tea

Youth tea art contest in Hangzhou, China

Three days ago a Chinese youth Tea Art competition kicked off in HangZhou, capital of Zhejiang Province and Tea centre. During this contest 19 pupils showed their knowledge of tea and skills of tea art. To view more photographs click on this link Youth tea art contest kicks off in Hangzhou[1]- Chinadaily.com.cn.

Tea Art

The habit of drinking tea in China started during Zhou dynasty (1066-256 BC).  The skill of making and serving tea was regarded as important as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Zhu Xi, a South Song dynasty philosopher, started the practice of drinking tea in a certain ritual and his tea ceremony was handed down and further highlighted by such scholars such as the 8th Century scholar, Lu Yu (Tang dynasty) and Huang Ru Ze (Song dynasty).

Today, the tea ceremony is being revived by overseas Chinese and it is a popular cultural activity. Lu Yu wrote a book named Cha Jing in which the origin, the production, the utensils, the making and the drinking of tea were discussed. He also popularised the art of tea drinking as he travelled widely and associated with all kinds of people ranging from scholars to businessmen. (source:chinatravel.com)

Tea is enjoyed by any age and as mentioned before in my other tea related posts, there is much, much more than just putting a kettle on for a pot of ordinary tea. Real tea embodies flavour and fragrance, the preparation of soaking the exact amount of time followed by pouring tea where its centres on that perfect moment. With more than 2,000 years of history an abundant choice of tea leaves, the story continues and luckily many tea moments to linger on.  

For those who are interested in Tea Art Daniel Lui has written an insightful “Gong Fu Cha – The Complete Guide to Making Chinese Tea”, you can download his guide as pdf file. He manages and owns The Chinese Tea shop and blogs with an online forum, I encourage you to read his Tea reviews.

Tea connection, introducing The Tea Urchin

Tea Connection

For the love of Tea, I’ve made a wonderful connection with the owners of Tea Urchin, Eugene & Belle. I have been following Tea Urchin’s blog for quite a while and the main reason is their ongoing search and tea explorations but what attracted me the most are the wonderful travel stories, discoveries, people and affinity with their surroundings.

Through Eugene’s writings you can read their passion and engagement sharing tea experience from a wide angled view. Their home is in ShangHai, China, but in our recent email exchange Eugene shared with me that he and Belle visited The Netherlands while on honeymoon. So there you have another introduction, live is a series of moments invisibly string together.

Tea Urchin: mountain tea – hand picked leaves

 

Why Tea Urchin?

Eugene & Belle launched Tea Urchin to share their love of Chinese tea with the world. Eugene is an Australian who moved to Shanghai in 2004, where he discovered gongfu cha & became obsessed with puer. There he met & married Belle, a feisty Shanghainese tea lover with a penchant for sweet reds & fragrant oolongs.

Together, we travel around China, collecting rare, hand crafted teas. We love finding good tea, made by good people, and we help them to find an international market. We also specialize in premium tea ware from Yixing, Jingdezhen, Longquan & Taiwan.

We go the extra mile to produce our own puer tea, called “Cha Ren” (茶仁 which means “tea compassion”). Each year, we travel to Yunnan to source traditional, hand crafted puer teas directly from the best farmers. We work with the same trusted tea-makers each year, to ensure our tea is pesticide free, and not blended with cheaper or inferior teas. You can meet our producers & follow our tea adventures on our Tea Urchin blog.

Tea connection: Eugene & Belle – The Tea Urchin

I am delighted to share our tea connection with their latest publication about Tea, specifically Chinese Tea the process of tasting and grading Chinese teas. Just click on the title link below.

Cupping Tea- How to taste and grade Chinese teas

 

 

Tea Urchin website

Tea Urchin website

 

 

 

Tea webshop www.teaurchin.com 

Cupping Tea – How to taste and grade Chinese teas

Guest post contributed by The Tea Urchin blog. Chinese Tea ceremony, tea grading

Cupping tea is a sensory process of tasting and evaluating the quality of loose leaf tea.

