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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Spirit of Tea

Through over 5 years on my blog, many things have changed personally, some at least in part inspired by tea.  As tea drinkers we get a lot of questions on what tea is to us, or why we drink tea.  Honestly though through those 5 years and actually back further I realize tea has pretty much been a constant in my life.  Why does this simple set of leaves thrown into hot water help people relax, wake up, recover, etc...?

Tea was there for me after my first traffic accident.  Tea was used to celebrate numerous happy occasions in my or my friends lives.  Tea has broken down barriers with friends.  It has also granted me comfort and time to meditate when I thought there was no such thing as free time.  There seems to be something about these tea leaves that has caused tea to be enjoyed so much throughout history.  This effect of being a near panacea for everything live can throw at us certainly has been known for quite a while in east Asian religions.  Tea and Zen have been said to be one and the same, especially as their fate/history in certain counties are incredibly intertwined.

The most amazing thing though is how unassuming tea can actually be.  It will be exactly what you want or need it to be, even if that item is some dry withered leaves tossed in water with no celebration or fanfare. Tea however I have learned does demand at least two things, and they are incredibly important.

Tea must be enjoyed, and tea must be shared.  All else is up to us.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cold Brewed [Steeped] Tea

In passing with another tea person I know I had a brief although provocative conversation.  I mentioned that I was drinking some Cold Brewed Keemun I made for a party I hosted, and his initial reaction was that it was a waste of good tea.  I a bit shocked at the somewhat up front condemnation of how I was drinking this tea, decided to ask him more about what he meant, and the conversation that followed had some rather illuminating points on how do deal with bad tea, and as sort of the other side of the coin, how not to treat good tea.

Before I go to far let me say, when I defended myself by telling him this particular tea I actually had a hard time drinking warm, due to its incredible potency and general astringency, he conceded that cold brewing may be the way to go with that tea.  Though it is a bit amazing, Iced tea is not a foreign concept in the United States, I do not know to what levels it has caught on in other countries, but at the same time brewing tea cold, and drinking tea cold is sort of a bait and switch with pretty much any tea.  There is one somewhat clear guideline that makes perfect sense and no sense at the same time depending on how you think about it:

Bad tea often make good iced tea, while good tea seldom makes good iced tea.

Its a bait and switch/ role reversal with tea when you switch from hot water to cold water.  Now there are ways to make incredible cold tea with good tea leaves, but they often require so much leaf, or give so little liquid that they don't seem worth while.  For some reason for tea to taste like tea we need that slight astringent and bitter aspect to the brew, which bad teas often have too much of, and good teas often have just enough or a little less than enough allowing us to add more leaf and get that much more in terms of extra flavors from the leaves.   

Queue the heat,  tea brewing 101 quickly establishes a correlation between both steep time and temperature with overall astringency of the brew.  Temperature is the biggest factor though, as a lot more time is needed once the temperature starts to drop. I am sure all my chemically and biologically oriented friends could offer richer more scientific explanations of the processes involved, but the general idea is the hotter the water the quicker and more readily compounds get from the leaf into the liquid.  Now these items diffuse at different rates depending on the temperature, and  the ones that diffuses very slowly at low temperatures are mostly the same compounds that cause the astringent/ bitter tastes to develop in the brew. As such cold temperatures and long steeping times get the most out of the wide variety of flavors in the tea, with the least amount of bitter components.

Why not good tea on ice? This one is probably harder to explain, as in a certain sense if we think of astringency solely as a bad item, it should not make sense. But I maintain that a bit of astringency is what makes tea what it is, and helps highlight its overall taste.  As such if you take a tea already low in those compounds and brew it in a way that further reduces the amount of those in the brew, you can often be left with a liquid that may smell nice, but taste very simple and bland.  (It is almost like astringency is the spices of the tea world, while the base ingredients may be great, typically they perform their best with a little extra spices to bring them to life). 

Other years I may have thought this is a very timely post, but I am living in an area stuck in perpetual winter, and I can only dream of eventually seeing warmer days ahead in which I'd love to reach for a glass of iced tea.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Matcha Monday Morning Maddness

Well it is quarter after three in the morning, a time I find a little bit ironic, as 24 hours ago I had not yet gone to bed, and in those past 24 hours I've gotten maybe ten hours of sleep, a questionable four Saturday morning, and six with so much promise bringing me to this point in time right here.  So I'm stalling time writing this post hoping I get tired enough to fall back asleep, but in the mean time I am getting full well prepared to start my Monday with a nice big bowl of Matcha. 

