a valid HTML journal

rose's 🍵 journal

2022-11-20

i actually drank Yorkshire Gold tea yesterday, and it was bad. i'd like to figure out how to get a good brew from even low-quality teabags, so i will practice. i have a bunch of the skills i need i think.

right now i am drinking a black tea from Jingmai - that same one i was drinking the other day. i have plenty of it, and today i am actually drinking it in lieu of coffee, which feels quite nice, even if maybe the tea sits a little strangely in my stomach so early in the day. it feels refreshing but still full enough to be tasty, a little aromatic but not at the expense of the body, and is honestly just very good. no bitterness, good hui gan.

while on a trip to our local Chinatown, i stopped by a tea shop run by a very knowledgeable and friendly guy who has been running this shop for several decades. i went in to ask about liu an tea, which is a post-fermented tea from Anhui province. liu an teas are stored in bamboo baskets, and it is traditional that you include some of the bamboo when you brew it. liu an tea from the big well-known factory tends to use smaller leaves, because at the time they were considered better; younger leaves, better flavor. nowadays people favor bigger leaves from older trees, and this tea - considered 'less good' in 2002, when it was harvested and prepared - uses those bigger leaves. he made some of the tea for me and a couple of others who were in the shop, and we had a good conversation about tea culture.

the whole point of tea, really, is to encourage being a better person. modesty, simplicity, hospitality, focusing on the small details, finding the beauty in the transient and imperfect - and a really core part of that, even if i mostly make tea just for myself, is to spend some time around a table drinking tea with others. it's good practice. i want to write more about that particular topic later, i think.

2022-11-18

no coffee today, as the logistics for it were a little out of sync. instead i was drinking a lot of black tea from Jingmai - William and Yubai from farmerleaf made a black tea from some of their autumn harvest, and it turned out really well. warm, rich, coats the throat, and just a light amount of astringency. it kind of reminds me, smelling it, of a really good darjeeling, but uncertain.

2022-11-15

the last few days have been pretty tough. as i've mentioned before, i have some mental health challenges, and i've struggled to make the time and space available to write. i've been drinking plenty of tea though, and i've been trying to brew it skillfully.

the thing is, gongfu cha is not just about making tea well. it's about mindful practice, and developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the tea itself. it isn't enough, to me, to simply making tea well - if i'm not present in the moment and focusing entirely on the tea and the company, it's not gongfu, it's just fancy brewing. maybe that's a bit judgemental of me, i'm not sure.

i did a class about different gongfu tea techniques and styles, which was both extremely good and very informative. i learned a lot, and will probably watch the recording of it more than a couple of times, if i could get over hearing or seeing myself on screen. i dislike how i look and how i sound, but that dysmorphia is something i'm working on.

the guy giving the class encouraged me to take a look at yellow teas, as part of broadening my experience and deepening my tea education, so i will probably do that. the issue is that ordering from overseas is very expensive as i have to pay duty on stuff. it's cheaper than flying out there, but maybe if i have an excuse to, i should go do that.

one important thing from the class was the idea that ultimately, the tea is the teacher, and the best a person can do is equip themselves with techniques for responding to what the tea is telling you. there is some more esoteric things to do with qi and how it flows from us through the tea, which resonates with me, but i'm going to have to spend a lot more time reflecting on how the tea makes me feel in my body, my mood, etc to better internalize the nature of qi. it's a pretty difficult thing to get a handle on and it's not well defined, let alone readily translated. we'll see if it's something i can get an appreciation for - there's aclass for that, too.

2022-11-10

no post yesterday, for the first time since i started this - which admittedly wasn't that long ago. i had my COVID booster and flu shot on tuesday, and i have been pretty roughed up from that.

yesterday i drank the remains of the single tree gushu i had started the day before, which was just very pleasant - today i am drinking an aged sheng puerh, from Yiwu - 2003, wild arbor trees, from Yuenhai tea factory. it's pretty good, quite complicated flavors and it definitely lingers. it's lasting a long time too. it has a kind of smoke edge to it, even if smokiness isn't the main flavor. it's thick, it sticks to my mouth, and definitely hangs out in my throat. it's good, and i see why people prize aged shengs so much.

2022-11-08

there are some teas that purport to come from a single tree; which, given how difficult it is to harvest big tea trees, and how little a tree might produce in terms of raw leaves, it can be very expensive to buy processed tree with that kind of story behind it. i am specifically pruning bitter skepticism, and so i will accept that this tea i had today did indeed come from a single tree that this farmer cultivates.

this tree is called Guān Jǐng (觀景), which means 'the one who watches the scenery'. it's a very old tree, and such trees are prized for puerh making because the tree has had centuries to develop qi, and that qi is conveyed in the tea made from its leaves. this can energize us, nourish us deeply, and it is good to reflect on all the work and time that went into taking this tree from sprout to gracefully surrendering its leaves, century after century. it was delicious, not bitter (the way i brewed it, anyway), and lasted for a very long time. a family member said that it smelled a little of apple to start, but mainly the flavor was complex and delightful. it felt like a warm blanket for the soul, and i felt peaceful drinking it.

