Tag Archives: Wuyi Shan

EXCLUSIVE: All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots

All About Yixing & Chaozhou Tea

Dear Beloved Blog Readers,

I have been on the road (and in the air) for much of August. Now back on terra firma I final have a brief moment to catch my breath and add more delicious video content from a Summer’s worth of tea talks and interactive workshops. So, without further ado, I present to you “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots”.

As with previous tea talks (uploaded to this blog and those still pending), “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots” delves deep into the singular and diverse topic of China’s most famous ceramic ware for the brewing of tea. Prized since the Ming period, Yixing teaware became the hallmark of quality and refinement for any 茶人 (chá rén, “tea person”) from the Ming up to this very day. Conversely, Chaozhou teapots have remained relatively unknown outside of the region of Chaozhou until relatively recently. In this event and live broadcast, we explore the historical and creative interplay of the two as they developed over time in conjunction with the history of tea and tea culture in China. Additionally, we went deep into the qualities that define teapot construction and functionality, and offered insights into sourcing, selecting, seasoning, and brewing with both unique teapot styles.

As part of an ongoing series that examines the diversity of China’s tea culture, “All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots” was  a fully-immersive workshop and tea talk, featuring tea tasting, discussions and education on art history, and offered hands-on opportunities to brew tea and hone teapot brewing skills. Participants were encouraged to ask questions, taste tea, and bring their own teapots to use and share.

“All About Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots”

Link to video

Yixing & Chaozhou Presentation Thumbnail

To aid in the watching of this almost 3 hour-long recording, I offer you a brief table of contents. The first half of the tea talk and interactive workshop is a presentation of over 30 slides (a fraction of which is pictured above), followed by a break-out discussion and tea brewing session.

Presentation Contents:

  • Locating Yixing and Chaozhou
    • Clays, Quarries, Kilns, and Tea
  • Origins and Evolution of Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots
    • Precursors to Popularlization
    • Historical Forms
    • Place in Tea Culture
  • Qualities of Yixing & Chaozhou Teapots
    • Clay
    • Firing
    • Pot Construction
    • Pot Form & Function
  • Brewing with a Yixing & Chaozhou Teapot
    • How to Pour, Brew, Hold & Other Considerations

Break-Out Discussion: Teapots Used and Teas Tasted:

  • 1970s-1980s 綠泥 lǜ ní (“green clay”) 西施壺 Xīshīhú (“Lady Shi of the West Teapot”) brewing 大禹嶺 Dà Yǔ Lǐng from Taichung County, Taiwan (elevation 2650 meters)
  • Late 19th-20th century 朱泥 Zhū ní (“cinnabar clay”) 思亭壺 Sī tíng hú (“Master Si Ting Teapot”) brewing a traditionally oxidized and roasted 鐵觀音 Tiě Guān Yīn “Iron Goddess of Mercy” from Anxi County, Fujian, China
  • Late 1990s 朱泥 Zhū ní (“cinnabar clay”) 肉扁 Ròu biǎn (“Lump of Meat”) teapot, commissioned by Roy K. Fong of Imperial Tea Court, brewing 大烏葉 Dà Wū Yè (“Big Black Leaf”) 鳳凰單樅烏龍茶 Fènghuáng dān cōng wūlóngchá (Phoenix single bush oolong tea) from Chaozhou County, Guangdong, China
  • Late 1980s-early 1990s 黃泥 Huáng ní (“yellow clay”) Chaozhou high-fired 羅漢 Luóhàn-shaped teapot brewing a 大赤甘 Dà Chì Gān (“Large Red Sweetness”) from Wuyishan, Fujian, China

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Look out for more tea talks and workshops soon to be added to this blog. I regularly present and moderate at museums, universities, tea houses, cultural centers, etc. For speaking inquiries, feel free to reach out to scotttea888 (at) gmail.com.

 

 

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, History, Hongcha, Oolong, Poetry, Pu-erh, Tea, Tea Tasting

Comparing the Flavor of Tea Can Lead to Greater Understanding

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This morning I was asked what book I might recommend to deepen one’s knowledge of tea. The answer I offered was to just drink tea. While not openly trying to emulate the Chan master Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn 趙州從諗 (778-897), who advised his students to “have a bowl of tea”, I was trying to point the person towards a form of understanding that comes only from direct experience.