It occurs to me, I may have not written a post about some of the do's and don'ts of matcha preparation, the goals, and the pitfalls that we all occasionally deal with while whisking up a bowl of the *magic green pixie dust.*  

Matcha is green tea right?  So I should definitely use water that has cooled for some time before adding it to the leaf? 

Not Quite!  It still seems rather contradictory in my mind how this works out the way it does, as you'd imagine finely ground green leaves would be extra sensitive to the heat and turn bitter quickly.  It likely has to do though with the thorough and careful process of shading the leaves and removing the stems and veins from the leaves before grinding that makes this possible.  (Yes, I do also realize the irony here that Gyokuro which is also shaded is brewed with cooler water than most green teas.)

So what temperature should you aim for when brewing matcha?  I still avoid boiling, but I do not cool the water off much at all. Typically only a very short time in a water cooler before pouring and whisking.  I aim for roughly half the temperature between boiling and my typical green tea preparation. The warmer water can help produce the nice frothy/ foamy top to the tea. 

Whisking, how and why?

Well first lets be clear it is far closer to the motion of trying to beat an egg, than stirring.  The goal here is not just to mix, but to also aerate the tea and produce the nice foam on top of the tea. A common set of instructions given, and I under stand different schools of Japanese tea ceremony have different whisking techniques.  Aim for making an M or W shape with the whisk, as unless you are actually studying a formal Japanese ceremony technique from a particular school for home enjoyment this is fairly straight forward and easy to think about when whisking.    Also, the urge might be to feel like you need to scrape the tea off the bottom of the bowl, please avoid scraping the bottom of the bowl with the whisk when whisking, nothing is worse than taking a sip of matcha, and getting a nice piece of bamboo tine. It is pretty much the equivalent of a fish bone in the tea world.  

I've used hot enough water, and I'm killing my arm trying to whisk this tea into oblivion, and I can only get a meager thin foam on top of my matcha?

Don't fret too much, try a few different matcha while working on your technique, sometimes it really is the tea and not the tea maker.  

Snacks? Sifting?  Supplies?

The Japanese have quite a few treats that they often pair with their tea, in terms of items somewhat easily available in the Western Hemisphere, some dark chocolate often goes incredibly well with matcha. Sifting is also up to you, I prefer it, but depending on which method you use to make matcha, there are ways around sifting that still help remove lumps of tea.  A question often asked is do you really need all those supplies to drink matcha: Scoop (Chashaku), Whisk (Chasen), Sifter (???) , Bowl (Chawan)?  Most houses have items that can do the trick for each of those except for possibly the whisk.  Chasen, are really in a league of their own for doing the job and still protecting the ceramics you are using.  Scoops can pretty much be replaced by any sort of spoon. Chawan can typically be replaced by a typical household bowl, though you may want to consider shape and dimensions as some might be easier than others. 

I did not mention the sifter because its a bit of a funny story, the only tea infusing basket I have in my apartment, is actually my matcha sifter.  Without buying a sifter designed specifically for matcha unless you really want to, find any somewhat fine mesh screen, the type you somewhat often find on some infuser baskets, it does the trick and will save you quite a few dollars. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Morning Crane Tea group buy of Yi Ho Yeong teas

Park Jong Il Teacup

When I first started this tea blog, I really had no clue how far it would go, or who I would become acquainted with in the process, but rest assured as with most things, if you are in the *circles* long enough you eventually meet quite a few people.  Arthur Park is actually a potter, with an impressive bio in ceramic arts, but he also views himself as an educator in things reaching beyond just pottery, and one such area is Korean crafts and culture.  Through his work educating others he has in the past arranged for items such as tea tours, and ceramics tours of South Korea, and operates a small little tea business which helps make artisan Korean teas available in North America.  To help further educate the tea lovers of North America into how amazing Korean teas can be, he is arranging a group buy of Yi Ho Yeong teas. For more information on Yi Ho Yeong feel free to visit this post on his blog.   To find out how you can be included in this group buy, he has details on Morning Crane Tea's Facebook page.

Jukro oojeon

I have had many of the teas offered by Morning Crane tea, and they have all been of great quality and value, so much to the point that he has become pretty much the only person from which I buy Korean teas. I have made several videos involving the brewing of Korean teas, but I decided to make a new one to help spread word of this announcement.  I do apologize for the somewhat abrupt ending, turns out the time the inspectors checking that the apartment was up to code had to happen during the 10 minutes I wanted to film the video.  But such is life.

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