Monday, March 7, 2011

While visiting Kingston's up and coming tearoom, I found he had a tree-stump Yixing teapot that resembled mine. I couldn't pass up this learning experience so I brought my teapot over on my next visit and let Kingston compare the two (above picture: mine is on the right). Pots like this can be made from a mold but what sets one from the other is the artist's eye for sharpening and adding details to the final product.

Winnie also has a tree-stump teapot. We picked up ours together in Hong Kong. There are elements to both our teapots that we find in Kingston's version. I asked Kingston for his first impressions. He said mine was nicer because of the greater amount of detail and the way those details were executed. While the color of the clay was the same, Kingston noticed a subtle, textural difference. It's one I have had trouble trying to catch on camera. The contrast isn't great enough but Kingston felt the difference with his hands. My clay was superior so the teapot felt smoother and more consistent throughout.

Kingston's teapot is on the left and you can see the handle while resembling a a young branch is nice but it's not as interesting as the aged and cracked wood effect of my teapot's handle. This detail adds a greater value for collectors who like this style. So long as it's not overwrought, intricate flourishes are expected with this kind of organic look.

Winnie's teapot is on the foreground and you can see just how clean and sharp its edges are compared to the softer contours of the Kingston pot. No major differences between all three pots but the sum of those little things add up to significant dollars.

  None of the teapots shown have been used but one of the joys of owning this style of pot is brewing with it and allowing a natural patina to develop. Because of all the tree knots and floral details, the changes in color saturation will be more pronounced between the smooth and rough areas. The tea staining adds another layer to the intricate look.
This was my first time using the tree-stump pot. Because it's quite small and holds only 60cc, I chose a tightly rolled tikwanyin. I wanted to enhance the richness of the red clay so I used our "Classic Roast" Iron Bodhisattva. It's deep, burgundy hue is a natural complement to the clay.
It's finally time to "feed" the teapot.

One cup for me, and one for the teapot.

 The submerged bottom of the teapot showed me a preview of the rich color I can eventually attain the more I use it. All those carefully carved out nooks and crevices will darken and add dimension to the woody details. This is one teapot that does require a little extra attention for it's maintenance. I want to make sure the tea and water stains accentuate and highlight the organic shape of this tea and not leave marks on the smooth parts of the surface. Once I was done using the teapot, emptied the leaves and given it a quick rinse, I gently buffed the surface dry with a thick tea towel. Then I used a smaller, thinner cloth and rubbed away the stains that left outlines around the carved flowers and notches. You can also use a clean, medium-bristled paintbrush to get beneath the handle and other small niches.

While it takes time for the patina to develop, I feel an impatience to see those delicate flowers and carefully etched knots pop with contrast.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Golden Buddha Hand: Trial in the Tearoom

 2010 Fall Harvest vs. 2010 Spring Harvest 

We don't always have the leisure to spend and afternoon with tea in this society. Even working at a tearoom, means a lot of administrative work and taking care of your clients. It's a shame since some teas undergo many changes during multiple infusions and resting periods. At the tearoom, we often refer to the "life" of the tea, the journey it takes from the first delicate infusions to the eventual peak in flavor and body. Then there's the slow, softening of flavors as it completes it's arc and reaches the end.
The past few months, Toki and I have been drinking and evaluating the 2010 Fall harvest of an oolong, called Golden Buddha Hand. Soon to be an exclusive offering from The Mandarin's Tearoom. I also got to compare the tea to it's 2010 Spring harvest version. This was the tea producers initial offering and some changes were made to improve the later batch. As you can see in the picture above, the two harvests are very similar in appearance except the Spring harvest on the right, is slightly darker due to roast.