For the past 3 years, Belle has been studying Chinese tea ceremony 茶艺 and tea grading 茶叶审评 at a Government technical college.

In a typical 6 hour class, you have to taste and grade 4 different teas, standing up the entire time. To pass the course, there are 8 types of tea one has to be able to recognise and grade – Shui Xian, Tie Guan Yin, Long jing, Bi Luo Chun, Dian Hong, Qi Men, Shou Puer, and Mo li hua cha (Jasmine tea)

In the beginner’s course, they give you 2 different samples of each tea type, and you have to judge which one is higher quality and why. In the intermediate course, you have to correctly grade 3 different samples of each tea.

The classroom is made up of several tasting stations, each station consists of a black table and a white table, the black table is for grading the dry tea leaves, and the white table is for tea tasting & grading the wet tea leaves.

On the black table are 3 tins, all of the same tea type.

Starting with the first tin, pour all the tea onto a wooden tray, who’s Chinese name is Yáo pán (摇盘) or “shaking tray”. This specialised yáo pán has a light background designed to contrast with the dark tea leaves.

Pour the tea from one tray to another. Do this 3 times, to evenly mix the tea leaves. Then use two fingers to push about 150-200g of tea, onto one tray, whilst the remaining tea is poured back into the tin. Repeat this process with the 2nd tin, before proceeding to the 3rd.

Carefully weigh 3g of tea for each tasting cup, 5g if it’s a Wulong tea. For long, Gaiwan’s are used instead of tasting cups, and the tea is infused 3 times instead of once (2 minutes for the first infusion, 3 minutes for the second infusion, and 5 minutes for the third infusion).

The tea is placed into tasting cups, and water is added. As the minerals in the water can greatly influence the flavour, it’s important to use the same filtered water, ideally freshly boiled. In the tea cupping & grading class, boiling water is used for all tea’s, they do not lower the water temperature for green teas (although they do in the tea ceremony class).

With the exception of Wulong, most tea’s are left to infuse for 5 minutes. Meanwhile , he leftover dry tea leaves in the tray are gently centrifuged by hand, separating the dry leaves into layers. The larger, heavier leaves naturally gravitate towards the center of the yaopan, with the smaller, broken fragments at the edges. This makes it easier to compare the 3 samples, although to the untrained eye, they still look almost identical.

Taking the best tea leaves from the center of the heap and spreading them out on the empty part of the tray allows one to examine the best leaves whilst also exposing the middle layer. Comparing the top, middle and bottom of each pile, gives you a better idea of the overall quality of each sample.

An electronic timer tells you when to pour the tea out. The tasting cups are placed on their side, so the edges of the bowl pin the lid to the cup body. If done right, the tea liquor drains into the tasting bowl, from a single hole in the cup. Getting the balance right takes a bit of practice, as the edge of the bowl only has a small overlap with the cup lid. If the lid is not tightly pressed to the cup, it will slip open, and tea & tea leaves will rush out the sides.The last few drops of tea have a lot of concentrated flavor, and every drop must be extracted from the cup for a fair tasting. A few quick flicks of the arm are sometimes necessary. Use a sieve to remove any stray leaf fragments or dust that might otherwise affect the tea flavor. The contents of the sieve are dumped onto the small black tray in front of each bowl, then the sieve is rinsed before moving onto the next bowl.

Lifting the lid up slightly, analyze the aroma one nostril at a time. This reveals more aroma than using both nostrils at once, as each nostril activates different olfactory receptors. There is a standard desired aroma for each tea, for example, in the case of Bi Luo Chun green tea, you’re looking a very fresh, tender (嫩) & floral aroma. Unusual, weak or stale aroma indicate lower quality. Quality in these comparative tastings is relative. Sometimes all the samples are low quality, so the tea grader has to make an overall assessment based on multiple criteria to draw out the strengths & weaknesses of each tea. Other times there’s a tea which clearly stands out on apperance, and its superiority is quickly confirmed via aroma & tasting.