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When one simply sits to drink tea, one can learn about the various factors that constitute a tea’s flavor. Weather, soil content, level and evenness of oxidation, even (and especially) the way the leaves were picked and processed will ultimately determine how a tea will taste. In the same way that the events of our own lives will affect our demeanor, our psychological bearing, or even our physical state, the life of a tea leaf can tell a story, even a history.

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Sitting down to brew a series of Wǔyíshān hóngchá (“red tea” from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian), their “stories” were quite apparent. Between two varieties of 赤甘紅茶 (chì gān hóngchá, literally “red sweetness red tea”), the smaller leaves of the 小赤甘 (xiǎo chì gān, literally “small red sweetness”) were considerably sweeter and cleaner in flavor than those of its larger variation, the 大赤甘 (dà chì gān, or “large red sweetness”). Comparing these two teas to a traditionally-smoked 正山小種 (zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng, Lapsang Souchong), the tale these teas told were all together quite different.

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Processing played a major part in each of the teas’ distinctive flavor profiles. For the two chì gān hóngchá, the tea leaves were simply picked, withered, rolled, pan-fired, and rolled again before they were dried and made ready to enjoy. This rather orthodox processing helps these teas to retain their natural sweetness that develops through oxidation, revealing flavors akin to that of a baked apple and dried red dates. The smaller, tender leaves of the xiǎo chì gān, with their more delicate sugars, offered flavors that were sweeter and more complex than the larger leaves of the dà chì gān, which were considerably more tannic and floral, resulting in a subsequently drier mouthfeel.

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While the leaf type of the zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng may have appeared to be superficially quite similar to the two chì gān hóngchá, the “finishing” of this tea transformed it into something that is remarkably different. Achieved through a process of slowly smoking the dried tea leaves over a smoldering pinewood ash pit over the course of several days, the tea leaves are imparted with the characteristic flavors dried longan and smokey pine resin. When done well, this processing adds a complex layering of smokiness, balancing the sweeter fruit notes that naturally occur in the tea leaves with an almost peat-like quality found in a fine Islay Scotch whisky. In the case of this particular tea, the interplay of these robust and subtle flavors remained from the first steeping all the way through the last, becoming lighter, sweeter, and more delicate with each subsequent brewing.

 

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In an approach like gong fu cha, one is able to examine the leaves of a tea, take in its aroma, sip and savor its liqueur. Through this process, rudimentary know-how is slowly gained and one’s abilities to better understand a tea are eventually developed. While this may take years, the “knowledge” gained through direct experience becomes something beyond words on a page or anecdotes shared between a teacher to a student. It becomes a flavor that lingers in your psyche, a memory embedded in your action. You can always open a book, but to be able to listen to what tea can tell you takes discipline, patience, and a curious mind.

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In response to being asked about what books, podcasts, and videos I  have enjoyed for learning about and expanding my knowledge on tea, I offer this short list to you, my beloved readers. While certainly not comprehensive, for those just beginning their journey in tea, it is a wonderful “first step”.

Enjoy!

Books

Baisa-ō , and Norman Waddell. The Old Tea Seller: Life and Zen Poetry in 18th Century Kyoto. Counterpoint, 2008. (Link)

Hirota, Dennis. Wind in the Pines: Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path. Asian Humanities Press, 1995. (Link)

Mair, Victor H., and Erling Hoh. The True History of Tea. Thames & Hudson, 2009. (Link)

Sadler, A. L. Cha-No-Yu: the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Tuttle, 2001. (Link)

Sanmi, Sasaki. Chado the Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac. Tuttle Publishing, 2011. (Link)

Sen Sōshitsu. The Japanese Way of Tea: from Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyū. Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2000. (Link)

Shigenori, Chikamastsu. Stories from a Tearoom Window: Lore and Legnds of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Tuttle Publishing, 2011. (Link)

Yoo, Yang-Seok. The Book of Korean Tea: a Guide to the History, Culture and Philosophy of Korean Tea and the Tea Ceremony. The Myung Won Cultural Foundation, 2007. (Link)

Zhang, Jinghong. Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic. University of Washington Press, 2014. (Link)

