Saturday, October 7, 2006, 12:33 AMOld wisdom said that the knocking sound of zhu ni is like the knocking sound of "Jing Shi" - meaning metal and stone. Also, it was also said the knocking sound of zhu ni is like the knocking sound of two jade together. True? Here are four exmples, and you can judge for yourself : )
(1) 60's Nan-Yan Zhu Ni Shui Pin:
(2) Early R.O.C Pear-Skinned Zhu Ni, 120cc:
(3) Early R.O.C. Zhu Ni, 325cc:
It's rare to have zhu ni in such a large size. And even with its size, the crispy knocking sound of zhu ni remains! Marvelous!
(4) 18th century (mid-Qing) "Fu Yuan Ting" Lon-Dan Zhu Ni, 110cc:
I also put all four clips into one file on YouTube - Click here.
Aren't they lovely? Aren't they just like the knocking sound of metal, stone, or jade? Although "modern zhu ni" - hong ni-based blend - can mimic the effect, the sound would not be as natural and round. Above all, the clay would not be as great and treasurable.
Woooow... I can replay those beaufitul sounds for hours ^__^
Please be extra careful when trying this at home! Any teapot can break if knocked too hard!
Monday, October 2, 2006, 05:35 PM ( 28 views )In the coming days, we will gradually roll out a series of discussions on how to properly select an yixing to bring out the best of your tea(s). We may use video clips to demonstrate our concepts.
The first topic - The affect of Shape on tea brewing
In "Chao Zhou Cha Jing" of Wong Hwei-Dong of the Qing Dynasty, it is said, "... to select a teapot, better small but not big, better shallow but not deep." Most of us are familiar with the benefits of using a small-sized teapot when doing gong-fu style brewing. I found the second criteria the old wisdom put forward is also noteworthy: "better shallow but not deep". Why?
The characters of a tea can be greatly changed by different oxidation and roasting degrees. In general, the more oxidized or more roasted, the more stable the tea quality becomes. That's why we can just use a jar to store and age our tie guan yin, dong-ding, bai hao, etc., but need to use vacuum or low temperature storage to preserve the freshness of green teas and Taiwan's high-mountain oolongs.
When a tea is more oxidized/roasted, or aged for pu-erhs, it usually needs a higher brewing temperature to bring out the best mellowness and most sophisticated aroma layers. We all know that green tea like Longjing should be brewed ~ 175degF, but Dong-Ding needs boiling water (212degF).
The shape of a teapot can affect how fast the inside temperature drops. A shallow-shaped teapot dissipates heat faster than a tall and deep teapot.
Moreover, when we pour out the liquor from a teapot, the teas inside the teapot is still hot. As a shallower teapot dissipates heat faster, it drops the tea's temperature faster too. This helps preserve the freshness of tea and prevents the tea being over-heated.
On the other hand, when we are dealing with a high-oxidized/roasted type of tea, we want the heat and we want the temperature inside the teapot to hold.
Following the above discussion, we can draw a Shape-Tea Matching Diagram as shown below:
The X- and Y-axis represent the oxidation and roasting degree, individually. The bottom rainbow spectrum explains the oxidation degree for several common type of teas. In the coordinate, we position three shapes - shallow, round, and tall/deep - that, theoretically, is the best-matched teapot shape.
So why Mr. Wong only liked a shallow teapot? My guess is the region of Chao Zhou, inside GuangDong province, is constantly hot and humid. So a shallower teapot can help balance the ambient condition by keeping the teas cooler.
In general, I've found the shui-pin design, in a form of a slightly compressed circle, to be suitable to a wide range of oolong and black teas.
Please note I highlight the word "theoretically". There are many other factors that all affect the brewing performance at the same time. So the shape-matching discussion should be considered just as one of the factors. We should always judge a teapot from many different angles - shape, firing, clay quality, body thickness, craftsmanship, your ambient conditions, etc.
I have been hesitated to discuss such a kind of topic, for I never like to make the art of tea become too "scientific" or engineering, and for the fear that my limited knowledge might mislead people : ) So please post your comments and let's exchange our ideas.