2022-11-07

i spent the afternoon finishing the Wen Shan Ding sample i had, and it was honestly really pleasant. it's absolutely the kind of tea i might drink every day, though if i did, i would spend a lot of time thinking about that Kitchen Witch heicha.

speaking of which, i got my final tea delivery today - a bunch of teas from West China Tea which i'll be drinking in due time. i am doing one of their tea classes soon, and so wanted to make sure i had a good variety of teas available for the different brewing and pouring styles that we'll cover. one of them, Chaozhou (潮州) style, is predominantly aimed at oolong tea, and so i have a variety of different kinds of those. there is a huge variety in oolong teas, which is neat. when i have a good amount of time, i will write about the different kinds of Chinese tea.

2022-11-06

i drank more of the Wen Shan Ding tea today, but brewed it in my teapot instead. it felt rounded, full and very comforting, with a great body feel, even if there wasn't a particularly clear or loud single taste - the website talks about how this tea is a good daily drinker, and i can absolutely see why. sometimes you don't want something that feels like a punch in the face or a splash of cold water - sometimes you want a warm hug or a blanket.

a video i saw of william from farmerleaf musing about elitism and snobbery, and how sometimes it is okay to be elitist - there are teas that are better than others, there is a kind of hierarchy based on how much skill etc went into the tea - but snobbery was about pretending to be more elite than you actually are. i have definitely encountered some pretty snobby behavior about tea, and my general impulse is towards including everyone who wants to be included. i do definitely think that some things are objectively good and bad; i do think there is a very big difference between e.g. aged puer tea that has been processed and stored well, then brewed skillfully, versus a teabag left in a pot for several hours. sometimes though, i do want a teabag with a little milk in an enormous mug; not everything needs to be fancy tea done fancily. it just needs to be right for the situation :)

2022-11-05

i'm not going to write about Yunnan tea areas after all - today, i went to a Chinese tea house with a couple of family members. it was a very beautifully decorated place, with distinct themed rooms that were equipped with wonderful teaware and the most sophisticated kettle i have ever seen. they provided us with some hong cha, red tea (紅茶) and some white tea. they were not labeled as anything but that, so i have no idea where they were from, but they were both delicious. they also had a tea menu that i did not particularly explore as my family members both prefer lighter teas, and the white tea lasted for a long time. we were there for two hours, and the cha qi from the tea had built up quite a bit by the time we parted ways. i think it would be possible, if i wanted, to bring my own tea - but i am excited to try out some of their more interesting options. they had very expensive options, and extremely expensive teaware, but the price just to rent the room was pretty reasonable. i would go back.

2022-11-04

today i drank a 2022 Wen Shan Ding tea, from the Jinggu area (景谷县), a sample i got from farmer-leaf. the first couple of brews had a strong almost spiced apple flavor, maybe some melon, with a good aftertaste. it faded away and just became pleasant rather than notable after the third infusion. pretty good, honestly, but i probably would not buy a whole cake of it. well, maybe i would. the thing is, i don't trust myself to store a cake properly and have it age well - at least, until i drink it. right now i want to drink a greater variety of things, to build my experience - a whole cake is a Lot. i did in fact buy one recently, and i'm already a little apprehensive about it.

i also took a trip to chinatown and bought some new teacups, that are extremely cute. tomorrow i want to write about yunnan tea areas, i think.

2022-11-03

today i had the remains of the 2022 Jingmai Gulan samples in my puerh teapot - because the teapots are unglazed, many people dedicate them to one particular kind of tea - and it was quite different. the grassiness went away and instead it smelled of forests, and tasted as delicious as yesterday. i really liked it, and will probably use my pot quite frequently when i drink my way through the 357g cake of it i got.

i also saw a recording of an interesting discussion of appreciation vs appropriation regarding Chinese tea culture, and one of the things that came up is that some people deeply distrust Chinese people when discussing tea or their own culture - the idea that, for example, a farmer sells their tea as red tea, but they process it differently to how some other group processes tea they also call red tea. that doesn't make the farmer a liar - they know what they are doing best, they're the expert on at least their tea and also, tea in general - and it doesn't make the person in not-China who sells the tea to the consumer a liar either.

i said some things earlier about how you can never really know if a tea is what the person selling it says it is, and that the idea of authenticity in tea is difficult. i had been reading the backlog of a tea blog that talks a lot about 'fake tea', and the different kinds of things people mean by that. it could be bad tea sold as good, tea from one area being sold as another, more famous area, or things that are not tea being sold as tea, etc. it was honestly pretty discouraging as i'm not experienced enough to feel confident tea-shopping with anything but the word of the person i'm buying tea from as my guide.

if this very experienced Chinese academic, who has lived and travelled in China and Taiwan and Japan, who has been not only drinking tea seriously for nearly two decades but also studying tea, writing about its history, thinks that it is very difficult to buy good tea that is what it says it is, and that the vast majority of tea sold (especially outside of China) is mediocre at best, what hope do i as a neophyte who doesn't speak the language have?

i guess there are a few things to take away from all of this. one is that i shouldn't assume that everyone is always lying to me, or is passing on lies told by someone else. not only is it potentially racist, but it also is not very good for the soul, and i don't want bitterness in the teacup of my heart. the second is, there is a line between healthy skepticism and that hopeless worldview, and i would much rather be naive than bitter, so i will steer well clear of it. the third thing is that of course the majority of tea is mediocre, that's what mediocre means! most tea will be average in quality. that's okay. i do not need to only drink the absolute finest grade tea aged traditionally for 30 years - partly because i don't want to spend the money needed, partly because i don't think i would appreciate it, partly because there are plenty of teas out there that are delicious and reasonably priced. so.

i'm sorry, vendor, for being incredulous about the kitchen tea. i have no real reason to doubt, and i won't let that hopelessness infect my thinking again.

