January 30, 2009

Hibiki-an Houjicha

If you've never tried Houjicha your in for a bit of a surprise. I think if a coffee drinker was forced to drink tea this might be the one they would like. Houjicha is Japanese green tea that's been roasted in an oven turning the green leaves into a toasted brown color. The aroma of the brewed tea in some ways smells more like coffee than tea. The Japanese are known for being frugal (not wastefull) So they found a way to utilize every last bit. Typically after the spring tea has been harvested whats left is the leaves that are maybe a little older and larger unsuitable for Sencha. Or what re-grows after the harvest is roasted and becomes Houjicha. Usually a mixture of leaves and stems although some Houjicha,s are made with nothing but the stems. Houjicha is very inexpensive and also very easy to brew. You need to use a lot of leaf, say for an eight oz. teapot I would put in about four Tab. of tea, boiling water and a 45 second brew time and you've got a good pot of tea. I re-steep the same leaves and find I get two good pots out of it. Hibiki-an,s Houjicha sells for $18.00 for 200 gms. Ive had Houjicha from many different company's and I liked them all. There are subtle differences between them but for the most part Houjicha is Houjicha no matter where you get it from. But just as with any other tea freshness is a factor so choose your vendor wisely. Hibiki-an,s is roasted a little darker than most so the flavor is a little less rich but deeper. A good everyday chug-a-lug tea. Also makes great iced tea.
P.S. Yes, that is a Kyusu made by Hokujo

Hibiki-an Sencha Superior

Just got my order from Hibiki-an today. Six 100 gm bags of the Sencha Superior and two 100 gm bags of Houjicha. They arrived in their usual paper bag, I don't know why but they always ship their tea,s in just a paper bag. Fine by me. I cant overstate the quality customer service Ive always experienced ordering from them for the past couple of years. The tea,s are always fresh (Hibiki-an is a tea farm in Uji) they grow, package and sell their own tea,s. Shipping is free with a minimum order of $35.00. The Sencha Superior is an excellent everyday tea. 200 gm,s price is $28.00, that's almost a 1/4 lb. of fresh tea for a fraction of the cost of most other vendors. The tea brews a golden green cup of veggie goodness. The Sencha Superior is presented as an everyday, affordable, high quality Sencha. Ive never had another Sencha in this price range that is this good. The aroma of good Sencha always reminds me of popcorn. But maybe that,s just me.
I follow Hibiki-an,s brewing advice, for 200 ml. of 175 degree water you need about 8 gm,s of tea. That's about 1&1/2 to 2 Tab. And brewing time for the first infusion I go for 1&1/2 minutes, the second pot I just pour the water in and right back out again.
As the tea,s are packed in nitrogen flushed bags they can be stored in the fridge to prolong the shelf life (un-opened bags) when ready to use take the bag out of the fridge but don't open it right away because the inside of the bag will form condensation. Let it come to room temp. and then open it. I use a large Tupperware container to store all the un-opened bags in the fridge. That way if anything were to spill in the fridge they wont get wet.
Hibiki-an offers a wide range of traditional Japanese tea,s at all price points. The Sencha Superior is my favorite for a satisfying Sencha at a good price.