 Here were the starting parameters:
  • I measured 7 grams each of the dry leaf and used porcelain gaiwans at 90cc, pre-heated with boiling water. Examined the dry leaf aromas: due to the cool and dry conditions of the tearoom (winter in NYC, ugh), both teas had a subdued fragrance. 2010 Fall was surprisingly more potent than it's darker sibling from Spring. Sweeter with light citrus flowers that seemed less oppressed than the soft, nutty notes of the roasted version.
  • I used boiling water for the flash rinse, decanted and enjoyed the awakening fragrance of the wet leaves. Now I get fresh cream and bergamot oil from the greener 2010 Fall. Florals were evident in the roasted 2010 Spring, layered with toasted grain.
  • First steep lasted less then 10 seconds. Leaves of both teas were still tightly curled. Differing colors between the two teas really starts to set them apart. 2010 Spring has an orange hue and the stronger flavor. The pale yellow-green of 2010 Fall looks almost neon against the white porcelain with lots of creaminess and flowers. I'm reminded of a creamsicle. Both have strong citrus notes.
  • Second steep was only a few seconds longer. Slowly the flavor builds, and the finish begins to develop. More orange flowers. More of the roast in the 2010 Spring.
  • Third steep, there's more body and layers to both teas as expected. 
  • Bottom of the cup fragrance: After I emptied my cup, both teas left a persistent, sweet scent clinging to the porcelain. 
  • Fourth steep has the 2010 Fall leaves opening up and filling up it's gaiwan. 2010 Spring maintains it's shape. Both teas continue to develop more layers but I find myself drawn to the greener oolong. It's flowers and cream are so easy to enjoy, there's little effort for so much pleasure.  
  • Far from finished, I do the Stress Test: or "pushing" the tea. Skilled brewing and appropriate water temperature can bring out the best in most good quality teas. One can also learn things about their tea when brewing under hostile parameters with longer heat and infusing times. Usually this is reserved for oolongs and puers; the better quality ones can handle it quite well without developing astringent notes. (Phoenix oolongs don't seem to handle this test very well, regardless of grade.) Some high quality, aged teas "can't be pushed" meaning they give up their flavor and fragrance on their own time and no amount of coaxing or brewing skill will deliver those notes prematurely. For the fifth steep, I left the tea in for about a minute longer than necessary. The 2010 Spring roast yielded some tannins and tipped the balance of the flavor profile. 2010 Fall performed more admirably, unleashing more piquant citrus and buttery texture. 
  • I approached the sixth steep with less aggression. Another think to look at was if the tea would bounce back when reverting to normal brewing standards. Now that the tannins were revealed in the 2010 Spring, they were staying put. The 2010 Fall was more accommodating, maintaining consistent flavor throughout it's ordeal.

  • Resting period: This is something Tim does to see what changes will occur to the flavors when you walk away from your tea in the middle and let it cool a bit before resuming the tasting session. After a few steeps, leave the tea alone in the brewing vessel, without water but covered by the lid. 
  • I returned to brew the seventh steep after a hour long rest for the tea. I used boiling water again and steeped for 30 seconds. The biggest change was in the 2010 Fall version. It shifted the balance towards a sweet but grassier taste. Not bad at all, just different with more herbaceous notes. Depending on my mood, I could see myself craving both flavors. The 2010 Spring held on to it's roasted notes with a sweeter touch.

  • Golden Buddha Hand has some of the largest leaves of the Tikwanyin family. 2010 Spring leaves never fully unfurled due to it's roast, the leaves remained a little kinked. 2010 Fall's leaves opened up completely, flat and full with a soft, resilient texture.
Both versions Golden Buddha Hand were surprising in their brewing stamina. I've never been really interested in Buddha Hand before this. Many of the one's I'd tasted before were decent but far from inspiring. The Mandarin's find is special one; easy to like and capable of holdingmy interest. I got to examine two different harvests and processing styles. It showed me some of the flavor range the leaves are capable of. With a relaxing chaqi, I spent the rest of the day pleasantly warm and happy.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year!

Rabbit painting by Tsui Po
Many thanks to our dear tea friends and patrons for your continued support and patronage.
Gong Hay Fat Choy from all us at the little tearoom on Howard Street. May the Year of the Rabbit bring you good health and fortune.

