaves are smaller, more uniform, with higher percentage of white hairy tips. Dry aroma is very floral.

The liquor is gold on the side of orange, with lots of surface chrystals. The aroma is cedar, cut grass and jasmine. The flavor is citrus and wood. The mouthfeel is less astringent, but slightly acidic. The returning sweetness is less strong, reminiscent of under-ripe strawberry. Overall impression is lively, feminine and slightly affected.

Looking at the steeped tea leaves afterwards, I am surprised that the Fujian Biluochun shows signs of oxidation: rusty-red edges. This kind of explains the fruitiness in the flavor. I don't really know if that is a common characteristic of Biluochun, or just a sign of careless tea processing.  Maybe I will investigate further.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Different Types of Tea

At Peaceful Water, we like to offer people tea. We use tea bags for convenience but we have a good range from sencha to Oolong to Puerh.  A lot of people are curious to know more about tea, so I decide to write a bit about tea.


I will first clarify. When I talk about “tea” here, I mean the dried leaves of the “tea plant” camillia sinesis. Rooibos, yerba mate, mint and chamomiles are perfectly good tisane or infusion. Only “tea plant” produces tea.


Tea can be different because of different cultivars or different terroir (borrowing some wine terminology here...). But usually when we talk about different types of tea, we are talking about how tea is processed after it's picked. The moment a tea leaf is picked, it starts to go through enzymatic oxidation. In another word, it starts to wilt. Similar to when an apple is cut and left in contact with air, the apple will turn brown. The bright green tea leaf will wilt and turn brown. The enzymatic oxidation can be stopped at any point by applying heat.

If you don't let the tea oxidate at all, you will get green tea.

If you let the tea oxidate completely, you will get black tea (called “red” () tea in Chinese for the color its liquor, to differentiate it from “black” () tea, such as Puerh, which steep to a thick brown liquor, sometimes as dark of soy sauce!)

Anything in partially oxidated is green-blue () tea, best known as Oolong, usually roasted to some degree.

Post-fermented tea, best known as Puerh, is unoxidated or partially oxidated tea dried at low temperature, pressed into cake, then left to age in a warm humidified environment, until the tea undergoes microbial fermentation and further oxidation, transforming the flavor and mouthfeel of the tea. Or the aging process can be artificially sped up in an controlled environment before pressing the tea in to cake.

Less common variations are white and yellow tea. White tea is very lightly oxidated then dried. Yellow tea, is briefly fermented in an anaerobic environment before drying


When I was living in Toronto, tea had became fashionable and there were many tea shops. They usually carry hundreds of different blended and flavored tea. To sell their tea, they let you smell them. They usually smelled fabulous. Vanilla, spices, fruit peels, flower, ginger. (Notice how they never smelled like “tea”?) Drinking those teas were always disappointing. They usually taste flat and bland. As if people believe tea to be scented hot water and nothing more!

I do like to smell my tea. But I like my tea to have flavors too.

I believe that good tea should have depth of flavors that reveal itself in stages. First, the liquor hits your tongue. You might taste the vegetal, seaweed flavor in sencha; the honey, fruity tones in Darjeeling; or the floral quality in Anxi Tieguanyin. Then, the liquor travel through your mouth. You might feel the astringency of a Oolong; or the velvety mouth feel of a Puerh. Lastly, after the liquor had gone down your throat, a new wave of sweetness arise from the back of your throat. Jinxuan's creamy taste might yield to a sweetness reminiscent of sugarcane.

A good tea should give you all these stages, and maybe more.


Right now we have a couple interesting tea bags.

This Oolong teabag is actually made with whole leaves, as opposed to the broken, crushed, or sometimes dust leaves in regular tea bags.  It takes a while longer for the leaves to open, but it has solid flavors and can be steeped multiple times.  

This is Ume Konbucha, made from plum (ume), sea kelp (konbu), sugar and salt.  It's technically not a tea and is an acquired taste.  There are theories suggesting the trendy fermented sweet tea beverage "kombucha" got its name from konbucha due to the similarities between their sweet & sour flavor, or the appearance of the thick bacterial growth to sea kelp.

So, That's it for today.  Next time when you come to Peaceful Water, have a cup a tea!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Calligraphy - Cultivation of Character

We haven't been keeping up with the blog for a while.  I think it's good time to start it up again.

Earlier this year, I started to practice calligraphy again.  As a child in Taiwan, I had gone through the obligatory writing class, but never liked it.  I was known in my class and to my family for my ugly handwriting.  I'm surprised by how much I enjoy practicing calligraphy now.  There are infinite intricacies and variations in something so simple and formal.  It's like brewing beer strictly adhere to the Reinheitsgebot.  

I started to see calligraphy in many things.  Watching the Winter Olympic, I saw Virtue and Moir's ice dancing as moving ink strokes.  I saw in snowboarding the tip and edges of a brush.  When I practice Taiqiquan, I notice the similarity to the posture of the writer and the expression of the characters.  It's a black on white universe, where freedom exists in structure and everything is full of meaning.  

I find that in North America, calligraphy, whether the Chinese style done with a brush, or the Western style done with a nib, is considered as an art.  Often only people with artistic interests or inclination will approach it.  However, traditionally Chinese calligraphy was considered more as a cultivation of one's character.  Even though both painting and writing were done with the same style of brush on the same kind of paper with the same type ink, ancient calligraphers were rarely painters.  Instead, they were usually scholars, ministers, writers, even generals.  

I wonder if there are many people in North America who are intrigued by Chinese calligraphy but never bother trying it because they don't consider themselves artistic?  If anyone's interested in brush writing, we have a Chinese Calligraphy Study Group, every Monday night 7:45-8:45, at Peaceful Water Health & Fitness Lobby.  I am trying an approach so that no knowledge of the Chinese language is necessary.  However, it's inevitable anyone who write will eventually learn some Chinese.  For more info, please email: