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Day 128 2014.08.29 Beijing
Let different tea leaves be placed inside different tea jars, much like wine. Long stored tea leaves also needs to be revitalized (by slowly heating and re-baking the tea a little). These little tea leaves jars are also called 醒茶罐 (Xing Cha guan - awaken tea jar) as it’s meant to hold small amounts of tea leaves for that day, much like decanting old wine before consuming
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Nature themed teapots for Chinese tea: a yixing tree-trunk shaped pot, used for Dancongs. The last picture shows the trunk pot compared to one of Petr Novák’s nature inspired woodfired pots (which I use for young shengs) - one theme, two approaches: the first a Chinese classic shape, the second modern and European.
Water for Tea
Some of you may see that title and think I’m going to talk about Chanoyu, while that is an excellent topic, It is not the subject for this post. To accompany these pictures I am writing to you about using different water for tea and more importantly for different teas.
This month’s gift from Global Tea Hut is medicine stones. They are used to soften and purify water. I have spent the last two days drinking tea and comparing water with the stones and water without for the same tea.
I used two different kettles, one copper and the one you see in many of the pictures, a ceramic kettle made by Petr Novak (his partner made the charcoal stove used to boil) I have gone back and forth between these two kettles for a number of teas and haven’t noticed enough of a difference in the material changing the water to the extent of noticeably changing the tea. For this reason putting the stones in one and not the other should give me results.
The first tea I tested was a tea I’ve loved for a long time - 2008 Da Li Tuo Cha, a woody, still youngish sheng puer that was harvested in the Lincang valley. I know this tea well enough that if a friend of mine came over and brewed all of my tea (which would take a long time) I would be able to identify this tea quickly, it is that distinct.
Great, the tea has been picked and the kettles are prepped. As the first kettle boiled with the non-stoned water, my first infusion brought back fond memories of Cha Xi by the Three Pagodas in Da Li. The tea tasted I expected, dry, woody, hints of peach or apricot and a sweet finish, my ideal flavor for a younger sheng puer. Five or six infusions and the first kettle was depleted, enough to work with for the next, just boiling kettle of stone-influenced water.
The stones rumbled lightly in the bottom of the kettle like pebbles in a stream as I took it off the charcoal. The stones gave off a lightly floral scent that I would describe as “soft”. The aroma carried into the flavor only slightly but not in a bad way, the texture of the water is what I really noticed. This tea I had known so well changed dramatically before my tastebuds. The dry and woody texture morphed into an almost milky broth. The water and tea were not as clear as before and the sweetness at the end was barely part of the equation.
I was surprised. Not that the water was affected by the stones but that it made this tea considerably less desirable. Many writings about water tell the importance of the source, be it a mountain spring or RO filtered or glacier extracted. These tests are fun because you get to drink tea! I haven’t had the opportunity to try different spring sources, mainly I am using filtered well water from the tap. I like the way all my teas taste using this water, many of the teas I bought in China aren’t noticeably different with this source so why not continue?
In most Chinese tea shops there is a big water cooler with a brand of springwater (Nongfu was the most common we saw throughout the country) occasionally we happened upon a spring that people were collecting from (memorably from Tiger Spring area in Hangzhou) Each tea has a complex composition unique to it’s surroundings (terroir) and that includes the water in the soil. Each province is famous for one or more teas but often do not import the famous teas from other growing regions. A Bi Luo Chun might be hard to find in Fujian and would taste different using Wuyi water than Dongshan water. There is water that is downright bad for tea, some city water will make the best tea cry. There are also plenty of bottled waters that will let the best teas speak for themselves.
That being said, the stones taught me that this water was not the right water for this puer. The softness that was promised changed the tea to the point it was no longer a familiar brew. I am sure this will enhance many of my teas, I just need to find the right ones.
The best horror comes through banal everyday things. Like #tea leaves.
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Tea Ceremony House at Isuien Gardens.