There’s no time to stop to take notes. It’s important to assess the color of each tea and taste it before it cools. Especially with red tea and puer tea, the tea liquor can get cloudy as it cools. This can sometimes be a sign of high quality, as flavourful leaves release more caffeine, theaflavin, and polyphenols into the water.

Using a porcelain tea spoon, take a short, noisy slurp of each tea. The purpose of slurping is to aerate the tea and spread it out over the entire palate at once. There is a spittoon under the table, but when only tasting a few teas, it’s better to swallow, and appreciate the feeling in the throat and the after taste. Be careful to rinse the spoon between slurps, to avoid contaminating your samples.

Next, remove all the wet leaves from the tasting cup or gaiwan, and spread them out evenly on separate trays. Look for consistency in the leaf shape, texture and color. Leaves should be robust enough to rub between the fingers without desiccating. The brightness of the leaf color indicates quality.

Now its back to examining the dried leaves. Tip the yáo pán to heap them down at one end.

Take a pinch off the top and scatter it out. The light color of the yaopan makes it easier to examine the consistency of leaf shape and tightness of rolling. Usually it’s easier to determine the worst tea first, the top 2 grades can be harder to distinguish. When grading Qimen hongcha, we are looking for darker colour, more shiny instead of dull, and consistently narrow, tightly rolled leaves that look delicate but are unbroken – these are all indicators of higher quality tea leaves & greater care in processing. Lower quality leaves lack consistency, are loosely rolled, and often lack the sharp narrow bud tips, which have broken off during processing or handling.

The last step is to write down your findings. The form shown below uses nomenclature such as APPEARANCE: leaf shape, consistency, cleanliness, color & brightness. SUBSTANCE: aroma, tea color, mouthfeel, wet leaves quality & hand feel. Filling out the form requires a thorough meditation on the outer and inner qualities of the leaf, and a good memory!

 

 

By this stage in the process, it is quite common to have spent over 30 minutes examining this tea, and the whole grading process must be completed within 40 minutes, before moving onto the next station. It is not as straight forward or as easy at it sounds, but it’s certainly fascinating, and fun! All of this equipment can be purchased online, and with this guide you can now try it for yourself at home!

All photo credits: The Tea Urchin  | Eugene & Belle

Who are The Tea Urchin? Read the introduction just click on the link Tea connections, introducing The Tea Urchin

I highly recommend to visit their fabulous Tea Urchin webshop for premium teas and superior tea pots and tea wares.

Moroccan Mint Tea my style

Moroccan Mint Tea my style

Moroccan Mint Tea my style

While the sun is coming out, our little urban garden comes to live with visits of feathery friends in all sizes and Spring is showing by colourful daffodils and other flower buds growing as well as herbs. Mint hasn’t grown abundantly yet so I have to buy them at the local market or Moroccan, Turkish neighbourhood grocery shop. The other week I had bought a little glass teapot with a strainer at the Chinese supermarket, to make different brews in small quantities instead of our large insulated teapot or other tea vessels.

Moroccan Mint Tea my easy style; instead of using classic Chinese Gunpowder tea 珠茶  zhū chá I tried a different tea from my tea box; Sri Lanka, Geragama single estate unblended tea. Besides Chinese teas, I am very fond of Ceylon’s Earl Grey which was packaged in the Tea Garden at the estate as well as the unblended version. I just wondered whether this concoction would be as enjoyable as brewing original manner, my daughter and I can wholeheartedly say yes. I only had mint but if spearmint comes up I’ll definitely combine the two together for an even mintier infusion making hot and cold mint tea versions.

An authentic Moroccan tea ceremony is where the tea is steeped in boiling hot water for 15 minutes then the water is filtered without stirring into a different pot, the reason, therefore, is to remove coarse powder and leaves. Next, the sugar is added and is brought back to boil over medium heat, so that the sugar slowly melts into the water thereby giving it a distinctive taste. Lastly, the mint is added but never left in longer than two minutes, left too long it can develop an astringent taste and cause with some acid reflux. Part of this old tradition and process lies back in history when tea plantation process was different from the present due to the influence of hygiene standards, production process and even sugar production underwent changes in quality. Although steeping tea leaves remains the same, the timing, quality of water and watching the ceremonious handling is the heart of it all enjoying tea as a drink together.

