Sunday, July 25, 2021

Aging Red Tea


    For a few years already, most of the teas I am drinking are on the darker side. Red teas and roasted oolong, heicha and ripe puer, aged or/and wet stored sheng puers. And during the past year, more and more of the aged red teas found their way to my tea cabinet, pots, and bowls. As aging red tea is still not so well known, I would like to share some of my thoughts and findings from this category. I will try to keep it short, without going into too much detail but I still hope it will give you a nice starting point if you would like to explore aging red tea further.

Taking notes on teas...


First I will define and share my understanding of the aging process of the red teas and then I would like to talk a bit about four different red teas with different age and character. I have chosen to show you teas that still can be purchased so you can even give them a try and share your own experiences. But as wilt all teas, they will disappear from the market sooner or later. So I hope that this article will inspire you to find other teas like that to try or even to put some fresh ones aside to age.


Serenity- Dian Hong from 2008
Serenity- Dian Hong from 2008




Good red tea for aging


Let me start with a simple yet important point. All teas can age and all teas can get old. Aging I define it as changing over time when new desirable characteristics appear. On the other hand, tea which is getting old is developing in a way that is not enjoyable. In both, aging and getting old, mainly oxidation and fermentation take place. When the area is wide open for experimentation and surprises, there are teas that are recommended for aging and conditions which are recommended as safe and proven to age the particular genre of tea well. So how to choose red tea for aging? And what would be the perfect condition to age such tea? Here is how I approach these questions.


For me, I found that to get answers and to understand better, the best way is to start with drinking a lot of different aged teas (red teas in this case) and see which ones really speak to me. From there, I can ask what teas (region and processing) and what aging conditions led to these desirable results. For me, if done with an open mind, consistency, and honesty, this leads to knowledge based on my own experiences. And that is what matters to me very much.


Most of the aged red teas which I found interesting are actually dian hongs, red teas from Yunnan, China. There are more reasons why these are more suitable for aging than other red teas but one of the most important ones is in their processing. Dian Hongs are usually not fully oxidized and thanks to the sun drying, oxidation stops not so evenly. They are also not roasted, which means that they have more bacteria life and the humidity content is higher. So if this initial processing is followed by proper storage conditions, the tea will both oxidize (as oolong teas) and ferment (as puers). I believe that this quite unique combination is why I found a well-aged dian hong so amazing. There is richness in taste and aroma as well as depth and body of the tea. If, at the same time, the leaves themselves come from old tea trees, the magic happens.


What are “proper” storage conditions? Keeping the tea away from aromas and smells, direct light, and airflow. In a too dry an environment, especially if not seal and tea can slowly die. Too humid, especially if closed/sealed, and molds of different kinds can develop. I believe that to age well, red teas don't require such high humidity as sheng puer. If I should say a number, anything between 55-70% will work. Maybe you will also find an aged red tea that tastes like earthy beetroot. That's too humid storage for my taste. Or dusty, woody dry leaves without a depth? That might be the too dry/too airy years behind such tea...


Taking notes is not my regular way how I enjoy my tea sessions
.

Four red teas

All these aged red teas were purchased from Global Tea Hut. Even though there are several other teas from different sources, I like how these four teas, which I got from one place, give us variety in age and quality and slightly different experiences. I am not going to give you classic testing notes with valuations and judgments but rather point at differences between and main characteristics.

1)2008 Big Snow Mountain Dian Hong
2)2006 Red Cloud Dian Hong
3)Late 1990’ Red Pine Dian Hong
4)1990’ Sun Moon Lake Red Tea



2008 Big Snow Mountain Dian Hong


Serenity- 2008 red tea from Yunnan

Only tea from the four which is pressed in the cake (the rest are loose leaves). And also the youngest of all. This is “my precious”, a very special tea for me, which does not speak to so many people. It is the most expensive of all four and I heard a few comments that this tea is pretty ordinary and for that, you can get much more from other teas. For me, the secret is in using many more leaves. Yes, that will make it even more pricey but from a certain thickness of the liquor, this tea has amazing depth and juju. With not enough leaves it feels a bit watery or ordinary. I suspect it has something to do with the trees and the origin of the tea. A question I have here is how such tea, which is weak and strong at the same time, is going to develop over time. What it will be like in ten, fifteen years?



