Monday, 27 August 2007

Xue Ya

This white tea was bought from Sencha, a Tea Lounge I stumbled across in Newcastle.

From the pack:

Xue Ya "first flush" Special White Tea

A very special white tea, high in antioxidants, unforgettably fragrant. The first pickings from the Sheng Li tea fields.

I understand this tea is from northern Fujian province and is grown at high altitudes.

The leaves are long and twisted. Many are coated in a white downy jacket.

The taste is reminiscent of Japanese greens with a certain fishy element to it. The liquor is surprisingly full bodied when compared to something like Bai mu Dan.

The durability of the leaves was also rather impressive, certainly much more tea for my money than I expected.

The tea was a nice departure from the rather heavy flavors in the Kashanganj snow bud kindly sent from TChing and also from the rather lacklustre performance of Jing's zheng he bai mu dan that have been dominating my white tea drinking recently. This is certainly a tea a will keep an eye open for whilst browsing.

The cost, at £7.50/50 grams, is a little higher that I would like to pay for such tea but considering it was bought in Newcastle city center and not ordered over the internet from the other side of the world, I will not take issue with the cost.

Whilst the Sencha Tea Lounge was no my ideal venue for tea I believe it may be exactly what is required to help this nation pay attention to the tea it is drinking. The lounge appears to based around the well established coffee shop blueprint, selling cakes, sandwiches and hot food. Hopefully the coffee shop feel will prove more welcoming than the apparently daunting Chinese tea house. The sencha and oolong I had in the lounge were both served in one of those plastic gung-fu cha devices, a kind of pimped up cafeteria, which I now know I'm not very keen on.

Anyway, a resounding cheer to the folks at Sencha. It brightened up my day to find a tea shop selling decent quality tea on a main st in a major UK city and even more impressive was the fact that the place always seemed reasonably busy. On close inspection many people were drinking coffee, perhaps coffee in a tea lounge will be the first step on the road to national great tea addiction.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Chi Sau

Due to a rather fortunate set of circumstances I am now in the position of being able to train several times a week, one on one, with my instructor. This training has mainly been in the form of chi sau or sticking hands.

My notes on the practice of chi sau will be taking a sort of 'this week I have been mainly trying...' until I come up with something better.


This week I have been mainly working on two principles.

1. Pulling the hand back, to a fist distance from the chest if needed, after striking. This may seem blindingly obvious to a practitioner, however, when analyzing myself it astounds me how often I strike and then simply leave my hand floating an inch or so from my partner. I think this situation arises from my own thoughts that I could do something else from the position but not actually executing the manoeuvre. It is time I either follow up or finish - no more leaving situations open and thinking of all the fancy things I could have done.

Strike and follow through or Strike and return to a neutral position.

Flowing on to....

2. Constant changing

At the bottom of each arc a change is executed keeping the situation in a constant state of change making it far harder to execute preprogrammed set pieces but with enough structure for it to be an effective drill. Ideally chi sau should be mindless, flowing around and through the target. This drill is certainly not mindless as a pattern is developed and stuck to rigidly. The outcome I'm finding from training in this manner is that changing from inside to outside gate has become far more efficient this seems to be due to the fact that both parties involved know when the change is coming, where the moment of increased opportunity will appear and both are vying to take advantage of this .

Hopefully this type of training will greatly improve my ability to take advantage of ever decreasing holes in the defence of my training partner.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Anxi Winter Huang Jin Gui

Anxi Winter Huang Jin Gui

Blurb from Seb & Jing:

Origin : Anxi County, Fu Jian Province

Season : Spring 2006

Weight : 100 grams (3.53 ounces)

Huang Jin Gui is known as golden osmanthus in English and it is well recognized with its typical high osmanthus touch fragrance. This Huang Jin Gui is made using leaves from the first harvest in spring 2006 in Xi Ping area, Anxi County. Because of its remarkable and elegant high aroma and also its affordable price, this oolong tea has become one of the most wanted oolong teas from the Anxi County. This Huang Jin Gui oolong tea offers a lovely clear yellow liquor, Jing Tea Shop is offering a heavier wood charcoal baked Huang Jin Gui to oolong tea lovers. Different from the lightly baked ones, this Huang Jin Gui shows a deeper and thinner fragrance and also longer lasted brewing times. This is particularly due to the fact that the tea was baked using wood charcoal.

