Friday, February 27, 2015

Drinking mountain- six Mengku teas

One of the ways how to learn a bit more about particular kind of tea, style or tea region is to stock your tea cabinet with it and then...drink it.

Mengku is still kind of mystery to me. Almost all what reach my cup so far have aroused kind of ambivalent feelings. To put it into words I would say "I like it, but I really do not know why, there is not much to like but I do and I want more" To break this down, I decided to go through six Mengku teas in, let say, competition way. No so much in order to label winners and losers. Side by side testing helps me to understand differences and resemblances, Plus, it is always real fun: Sitting, sipping here and there, sniffing for hours - enjoying time devoted only to myself.

Plus it is sunny day, so lets spend it with tea outside!

There are more ways how to taste-compare more teas in line. I prefer to use small shiboridashis with matching cup. It alows me to make several brews of several teas at once. It can also go as close to "gong fu" as possible. And, with some imagination, you can know how each tea will perform in teapot during more serious tea session.

All teas I have here are (according to labels ) from 2006, just one 2005. That is good. To avoid mind-lost, I cut the "competition" in two parts followed by finale. Round number one with three teas from Scott's YS and round number two with 2005 Shuangjiang from TwoDog (the cake was around 70$, sold out few months back), over-famous BingDao from Peter of  (sold out as well. Can you imagine that this cake was around 40$ just 3-4 years back? There is not reasonable exuse for me why I did not buy few tongs back then) and DaXueShan from legendary EOT.

Are you ready for the round one? 

We can put aside names, I think it does not say much to us. Wild Arbor King brick, Wild Arbor King cake (both from BingDao area), Big Snow Mountain Wild...Honestly all that sound to me too good to be 100% truth. Especially if we know that Shuanjiang is tea factory with huge (I heard hundreds of tons) production for each release. It does not mean just that Wild King will have just a part of "wild king" leaves in it, but also that sample does not say much. If my 20g of tea is smoky-bitter it does not mean that ten tons down the road it will be also smoky-bitter. That been said, my "competition" is really more about learning of what Mengku is then looking for the best tea.

I can say I like all three samples. Just by dry leaves the "wild king cake" wins, more hairy, unbroken leaves with nice smell. From the first brew, it is clear that teas are really siblings. The "wild king brick" and "wild king cake" should made of the same batch of leaves. Maybe. But the brick is pine-smoky and I am still not sure if I like it. The cake have also more distinct taste. Big Snow Mountain (DaXueShan) performed as more subtle, lighter tea then those "kings". All three have trace of pleasant bitterness. And even if I would read their story on YS site, I would label them as "nice dry stored"

After 8-9 years, leaves are still pretty green.
Would you like to hear a verdict or recommendation? Then if you are after mouthfeel and you do not mind light smokiness, then go for brick (it is also cheapest one) If you are after taste and looking for bitterness, go for "Wild King Cake" That would be my choice. If you like lighter, fragrant teas, then give a try to Big Snow Mountain. To this one, I will definitely give it a try in stronger leaves-water ratio! But for now, tamtadada, "2006 Mengku Wild Arbor King Raw Pu-ehr tea cake go to finale!

Second Round!

Teas in the second round are not so similar to each other. Also I have whole cake of 2005 Shuanjiang and BingDao so I know them pretty well. The EOT DaXuaShan leaves are from 2006 but were pressed in to cakes in 2013. I know that is does not say much (ok, it actually says nothing) but here you can see leaves from the second round of my competition:

Like in first round, I like all three teas. 2005 from White2Tea is much more aged, it was definetely in wetter/hotter place for some time. It is less complicated, I like such teas for everyday drinking. distinct but not easy to go wrong. BingDao is again more striking than DaXuaShan. This BingDao is actually quite close to what I remembered from YS cake. But this time DaXueShan is very clean, and have very nice "fresh mountain water" effect in mouth. I love it, love its clean energy. Generally, these three teas are more appealing, maybe because they are not so similar to each other. But truth is that you would as me "you can have tong of one of them, which do you want" it would be much more difficult to choose. Please, tong of each!! But for now, tamtadadadada, 2006 BingDao go to final match with the winner of the first round. (dont say it anyone, but I really want to see if they are some similar as my notes says)

For second round, I moved inside....
Testing these teas, I was also testing new Mirka's stove 

The difference in colors of this first brew is quite real. The top one is 2005 Shuanjiang 

Final Round!

