Friday, January 31, 2014
Qing Shi (Chime Stone) Teapot • 磬石 茶壺
Qìng shí cháhú
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to haul out a seldom used stone pot for a post. It was one of the first Chinese pots I'd bought but it sat unused in the pack row of pots since just a few weeks after I'd bought it. Partially because I seldom drink puer at home compared to other teas and mostly because I've gone overboard in my Yixing collecting and this pot got left in the dust of the fancy zisha clays.
I grabbed it for a change of pace but I'm glad I did because it prompted a fellow tea blogger to request this post. And I'm glad he did because it got me to discover a little more about the pot.
I knew that the density and heat retaining property of the stone made it great for puer. Though I've never seen them use a stope pot at the tea shop, they praised how well it brews puer when I first bought it and again the other night when I asked about it again.
My main question was what kind of stone it is. I was guessing black soapstone or some sort of granite but we had a really difficult time finding a translation of the Korean word for it, 경석 (gyeong-seok). Finally, I was able to find the Chinese characters, 磬石, just as the battery on my phone died. They told me it was a stone used for traditional music but that was as far as we got. At home, I was able to look up 磬石 on my computer and found "qing shi", or "chime stone" in English. It was used to make the chimes of an ancient instrument called the bian qing 編磬, a type of hanging lithophone.
I like the idea of a teapot with a musical connection! It brings together another aspect of life's joy to tea time...
The pot itself I think is a Xishi style, but it also has a bit of an Aladdin's Lamp feel to it with it's pointy spout. It was made in 1990 and holds 120ml (without tea) which makes it perfect for two regular sized Chinese gongfu cups. The workmanship is a little rough, with several tool marks around it. I can appreciate the amount of work that went into it, though, especially with it's polished surface. The inside of the lid was chipped a little when I bought, but it fits snuggly and doesn't drip at all. There's no stamp on the bottom but, hey, can't expect too much! The pot is a bit heavy for its size, but well-balanced and comfortable to pour.
I'd grabbed this for about $35 (35,000 won) back in 2007 but the couple they have left are marked for $100 now. They also have a smaller hexagonal one with a dull finish that's very nice.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Today begins the Year of the Blue Horse. This year's element is wood, symbolized by the colour blue, which makes the Blue Horse. According to Chinese astrology, the Blue wooden horse "is ready to help everyone and provide any support." Sounds like a worthy existence to me!
The year of the Blue Horse could be a year of instability and life changes. It is recommended to act deliberately and with sure direction. Good advice for any year, I'd say, but particularly this one. It's said that this will be an auspicious year for many of the animals of the zodiac, not only horses.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Buchun Dawon "Unong Hwangto" Balhyo Cha • 부춘다원 "우농 황토" 발효차
Buchun Tea Garden "Right-Agricultre Yellow-Ocher" Fermented Tea
Hwang cha, yellow tea (황차/黄茶), is a relatively new tea on the Korean tea market. Kkik Da Geo started marketing it heavily about six years ago, even featuring their own brand. When Prof Ahn first introduced it to me, I wasn't very impressed, though. I didn't let on but, actually, I didn't care for it at all. I was still enthralled with the floral, peachy sweetness of Li Shan oolong and the more savoury, piquant intricacy of hwang cha was lost on me.
It slowly grew on me, as they often served it in the shop, spreading the word, but it wasn't until a few years later, when I'd moved to the countryside and hadn't been back to Seoul for a few months, that I suddenly found my body craving it. Around that time, I happened upon a small tea shop that I've once lived and worked just a few blocks from when I first came to Korea, but had never seen before. Inside, I greeted the owner and she offered me a cup of hwang cha she'd just been brewing and I loved it. It was different than the one I'd had in Kkik Da Geo, a much deeper and richer taste and mouth feel, more calming and less heady. It could come down to it simply being from a different garden, but I also wondered if it had been aged longer than the ones I'd tried in Seoul.
Buchun Dawon (부춘다원), is the garden that this tea came from and Unong Hwangto (우농 황토) is the name of the tea, "Right-Agricultre Yellow-Ocher". "Balhyo Cha" (발효차) is literally "fermented tea" and is interchangeable with "hwang cha" in Korea. The garden is located in Hadong valley, in Jiri Mountain, the heart of Korean tea country. The leaves aren't named like Korean green tea is, but I'm quite sure jung-jak, third flush, leaves are used.
The leaves are long, twisted, and wiry, springing back when I try nudging the longer ones into the pot. They are a very dark, dusty charcoal with hints of brown. A strong, slightly spicy scent of the fermented leaves wafts from the package. After sitting a few moments in the heated pot, the smell intensifies and sweetens. It fills your throat with a sticky, spicy sensation. My mind wanders to childhood memories of my father's garden in late fall, long after harvest, when the leaves and vines of the garden began returning to earth.
Like previous observations, the colour of the brew is also much deeper with this tea; orange, not the bright yellow this type tea is named for. The taste is not easily describable, it's not quite like any other tea. Comparable to Chinese red tea, but bolder. The sweet and bitter of this tea are both present but neither exceeds the other. They balance each other in a savoury blend that reminds me of roast squash. The overall rustic character of this tea is fitting of traditional Korean aesthetic. The last, extended steep does have a predominant sweetness, with a pleasant, flavourful undertone.
The steeped leaves reveal to a muddy-green colour with bright rusty edges and stems. A pleasant warmth has consumed my body, a welcome sensation on a soggy winter morning.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Last week, I was surprised to receive a cake of Menghai 7262 in the mail. I don't know too much about the history of this particular disc other than that my friend had had it for about ten years.
7262 is a shu puer, puer that's made with leaves that have been fermented prior to pressing to eliminate the long waiting process. Menghai was the first factory to produce shu puer and 7262 was their first shu recipe; 72 for 1972, the year it was created, 6 is the grade of leaf used (mid quality), and 2 is Menghai's factory number. Shu puer doesn't always have the best reputation when compared with sheng puer, but this is a quality product. being at least ten years old makes it even better!
Unwrapping it to get a good look, the disc has a nice deep darkness with rusty highlights, a telltale characteristic of shu puer. Breaking off a couple of pieces from the hard, brittle edge, I dropped them into a black stone-carved pot. After rinsing, the first steep was deep, clear red, another characteristic of shu. By the second, though, the leaves were open and produced an opaque reddish-brown brew. A small amount of leaf would remain relatively clear, but I like it strong!
Shu puer's flavour generally has a mossy tone, which was the prevalent taste with this one. A low-quality or young shu puer often has a fishiness that turns many first-time drinkers away, but this cake has none of that. It's smooth and reminiscent of a 30-year-old sheng. The chaqi was very warming and had a pleasant buzz. A great tea for the cold weeks remaining before spring.