The clear yellow liquor that is thick yet smooth and combined with complex fragrance of a bouquet of osmanthus. If you like high aromatic and elegance of oolong teas, this Huang Jin Gui will be a good choice.

Last of the batch, lots of leaf, large gaiwan to accommodate leaf.

Leaves are less meaty than TGY, they appear to have suffered in appearance from processing, frayed edges and holes in leaf abound.

Slight spiciness detected in gaiwan aroma.

I can taste the smooth buttery creaminess I look for in Anxi oolong but it's definitely thinner, not just in aroma as mentioned above but also in mouth feel, and that's me using a lot of leaf.

I've been drinking this in work, with a makeshift thermal cup as a gaiwan and a mug for drinking from, thinking it was reasonable enough for office use but a little time, decent water(Scottish filtered) and my trusty gong fu gear really does improve this tea.

It would make more sense to test this against some of my TGY with both in a gaiwan but something is whispering in my ear to brew it in the yixing pot I usually use only for TGY and see how it fairs.

Wing Chun Kung Fu

I have been studying this art, on and off, for around ten years. For ten years I have been getting around to writing down what I'm learning, today I've taken a miniature plunge into that area by typing this intro.

I have a good idea of how to organise my tea notes but I feel the Wing Chun notes may be more of a sprawling mess. My decision to keep them on this blog is more to keep myself clear. I feel that a personal notebook is in much more danger of becoming indecipherable in a short time.

Any tips about committing the martial arts to paper or links to any other favourite martial art blogs would be warmly welcomed.

My aim in writing about Wing Chun is to improve my own understanding. In the course of doing so I would also be very impressed if any comments or discussions were not following the route of so many other discussions of the art online, namely 'my lineage is better than your lineage'. As Wing Chun is a relatively new art it is bound to evolve both with practitioner body type and also with the arrow of time, especially in the current light of UFC madness.

On a more trivial note: I went to visit my Dad yesterday and discovered a 9ft wooden pole in his spare wood collection, It's a little on the thick side, but so what, I now have my own lim dim book quan. I think It's time to incorporate a lot more stance work into training as my horse stance is pretty poor and my cat stance has not been seen for longer than I care to remember.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Meghma Nepalese Oolong

Another impressive tasting sample from the good folks at T Ching.

What they have to say about it:

"This is a very unique, fresh 2007 spring flush oolong from Nepal. It is a semi-fermented tea, producing a pale liquor with a deliciously refreshing honey flavor. It is cultivated in the highlands of the Himalayas at an elevation above 7000 ft, in a pristine natural environment free from roads, pollution and pesticides. The Meghma Oolong Tea Project began as an effort to improve the poor living conditions of the local people in Meghma, Nepal by helping them to re-discover the ancient art of manufacturing Asian Oolong tea. This tea is manufactured by hand as an artisan tea. Organic Certified"

For repeating the experiment:

Water: brita max filtered Scottish tap water

Temperature: 2/3mins off the boil to start with, not reducing too much as my kettle is vacuum sealed on the walls.

Vessel: +/- 100ml gaiwan into a faircup.

Leaf: Around 1/2 of the gaiwan

Timing: straight in and out for the first 5 brews then moving up to over a minute around the tenth.

My knowledge of Indian tea is sparse. On smelling the tea I figured it was akin to a first flush Darjeeling and not a very exciting one at that.

The first taste of the first brew throttled that opinion. Yes this did taste like Darjeeling to me, but Darjeeling with so much more. The complexity was something I've not had in Indian tea before, admittedly I may not have been drinking the best pedigrees, the tastes were combining Darjeeling with something akin to dancong whilst adding a healthy dose of fudge tasting honey goodness. I brewed this for the first time with 3 other guests, only one with a tea addiction, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the tea 'till the non-bitter end.