Podcasts

Chinese History Podcast – “History of Tea” by Laszlo Montgomery (Link to Part 1 of 10)

Talking Tea: Conversations About Tea and Tea Culture by Ken Cohen (Link to homepage)

Videos

<<茶,一片树叶的故事>> (“Tea, The Story of a Leaf”). CCTV, 2013. (Link to Episode 1 of 6, in Chinese)

Gong Fu Tea|chA by So Han Fan, YouTube channel Tea House Ghost (Link to Episode 1 of a continuing series)

 

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Filed under China, Education, Hongcha, Tea, Tea Tasting

Drinking aged Shui Xian oolong: flavors developed over decades

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(IMAGE: Brewing +30 years old aged Shui Xian oolong)

Dear beloved blog readers,

There are teas that age and teas that don’t age. Teas that don’t age lose their flavor, become stale, and fail to inspire. On the other hand, teas that age turn into something transcendent, their flavors transform, and they gain a quality that can inform you of the years they have seen.

While many tea people know about aging tea through their experiences with pu-erh tea, fewer know about aging oolong tea. From the processing to the final results, aging oolong tea can be tricky and “success” often lies in the hands of a skillful tea master (the person who processes, oxidizes, and roasts the tea).

Much like the processing of oolong from fresh leaf to finished product (ready to be brewed), the aging process is often one that involves both “breathing” periods and “finishing” roasts. In the initial crafting of an oolong tea, whether it’s a dark Wuyi yancha (“rock tea”), a vibrant green Taiwanese high mountain oolong, or russet Feng Huang Dan Cong (“Phoenix Single Grove”), producing an oolong tea requires a series of roasting and re-roasting, between which there are several breathing periods. These breathing periods allow for the tea to naturally cool-down from the roasting and air-out any off or undesired flavors. Here, the aim of the tea master is to halt oxidation and preserve (or even highlight) flavors that occur naturally within the tea. When well done,the results can range from being undetectable (preserving the green or floral notes without any additional “roastiness”) to being extremely well-balanced (creating a harmony between the flavor of the tea and the toasted notes produced during the roasting process). Ageing an oolong is, in a sense, an extending of this process through time.

The practice of aging oolong is almost as old as the history of tea, most likely having its origins in the Song dynasty with the advent of oolong production in Fujian. During this time, tea was still being pressed into cakes, later to be ground up and turned into a frothy concoction reminiscent of modern-day matcha. Much like pu-erh today, the famous Longfeng Tuancha 龍鳳團茶 (“Dragon Phoenix tea cakes) of Fujian enabled the tea to retain its flavor over time by reducing the overall surface area of the tea. When it came time to drink the tea, the tea person would break off a section of the cake, steam it, and administer a slight re-roasting to the tea before grinding it for the final brew. The re-roasting, as it was noted at the time, helped to wake the tea up, re-activating its flavors through applied heat.

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(IMAGE: Various Song dynasty period Longfeng Tuancha 龍鳳團茶 (“Dragon Phoenix tea cakes))

Being one of the oldest oolong cultivars, Shui Xian developed during this time period and made its way into this form of production (even today, one can still find Shui Xian pressed into tea cakes, enabling a style of aging akin to that of the Song period). With later cultivars and varietals of oolong tea being developed from the Song dynasty onwards, new methods of producing, processing, and aging oolong emerged.

During the Ming dynasty, with an imperial edict that demanded that tribute tea be sent in its loose leaf form, the process of making and aging oolong changed. A style of this is preserved and still practiced in Chaozhou, where oolong tea is often given a quick re-roast to reawaken dormant flavors in the leaf. The tea is then brewed, often very strong, to reveal all of the flavors present in the tea. As with the Song dynasty tea preparation, Chaozhou-style tea brewing, with the final re-roasting, enables tea to age and then “wake” prior to brewing.

Similarly, there is the practice of re-roasting oolong tea to preserve its flavor, not for immediate brewing, but explicitly for aging. Again, probably arising from the practice of roasting oolong tea during the initial processing and recognizing that this and any subsequent re-roasting could help to “lock in” the tea’s flavors, tea masters will often give aging teas additional roasts. There is an art and science to applying these roasts: The tea master will need to gauge whether the tea has longevity to express flavors after years of aging. The tea master will also need to determine the right time to roast the tea as it ages. Finally, the tea master will need to know how to roast the tea, whether to lightly roast it to preserve existing flavors, or to perform a higher roast balance the flavor. The tea master can also use aromatic woods for charcoal (such a longan wood) to produce a more complex flavor profile.