Osmanthus Oolong tea, Teacup trails stories

Gui Hua Cha - 桂花烏龍茶

Gui Hua Cha – 桂花烏龍茶

I’m without a doubt a coffee junkie as well as a tea addict, with preferences for original tea leaves than ordinary teabags. Freshly brewed teas, steep straight into an original porcelain teacup or earthenware mug with a strainer or a glass mug.  The featured photo shows the large orange canister “GuiHua Wulong Cha” 桂花烏龍茶 or Osmanthus Oolong Tea produced by Ten Ren Tea, Taiwan. Read my very first introduction to the Osmanthus flower tree story here.

Just the combination of thinking about my favourite teas, tea shops with special tea’s I so much enjoyed, it brings forth even more stories and anecdotes. Discovering ‘My Teacup” trails, we’ll share a pot with tea leaves information and savour each sip. A world of tea I had no idea before there is so much more to tea than you might have thought. In distinction to Wine and Whisky sommeliers, Coffee connoisseurs; baristas, Tea sommeliers experts are on the rise. Sharing knowledge on Tea gastronomy promoting and marketing worlds finest eclectic Teas, it’s hip and trendy as ever.

Osmanthus Tea is composed of the high-quality Taiwanese Oolong tea scented with fresh Osmanthus flowers. Osmanthus is an evergreen shrub with attractive foliage and clusters of small, very fragrant flowers. These flowers are also used in some of the world’s most famous and expensive fragrances. This type of tea is categorised as scented tea’s, made by mixing various flowers and petals with green or oolong teas and among these is worldwide known Jasmine tea.

Osmanthus Oolong tea, Ten Ren Tea

Osmanthus Oolong tea, Gui Hua Cha, 桂花烏龍茶

Description names:  GuiHua Wulong Tea or  Osmanthus Oolong Tea

Origin:  Taiwan, (is a large producer of Oolong Tea with high-quality grades and distinctions)

Tea type & features: Oolong mixed scented tea, rolled tea leaves when steeped some tiny little white/yellowish petals may appear.

Brewing: 2-3 grammes of tea leaves for every 150ml of water

Preparation: Place the tea leaves in the scalded pot or cup. The amount is a matter of taste; say, 3 grammes per cup. Add some cold water before adding a small amount of boiling water. This is to keep the temperature below 80 Celsius; green teas should never be subjected to boiling temperature. Leave to steep for 5 minutes. The first decoction may be either discarded or drunk according to preference. This preparation is according to Chinese medicine practice another oolong tea preparation with more elaborate information click here.

Taste: One single sip produces a fullness of rich and mellowness, with a lingering sweetness and a clean aftertaste together with the osmanthus scent lingering on.

Osmanthus Oolong tea, rolled leaves

Rolled leaves

Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea which is known for its rich taste and pleasant lasting aftertaste. Oolongs are further classified as Dark or Green with Dark Oolongs baked longer than Green Oolongs. Green Oolongs (which are not related to Green teas in any way) tend to have a stronger fragrance while Dark Oolongs tend to have a stronger aftertaste. Special Baked Oolong is the only Oolong that is an intermediate Dark-Green Oolong. Ten Ren Tea”


On another note:

The brewing method used for Wulong tea throughout China and Taiwan is the Art of Gongfucha 工夫茶, where plenty of leaves are skillfully brewed to perfection in a very small teapot and the fragrant concoction is sipped from fine porcelain tiny teacups. Gongfucha is often referred to as ChaoSan Gongfucha as the original place where making “tea with effort” was an integral part of daily life. Gongfucha is also written as 功夫茶 referring to the skill, for linguistics semantics do matter but for tea aficionados and critics, the taste, fragrance and serenity enjoying a hot brew weighs more than words.