2022-11-02

today was a big tea day! i started with the Bulang Shan sheng puerh, which was nice enough to drink but didn't really have much of a body, and was too prone to astringency - it was fine, but i think that that is one i'm not a big fan of. which is honestly very valuable information - figuring out which things i like and don't like is an important part of maturing in teaism, i think.

later that day though, i received an order i had placed some weeks ago with these folks, a married couple in the Jingmai (景迈) area who farm and process and sell tea. they have some gardens of their own, plus they source some leaves from other places, and they focus heavily on giving customers as much information as they can about where the tea comes from and how processing actually works. william, a French farmer who moved to Yunnan, narrates the videos shot by his wife ubai, whose family has been growing tea for many years.

in my order was a tea cake (357g of tea that has been steamed and pressed into a disk, that you then use a gentle knife to pry leaves off of to then brew) that according to them is their tea most representative of the terroir of that area. traditionally, these cakes would be left to age in warehouses in Hong Kong or other areas before being consumed in a decade or three, but instead i have it in a dark cupboard in an unused part of the house. i probably need to make sure that it doesn't get too dry - too dry tea is weak in flavor, or so i hear - but it'll do for now, resting after its long journey from Pu'er (普洱市).

i also got some bags of maocha (毛茶)! this term means different things precisely depending on who you talk to and what they mean, but the general shape of the meaning is tea that is processed but not yet ready for sale. this can mean "has not been pressed into cakes yet" but may also mean "has not finished drying yet" etc. in this case, all that's missing is pressing it into cakes, and it's otherwise ready to drink. william and yubai sold this for a limited time i guess because then they don't need to pay for it to be pressed? uncertain. in any case, it's neat to get tea that is about as young as it can be and so i can taste it from the beginning of its journey. all in the name of furthering my tea education :)

being very nice people, they also included seven(!) sample cubes of different teas they do, so i will taste and review them here.

i tried the 2022 Jingmai Gulan, their flagship blend, and it was an interesting experience. pretty grassy smell and taste, but full and warm - it felt physically good to drink. not particularly astringent, only a little sweet, big smell and taste of forest air. it lasted for a good long time - Jingmai tea is supposed to be quite fragrant, i think, and so it probably wants short steeping time but very hot water in order to release the volatiles. luckily, there are a bunch of videos on how to get the most from this tea, so i'm in good hands :)

2022-11-01

i actually meant to drink this tea yesterday, but the oolong got ahead of me. i have a small amount of a heicha (黑茶) from Guangxi, that is gu yu (谷雨茶) - namely, harvested after the spring rains - and then left to ferment and age a bit. according to the person who sold it to me, it's a kind of tea that farmers and others in the area harvest for their own consumption from wild/feral tea plants, or tea-adjacent plants, that they generally stick in sacks in their kitchens and will use to make You Cha (油茶), or 'oil tea', which is a component in a local kind of meal. this kind of thing, where you use tea to help make a broth that other things go into, is a very very very old way of using tea, which is neat.

anyway, the story goes that this tea would hang out in kitchens, absorbing the flavors of the cooking (tea does this super easily) including the fragrance of the smoke from the fires (also probably accurate), and the smoke helped prevent mold despite the high humidity and temperature of the Guangxi region. i don't know if this specific tea i drank today is really that kind of tea, or if it's just a smoked low-grade tea (it was full of sticks), but it's a nice story. in any case, the tea was amazing.

i brewed this tea maybe twenty times today. over and over again, using boiling water, letting it steep for a while, pouring it into the gong dao bei (公道杯) and serving from there. it stayed flavorful the whole time, smokey and sweet at first, eventually becoming a little less smoked and quite spicy as the drink went on. it was so cool seeing the taste of the tea change, not diminish, over the steepings, and it was very sad to eventually say thank you to the tea and the teaware, before throwing out the leaves and cleaning everything up.

ultimately, the idea of authenticity in tea is so difficult. leaves, just by looking, only tell you some of what they are, how they were harvested and processed, and very little about where they came from - all of that information only comes to people who are very experienced, too. i don't have more than a small amount of experience, and i certainly don't know good tea from bad except in how it tastes and how it makes me feel to drink it. i don't trust stories from people, even if they themselves fervently believe it; they bought the tea from someone else, and how do you know that they were themselves telling the truth? there's no chain of custody for every leaf.

maybe one day i will travel and follow the leaf from tree all the way to the factory where they press them into cakes, and then know exactly where the leaves came from and how they were treated, but that won't really help. it won't make the tea "good" necessarily: it's not like i know what good tea growing looks like, or what kind of tea processing would be best, or if it was well done, or anything. i don't know anything! all i know is how it tastes, how it smells, how it feels when i drink it. everything else is set dressing.