The wet leaf was also far more beautiful, full and supple than the dry leave conveyed. This tea provided the largest gap I've encountered between my expectations from the dry leaf to what ended up in my cup.

I'm struggling to decide if this tea is truly great or if I'm simply infatuated with something new and shiny. I suppose only time will tell.

I don't see this tea as replacing any of my current beverages but it's good enough to warrant spending even more of my earnings on tea because I know I will want to experience it again in the future.

Oh, and for further reading see the TChing tasting notes

Kashanganj Snow Bud

Tasting sample from the good folks at T Ching.

What they have to say about it:

"This is a special edition white tea grown in Kashanganj, India. The tea is comprised of individual, hand picked buds that have the appearance of silver needles. The dried buds are visually attractive and the liquor is delicate and sweet. Most people in the U.S. haven't even heard of White tea. Those who have, know it as a rare tea from Fujian Province in China that is made from the individual, hand picked buds of the tea plant with no additional processing other than drying. Using traditional hand-crafted artisan methods, this tea is quickly approaching the quality of the Chinese whites. Fujian, watch out... here comes Kashanganj."

First off let my say thanks to Tching for another great opportunity to taste some rare and, to me, almost unheard of tea.

The scientific side first of all:

Water: brita max filtered scottish tap water, which I still believe gives most bottled water a good run for their money.

Temp: I don't measure temperature, yet . I boil the water and then wait until the steam rising has slowed to a pace gentle enough to warrent white tea, probably lower than I'd use for China green and nearer to a fitting temp for gyokoro.

Vessels: small pyrex jug perhaps around 200ml, filtered into a fair cup(small milk jug from charity shop) which seems to keep the tea insulated for longer than a large cup.

Timing: first brew 15-20secs, the next few lightning fast, the last few far longer than they needed.

This was the first tea from the samples I tried. The aroma was beatifully floral, more of a heavy pollen slant than the subtle floral I'm used to from white tea. There was also a quite a sharp fragrance from the wet leaf.

The liquor itself changed dramitcally from steep to steep exibiting the natural freshness I've come to experience from white tea. Not overstated as in some greens, mainly Japanese, more a country breeze than a cold north sea wind which my father declares as real freshness.

I was begining to think that the tea had been heavily influenced by the Oolong sampler that had been keeping it company in the envelope for a good few days. This was due to fact that there was an unmistakeble taste of darjeerling fighting with the usual delicate white. I began to retract my thoughts of contamination when reading over the description of the tea again* and, realising it was an Indian white tea, I think my mind blocked out the word India as it had already assumed that all white tea was Chinese. This discovery led me to appreciate the last few brews even moreso. I was, perhaps, steeping the tea for too long but the purpose was to investigate and bring forth the darjeerling undertones. The plan worked! warmer water and longer steeps brought the liquor closer to a first flush darjeerling. The tea was not as pleasant to drink at this point however the second time I tasted the tea I was far more appreciative of the Indian character accompanying the traditional white taste as opposed to trying to discard the non Chinese notes from the liquor.

I don't think I'll be able to rate this tea on any scale until I've finished the sample and possibly another pack from T Ching . It confused me as much as it entertained my taste buds.

The last thing I feel the need to comment on is the remarkable endurance of this tea, even on my second outing with it I was hugely underestimating it's staying power and getting brews that were a little to abrasive due to oversteeping after making more than one trip to the water filter.

And the very last thing is thanks again to T Ching not just for providing quality teas but also for managing to pick teas of great educational value that I would, likely, never have got round to trying.

*and will fully retract most of my post if this is case.

Link to the rest of the reviews posted on TChing

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Pre Ming Zhe Jiang Mao Jian

Pre Ming Zhe Jiang Mao Jian
Everyday tea
Spring 2006 Harvest
Date - 1st May '07

Source – Jingteashop

Cost - $3.99/100g

Amount used – lots maybe 8g

Method – Cooled boiled water in glass jug, brita maxtra filtered tap water

Dry leaf – drab dark green, small twisted leaf.

Aroma in glass – sweet, thick, not too fresh, very pleasant

No rinse

1st infusion – short as possible

Wet leaf smells seaweedy/ seaside perhaps even salty.

