Our 2016 Spring Teas are Here!

Welcome spring – welcome new spring  tea !

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Our fresh 2016 new teas are being sent from the tea fields as soon as they are made. As each tea arrives we add it to the Tea Trekker website where it will appear in the appropriate listing for its type of tea (green, black, etc) and also in the seasonal teas listing for 2016. We expect the spring green teas to continue arriving thru the month of April.

Happy, sweet tea drinking!

 Click her to follow our 2016 fresh spring tea harvest arrivals

 

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Hong Cha steeped for 20 minutes ?

Here at Tea Trekker we have been experimenting with various steep times for several of our long leaf, China black teas (hong cha).

Of particular interest has been the wild and high-mountain-grown, older-variety leaf from Yunnan Province in southwest China.

We normally steep these teas twice, first for 4 minutes and then again for 4-5 minutes, depending on the size of the leaf and the amount of bud. We generally use this methodology also with the large leaf eastern China black teas, new Keemun Buds, and several other black teas such as Fenghuang Dan Cong Black and Yingde #9, as well.

Depending on the circumstances, we vary the steep times and the amount of leaf used. We always use a generous portion of leaf, as this ensures the hearty cup that we are seeking.

One recent afternoon in the store, Bob was steeping some JingMai Wild Arbor black tea, and was called away to answer a customer’s question. That leaf ended up steeping for almost 20 minutes before he had a chance to retrieve it.

He knew to taste it anyway, ‘just in case’, because the initial steeping water had been off-the-boil, as that is what he normally likes to use with Yunnan black teas. The steeped tea was absolutely delicious and very unusual – it had nuances of flavor that were shocking and there was not even a whisper of astringency or that over-steeped, ‘cooked’ flavor that a smaller-leaf tea would have exhibited if steeped that long.

He even decided to experiment with a second steeping (curiosity is critical in tea steeping!) and so used very hot water and a 5-minute steep and the resulting tea was quite drinkable, but light.

What was particularly noticeable in the long steep was the deep, woody, layered ‘forest’ flavor that is so unique to Yunnan teas, but doesn’t always show in a ‘regular’ cup steeped for a shorter time.

We use this experience to illustrate the necessity to ‘play with your tea’. We just never know what delightful experience we will have until this sort of ‘mistake’ happens.

Gaiwans and Houhins

Perhaps no other tea steeping vessels that we sell generate as many questions as our Chinese gaiwans and Japanese houhins.

Gaiwans Houhins

These small, glazed, handle-less porcelain vessels are often mistaken for something meant for children. Many tea drinkers cannot imagine using such a small vessel to steep their tea. And, admittedly, they bear little resemblance to the traditional notion of ‘teapot’.

So when we explain how these tea vessels work and why they are important – no, iconic – in their respective tea cultures, quite often tea enthusiasts realize that they too might benefit from using one of these to steep certain teas.

Both gaiwams and houhins perform the same function as a teapot – but their small size is designed to accommodate the ratio of tea leaf to water that is necessary when steeping and re-steeping certain types of tea. For gaiwans, these are oolong, Pu-erh and other Heicha; and for  houhins it is the needle-thin leaves of Sencha and Gyokuro

Gaiwans are useful tools, and can be used to steep both the most costly or modestly priced tea. Gaiwans are perfectly acceptable in the best teahouses. While one can spend hundreds of dollars on an un-glazed Yixing clay teapot which will ‘influence’ the flavor of the tea steeped in it, a gaiwan is commonly used in China for steeping those same teas. In fact, some tea enthusiasts prefer gaiwans that are made from glazed porcelain which imparts no influence on the flavor of the tea.

A Japanese houhin is just right for one or two servings when one is looking for just a little ‘taste’ of tea or when steeping tea that is particularly costly. Japan, too, produces wonderful glazed and unglazed teapots – such as our selection of Japanese teapots from Tokoname – that are expensive and the construction of which sometimes influences the flavor of the tea steeped in it. But for practicality and effectiveness of use, a houhin is a great choice.

As with Chinese teas, the serving size of tea is small but the flavor of the tea liquor is rich in dimension and full in the mouth because more leaf and less water has been used. And the leaf is steeped several times, showing a different facet of flavor with each re-steeping.

