Friday, October 21, 2011

Firing up the clay stove

Clay stove going strong with hardwood charcoal and olive pit charcoal
Before you leave our blog, please participate in our survey about which measurement of weight you prefer when you buy tea. The survey in on top of the right column, available until Dec. 31, 2011. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tea Storage, Part I

When it comes to tea storage, there isn't a single universal way that works for all teas. Some teas are meant to be stored and aged while others should be enjoyed fresh. Tea merchants' storage requirements are different from those for storing tea at home. Also, there is the difference between long term storage and just putting your tea away until tomorrow morning. So when speaking about tea storage, everyone may have a different purpose in mind. This post is not meant to be an all-purpose solution. If you have any questions after reading this blog, please post them as comments and I'll do my best to tackle each question.

The tea stoage environment has two components - the packaging of the tea, and the place where the package is kept. I'll divide this post into 2 parts. In part I, I'll discuss short term storage. Part II will talk about longer term storage and tea specific requirements.

First of all, let's tackle the easy one - a good place to put your tea away until tomorrow morning. In this case the packaging is the most important. The key is air tightness to keep foreign scent/odor and moisture out. Tea is a super odor/scent absorbant. Without an air tight container, you must pay attention to the general environment in which you keep your tea. If you always purchase small amount of tea which you can consume within a month, then you can just keep them in the tin can or reclosable foil bag they come in. These containers are reasonably air tight. If you believe metal containers are bad for storing tea, then transfer the tea into a glass or porcelain container. (I personally have no problem storing tea in tin cans). When using glass container, make sure it's air-tight and place it out of direct sunlight. When using porcelain containers, make sure they are air-tight. Pay attention to the rubber seal commonly found on many porcelain container nowadays. These rubber seal often has a plastic odor to it. Plastic containers are not preferable because they usually have an plastic odor. Reclosable sandwish bags and ziplock bags are okay but need a few layers in order to lock in the natural aroma. Scented tea like jasmine or other flavored tea would be fine with just 1 layer of ziplock. You won't notice anything even when these teas have absorbed other scent. As long as you keep your tea in an air tight container, you can place your tea anywhere that's away from heat source.

When choosing a can or jar, make sure the container itself is odor/scent free. For an container that's previously closed for at least 2 days, you can test it by opening it and immediately smell the inside. If you can smell something, then wash and dry it thoroughly and test again. For a previously open container, close it tightly and let it sit for at least 2 day and test it the same way.

Lastly, it's a good idea to  keep only a 2-3 week supply of tea handy, and keep the rest seperate for longer term storage.

If you can't find any good container and the bag you have is not reclosable, you can seal the bag like this:

Fold the bag all the way to remove most air.

Fold the bag this way, all the way down.

Completely folded all the way.

Use a rubber band or a clip to secure.

End of part I.

Before you leave our blog, please participate in our survey about which measurement of weight you prefer when you buy tea. The survey in on top of the right column, available until Dec. 31, 2011. Thank you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jin(斤) and liang(两)

Edit: Thanks to David from Asha Tea House who reminded me that Taiwan and Hong Kong use different jin and liang system, I am adding the Taiwanese units and Hong Kong units as well. Thank you David.


When we buy tea we usually refer to the amount/weight using grams, ounces, or pound. Today let me introduce two more units of weight to you, jin and liang.

In China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, as well as some other south eastern Asian countries,  weight is usually measured in jin (斤) or liang (两). The tea trade also uses these units. However, a jin in China is different from a jin in Taiwan. A jin in Taiwan is slightly different from a jin in Hong Kong. These differences are the result of the complicated history of these three places. Prices for tea are usually shown as $$ per jin in these places. Let me explain how these units relate to grams, ounces, and pound.