Our next discussion will focus on the clay quality.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006, 12:23 PMWuyi yen cha can be categorized into three groups, according to the locations of the plantations:
Zheng-Yen : The yen cha is from a plantation located inside the Scenic District of Wuyi Shan, average elevation 650m. This is where the orthodox and very limited yen cha were produced. The soil in this district is gravelly and rich in minerals. The warm and humid climate keeps the tea trees well hydrated while the roots can breath easily. This Terroir contributes to the ethereal and spirited (or, dynamic) taste of yen cha. The picture below shows a plantation inside this District:
Ban-Yen : "Ban" means "half, in the middle of". This refers to plantations on terraces just outside the Scenic District, a transition from zheng-yen to zhou-cha.
Zhou-Cha : This is where the bulk of yen cha are produced. Zhou means "outside the limit" in chinese. So this says "tea from outside the District limit". But another way of writing Zhou in chinese means "terrace". Elevation usually 100~400m high. Tea from these locations sometimes lack enough characters, so not uncommon they have to be darkly roasted to enhance the taste and structure.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006, 02:40 PMRecently I had some interesting conversations with a good client about the Hong Shui Oolong. We both found its aroma/taste to be surprisingly similar to Wuyi yen cha. This triggers me to look back the history of Hong Shui oolong, and the history of Taiwan's oolong in general.
In our August Newsletter, we discussed the origin of Taiwan's oolong. Let me display the map showing the bloodlines again:
Wuyi yen cha is a high-oxidized (>50%) type of oolong. Its roasting degree may vary from light to heavy, depends on the cultivars and the target of consumers. Anxi Tie Guan Yin, relatively, is lighter oxidized; roasting degree can vary from light to heavy, too.
Wuyi yen cha is in the stripe shape, and Anxi Tie Guan Yin is in the round/ball shape.
Hong Shui Oolong is in the round/ball shape, but highly oxidized (60%) and of light/slow roasting degree. See the interesting crossover - or, marriage? Hong Shui oolong is the child of a happy marriage of the processing skills from Wuyi and Anxi.
The birthplace of Hong Shui oolong is Lu Gu, Nan Tou, in central part of Taiwan. This region inherits their oolong processing skill from Anxi. But later the Soft-Stem oolong cultivar from Wuyi became more popular in Taiwan than the Tie Guan Yin cultivar. I guess in certain point of time the cultivar brought the Wuyi oolong concept into the central part of Taiwan. Hence the birth of Hong Shui Oolong.
This batch of Hong Shui oolong was from a plantation in Dong-Ding, which has very similar weather and elevation conditions to Wuyi: Dong-Ding is about 700m high, and the average elevation in Wuyi is 650m. Both places are at approximately the same latitude, but different soil conditions. Hong Shui Oolong was made from a traditioal cultivar from Wuyi hundreds years ago. Same high oxidation. While you can certainly find "Wuyi" in Hong Shui oolong, some things are different: the Hong Shui has an intense sugarcane-y sweetness in the aroma and good roundness in taste. Wuyi yen cha (good ones, of coz) is more airy and floral, thick but not as round.
I guess we can use the concept of Terroir to understand the differences in them.
The redness in Hong Shui's liquor and the charismatic floral aroma are on a par with Wuyi Da Hong Pao. Try for yourself : )
You can see Phyll's tasting note of Hong Shui here.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006, 11:17 PMLong-awaited 2006 Xi-Zhi Hao have finally arrived! This shipment brought us three of the 2006 series; in total we will have 5 different cakesfrom Xi-Zhi Hao's 2006 Spring-Harvested productions.
In the above picture, from left to right:
2006 XZH Tai-Chi Series: "Yin" - Buds-enhanced Lao Ban Zhan, 400g
2006 XZH Ban Zhan Natural Habitat Forest, 400g
2006 XZH Tai-Chi Series: "Yan" - Lao Ban Zhan, 400g
The "Tai Chi" series is Xi-hi Hao's special introduction in 2006: they both use genuine sun-dried old-tree mao cha collected from deep forests in the prestigious Lao Ban Zhan region. The "Yin" cake, breathtakingly beautiful, is decorated with silvery leaf buds from the same harvest region. "Yan" is without the leaf buds. The wrapper is two big letters - Tai Chi - written by the famous Calligrapher "Ke San", who is also the calligraphy mentor to the XZH owner Mr. Chen. The wrapper of Yin opens like this:
While the XZH is highly pursued in Asian market, people also wish XZH can make some more "affordable" cakes with same high quality and rigorous attitude. The answer is 2006 Ban Zhan Natural Habitat Forest cake. The mao cha were from a plantation in Ban Zhan that is co-planted with camphor trees (to deter insects) and naturally allow a balanced ecosystem. We are very pleased to introduce this fine cake : )