For some, learning to use a gaiwan is tricky business – it is a one-handed operation and requires a bit of dexterity to become comfortable using it. There is no strainer and no handle – when the tea has steeped and is ready to be poured out, just cock back the lid, grab the gaiwan by the top edge, place the knuckle of your first finger securely on the top of the lid to hold it in place and pour out the tea into a small pitcher …without allowing tea leaves to exit with the tea liquor.

Conversely, a houhin has a lid, a fine strainer built into the nose of the teapot, and a pouring lip. You place your fingers along side of it and rest your hand on the top of the lid to keep it securely in place. This is easier for some to manuver than a gaiwan and a houhin can also be used to successfully steep Chinese oolong, Pu-erh and other Heicha; whereas a gaiwan does not work very well with fine leaf Japanese green teas.

Whichever you choose, these are versatile and simple vessels which are a PERFECT and REASONABLY INEXPENSIVE way to steep many Asian teas as they would be steeped  in China, Japan, or Hong Kong.

Shop our selectiom of Gaiwans and Houhins

                                                                                                 

Raising a New Yixing Teapot

I first heard the phrase raising a teapot in a conversation with Chinese friends several years ago in a teashop in Guangzhou as we hunted for some new Yixing teapots to add to our collection. Later, with our purchases in tow, our friends explained why raising an Yixing teapot is important and necessary, and also how to do it. Despite the fact that these teapots come in a wonderland of forms, designs and natural clay colors, they are and always have been serious tea-steeping vessels. Old, well-cared-for Yixing teapots command high prices and respect in China because well-raised, well-used teapots are a valued commodity.

Our friends explained that the clay in a new Yixing teapot is raw-tasting and often there is a strong clay smell, too. They also described this type of clay as being soft and porous in its composition. One of the characteristics of the clay is that it has microscopic pores in the clay body. When a teapot is new, the pores in the clay contain clay dust etc. from the process of being formed and fired. Cleaning purges the pores, and later, with use, tea oils from the tea itself will fill up the pores and seal the clay.

Because of the absorbent nature of this clay it is worth following the advice to limit one’s use of an Yixing teapot to one type of tea only – for instance dark strip-style oolong or Pu-erh. Serious tea lovers who know these teapots will have a different Yixing teapot for each of the broad styles of tea that are usually associated with the use of this teapot – semiball-rolled oolong; dark strip-style oolong; and Pu-erh. For the truly committed, further subdivision of leaf within these styles of tea is made, requiring even more teapots.

So we cleaned our teapots as instructed, confident in knowing that raising a teapot is essentially how one transforms a new Yixing teapot from something awkward into something mature and seasoned. A well-raised teapot comes from the attention you pay to the process as well as from repeated use.

It takes a bit of time, but it is fun to watch the transformation of your teapot. Changes occur to the outside of these teapots, too, as the teapot is used and handled and buffed. The clay will acquire a soft, lustrous, smooth patina that is most appealing and pleasing to the touch.

The result of carefully raising your teapot is that it will both beautify and enhance the taste of your tea, earning its place as one of your most treasured tea-steeping possessions.

Read about how to ‘raise’ an Yixing teapot

Chinese ‘Flowers of the Month’ Teacups – December/Wintersweet

This is the final post about my Chinese ‘Flowers of the Month teacups’. It completes the series of stories that I began in January about the twelve ( 12 ) seasonal flowers that are hand-painted on my cups.

The December teacup features a Wintersweet shrub (Chimonanthus praecox ) densely covered with small, fragrant yellow blossoms.  Wintersweet is a famous traditional flower plant in China, and it has been extensively cultivated for over one thousand years. Depending on where the bushes are growing, the blossoms will appear anywhere from December thru February.

This shrub can grow quite large ( 5 to 13 feet when established in a sunny spot ) and is prized for the cheerful color of its blossoms ( yellow to whiteish-yellow ). Wintersweet is cultivated worldwide and is a welcome addition to monotone winter landscapes. It is also used to created potted landscapes and it’s flowering branches are used in dramatic cut flower arrangements.

Wintersweet by Chinese artist Shuhua Jin

Six distinct species of wintersweet are indigenous to the mountainous regions of China: Anhui, Fujian, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang Provinces. Interestingly, many of these high mountain regions and their lush landscapes are also famous for producing exquisite Chinese green tea.

The verse on the back of my cup has been translated for me as such:
the fragrance of ancient tree blossoms are wafting at the mountains peak

For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.

Wintersweet photograph courtesy of http://www.huntingtonbotanical.org
Chinese
brush and ink painting  courtesy of La Galleria Pall Mall