Gui Hua tree

Gui Hua tree

It is believed that in Fujian province, Chaoshan area the local Chaozhou (Teochew) people started this tradition of tea culture. Early settlers who moved to Taiwan have brought the custom along with them, where the tea ceremony has evolved in a masterful art performance as also influenced by Japanese culture (Japan first invasion was in 1874 and ruled as a colony from 1895 till 1945).  Click on the following link to read more about: “A bit of Tea History of Taiwan”.

Dried Gui Hua flowers

dried Gui Hua flowers

In the past I had to bring dried Gui Hua flowers with me on my travels, nowadays these very fragrant dried flowers are available at the larger Chinese supermarkets. Enjoy your GuiHua Wulong or Osmanthus Oolong tea and please share your palate experience and favourite brand with us.

 

Osmanthus 桂花 Gui Hua flower

One of my favourite tea’s “Gui Hua Wu Long Cha” 桂花乌龙茶 or Osmanthus Oolong tea, has a subtle beautiful floral fragrance with a soothing taste. The very first time I smelled the Osmanthus perfume was during my first trip late 70’s visiting relatives in Hangzhou, China, just around the West Lake there was a scent in the air teasing my olfactory senses and I just didn’t know what it was or where to find the source. Since it was just a whiff I tried to describe to my family members the fragrance eager and curious to learn the answer, but I forgot that the scent although particular and unusual for me was actually something they unconsciously dismissed being familiar and not registering as I did at that moment. During our stay on one of many excursions and outings with extended family, they brought us to a famous park. While strolling around my nose caught the fragrance again and I couldn’t help myself by just following the wind direction trying to get close to the source. Luckily it didn’t take long because suddenly we were caught in a blast where the air was heavenly scented with flowery perfume and I could exactly pinpoint what I was trailing and smelling, they burst out laughing and said it was Osmanthus flowers from a small tree.

Gui Hua, mu xi hua

Photo courtesy Source: TCM Traditional Chinese Medicine Wiki https://tcmwiki.com/wiki/gui-hua.

Absolutely thrilled having discovered a little treasure, I asked in my ignorance whether it was all right to get a small flowering branch to bring along with me as a remembrance. The family also out-of-town villagers in their innocence conceded seeing my enthusiasm. While the group strolled on I walked to the tree and tried to snap a twig with my bare hands, but the task wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The little tree had sturdy branches and protected it from being mauled and vandalised by an intruder. Without tools to break off a twig I started like a monkey zealously to get hold by twisting in a circular motion on a branch with blossoming flowers. The delicate flowers were whirling around me and that got the attention of one of the park guards afar, who initially was wondering what was going on. Didn’t take long for him to come running and shouting all kinds of orders if only I had understood him.

As an overseas born Chinese teenager visiting ancestral home for the very first time, I only spoke my parent’s dialect at the time and had no comprehension of Hangzhounese nor Mandarin at all. While I was going happy-go-lucky, the park guard was red hot of fury upon seeing the act of destruction. To make matters worse, seeing that he was carrying one of those Chinese-type of round curved scissor I was just about to hand sign borrowing to prune the tree. At the same time, he was yelling and waving his hands rapidly too, lost in communication I held up my hand stating I had no idea what he wanted to convey to me. Trying to answer in my dialect he was flying off a whole string of words of which I only understood clearly one and new I was in trouble.

Chinese spoken language carries some universal words across dialects within their regions clearly identifiable, in this case, it’s the word egg “dan” 蛋, a nutritious and versatile protein source, it carries also a negative connotation in egg-related words “bendan”  笨蛋 stands for fool; idiot, “hundan” 混蛋 bastard, “shadan” 傻蛋 blockhead, simpleton, a humorous one is “lingdan” 零蛋 a duck’s egg meaning ‘zero’. He must have said at least one or maybe all of them and more, I sure had “egg on my face”.

Osmanthus

Dried Osmanthus flowers, This golden yellowish flower has a pleasant floral aroma. Its unforgettable aromatic fragrance used in tea, food and worlds famous perfumes.