January 28, 2009

Stepping Back In Time With The Safety Razor

Remember these? Before I was old enough to shave I remember my fascination with my Dads safety razor. My nickname as a kid was "fingers" because I always had to play with everything. But the safety razor always ended with the same response from my parents "Put that down" It was just a few years ago that for whatever reason I became interested in them, don't ask why I don't have the foggiest idea. I shopped for them, but none were to be found. Every time I was in a drug store it always ended with me finding safety razor blades but not the razor. So in time I just kinda forgot about them. Until recently I hadn't even thought about them but MugPuerh had a blog about them and I asked where he got it from and he obliged. West Coast Shave. I bought a Merkur Classic 1904 Razor and a couple tubes of cream. The razor is beautiful. I,m gonna have to get used to this, shaving with these is slightly different than with a cartridge type razor. I found out there is a booming interest in these safety razors, quite a few online sources for this kind of stuff. These company's do try to educate you as to the history of the various kinds of razors and why the safety razor is much more economical to use than any other type. The blades themselves are a fraction of the cost of conventional replacement blades, but when you shop for the razor and brushes and see the price of these things you think how in the world can this be cheaper? The razors range in price from say, $28.00 to $150.00 the brushes are what gets me. You can easily spend $100.00 on a brush, and that's the middle of the road they get more expensive than that. But I just got my new shaving gear delivered today, and tomorrow morning I,ll give it a whirl.
O.K. so now Ive had a go with it. What I like about it was the smoothness of the shave, I have a very thick, dense beard. This razor just sliced through it like butter. Unlike a modern razor you cant just go plowing around your face in any old direction you feel like. With this you need to go in straight lines and go slow. Take your time and the razor does all the work for you. It,s gonna take some time to get used to it but I think I,m gonna really like the safety razor. With only one shave under my belt I already know, your problem area,s don't change regardless of the razor your using. For me that's my chin and throat. The Proraso is great, a really healthy size tube of cream that makes a really creamy and thick lather. Smells like Eucalyptus.

January 16, 2009

2008 Winter "Awarded" Song Po Oolong

I remember last year when Hou De had this tea. I had never had it before but bought a tin of it then after tasting it immediately realized I wanted more but too late, they had sold out. Just like the Awarded Dong Ding Oolong this tea is in vacuum sealed bags in side nitro flushed tins. Fresh as it could be. I love the sound of the whoosh the bag makes when cutting it open. I bought the boxed set of two 300 gm. vacuum sealed bags inside a deluxe gift box.The price? $104.73 Presentation is really nice. From Nan Tou Taiwan this tea made from the Chin Shin cultivar. Machine harvested. This Oolong is as sweet as candy and has the aroma of Osmanthus flowers. No fermentation and no roasting on this tea. Brews a clear golden cup of fruity nectar. Not real durable maybe 5-6 pots and then it,s done. To me this is not a tea with much complexity, it,s pretty straight forward and simple but that doesn't equal boring. The little tea nuggets are very tiny and deep dark green. The smell coming from the bag of tea is amazing, so pungent. There isn't a lot to say about this tea. So lets sum it up, Fresh as it gets, smells good, tastes good and a whole lot of tea for the money. Any questions?

Gui Fei Mei Ren Oolong

From J,s Tea,s. This Gui Fei Mei Ren is a Taiwan Oolong. J,s Tea,s has two offering,s in this category this being the more expensive one at $158.00 lb. It,s full title is Gui Fei Mei Ren Yan Cha Tightly Rolled. This one has the pellet type leaf, a beautiful mix of greens, reds and browns. Josh doesn't provide a lot of info on his site when it comes to specific things about his products. Such as, the degree of fermentation. But this tea has been fermented and baked. What strikes me the most is the tea,s aroma. Very floral with a very slight spice in the background. When I say floral I mean as in roses or something similar. Something Ive noticed with all the tea,s Ive had from J,s is the unique floral aspects to his tea,s. This tea really is tightly rolled, the first infusion time being 1 min. 45 sec. and the little nuggets are just barely starting to open up. But when they do open they reveal a beautiful range of colors. The tea,s flavor is very nice indeed. All the flavors are nicely balanced, fruity, flowery, honey, and very light on the sweet spice. All of these flavors are subtle and no one flavor dominates the other. It has a dry mouth feel but not overbearingly so. Brews a nice clear cup and durability is O.K. I get about five pots before it thins out to much. I like this tea quite a bit but I wish it had more something....I don't know what. It has a medium body but it,s lacking that stickiness I like in Taiwan Oolong,s.
In some ways this teas aroma reminds me of Hou De,s Honey Aroma Oolong if you ever got to try any of that, but with a little heavier fermentation. And the floral aspects being more dominant. And not as sweet.
Brewing observations: Use a teapot with plenty of room for the leaves to open up. Slightly extended steeping times. The leaf is pretty large and thick so it might take a little longer than usual for the tea to brew.

January 13, 2009

Not A Happy Camper

Yeah, I told him he was going to a doggy hotel today. He,s got to be there for two day,s, all by his lonely self. Actually a very nice place, single room with a twin bed. Color TV and his own private yard to play in (among other things) He,s not gonna like this at all. But I know they will take good care of him and he will be safe. He has that "how could you" look on his face. But I gotta so that's just the way it is. And to top it off today he had to go get his rabies shot.