2022-10-31

today i brewed my first Phoenix oolong, Mi Lan Xiang (米蘭香), which is one of the better known ones, as far as i can tell. i brewed it in my best approximation of Chaozhou style, brewed with very hot water quickly, large dosage, and not disturbing the cha dan. it came out extremely fruity - i got large hits of a mango/honey flavor, which was pretty neat, and no real bitterness, which suggests that i'm at least getting the brewing parameters roughly right.

i drank some very hot, and the floral fragrance absolutely dominated - which makes sense, because they are all volatile oils and the high heat is necessary to peel them from the leaves. i also let some cool in a tall ceramic cup, and that stuff is a little more astringent and has lost some of that fragrance on the nose - the heat probably caused those volatiles to disappaear - but if i slurp, swallow, and breathe out through my nose, i get that floral and fruit fragrance back. i think that's supposed to be hui gan (回甘), though really i would like to drink tea in person with people who are more experienced than i am. i have to believe something like that exists here, but, who knows.

i also have a very traditionally made oolong that is supposed to be very powerful, very strong, but very prone to bitterness - the guy at the tea store suggested i practice with my Mi Lan Xiang before trying that one, which makes sense. i believe in my ability to at least do it some amount of justice.

2022-10-30

i'm writing this on the 31st, as yesterday was very busy. tea on the 30th was the remains of my Lao Cha Tou brewed very simply - i dumped the leaves in an insulated tumbler, full of hot water, and let it sit for several hours as i sipped it. given that it's shou, it wasn't at too much risk of getting bitter, plus there was quite a lot of water given the quantity of leaves that remained. we took a ferry, and the weather was pretty wet and cold - sipping hot tea in inclement weather is a particular kind of joy, and i very much appreciated it.

i'm taking a class soon about different Chinese tea brewing methods, and one of the ones they teach is from Chaozhou (潮州) that is focused on oolongs. i went to a local Chinese tea store here at home and got another Yixing(?) teapot, just for that purpose. the thing about unglazed terracotta teapots is that they definitely do absorb oils and flavors from the tea you use it with, and so my puerh teapot is not super suitable for this. in any case, it was not expensive for Yixing, and from what i can (very inexpertly) tell, it was probably made using similar enough clay. actually authenticating any of this stuff is very difficult, and so i am going to try not to worry and instead simply make the tea.

maybe one day i will go to the Yixing area myself and buy a teapot directly from one of the artists, but it would likely be very expensive - like tea, the best ceramics never leave China, and also it's not something i would get the right benefit from yet. my tea skill and tea palate are not advanced enough yet.

2022-10-29

more practice with the Yiwu gushu sheng puerh today. it is very difficult to brew effectively in the travel set, in that you need to use - with that tea, anyway - a bit less water than i was using, to get a strong brew, and also to be careful to let the tea steep a bit, but not too long, in order to not end up with something bitter or too astringency. i think that it's supposed to be at least a little astringent, but it's hard to tell. drinking the tea as hot as it is when brewed makes it difficult to properly taste, for me - the heat is 'too loud', so to speak.

the tea itself brews a dark orange color, and the leaves have that reddened and slightly brownish look that says 'older sheng', but not too old - as far as i can tell.

i also am going to be taking an advanced gongfu class soon, and so ordered a bunch of teas for that, plus a box of 'owner's choice' teas, with the request that i'm trying to broaden my tea knowledge, so we'll see what ends up coming from them. i'm pretty excited :)

2022-10-28

another good day. right now - as i type! - i am drinking the Yiwu gu shu sheng puerh, from 2003. it's a pretty old tea, from very old trees - what counts as 'gushu' (古树), or 'ancient tree', differs depending on where you are asking in the different tea producing areas in China, or so i hear.

in Yiwu it means tea from ancient tea gardens - tea gardens planted a very long time ago, and that are often overgrown or overtaken by the woods on the tea-producing mountains. farmers will lease or buy mountain land that contains these old and abandoned tea gardens, and harvest from their trees - several hundred year old trees at times, that are very large and require pickers to literally climb them to pick the new leaves. this is in stark comparison to tea plantations that are newer or more modern, where tea bushes will be kept at roughly shoulder height or lower to make it easy for pickers to collect the fresh buds and leaves.

i don't know how much of a difference it makes chemically or biologically, for trees to grow big and old and then produce leaves, but my understanding is that generally slower growth is better for flavor, and trees in ancient tea gardens grow in shadier conditions than terraced plantations, and so grow more slowly. also, for me, there is something quite special about tea from old trees - that are far older than me, and will almost certainly outlive me, that were planted by someone long ago and have nourished thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of people across the years, and somehow someone picked some leaves, sent them to someone else, who patiently laid them out to wither in the sun a bit before heating them in a wok or other kind of heater before rolling them, pressing them into a cake after some more drying and then steaming, more drying, and then stored in some warehouse for over a decade and eventually landing in my teacup, several thousands of miles away.

maybe this is just privilege talking, and maybe we should not be shipping something as luxurious as tea across the planet when we have local alternatives (some of which i have occasionally picked and prepared myself, and are really quite pleasant), but i will i guess let myself have this. in any case, the nature of the tea for me is more powerful - the cha qi (茶气) is stronger - from teas that come from old plants. that's okay i guess.