 It's been quite a year for the tearoom and I'm looking forward to what the rabbit will bring. Hopefully not more snow or sleet or the icicle that nearly took out my eye. This past month has introduced us to many new tea friends and we've discovered new developments in the New York tea community. I'm keeping a close eye on our friend Kingston's new Brooklyn venture. I got to handle some royal yixing at his place and Brandon was there to record it. He continues my last post on his blog WrongFu Cha. I can hardly wait for his official opening.

The past few months have been devoted to tasting and testing some exclusive teas from The Mandarin's tearoom. While this is the Tea Gallery blog, my dual job identity means some overlap and I'll be using this space to review teas from both companies. Check back soon to see what we've been drinking these past weeks.

Our Big February Event:

An Evening of Chinese Tea and Tradition:
The annual Coffee and Tea Festival comes to NYC this month and we're sponsoring a special VIP tasting and presentation at the show! For the first time ever, The Tea Gallery and The Mandarin's Tearoom will be showcasing Chinese tea and it's culture in an exclusive evening event on Saturday the 19th from 5:30 to 7:30pm. Much of what we'll be sharing is based on the lecture series we do for private audiences and educational programs. We'll take a brief look at the historic forces that shaped Chinese tea and influenced the rest of the world. We'll also explore ancient tea myths and learn how to develop a modern palate for tasting teas. The second part of the evening is a tasting reception where tea masters, Michael Wong and Timothy Hsu demonstrate traditional brewing styles and serve signature teas of the tearoom. 
Learn more at: VIP Tasting Event.
When: Festival starts February 19-20, 11am - 5pm
Where: 7 West 34th Street (between 6th and 5th Avenue), New York, NY 10001
Due to space constraints, seating is limited and participants are urged to buy tickets ahead of time to reserve their spots. Tickets to the VIP event can be purchased along with Saturday's admission or purchased separately: Get Tickets!

10% off any teas or accessories purchased during the events. We will also be raffling of free admission tickets ($20.00 value each) for the upcoming NYC Coffee and Tea Festival at our weekly Wednesday tasting events on Feb. 9th and 16th.

February 2010 - Wednesday night tea tasting schedule: $20.00 per person
  • February 9       Puer Tea              6:30 - 7:30pm
  • February 16     Oolong Tea          6:30 - 7:30pm
  • February 23     Japanese Tea      6:30 - 7:30pm

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brooklyn Royalty

 Last Sunday, Brandon from Wrongfu Cha was in town and the two of us paid a long overdue visit to our friend Kingston. For the past couple years he's been energetically building his teapot museum and tearoom in the wilds of Brooklyn. Since my last visit, he's been tirelessly growing his collection of yixing antiquities and remodeling his space. There's even an official name and banner that greets you at the front entrance: Orchid Tea House.  While his tearoom is still a work in progress, close friends and fellow antique collectors drop in to have tea and admire his latest acquisitions. 

We spent the entire day with Kingston, enjoying his hospitality and expressing unabashed envy at many of his pieces. The one that really took my breath away deserves a post all it's own:

Two Ching Dynasty teapots made with duan-ni (yellow) clay. These elegant shuiping were export Yixing pots for the royal Siam collection during the reign of King Rama V (his full name:Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua).

Whats even more astonishing is that the pair was acquired separately by Kingston. Thanks to a combination of savvy, luck and friendly tea connections. While they look nearly identical, there are small differences due to the handmade quality. There is also a difference in hue. One has been used to make tea for some time and the other was left pristine. The tea stained pot had a deeper glow and the edges stood out where the tea collected and darkened. It also felt smoother than the untouched pot. The sandy texture of the duan-ni clay was softened by the tea oils and there was a comparable difference between the two.

The tall flange was eggshell thin and that both lids escaped chipping was a miracle.Both pots were lightweight and fit snugly in my hand.

The royal Thai stamp was on both teapots but most visible on the tea stained bottom. There was also a smaller stamp on the inside of the lid.

The craftmanship is exquisite, the sharply defined spout is balanced by a slender ear. There was barely any space between the rim and the teapot's opening. To own even one of these spare and sophisticated teapots is impressive but two is incredible.