I have to admit that when I put 3g of those teas next to each other, they are so similar that I almost lost the track which one is which. 

But first brew and all is clear. Taste is very close. BingDao is finer, "Wild King" more robust. This time I make it stronger with longer steepings. Now I understand the claim on YS site that these teas are sold as fake LBZ. Bitterness and power is there. BingDao from is cleaner, finer tea. Wild King over-role in strength and taste-power. I like this but there is also something a bit harsh. I will probably go for a cake, just to see how this will go in few years.

Being tea-drunk while writing these lines, tamtadadadadada, the BingDao is winner here. Smooth, easy for stomach, pleasant for throat but still mysterious and complicated enough to be called shallow.
After today, I know a bit more about what Mengku tea means. But I also know that there are other shade of this region and I look forward to meet them in my cup. Anytime...

Thank you for reading!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Notes from Qiu Shan Tang 秋山堂

When I was leaving for my first visit of Taiwan last spring, I promised myself to take many pictures, making notes and then share as much as possible here, for my curious readers. Yes, I took over thousand pictures. Yes, I put down some notes about my "pots and tea" experiences. Just that sharing part is missing. My good friend Daniel, who joined me on that trip, just posted some of his notes, memories and pictures on their blog. Thank you Dan!

Enjoy the reading here: Tea Lesson with Fang LaoShi.

I love that place and there are already some plans to go back, to meet friend over tea, to learn and go deeper. If you will find yourself in Taichung one day, you might want to make some space and stay there for a while. Be sure you are not in hurry, it is worth it.

Here are few shots from my camera...

Bowl tea after...

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gems number twenty four, twenty five, twenty six...

Dear readers, followers, friends, it have been a while. We are in the middle of winter, snow was here, now is gone. But clouds are still full a water and cold is going to be back soon. Few friends recently asked me if I am closing my "Ten Gems Of Ten Kilns" project. No! I am still putting aside some interesting pieces from our firings. And there is so many things going on, with many "pots and tea stories". This blog is slow but not dead. My tea and tea ware path has grown deeper during the past year. And it keeps growing...

What I am going to present here today is piece of memory for me. Chawan from hot summer days kiln, Autumnal but still warming teapot and winter teapot, which was fired in last firing of the year. Maybe even from pictures here you can feel how seasons were changing...

Our garden during last firing...

I like when pots call out our imagination, telling mysterious stories. Storytellers who starts to talk, when you hold them in your hands. For my Gem Collection, I always try to select pieces from this category. I also believe that those are going to age well, becoming part of your live. When you make a connection with such pots, by using them for teas you like and sharing that tea with your loved ones, your live is getting richer. It is not about clinging on "stuff". It is about living here and now. Tea creates intimate moments in our daily live and pots become comrades who are with us there.

The chawan was painted with white kaolin clay, then covered in crust of ice crackle glaze. Its "ice over a landscape" feeling is one of the reasons why it was chosen as The Gem of summer kiln. Another reason is the white paint and how it is going out of the glaze, letting us to dream, to picture there "our things"

The teapot is even more fogged up. Its spruce forest near peat bog pool. Maybe I am getting too dreamy and wistful thanks to misty rain behind our windows. But if you would hold that pot in your hands you would know what I am talking about. It is not just about the green-khaki color, but as well about the velvet touch of the glaze and its "soft" shape.

The small winter teapot is from drawer you already know. We can call is "Bizenish" and I like this style more and more. Simple colors created by heavy reduction of charcoal, on high iron clay. We use several clays for this firing technique and for this teapot I used the most red and the finest clay we have. It is very subtle. There is not much to say, it is better use it...