2022-10-27

today has been a full and good day. i'm writing this from a small coastal town a few hours away from home, on a birding trip for my wife's birthday. our other partner came too, and it feels extremely good to be sat on the couch in this cottage by the sea, both my spouses on either side, drinking tea and listening to the rain.

i didn't bring my full tea set, but i do have this very neat travel set i just tried for the first time. it is made of 'mutton fat jade' porcelain, which i believe means it is porcelain that happens to resemble white nephrite, rather than porcelain somehow involving that mineral. in any case, it is a joy to use; it's beautiful, warms well, is matte but almost velvety to touch, and pours very nicely. it is a large vessel with a porcelain strainer, a lid that also serves as a rest, and two little cups - they all fit together in a little travel case about the size and shape of a mango. i need practice to make tea well in it, but using the principles i have learned i made some sheng puerh from Yiwu, albeit a little older - 2003 i think - and it tasted great, with only a little astringency. i could probably get better results from my gaiwan or teapot, sure, but i am not at home. this feels good anyway, and mindful practice will help me grow in skill.

2022-10-26

busy and kind of stressful day today, but i made room for tea, and i used the shou puerh, because as far as i can tell i never really run the risk of messing it up. i was sloppy about it, but i made tea, and drank it, and it made me feel a bit better. which is exactly what it is for.

i'm waiting on a couple of deliveries from a Yunnan farmer and puerh tea manufacturer who puts out a lot of video content in English. His website is here and has some very interesting things on there, that i'm pretty excited to try. soon, hopefully.

2022-10-25

today i drank a lot of the Wu Liang Shan and some of the Bulang Shan sheng puerh, and watched another recording of the gongfu cha class, an older version than the one i saw yesterday. that one in particular was interesting because it included some in-person students attempting the techniques - it helped me see what it's like as someone attempting these things for the first time, which will hopefully help me improve faster.

i tend to do this, to study ahead of the class for topics that i care about, so by the time i am taught it i'm receiving the information maybe the third or fourth time. it depends heavily on my motivation, anyway. in this case, i am drawn to tea as a way to cultivate an inner serenity, to practice a thing that seems very simple - combining hot water and leaves - in a way that explores a lot of subtleties, of chemistry and biology and self.

anyway, on that somewhat mystical note, i understand my partner has shared this blog with some of her coworkers. hello!

2022-10-24

today i was drinking another sheng puerh, but this one was from Wu Liang Shan (无量山). it was harvested in 2013, so relatively young for a puerh but not as young as the previous tea. i got a little bit of astringency but it was mostly mouthwatering, rather than negative; i tried a technique which really helped.

after you rinse the tea, the tea is naturally clumped up by the side of the gaiwan, or by the spout of the teapot. yesterday, when i was pouring, i tried to avoid pouring directly on the leaves in order to not burn them, and it turns out that whole technique has a name! i have been watching some classes by the founder of West China Tea, So-Han Fan, and in his class on advanced gong fu cha, he talked about fixed-point pouring (定點). basically, the clump of tea is called the chá dān (茶丹), and the goal is to pour the water in such a way that that clump is preserved - you don't break it up by pouring water onto it directly, or by shaking the gaiwan. it acts as a flavour reservoir, and if you break it up it will make the tea bitter. that's precisely what i had been doing, and what i stopped doing - albeit in concert with cooler water. this class let me know that i could in fact use boiling water, and that technique made really good tea. i highly recommend you go check their classes out if you're interested.

this tea had more of a melon note than the toasted rice of the Bulang Shan. i look forward to trying it again tomorrow, see if i can get better notes from it. i drank this one immediately after lunch, and immediately after dinner, neither of which are particularly good times i think for having a clear ability to taste things; i think with practice in this technique, i can get some pretty good tea out of this and my other samples. we'll see. in any case, i can only improve.

2022-10-23

okay, so i made some more of the sheng puerh from Bulang Shan - if i brew with real boiling water, and maybe 5% more water than i used previously, and still pour out the water basically immediately, i get a drink that is floral, a little grassy, only slightly astringent, with those same toasted rice touch. that's the trick, i think - i was under extracting and as a result, the taste was not balanced. it came out pretty well. i feel good and like i'm getting a bit better at using my teastuff.

today was tabletop, so other people in my family came over to play and then have dinner afterwards. i'm writing this while waiting for dinner to be ready, so, i'm looking forward to that - i served tea to my visiting friend and her partner (who is also my partner's partner's partner - complicated family!), which felt nice. i showed them the Lao Cha Tou, and made a bunch of cups. they both liked it a lot, which was good - i made it in the yixing teapot, and it is very easy to brew, no real risk of getting bitterness as i think i remember that that tea is really intended to be boiled in a pot actively, rather than steeped necessarily, but it worked well enough for my purposes.

tomorrow is a work day, and i will probably see about maybe having a kettle or a flask or something of hot water by my desk. i bet i could keep some of this sheng puerh going all afternoon.

2022-10-22

i drank a lot of tea today. i have a sheng puerh, 2018, from Bulang Shan in Yunnan (布朗山), and i tried it with the gaiwan. it's a good teaching tea, in that i think i need to work at getting the temperature and steeping time right in order to end up with something too astringent.

i also drank a lot of houjicha (日本焙茶), a green tea. a friend of mine came to visit from san francisco, and we spent a good amount of time sipping tea together and talking out on our back porch, which was good. tea was doing the thing that it's meant to, namely nourishing the spirit.