Duflating Estate Assam FTGFOP#1 CL/SPL

From Upton,s I got this at the same time as the Risheehat Darjeeling. This Assam is what I call a "show" tea. The very best they are capable of producing, and it shows. Especially in the price. A 400 gm bag, $93.60. The dry leafs colors are incredibly rich, mostly reds and browns with a profusion of golden tips. Such depth and intensity in the color. The dry leaf is also very soft and velvety to the touch, it makes me want to grab a handful and just feel it. (but I don't) I think Assam teas are to readily dismissed as cheap black tea. And a lot of it is, but in the hands of the farmers and producers who care about the tea they can be just as nuanced as any other tea. For an invigorating morning cup you cant beat an Assam. This teas aroma makes my mouth water. It smells like malt (of course) spice, some honey. This Assam brews a really clean tasting cup, none of the heaviness usually found in Assam tea,s. The teas brew is as clear as could be. A deep amber, not the ruddy brown of lesser Assam's. With this one I wouldn't dream of putting any milk in the cup, just a dab of sugar brings out the subtleties in this tea. I don't bother weighing this tea just a rounded tsp. in an eight oz. teapot, 3-4 minute infusion and presto a gorgeous cuppa. These teas are very expensive and not something I keep around for everyday use but what the hell a cup of this once or twice a week shouldn't hurt anyone,s budget.
Another thing I like about Upton,s is that it,s run in a very professional manner. Very consistent customer service. As long as they have your order before 1:00 PM the order goes out the same day regardless of the shipping method. Also they offer a variety of shipping options. Ive been buying from Upton,s for years and without exception they have shipped every order I have ever placed the same day.

January 12, 2009

Risheehat Estate Darjeeling

Another Darjeeling for ya. From Upton,s Tea,s this is a SFTGFOP #1 SP/CL second flush. In plain English, super fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe grade #1 special clonal. A 200 gm bag of this one will cost ya $35.64, not bad really considering it,s quality. Upton,s are definitely the go-to guys for Darjeeling and Assam tea,s. What I especially like about Upton,s is their lack of image, no gimmicky packaging, not a lifestyle oriented co. Ive always thought of them as being kind of a tea broker. I,m pretty sure some of the online vendors tea,s were purchased from Upton,s and then repackaged.
This tea is almost sold out so if anybody wants to try it you should order asap. Having barely even got the bag open I,m accosted by the extremely pungent aroma of the dry leaf. Floral, citrus and fruity. Pretty much in that order. You can smell this tea from across the room, extremely aromatic.The dry leafs color is a little on the dark side, a mix of dark browns, reds and greens. Long wiry, well twisted leaves. The aroma of the infused tea is also very pungent. This tea is very "bright" extremely floral and kinda lemony. The muscatel flavor and aroma that most people think of when it comes to Darjeeling is there, but taking a back seat to the flowers and fruit. There is the slightest trace of maltiness in the cup. As I had said in a previous post, Ive been stuck on various Oolongs and Japanese tea,s for a while now and I had forgotten how good Darjeeling,s could be. This is an exellent Darjeeling tea but it doesnt have the flavors that I most enjoy. Which is that full bodied fruity, muscatel thing.

January 11, 2009

2000 Kumming " Lan Yin" Tie Beeng (Revisited)

Ive had this Puerh for quite some time now and I thought it deserved to be revisited seeing how there was so much hoopla about it and so much time has gone by since then. Originally I had read about it in Art Of Tea Magazine and Guang of Hou De,s had acquired some of the cakes which disappeared very quickly. But since has been restocked. $125.00 each, ouch! All of the "Puerh experts" were so impressed with it that I just had to see for myself. When I had first received the tea and tasted some, the tea was almost overwhelming, so pungent with the camphor aroma. But at the same time there was distinct smell of flowers, oranges? and caramel. A promise of things to come for those with patience.

