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Monday, February 16, 2015

10 Things in every tea session


Honestly as tea drinkers a lot of thoughts go through our head every single time we sit down to brew tea.  Granted not all of them are tea related, however I have found ten things we should all definitely think about every time we sit down to brew.   These are split into the three large categories which really encompass the main things that are used when enjoying tea.


Water:


Temperature -- How hot does the water need to be?  How hot should it be?  Is there anything I want to do out of the norm?  If the tea is the end of the bag and mostly broken up, do I want to go a little cooler to account for the increased bitterness from the broken pieces?

Type / Mineral content -- Is there any reason I would want to use a special water today, or for the tea I picked out?  (Mostly I care less about this one, however for a fun experiment try varying water sources for a little while and notice how it can change even the teas you are used to having every day.)

Volume -- How much tea do I want to have? Does the type of tea I am brewing lend itself to large or small steeps?  In the case of teas that demand a large leaf to water ratio, is it even practical to brew a large cup, when you'd need to use basically the entire bag of tea you have to do so?  Sometimes cost is the largest factor in determining steep size.  Well I guess teaware as well.


Tea:


Amount -- How much of a jump start do I need right now?  Last time I had this tea, was it too strong or too weak?  Are these large full leaves, or small broken pieces.  Is it compact or "fluffy"?

As I personally don't weigh my leaves for each session, I have a rule of thumb that with compact leaves I use less than I think I should, while with fuller larger and more "fluffy" leaves I tend to go a little more than I think I should.  Practice always makes perfect, but the eyes can lie when it comes to amount of tea with certain types.

Storage -- Did I store the tea well, is it freshly opened?  Have I had this tea for far longer than I should have?  If anything is amiss I should definitely wade into this carefully to try and avoid a bitter disappointing cup, because I was expecting it to have lost it's punch, when in reality the time made the tea extra bitter.

Type -- What type of tea do I feel like?  Or sometimes more realistically, what type of tea do I have?  Is there anything special I want to try this time when I am brewing tea?

The easiest way to avoid a stale tea routine, is to occasionally just try something new.  Like I normally like my sencha brewed extra cool, but I'm in a rush today, and feeling adventerous, lets go hot and quick, and still see if I can make an enjoyable cup by experimenting with the variables available to us as a tea brewer.



Teaware:


Material/ Glazing -- Is the vessels unglazed to the point that they may potentially round out harsh components of the tea?  If it is glazed and very neutral can I use that to my advantage to brew an awesome cup of tea?   (Smelling the underside of a gaiwan lid while brewing, to judge brew strength, done-ness.)

Heat Retention -- How thick is the piece, and tying into the materials, does this cool very quickly or very slowly.  If it is not preheated with it take all the heat out of the first steeps water, or will it take almost none?  For future steeps, is the teapot still too hot to handle meaning water temp should be near perfect, or basically between each steep does the vessel return to basically its room temperature state?

This can make or break tea brewing.  It is often the hardest to understand and get a hold of, especially as with others, we can often brew at a different pace than when brewing alone. Thankfully we hopefully still have *some* intact nerve endings in our hands to be able to judge the temperature with a touch or two.  Gaiwan users, may not have any working nerve endings in their finger tips, but that is something we have come to live with. ;-)

Ease of Use -- Am I using a vessel that always clogs?  Am I using a vessel that I am unable to pour without leaving half the water in the pot, or spilling half the tea down the front of the teapot?  Am I trying to use a handle-less vessel with no noticeable gripping points with a tea that is brewed with boiling water?

If you do not understand the point of the last question, consider yourself lucky.  However once you do something like try and brew sencha extra hot from a houhin that has no well defined gripping point on the outside of its body you will know exactly what I mean.  If you already know what I mean, I am sorry you put yourself through that torture test of will, of trying to grip a well loved piece of teaware that just might be hotter than the sun, precariously above a teacup to pour out the molten tea, while trying to keep the flesh on your fingers from vaporizing from the intense heat.