2022-10-21

today was a busy tea day. i wasn't working, and tea is kind of the main thing i am into at the moment, and so stuff related to that inflates to take up a lot of my time. i'm not entirely sure why i'm throwing myself into this quite so fully; maybe as a distraction? i'm unsure.

anyway, tea. i ordered some nice teaware from a company out in Austin, Texas, which seems to be run by someone extremely knowledgeable who also puts out a lot of educational content that i've been enjoying, too. it's a delight to use! i'm struggling a lot though. i feel like today generally i have been getting in my own way, whether that's being thwarted when trying to do something a particular way and then having a strong emotional reaction to it, or just other kinds of my own mood not really being tethered to external events. that's a reasonable working definition of poor mental health, i guess.

the thought that just came to mind is of those games where you watch a series of little videos, or explore a space and read letters or look at photos or something, and put together the story from there - i think it's called ambient storytelling, but i'm not going to look it up. in any case, i am probably ruining the ambient storytelling-ness of my blog by just straight-up acknowledging that i have depression, anxiety, and ptsd, but so it goes.

i went to a tea place today with one of my partners, ostensibly to learn about gongfu tea service, but the 45m class was 5m of 'pour boiling water on the leaves. pour out immediately afterwards. dosage is important. any questions?' followed by drinking tea, which was... not really what i was looking for. i don't know if i was expecting there to be more ceremony or whatever to it, but definitely a bit more by way of actual instruction. maybe it's just not that complicated and i am pushing too hard to be good at something that is ultimately just about practice. that would be typical of me. in any case, i should be gentler with myself.

i made the remains of the Yiwu tea, in the new gaiwan, and i just don't think i'm good at making this one in particular. i think i was too slow to decant the liquid, maybe the dosage wasn't right, and i really need to use a strainer. it wasn't super astringent or bitter, but it definitely had a weird taste that is lingering in the back of my throat. maybe it is bitterness, i don't know. in any case, that was the last of it, and tomorrow i will try something else, and maybe it will be better.

there is a story i really love called 'psalm for the wild-built' where the protagonist works as a travelling tea monk - they had a cart, full of teas, and they would travel around visiting communities, offering tea, and listening to people, in exchange for (roughly) things like supplies. they actually have a well developed favor economy of sorts rather than anything so crude as money, but that's another post for another venue. i've thought about what that might be like; travelling, listening to people, making a small but real positive difference in a community, moving on. it's the kind of thing i wish was viable and maybe when i end up moving to a small community and settling there ~permanently, i could do something like that, but everything about that currently feels impossible.

the neat thing about tea, though, which i need to really put front and center, is that regardless of everything else, the rite of tea service - whether it's just for yourself, or if you are hosting others - can be a small bubble of peace and serenity in the midst of whatever else is going on in life. very few things are actually so important and so pressing that you can't take a moment to put everything else aside, be present, and do something good for yourself and for others. it does not need to be as part of a perfectly beautiful life; it can just be a beautiful and impermanent thing that starts and exists and then is over.

2022-10-20

i'm actually writing this on the 21st, but it's about yesterday. i tried drinking a Yiwu gu shu tea from 2018. it came in cake form, and so i had to very carefully unpick the compressed leaves so that they could unfurl more easily in the teapot.

Yiwu is one of the main tea mountains in Yunnan province, and is known for making light, floral teas with little bitterness or astringency. however, gu shu (when you're talking about Yiwu tea) means that they come from very old tea gardens, rather than the more modern terraced kind. this leads to two different characteristics, as far as i can tell:

also, this was a raw, or sheng tea (生茶). what this means is that it was not left to ferment in piles, it was processed and then pressed into cakes so that it could age more slowly and gradually. being from 2018, it's a decidedly new tea, which explains why it tasted light, grassy, and some strong toasted rice flavors. i ended up getting quite a bit of astringency because i oversteeped it, or used water that was too hot, or something. in any case, it was a marked shift from the aged and shou (熟茶) puerh that i had been drinking.

2022-10-19

i tried the remains of the Xiaguan Tuo Cha, in the gaiwan this time. it tasted good, but i think my kettle cools down too quickly to properly keep brewing the tea across steepings. when i've had tea in a teahouse, the kettles were on little lamps to keep the water at a good temperature - maybe i need to figure something similar out.

Tuo Cha refers to the shape of the compressed tea, which is a little dome with a depression in the middle. apparently this is to help with aging, by increasing its surface area, but it is also just a traditional shape, and you can make them smaller for transport than the disks, i guess. this one is from 2018 and is shou, so it makes sense that it has a kind of aged round smooth sweet earthy taste, without much bitterness at all, especially given i'm brewing with water that's a little cooler than intended. in any case, i had maybe a litre of tea, and i definitely feel the kind of concentrated tension in the center of my forehead, which maybe indicates that i've had too much caffeine. maybe it's the cha qi? in any case, i'm feeling centered and calm, and my perception isn't altered, indicating that i'm not tea drunk. who knows. in any case, the tea spirit is satisfied, my tea equipment is happy, and it is now time to put them to bed.

in general i've been trying to cultivate gratitude, and a side effect of that is that i've started to recognize spirits in things. the laptop spirit, the desktop spirit, the tea spirit and the teapot spirit - things are satisfied by being treated well, by performing their function, and by resting, but not too long. the same goes for me, and other people, even if function is usually a bit grander in scale, or more ephemeral, or more numinous. mine, i think, is to love, and i also want to live beautifully - but not so beautifully that i'm an ornament, rather than a treasure. a hopi vase or a handmade teapot, not an oil painting.