In China,
1 jin = 10 liang = 500 grams = 1.10 pound

1 liang = 50 grams = 1.76 ounce

1 kg = 2 jin

In Taiwan,

1 jin = 16 liang = 600 grams = 1.32 pound

1 liang = 37.5 grams = 1.32 ounce

1 kg = 1.66666666....... jin

In Hong Kong,

1 jin = 1/100 of a picul ( )

1 jin = 16 liang = ~605 grams = ~1.33 pound

1 liang = ~37.81 grams = ~1.33 ounce

1 kg = ~1.653467 jin

When you visit these places, they all just call their unit the jin. But you need to be aware that each jin is different. This will be useful if you plan to visit a tea shop in these places. And before you leave the our blog, please participate in our survey about which measurement of weight you prefer when you buy tea. The survey in on top of the right column, available until Dec. 31, 2011. Thank you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Handmade Tea Tray

Made this baby all by myself. Just finished putting the last coat of waterproof finish on it. Hopefully it dries completely by the end of the day so I get to try it out tonight.

Edit:  Testing it later in the afternoon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tea Seed

Tea seeds from our partner dancong tea farm. Picture taken in August, 2011

Tea seeds from the tea oil tree (camellia oleifera)
 Tea plants, just like other plants, bloom and produce seeds. Most people I know who have been drinking tea for a long time has not seen a tea seed before. So I want to write a post to briefly touch on tea seeds.

There are two type of tea seeds, those that grow on tea bushes (camellia sinensis) from which we pick our tealeaves and those that grow on tea oil trees (camellia oleifera) grown just for the seeds to press for oil. Both types of tea seeds can be used for pressing oil. However, the seeds from the tea oil trees produces much more oil than those from the camellia sinensis. According to research, tea oil is just as good as olive oil in terms for health benefits to us.

The leftover from the oil press is still useful. They are gathered, processed, and pressed into cakes that look like puerh bing (picture below). They are called (茶籽餅, in mandarin chá zí bǐng, tea seed cake). The Teochewese people call them 茶籽圈, te5 ji2 ko1, meaning tea seed rounds. The tea seed rounds have quite a few applications. The two applications I remember from childhood are as fertilizer and as hair soap. I remember my grandma always bought tea seed rounds to wash her hair with. Back then they were easily found in any street markets. Ladies from my grandma's generation wouldn't use shampoo to wash their hair because they said shampoo made their hair too dry. (Back then there were no hair conditioner and the shampoo I believe was just some regular liquid soap). My grandma always said tea seed soap was the best for washing hair because they made her hair soft and silky smooth.

A typical tea seed round.

Tea seed oil

Friday, October 7, 2011

Touching on Chinese Clay Teapots - Neglected Teapot

A few days ago I started a discussion about the following teapot on Steepster's discussion board. I invited people interested in Chinese teapots to look at the picture and say what they think is wrong with this teapot and what causes it. I got quite a few responses. Before I write further, let me first sincerely thank those who participate in the discussion. You guys are great.

I appoligize for the picture being a bit dark. This is my dad Teochew Hong Ni (Red Clay) teapot. It is the teapot he leaves on the tea table for our relatives to use. Teochew Hong Ni teapot is similar to Yixing zisha teapot. Their main similarity is the clays used to make each type of teapots are slightly air and liquid permeable. This permeable property is what makes Teochew Hong Ni teapot and Yixing zisha teapot so good for steeping tea.

Knowing the Hong Ni clay is slightly permeable lays the ground for the answer to the original question. The original question has two parts, what and why. Quite a few people were quick to point out the lid and the body have different texture. That's the right answer to the first part of the question. But why? What caused the difference in texture?

Two reasons. The permeable property of the clay and how the teapot is "nurtured".