Drinking Gui Hua Wu Long Cha 桂花呜龙茶 is still redolent of my first smell of Gui Hua while visiting Hang Zhou, the capital city of Zhejiang Province, as tea leaves with flower petals combination I sampled the brew during our stay in Taiwan. Due to our stays and travel in south-east Asia and being ardent tea-drinkers, we have collected various tea leaves or have received tea box as gifts. Although standard tea bags are convenient, nothing compares to good quality tea leaves, you do not need to have a tea ceremony to enjoy a relaxing or soothing brew. More posts will follow with fragrant leaves from our home tea box, to share and enjoy its special characteristics. You might choose to put the kettle on now and read the Osmanthus Oolong tea blogpost.

guihua tangyuan

Guihua tangyuan 桂花汤圆
Photo courtesy source: http://eat.gansudaily.com.cn/

The beautiful Gui Hua image on top of this blog post is from an article featuring the health effects of Osmanthus in 养花百科(BaiKe Garden encyclopaedia). For Chinese readers click on the Chinese link as well this 白度 Baidu link for interesting Osmanthus facts and information.

Lemongrass ginger herbal tisane – My Cup 茶馆

Lemongrass & Ginger tea, a thirst quencher with nutrition and health benefits.

Lemongrass & Ginger tea, a thirst quencher with nutrition and health benefits.

While I am typing this post it is raining again as it was yesterday, although I don’t mind the cold or wetness it’s the sun and warmth I crave the most. This early morning the day started with sun rays bursting through the window, but winter chills is still holding a firm grip and the wind doesn’t help much to change the mood throughout the rest of the day. While browsing through the fridge to see what I would come up with for dinner, I saw one last stalk of Lemon grass left. I decided instead of using to cook with it I would make a soul-warming tea with ginger to warm up my body and at the same time a soothing taste comforting me by filling up the house with fragrance and taste of the tropics.

Lemon grass has tremendous health benefits and is packed with so much goodness, it aids many chronic conditions due to its anti-microbial, anti-oxidant,
anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer properties. Lemon grass as a therapeutic tea helps improving digestive tract, detoxifies, lowers cholesterol and has a purifying effect just to highlight a few remedies.

Consumption of ginger has great health benefits too, I discovered not early enough that it is a great remedy in aiding to reduce pain with menstruation cramps and relieving tremendous migraine pains as well anti-inflammatory effects. In my younger years I relied to much on painkillers and have taken larger dosages to find release and feeling comfortable again. At that time I also didn’t appreciate the taste nor the belief that Ginger would help. Well that changed 360° after my first mug of infused ginger tea, since then I have been praising the benefits and healthy nutrition of ginger and advocating to others to chop, slice, dice, mince more of ginger to eat and drink of this mighty Ginger rhizome. See Ginger root, raw nutrition facts here.

If the pure ginger flavour is too strong at first, start with a light infusion to get used to the taste  even as a flavoured water it still works its magic for you. How to make ginger infusion tea from light to strong to each taste preferences will appear shortly, but after intake you will absolutely notice difference in your body it will lift up your mood and responsiveness. The combination of Green tea, Ginger & Cinnamon tea has been proven to reduce blood sugar level after a meal, read this article on synergistic effect of green tea and spices.

To add sweetening to ginger tea with mixed herbs or spices, you may add a teaspoon of sugar cane  sugar or coconut palm sugar (both have low GI index as a better health choice) or honey.

Here are some other variation of infused Ginger Tea’s to make at home instead of pre-made bags and packages:

  • Green tea with Ginger & Cinnamon tea
  • Cinnamon with Ginger & Date tea with honey (Korean-style)
  • Lemon-honey with Ginger
  • cinnamon, cardamom & ginger tea (Indian fused style)
  • Ginger tea with Cinnamon & Anise
  • Coconut & Ginger tea or juice

I’m literally out of my ingredients and need to shop, as soon as I can I will make preparation to upload photo’s of each with recipes and instructions for you to make herbal infusion tea’s at home too.