2022-10-18

i made more of the Lao Cha Tou today, albeit hurriedly. i was attending a training session for new managers, and during the short break i hastily assembled tea and boiled the water. it definitely tasted a little different to the tea yesterday; same rounded-off-ness of the flavour, but different notes. maybe a little different in the sweetness. i'm not good enough yet to really identify actual specifics about the flavour profile, but, in time. it was delicious all the same.

tomorrow i will try the remains of that sample, but in the gaiwan, and see if i can pull anything specific about how it tastes or how it feels out.

2022-10-17

i am back home. i got in yesterday evening, after a pretty long series of planes and trains and one automobile. staying up to my normal bedtime and waking up at my usual time has meant that this morning, i am actually not feeling too jetlagged or tired. today i get to, mostly, vibe.

i decided to use my teapot today, rather than the porcelain gaiwan i took with me travelling. it's terracotta, allegedly from yixing, and the place i got it from says it was made by a lady called chen chunhong (陳春宏). not being able to speak or read any chinese languages, i'm relying on websites and stores and things to tell me the truth about what things are or where they came from, but a thing i'm trying to internalize is that it really does not matter too much. i like owning objects with stories, but those stories can be anything - knowing that my teapot was made of really good clay from a particularly great area for clay and was crafted by hand by an artist is neat, and if it's a true story, so much the better i guess, but it doesn't need to be that way. i made my tea. i drank it. it tasted good, and felt good to do. that's sufficient.

in any case, i made my tea - this one was from Xiaguan Tuocha, harvested and put together in 2018. this was shou, or 'cooked', puerh - what that means was, for part of the tea processing, the tea was left in piles. the heat and the moisture caused the tea to ferment a bit, leading to a tea that emulates a little the effects of a longer aging process.

the thing with drinking tea outside on the porch in the morning is that usually, it is very very good. sometimes though, especially today, the air outside is bad and the sun is baleful, as a result of the forest fires. it probably is not good for tea. however, it didn't smell bad outside, and as much as my sinuses are not great right now, i haven't lost that sense of smell - i believe. the tea itself was good - not bitter, a little sweet, not as profoundly earthy as the previous tea but generally, good. i don't know if my palate isn't sophisticated enough, or if the teapot is smoothing things out, or if my sense of smell and taste is maybe just a bit compromised, but it felt like a kind of... standard puerh tea. it was good, but not distinctive. we'll see how the second half of this sample goes, in the gaiwan.

2022-10-16

this may be my last tea in this city. it's early in the morning, and i am getting ready to fly home; showered, am currently packing, and thinking about my family. just in time, really, as i think i've mastered the making of nice tea with my hotel room equipment. i took the time to warm the gaiwan and tea cup before drinking it, after i watched someone talk about tea-making - he said that that part at the beginning of the process wasn't really to make the tea taste better, though it does have a part in that. instead, the act of warming the pot and the tea cup serves to help center you in the process of tea-making. it is too easy to speed through things where the process is actually the point.

i'm excited to come home. i hope that it won't take long for me to settle back into our rhythm. today will be a long day, but i'll be fortified. soon.

2022-10-15

the first work thing is in about 45 minutes, and so i am in my hotel room drinking more of the Lao Cha Tou. i managed to avoid making too much of a mess pouring it, but while sitting with the cup i did spill all over one of my legs. i don't know if it's confirmation bias or something else, but i feel distinctly like i have been getting clumsier, in many senses. not able to find the right words, spilling things, dropping them, misplacing and forgetting things. i worry frequently about degenerative disease, but if it is something that is really happening, it could also just be getting older, i guess. in any case, there is very little i can do except continue to live and grow as best as i can.

tomorrow i leave for home. i wish it were sooner, but that again is another thing i can't really help. just one more day of work, then a day of travel, then some days off for actual rest, with my family. i hope that things feel right when i get home; that the feeling of comfort and closeness i associate with being at home does not take too long to return. i definitely have experienced that thing when i have traveled previously, and because i have traveled alone this time, i worry that i'm going to feel distant from everyone when i return, we'll see. either way, things will be back to normal eventually.

2022-10-14

no tea today. my day was very full, with a lot of time spent around colleagues. i slept very badly, ultimately took a nap, and otherwise have spent the whole day out working, or socializing. my group is fine, though we're yet to form any kind of deep connection.