Subsequent roasts to an aging tea can produce a subtle “layered” effect. Usually occurring every five to fifteen years (although this can differ depending on the tea master), these roastings not only help to extend the life of a fine tea but also act as a kind of dialogue between the tea master and tea. If an oolong is passed-down to other tea masters, they may choose to apply additional re-roastings during the time they have the tea. As such, the tea becomes a documentation of this history and interaction.

Finally, there is another way to age oolong tea by simply keeping the tea well-sealed and away from excessive heat, moisture, light, and oxygen (as well as any other odd scents). Oolongs aged this way tend to become quieter with age, smoothing-out any of the “rough edges” that they may have had during their early years. If one is lucky, a good tea can become a great tea, mellowing over time and gaining a depth it may have lacked originally.

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(IMAGE: Aged Shui Xian oolong tea leaves kept in an antique Japanese wooden natsume (tea caddy) prior to brewing. Only enough tea is brought out to ensure the remaining tea leaves do not go stale)

As an avid tea drinker, I have had several opportunities to drink such teas, from a fantastic Feng Huang Dan Cong that had been hidden in a rice bale during the Cultural Revolution to a 120 year-old blended oolong one of my tea teachers’ grandmothers who had enjoyed it when she was a young girl. Needless to say, each tea spoke volumes of the time that passed and of the people that crafted them.

Today, I am sitting down to drink one such “transcendent” tea: an aged Shui Xian 水仙 (“Water Narcissus” or “Water Sprite”) Wuyi yancha. The tea came to me by way of a dear friend who had gifted quite a large quantity of it to me more than five years ago. When he acquired it from a renowned tea person, the tea was already close to thirty years old and had received several re-roastings over the course of these three decades.

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(IMAGE: A close-up view of the aged Shui Xian oolong leaves.)

The leaves are huge, befitting the style and cultivar, as well as the standards of quality that were upheld more than thirty years ago. The tea is, in a sense, a history lesson, showing the attention and care the original farmers and tea master had paid to crafting this tea. Unlike many modern interpretations of aged Shui Xian, the subsequent roasting on this tea was lightly done, the resulting hue of the leaves is leathery rather than black.

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(IMAGE: The stone weight-shaped zhima duan ni (sesame seed-colored clay) yixing teapot specifically for the brewing of aged Shui Xian oolong)

I chose to brew this tea in a slightly larger teapot, one I have dedicated specifically for this tea. The shape of the pot is poetically referred to as a stone weight or metal ingot, given its resemblance to these daily items of the Ming and Qing periods. The bottom of the teapot is flat, allowing for these leaves to sit low in the pot. Unlike new teas or even aged pu-erh, aged oolong leaves tend not to entirely open up upon steeping. For this reason, having a pot that allows for them to retain their shape is ideal.

When brewing the aged Shui Xian, I opt for boiling water. Given that these tea leaves haven’t received many subsequent re-roastings and are now going through a “resting” period, the high heat of the water will help to draw out the desired flavors. For the first steeping, I choose to let it brew for only a few seconds, only enough time to allow for the water poured over the teapot to evaporate.

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(IMAGE: The final result: The beautiful copper color of the aged Shui Xian oolong)

The flavors of the steeped aged Shui Xian are exquisite. The scent alone of the liqueur fills the air of the northwest-facing room of my apartment. The color is copper with a hint of purple. Finally, upon sipping the tea, I become audience to an unfolding of flavors quite unlike any other tea. First there is aged dried plum, followed by waves of cedar and camphor, ending in a long-fading finish of dark honey. The mouthfeel is clean with a slight minerality (which is often present in many Wuyi yancha).

Brewing this tea one steeping after another, peeling-back the layers of flavor, and revealing its stories has me enjoying this tea for hours. A fitting end to these leaves first picked more than 30 years ago, enjoyed today and shared with you.

 

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Filed under Ceramics, Education, History, Oolong, Pu-erh, Tea Tasting