Before taking look at new gems, say goodbye to gems number fourteen and fifteen. The small Cockerel is already in Shanghai, the Charm and The End of The Winter teapots are going to be on the road soon. I know that all three customers love tea. Those pots are in good hands.

For more pictures of the new pieces please visit this page. If the Ten Gems of The Ten Kilns project is new for you, then please read this post first.

Gem number twenty four- The Summer Ice

Gem number twenty four- The Froggy Haze

Gem number twenty six- The Crescent shine

Winter bamboo...

Thank you for reading

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sun Moon Lake Teapots

I have spend this year April on Taiwan, you know, pots and tea. It was amazing time and to call it rich and joyful month would be understatement. It was inspirational on so many levels and it is still live. To give you a glance into it, here is one story...

The Lake from Tea research institut, where new clones and tea varietals are developing for decades now...

Sun Moon Lake...for many years it was a symbol of Taiwanese hong cha for me. Red tea, which I love for its unique flavor and energy and which often came to me labeled "tea from Sun Moon Lake area". I did know much about this terior or what to exactly imagine under this name. But when I bought my air ticket to Formosa, the 日月潭 was already on my have-to-see list. If you give a quick search on google images, you will see wonderful lake with mountains around, hotels and tourists but not tea fields. Well, there is a lot to see (and taste) for tea enthusiastic around that place when one drive up from Nantou. But tea finally was not the most precious thing, which I was carrying from that place this time. Nor teapot from local artist. Just ball of wet, yellow, greasy (and bit smelly) clay.

note: for those who would like to read more about background of Taiwanese hong cha I would like to recomment this post on Taiwan Tea Craft blog

How it all have happened? It is so simple. Take three open minded/open hearted friends traveling together for days, combine those with a lot of tea and magical experiences around Sun Moon Lake, and you can bet that one of them is going to suggest swiming. It tooks us a while to find the right spot where "people will be not too many and jungle not too tight". But we did it and with a lot of laughter we were baptized (and refreshed) in Zintun (as Taiwanesse originally call it)

 One of my friends then just reach the bed of the lake (ok, on the edge of bank and water). With words "Petr, this looks like something for you", he give me a small piece of Formosa island. At first touch I knew: I am going to take it with me, I am going to give it a try in fire. It can be slip glaze, it can be body for some small cups, we will see...

After some intermezzos the clay finally land on my work table, in our studio. As intermezzo you can, for example, imagine me, carrying 900g of clay in my jacket, during 7 hours night break on Dubai airport as all my luggage were overweight. Real fun!!... I play with it for a while, thinking what to do with it and how to do it. The clay was very nice, plastic and quite clean (when we consider that it was grabbed from bank of a lake). So I decided to leave it as natural as possible. I just took of some bigger stones, some sharp, smaller ones and few chips of old wood, which I found in it.

First, I make just test cones and put them in to our wood kiln. Such cones, laid out around kiln, can tell us a lot about any new clay. Color, texture but the main thing: How it stands in reduction firing and temperatures.

After this first firing I was pretty sure: It is on the the edge, but there is big chance that this clay will survive in coldest part of our kiln.

So final decision was not to make slip glaze, not bother with small cups. But directly take a chances and make some teapots from that mud! Well, we were three friends on that swimming spot. And as part of this trip, I still had Philip Brook from TaiwansesTeaCraft in my mind, we were happy to meet that day too (he was responsible for the tea in our veins and for much more of the good stuff along the road). So let's make four teapots from bottom of Sun Moon Lake!

What to say more? All important you can see on pictures. The clay was very nice to work with and final teapots are very interesting. Color and texture of the body, "the feeling" is incredible. Because I did not cleaned that clay, there were still some small stones, which on one hand give something special to those small pots. On other hand those stones were my obstacles during throwing and finishing. Pot could be finer without them, losing the rural touch. Either way, these are really unique tea pots. Some Sun Moon Lake hong cha is on its way to my doors. Guess which teapot I am going to brew that tea in.

Bisque fired...

In the kiln...

...with others, before firing.

First peep in to the kiln...

Friendly tea chatting...

First water, first leaves...

Sun Moon Lake in the middle of Europe...

Thank you for reading!