After breaking up the cake and placing it into a Yixing storage jar I just left it alone for several months. Drastic changes take place after being disassembled and stored. I would try a little bit of it every now and then and one thing I noticed is the flavors and aromas were changing, every time I tried the tea it almost seemed like a different tea. But now the tea is becoming stable, very consistent with each brew. The Camphor is almost a ghost of what it once was and the floral, caramel sweetness is becoming the dominate factor. The aftertaste of this tea is incredibly sweet.
Durability is excellent, it just keeps going and going. Purchasing this tea was an educational experience for me in that I,m starting to understand what Puerh is and how the aspects of the tea changes and evolved over time. There,s so much complexity in this tea, so many flavors and aromas all in a single cup.

The brewed tea,s clarity is superb. The color is a gorgeous orange amber. The aroma is floral, sweet as honey, slightly woodsy and just a hint of the camphor. The tea,s flavor follows right along, I could drink cup after cup of this stuff, for me that's unusual when it comes to Puerh. If I were rich I,d buy a couple more of these cakes to save for a much later time. But I,m not so I,ll just enjoy what I have.
Note: while packing everything for the big move I found this Yixing, another teapot from Rishi that Ive had for years. I had forgotten all about it. Much better quality than the Yixing that Rishi is currently offering. Hadn't been used in so long that it really didn't matter what tea I brewed in it. The seasoning it had from whatever tea I once used it for has long gone.

January 9, 2009

Going Home Soon

Yep folks I,m moving back to Austin TX. Been in the Dallas area for two years now and I reckon that's long enough. I love Austin, so much prettier than Dallas with lots of things to do that doesn't have anything to do with going somewhere and spending money. Lots of parks and rivers, interesting people and good food.

Here's a nice pic of Lake Travis that I stole off the Internet. Consequently, my postings are gonna get scarce for while till I get settled in and situated. But bare with me, I,ll be back and can probably do a couple more posts before I leave.

Most of my tea ware is packed (thank god for bubble wrap) I knew I had a lot of teapots and various other tea wares but reality didn't really strike until I started dragging them all out and placing them back into the little storage boxes they originally came in. About 6 large cardboard boxes full of the stuff. I should have an online sale someday, I could sell the stuff I don't use often enough to justify having and it would be an opportunity for you readers to buy some tea stuff at cheap prices. Maybe, we will see.

January 8, 2009

Mariage Freres Darjeeling

Darjeeling Tea is a tea that I always used to have on hand. For the past couple of years Ive been more focused on Oolongs and Japanese Sencha and kinda forgot how much I like Darjeeling. I think that Darjeeling more than any other tea is affected by the weather and other uncontrollable,s. When it,s a good year the tea,s are amazing. But for about the past 5 to 6 years Ive not seen anything that came close to a "good" year for Darjeeling. That's not to say the tea,s are bad, but nowhere close to the legendary status their known for. Having said that though I have been buying a few here and there and am happy to say I,m not disappointed with my purchases. This tea is from the Princeton Estate, T.G.F.O.P. is the acronym assigned to this tea. Which means Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. But I also like another definition I read on another tea blog which is Too Good For Ordinary People. HaHa. This Tea,s is comprised of a mix of small whole leaves and broken leaf. This appears to be a blend of both first and second flushes. The dry leafs colors range from dark browns, light greens and rusty reds. The aroma of the dry leaf is fruity, slightly peppery and floral. One thing I like about this company is that they nitrogen flush the tea tins. Which means that the tea will stay fresh for a very extended length of time. *Using the standard rule of thumb for Darjeeling,s I used 2 &1/4 gms. of tea for 6 oz. boiling water with an infusion time of 3&1/2 min. The result is a crystal clear golden amber cup of some darned fine Darjeeling. Heady aromatics fill the air, smells like pears, grapes and flowers with that slight peppery smell that makes me want to drink cup after cup. (but I don't) I do add the slightest touch of sugar to Darjeeling's. I think the addition of sugar can sometimes bring out and highlight some of the more delicate flavors in a Darjeeling. The tea,s flavor follows right along with the aroma with the slightest "briskness" or as a lot of tea vendors call it "nuttiness" in the cup. A 100 gm tin,s price is $17.00, not bad really. For anyone interested in trying this tea I know that most William Sonoma specialty cooks stores carry this brand of tea,s.