Liquor colour – nice mellow, yellowy green

Drinking – unobtrusive pleasing taste, nothing harsh or bitter to be found, certainly no salt.

2nd infusion, same brew time, much stronger with edge of bitterness, a nice 'wake up juice' if you like early morning lu cha. I can imagine this tea being a good base for flavoured green tea if such a thing didn't unsettle me.

3rd infusion, slightly longer, 15secs, less bitterness, I notice some brown leaves swimming around in the jug – can't really complain for the price. I can't imagine they affect the taste too much, it must be around 100-1.

12/13th infusion – completely forgot about the tea and must have left for over 5 mins. The brew was quite strong and a little astringent, showing I could have gotten another few good brews if I wasn't so careless, although still very drinkable – akin to underestimating the water temp for the first steep.

It's not the prettiest of leaf to watch in the glass although I've been rather greedy with the amount of leaf to give them much room for dancing.

Overall – does exactly what it says on the vacuum sealed foiled pack, Everyday green tea. And it really is. I took everyday to mean low quality that I wouldn't mind every once in a while( I shouldn't really assume this after drinking their everyday Yunnan Gold) or even using as a base from which to test exceptional teas and while the latter may be true this really is a tea that I will enjoy drinking frequently. I suspect it may be a good candidate for my version of 'grandad style' – a few leaves in a small gaiwan, topping up frequently, used when I am very pushed for time. I use the gaiwan as I'm to lazy to learn to use my teeth as a filter, maybe one when I'm really stuck.

Tenbu Sencha

Tenbu Sencha

Source – 6g sample from TChing

Water – Brita Max filtered tap water

Temp – boiled then left to cool until lower than normal for green , +/- gyokoro temp

Vessel – 7oz gaiwan – filter – faircup

Dry leaf – mix of normal sized sencha leaves and some very small particles, could spell trouble for the filter. Colour is mix of classic sencha green with some leaves looking darker and more akin to gyokoro.

Aroma – more depth than I've ever detected in a sencha before. I usually expect clean freshness, and a newly cut lawn type fragrance from sencha but this has something far more hearty although I'm not exactly sure what it is yet.

1st infusion 60s – longer than I'm used to steeping. The liquor appears lighter than expected for the time it spent in the gaiwan, maybe I'm used to using too much tea. It has good clarity and the mystery aroma is still eluding me, I now have my nose in the gaiwan. Tasting the infusion is again not what I expected. Far more mellow and subtle, not the fresh almost mint like slap in the face I associate with sencha. This tea, although obviously Japanese, seems to have a little of the subtleties associated with Chinese green.

2nd 15s – The liquor is darker this time and closer to what I expected first time around. The clarity is not so good and this is probably explained by me having a small struggle with the filter and my tea digger to get the brew though quicker. The aroma from the gaiwan is fading into typical sencha, I may have to wait until the next session to explore this further – thanks for the 6gram packs! By the end of the 2nd infusion I'm sweating, I'm sure it usually takes far longer normally. The taste is more intense immediately and still has the delicate after taste of the first infusion.

3rd – 15s – Similar appearance to the 2nd. The tastes seemed to have mingled, the upfront more typical sencha taste has joined forces with the subtle character predominant in the 1st infusion to create a nice rounded cuppa.

4th 30s – very similar to the 3rd taste wise although it does taste a lot more like a 4th infusion gyokoro at this stage than a 4th infusion sencha.

Spent leaf – Japanese greens are never of much interest to myself at this point. It does confirm the observation of the dry leaf, some large, some very fine, some light, some dark.

Conclusion – Aside from the fact that analysing my drinking had made me realise I should really invest in a proper teapot for this stuff, I really enjoyed this tea. As far as green tea goes I have been drinking gyokoro, long jing and liu an gua pian over the past few weeks. I was a little surprised to find a more of those kinds of tea hiding in here than the return to sencha 'only fresher' I was expecting.

Thanks to tching not only for the free samples but also for helping to keep my mind open to brewing variations and not have internal cries of 'heresy' when 60s is suggested in the future.

Link to the rest of the TChing tasting notes.