Practicality -- Do I really want to brew with my smallest teapot yet also use my largest cup? Or on the other side, I really want to use this teapot, for this tea, with these cups, I know I am drinking tea alone, but surely I shouldn't feel bad about using 5 different teacups for one person, because I want to use the entire set at once, right?

I need to work on this one! ;-)


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tea with Dinner



I have to laugh how things can change.  I used to be a person who had tea when they were having tea, and ate when he was going to eat.  I almost never even had a small snack with my tea even though it can be fairly common. However with schedules being what they have been lately, I've found almost the only time I can have tea would be if I start brewing tea around the same time I start cooking dinner.  Typically eating while imbibing on the last few steeps of which ever tea I happened to be brewing.

While I've never been one to work on pairings, even in the wine world, I mostly think if you are eating what you like to eat, and drinking what you like to drink it will be OK 90% of the time. However I will say mild dishes seem to go well with green tea, and spicy dishes with darker teas.

However this also seems to be changing the *ceremony* of it all.  Brewing tea is also seldom the private meditation it once was, I now am doing about eight different things instead of waiting for the kettle to boil and then steeping the tea.   It has lost the private meditation it used to be, that helped keep stress in check, and had me leave the tea table incredibly relaxed and ready to continue on with the day.  Now it seems akin to grabbing a coffee and drinking it while running errands, or throwing a teabag in a cup of hot water and letting it steep while you slowly drink it to nothing.  Nothing is inherently bad in either of those endeavors, however I feel they lose the draw that was tea for me, and instead it is all now just an energy drink delivery system.

So while tea with dinner can be fun, it certainly has caused a loss in the desire to appreciate tea.  When tea loses the private meditation and reflection, is there much left?

Friday, January 16, 2015

New Video Describing Balhyocha!

So lately I have been doing a lot of personal searching, and personal development and goal setting. One thing that didn't sit right was how far I drifted away from tea, and while the past few months it has been getting a foothold in my life again, I did not want the blog or the videos to go.  I never quite announced this outside the group that challenged me to set these goals, however Tea was a central part of those goals.  Part returning to things that keep me balanced, and part returning to things that bring me joy.  As such, and I hope my blog readers can help keep me accountable.  I am setting out to produce at least 1 video each month, and 1 unrelated blog post each month.  (So look for a minimum of two posts a month from me throughout 2015!)


Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why do you choose your your teaware?

Hokujo Kyusu and  Masahiko Yunomi

I have run several small interesting experiments with my friends, namely when giving them a choice to use any cup I have to offer, who chooses which, and why did they choose that one?  Is there something about the shape, glaze, size that appeals to them, more than any other piece? Oddly while most of my teaware distinctively speaks to me and as such has traits I admire, the pieces chosen by friends when they visit sometimes shock me, as a friend known for distinct style and flair may actually choose a very humble looking cup, while a friend who normally is incredibly quiet may choose a cup that screams *look at me.*  Now I don't analyze it too much in regards to friends, I prefer to do that on my own preferences for choosing teaware.

Celadon Teabowl (1)

Regular readers know I like Hagi Yaki for its Wabi Sabi appearance, basically saying "I am not perfect" right out there in the open.  But even in more perfect looking pieces I prefer my teaware to have less than ideal glazing.  An ideal glaze has identical thermal expansion properties as the glaze, as such there is no tiny hairline fractures in the glaze that will stain over time with use, the glaze quite literally is a perfect sheet of glass adhered to the surface of the bowl.  But I by far prefer that additional imperfection even on an otherwise perfectly symmetrical and well formed piece.

Park Jong Il Teapot Staining

To me, these pieces of teaware mimic all of us.  An absolutely perfect piece while stunning is always the same, and gets boring after awhile.  While it is the stresses of life, that create the chaos in our life, which make us interesting people.  These stresses allow us to not hide who we are, but rather throw it all out there in the open, and say "This is me, I have been through things, but here I am!"  That is what I want my teaware to say.  That is why I love each and every piece of teaware I have, to me they have shared their life, and their story, just like good friends in life.

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