*even though giving the "official" qty, steep time recipe this is a tea that I just eyeball it and go with the 1&1/2 tsp. or so tea for the 6 oz. water.

January 5, 2009

When in the hell are we going for a walk?

Yes he,s just about had enough of it all. He,s tried just about everything, barking, incessant whining and even his (pretend) sneezing. You can tell by the look in his eyes that he knows that I know exactly what he wants.
Sorry but this kind of indirectly relates to tea. I was trying to work on the next few posts but he would not leave me alone. Sometimes he,s such a pest but least he,s a comical pest.
By the way Tyson,s favorite tea? Sencha and Matcha. I dont know what it is about those teas that he likes so much but any other tea he couldnt care less about.

January 4, 2009

Competition Winner Dong Ding Oolong "Two Roses"

I got this and a few other teas the other day from J,s Teas. First of all I don't pay too much attention to the claims of vendors spouting a tea is a competition winner. They never say what competition the tea is supposed to have won. Or the claim is of "Awarded" awarded what? And by whom? But having said that I wouldn't be surprised if this tea did win some kind of mystery competition. This tea is gorgeous! This stuff rocks! This is a baked Dong Ding Oolong which both the fermentation and the baking are a perfect match. Not baked so much that all you taste is the roast. Whats really unique about this tea is that the floral aroma despite being roasted is very much intact. This tea makes most of the other Baked Oolong,s Ive had recently seem so hum drum. These little tea pellets are the smallest Ive ever seen. After opening they are all pretty uniform in size and reveal their true color which is a deep, deep forest green. Obviously a handpicked and processed tea. For this teapot (225 ml.) I,m using 12 gm.s of tea. 205 degree water and a first infusion time of 1 & 1/2 min. 2nd infusion, 1 min. 3rd infusion, 1 & 1/2 min. then after that gradually increasing the time by 20 seconds with each additional pot. The aroma wafting from the cup is rich, floral and robust. The (florality) is there such a word? Spell checker says no, Screw you spell checker I,m sticking with it. Anyways the florality is what really sets this tea apart. Also just a touch of something that reminds me of a Rou Gui in the aroma. Ive never had a roasted oolong that I thought of as being elegant before. Durability is decent, about 5 pots or so and then it starts to really thin out but what is unusual is the floral smell still remains. This stuff ain't cheap, $200.00 Lb. Not a tea I could afford often but a 4 oz. bag every once in a while is in my budget.
A lot of the tea,s that J,s Tea,s has are high end $$$$$$ but it,s worth it every now and then to splurge and indulge yourself. I think these are some of the best tea,s Taiwan has to offer.
Next up? Gui Fei Mei Ren Oolong. Wait till you see this one.

January 3, 2009

Floral Tie Guan Yin

This tea I just got yesterday from Upton,s Floral Tie Guan Yin Superior is it,s official name. A new arrival at Upton,s Tea. I love Upton,s for the vast selection in just about any category of tea. A 100 gm. bags price is $25.40. A fair price for a premium tea. Anxi Oolongs are not something I buy very often but every once in a while I read a vendors description and they make it sound so delicious that I cave and order some but most of the time I,m not all that impressed with them. First thing I notice after opening the bag is the pungent freshness of this tea. The dry leaf pellets are a rich and healthy green color. The aroma of the infused leaf is rich, vegetal with the aroma of spring flowers. Upton,s describes the aroma as "Orchid" I don't really smell any specific flower but the floral thing is pretty dominant. Also the faintest hint of ripe fruit. After a three minute infusion with 175 degree water the tea,s aroma is quite pungent. (in a good way) At first I tried using hotter water but it killed a lot of the floral aroma so I found by lowering the temperature a bit helps to retain the teas character. Durability is O.K. I get about four good pot,s and then it runs out of any flavors that are interesting. Brews a golden cup with a slight greenish tint. What I like about this Tie Guan Yin is that it doesn't have that heavy green taste that most of the others Ive tried have. I like this tea and am enjoying it but I wouldn't buy it again. I guess I,m just not that fond of Anxi Oolongs.