Let's first look at the the permeable property of the clay. Because the clay is slightly permeable, a trace amount of the tea liquor is absorbed into the clay every time the teapot is used. (The cycle of heating, when very hot water is poured into the teapot, and cooling that occurs inbetween steeps helps the liquor absorption). Over a long period of time of regular use, something from the tea liquor accumulates in the clay. It, along with proper nurturing technique from the owner, give the teapot a subtle glow. (I say "something" because I don't know what exactly is accumulated in the clay. I have heard many things, like tea oil, tanin compound, tea scum, and many more. Anyone knows?). This subtle glow will appear as long as the teapot is used regularly. But in order for the glow to be nice and even, a lot of patience and dedication from the owner is a must. Since this teapot is used by many people and nobody cares to nurture it, it gradually acquires an uneven glow. In other words, it's the lack of nurturing that cause the uneven glow. Among all the abuses done to this teapot, I think the biggest factor that contribute to this uneven glow is leaving tea steeping in the teapot overnight. This leaves the pot in contact with tea much much longer than the lid, causing the pot to acquire the glow much faster than the lid.

(Nurturing the pot, some people say seasoning the pot, is a translation of 养壶 in Chinese. 养(Yǎng, to raise, care for, help to develop) 壶(Hú, pot). YǎngHú is a slow process that require patience and the right technique. It is just like raising a child. A good Yǎng-ed teapot looks and feels better. Most importantly, it enhances the tea it steeps. It is the general concensus in the Chinese clay teapot community that a well nurtured teapot is more valuable than when it was new.  I'll write more about that in the future)

Below is an example of comparison between new version and nurtured version of the same teapot.

Link to original Steepster discussion:

Monday, October 3, 2011

A question on Steepster that I think it's worth sharing here

I just saw the following question on Steepster's discussion board. I shared my anwser to the question and I think it's worth while to share it here on the blog too.

From Steepster:
" Sakura said about 11 hours ago

Is this normal - long jing?

I recently purchased a long jing tea and I noticed that if I leave the cup overnight with tea in it, there’s an oily film that forms on top?
I was just wondering if this was normal?
I stumbled upon this:
but I’m still a bit unsure. I guess it’s from the oils they use when they pan fire the tea though. "

Link to Steepster:

And my answer:

This is normal if you see the oily film appear overnight. It is not normal if you see any oily stuff floating on your tea you just steeped/brewed.

The oily substance on your overnighted tea is oxidized tannin compound. Tea naturally contains tannin. It is what gives tea its astringency taste. Tannin from tea is perfectly safe to consume. But when tea sits for a period of time (sometimes as little as an hour), the tannin in the tea liquor reacts with oxygen from the air to form the oily stuff you see. These oxidized tannin compound is bad for you. They interrupt with nutrient absorption and irritates your stomach.

This is a perfect example of why we gongfucha drinkers always advocate other tea drinkers to enjoy their tea while it’s still hot. Some people drink tea for its health benefits. Some drink tea for pleasure. But nobody wants the tea they drink to cause harm to their health. Right?

For the same reason mentioned above, I also recommend AGAINST keeping steeped tealeaves overnight to be steeped again the next day . It’s bad for you. Gongfucha drinkers don’t let their tealeaves cool too much inbetween steeps, and we usually don’t re-steep wet tealeaves that’s already cold. These are all traditions taught to us from our elders. In the past tea wasn’t analyzed with science like we do now so the elders couldn’t tell us why. They just learn from experience and drilled these traditions into our head. Now with modern science we know these thousand-year-old wisdoms are no joke.

By the way, Iced tea should be cooled quickly in sealed container to minimize oxidation of the tea liquor. And for those who drinks bottled tea……umm……you figure.

Now, if your see oily substance floating on hot tea that’s just steeped, that could be anything. What says on their website about tea oil used in pan firing is true. But the amount of oil used is very very little, so little that if you were to wipe the pan with a paper towel after the oil is applied you would not see a trace of oil on the paper towel. I have never seen oil floating on any just-steeped pan-fired tea, or any tea before. Safe to drink or not aside, it is not normal.

We always recommend rinsing your tea before you actually steep it, no matter what type of tea and how good/fresh/expensive it is. Even with tealeaves from our well-known partner tea farm that were picked and processed in our presence so we know they are clean and high quality, we still rinse them. It’s another gongfucha tradition. (Maybe i’ll write a blog post to explain this when I have time).