Sunday, August 22, 2010

Qi Zi Bing Preview

Prepping for his upcoming Seven Mountain Green Puerh Tasting Class, Roy brought one of the Qi Zi Bing bundles to the teahouse this afternoon. Fortuitously, a couple of teahouse regulars wandered in at just the right time to join us and we all had a taste of these fascinating variations on the theme of Yunnan tea.

One of the benefits of the Qi Zi Bing bundles is that some of the cakes are ready to drink now, others can be enjoyed now or later, and still others will age spectacularly if stored away. Each bundle comprises more that 5.5 pounds of tea that you can start drinking immediately and continue to savor for years to come.

Roy selected the tea in the bundles (which were produced exclusively for Imperial Tea Court) from the 2006 harvest and it rested in the factory for a year before being pressed into cakes in 2007. Then, at Roy's direction, it aged for three years in Yunnan prior to being shipped to our Oakland warehouse. Mountains represented in the bundle include Ba Da Shan, Nan Nuo Shan, Jing Mai Shan, Bu Lang Shan, Ban Zhang Shan, You Le Shan, and Wu Liang Shan. Each mountain's tea has a distinctive flavor profile.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Seven Mountain Green Puerh Tasting Class with Roy Fong

Roy has set the dates for his Seven Mountain Green Puerh Tasting Class next month in our San Francisco Ferry Building teahouse. To accommodate as many tea lovers as possible he'll hold two classes: Sunday, September 12, from 9-11 AM, and Friday, September 17, from 7-9 PM. In each class, students will drink their way across some of Yunnan Province's most famous tea mountains by tasting every cake in our Qi Zi Bing (Seven Sons) bundle. Each cake is from a different mountain. Along the way you'll learn the nuances of each mountain, whose teas vary in subtle but distinctive ways because of topography, climate, soil composition, sun exposure, local cultivation practices, and other factors. Roy will also coach students' brewing techniques to help you get the most out of every tea you prepare. Don't miss this terrific introduction to Yunnan tea for beginners and fascinating side-by-side tasting comparison for experienced puerh lovers.

For those who can't attend, stay tuned, we'll be offering the Qi Zi Bing collection for sale in our online store in the near future.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Qi Zi Bing Puerh Class Coming in September

September means back to school - back to tea school in our case. After a busy summer Roy is ready to host two classes focusing on an outstanding Qi Zi Bing set of seven puerh cakes. This set, soon to be offered in our online store, comprises sheng (green) 357-gram cakes from seven different highly regarded tea mountains in Yunnan. The tasting will be an uncommon opportunity to venture with Roy through different puerh tea regions, developing a deeper understanding of the special characteristics of each. You'll also get lots of hands-on experience brewing these teas, coached by Roy through all the steps that yield a delicious pot of puerh.

To accommodate as many students as possible while still keeping the classes intimate and interactive, Roy will offer the same class twice, once in the evening and once on a weekend morning. We'll be finalizing the mid-September times and dates shortly, so stay tuned to the blog or email us to join the interest list.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hard at Work on the California Tea Farm

We haven't seen much of Roy since his return from China. He's been spending a lot of time up at his California tea farm, growing seedlings, preparing the soil, and otherwise getting ready to put tea plants in the ground in October. Meanwhile, Grace has been setting up a small tea shop in the farm's workshop/garage. Once the tea farm is active it will be ready for visitors!

Currently Roy is growing dragonwell and other green tea seedlings. Later he may add oolong and perhaps a few puerh seedlings to the mix. The countdown to growing tea at the tea farm is underway!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time to Retire a Favorite Yixing Teapot

I loaded my favorite zhu ni (cinnabar clay) teapot with Roy's signature Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin and was preparing to brew a savory pot to take the chill off of a typical San Francisco summer day. As I added a dash of hot water to rinse the leaves, there was a crisp click, a sound like one tick of the clock that teapot lovers dread. I'd read about this phenomenon and now, unhappily, I've experienced it first-hand. Zhu ni teapots are more vulnerable to cracking under thermal stress than pots made from other types of yi xing clay. Lovely to look at and the ideal vessel to enhance a good tie guan yin, these temperamental beauties are hard to pot well due to the clay's relatively large shrinkage rate. In addition, top-quality zhu ni clay with the high iron content that gives the pottery its distinctive deep reddish orange color has become quite rare. As a result, good zhu ni pots are expensive, if you're lucky enough to find one.

My pot was a gift from a tea-loving friend a few years back and whenever we got together to brew tea we enjoyed noting how its rich patina was developing over time. In the almost magical way that the right pot can interact with its preferred tea and improve it, this pot seemed to love tie guan yin and could be relied on to balance flavors, remove any harshness from overfiring, and release a delightful aroma cloud when the water hit the leaves.

Given all of that I should have been more patient and cautious when brewing, taking extra time to slowly bring the pot up from room to brewing temperature before adding leaves. A tea boat might have helped. But, eager to drink the tea I expected the pot to deliver, and perhaps overconfident from my experience with sturdy zi sha and ping zi ni yi xing teapots, I poured hot water right into the pot, causing it to crack like a dropped egg.

The pot is still intact (although with visible cracks) but it will never again brew a fine pot of tea. I'll keep it on the shelf, looking handsome with the soft glow of many happy tea sessions in the past. It will be a gentle reminder to take extra care when brewing tea in zhu ni, and alway have a seasoned backup teapot in the cabinet.