2022-10-13

more Lao Cha Tou today, it's the only one i brought with me. i woke up later than usual, but still within the middle of the bell curve for people who actually live here. it stays dark quite late into the morning here, and so everything is closed until 10 or 11. i needed to find a store to buy some stuff i had forgotten to pack with me, and got most of the way through the transaction in the local language, until the clerk said that i could get two of something for the same price as one. luckily her english was way better than my not-english.

the kettle boils extremely hot still, and i only burn myself twice trying to warm the gaiwan and rinse the tea. i leave it standing for a while, typing this as a prelude both to the tea and to me starting my work day in earnest. the kettle also dribbles a lot as i pour, presumably precisely because i'm trying to be careful, and the spilled water on the wood(?) furniture does remind me that at home, i'd have my tray, and a tea towel, and my nice kettle, and i could do this without making so much of a mess. everything is messy here, and i am cleaning up spilled tea with a plain white towel. i feel bad about that.

the tea itself is good. i managed to avoid burning it this time, and for the second cup, the water in the kettle has cooled down a bit. i managed to not spill; you kind of have to be bolder, more decisive, about when you are pouring and when you are not pouring. the same goes for the gaiwan, honestly, though a little spilling is basically inevitable when you are dealing with something that doesn't even have a spout. that's okay, i guess.

more tea in the evening, though i doubt the wisdom of it. i skipped out on a work social to go have dinner alone, then retreat to my hotel room; i washed my hair, watched a TV show, drank tea. i did not make it properly, and the taste is only okay. my tongue is probably ruined by the chocolate i ate. i miss my partners. i miss my home.

it is difficult being out of phase with them; they are far away, and also together, and it's a weird set of tensions and feelings that result. i'm trying to deal with them as healthily as i can. i'm not really able to talk to them much, as i sleep during most of their day, and instead i am socializing with a barn full of strangers. it's hollowing. i drink tea.

2022-10-12

i'm drinking Lao Cha Tou puerh in my hotel room in Amsterdam. i brewed it too hot and for a bit too long, using the hotel kettle and a gaiwan that miraculously survived being in my hand luggage for 18 hours. it smells and tastes earthy, and i'm distinctly reminded that this thing i'm drinking is made from wet leaves. it's a little bitter, unusually so, and i also feel reminded that i am a long way from home. i got to talk to my partners an hour or so ago, enjoying their day unusually out of phase from me, and that was good. that helped me feel alright.

i went to go refill the gaiwan with cooler water, and i realized i had left some water in there already, meaning the tea has just been either stewing, which would be regretful, or deeply steeping, which would be fine - either way, i didn't want to drink the remnants, so i dumped it and refilled. after carefully walking it over, i got to taste it. much better. this brings me back to tea on the porch of our house. just a hint of bitterness, that only really comes up after your swallow. it feels good in the mouth, like how grass between your toes feels, and it tastes like the earth is kissing you. this tea is twenty years old, and it somehow ended up in my cup. lucky me.

2022-10-09

i used to be a tea nerd! or at least, i thought i was. there was a local place in my undergrad town that had interesting coffee and tea and things, and i was pretty lonely for a variety of reasons, and so i would spend a lot of time there looking at teas - asking questions, trying things, etc. it was a thing i could actually kind of afford to do because even small amounts of things like tea are very cheap. at least, they are compared to beer or whatever, and when you aren't buying especially fancy things, which i wasn't, because i didn't know what fancy was in the world of tea.

in any case, i eventually put that hobby down, plus all my other hobbies, and had a long relationship that was terrible and made me very unhappy. when that relationship ended, i moved back to the USA and after bouncing around some temporary accommodation, i ended up living opposite a Chinese tea shop. i learned about how to make tea gongfu style, about yixing teapots, and some of the different kinds of Chinese tea, and ended up drinking a lot of pu'erh. that's now my favorite kind! and i'm going to write about the ones i try here. eventually.

back then i had read 'the book of tea' which made me think i understood both tea and zen, when really i had no idea about either. after moving to the US however i found myself living with someone who at one point had taken zen really seriously, and so i got some input from her on what at least rinzai zen was all about. i bought a yixing teapot and i bought a little bamboo tray and i bought some pu'erh, and tried to focus on doing a good job making tea, in the hopes that that would bring about some kind of inner peace. it did not! but the tea was tasty. it turns out that teaism is real and good, but kneeling on tatami and trying to gongfu yourself out of a bad situation isn't super effective by itself. no tea is strong enough.

in any case, i moved away from her and that bad situation to another, much better one. i again was alone and again was trying to find things that made me happy, and there just so happened to be a sōtō zendo nearby. i attended, became part of the sangha, kind of, and sat. it helped. i found local tea and coffee places, and drank a lot of it by myself. it helped, especially when my attention was on what i was doing and what i was drinking, and not in my phone or on my laptop or whatever else i was using to distract myself. my teapot was donated to a thrift store and so i hope that my little teapot is making someone happy somewhere, and that the tea spirit is well fed. i stopped being a tea nerd, though. i stopped being a lot of different kinds of nerd, and my interest in things computer also kind of ended around this time. i think i just generally dropped a lot of the things that had build up around the idea of who i was.

fast forward a few years, and now i have a number of things; a loving family, a little free time, a decent job, and access to a lot of Chinese tea places. i don't practice zen anymore, but that's mainly because my time is very full and i barely have time to lean, let alone sit. it would probably be good for me to do that, but instead, i will keep trying to learn how to do tea properly, and thus solve two of my major problems - my mental health and dehydration - with the same meditative practice. i had had this thing once that had given me joy, and so, i am going to get back into it - again - but better, this time.

want to go back?