2006 Red Cloud Dian Hong
     
2006 Red Tea called Red Cloud

This loose leaf tea is the most accessible of all four. Strong body and taste, typical aged red tea aromas are clear and visible. It is quite easy to brew it and to get a strong, enjoyable tea session. The tea is also the cheapest one of all the four. Altogether it is a good candidate as an entry in the world of aged red teas as well as a daily drinker's choice. I got few bags and they are disappearing quite quickly.


Late 1990’ Red Pine Dian Hong

                        
90' red tea called Red Pine

     Red pine is amazing. It has all the good stuff from the Red Cloud plus some extras. With a bit of a higher price tag you will get an amazing tea. I drink it quite often during cold winter days from bowl to let its super warming energy show its best. Now I switched to small gongfu, with more leaves and short steepings I get thick, aromatic, uplifting liquor for many rounds. Compare to the Red Pine, it feels like there are not only extra few years of aging but also the material (the tea leaves themselves) come from old-older trees. There is more to experience in the sense of subtle energy and depth.


1990’ Sun Moon Lake Red Tea


90' red tea from Taiwan
                                  


This tea is the only one of the four which is not from Yunnan China but from Taiwan. Yes, not only dian hongs are good for aging. But to find a good aged red tea from other regions is rarer for sure. I visited Sun Moon Lake (SML) a couple of times and I like teas from the Sun Moon Lake area very much. So it is great to have the opportunity to drink tea from there which was aged for 30+ years. When we compare this tea with teas which we most of the time find as SML tea, the tea leaves are pretty small and tippy. It is good tea and can be prepared very casually to get a nice, tasty brew. But to really get the best of it, it asks for our attention. I would encourage you not to be afraid to experiment with the amount of leaves you use, timing, and brewing methods.


                                       



Trying a variety of aged red teas also gives us a chance to better understand what in aged tea is the influence and expression of aging and what is the origin and processing of the tea. There is one taste/aroma line that you can find in all four teas, especially in the dry leaves and first steepings. Later on, more of the unique character of the particular tea leaf is visible. All the four teas I have mentioned above seem to have similar aging conditions, if it was in Taiwan (as I suspect) then the humidity was not too strong, and the teas were stored in a clean, protected place.




In the end, I would like to encourage you to not only go and try a variety of different red teas of different ages, regions, and storage. I hope to also inspire you to give it a try and age some teas you like yourself. For example, to get an extra 500g of tea you really like once a year and fill up some nice jar can be a nice tradition to start, don't you think? In ten, fifteen years, your older you is going to be very grateful to your present you for doing so. I do have some cakes which I store for more than ten years and some are super nice, some are so-so but all of them give me nice memories and, more importantly, a new experience-based knowledge.

Red Cloud in bowl...quiet morning
                      




Sunday, April 18, 2021

Boiled Tea in Sidehandle teapot


Boiling tea is one of the oldest ways to prepare tea. As almost every book on tea starts with “Tea was used as medicine in ancient China for thousands of years”, there are also legends as well as researchers by historians which talk about boiling the tea leaves, both with other herbs and ingredients as well as boiling tea alone to get the healing, medicinal liquor. These methods are not forgotten but compare to other tea preparations, boiled tea is almost unknown.



Over the past couple of years, boiled tea has become more popular and to the tea lover’s ears, the idea does not sound so exotic anymore. I was amazed by the idea of boiling from the first time I heard about it, there is something archetypal in the process of boiling plants. So I naturally started to develop some teaware for such magic. In this short article, I would like to share with you my sidehandle teapots which were created for boiling tea, few tips on boiling in such pot, and how to take care of them.



A Guide to Boiling Tea

If you would like to know more about the boiling method itself, I would recommend reading this issue of the global tea hut magazine Global Tea Hut Archive - April 2018 Issue 

I if you would like to dive deeper, I would really recommend taking the Boiling course from Global Tea Hut There will be everything you need to know :)




Flameproof clay


First: Not all teapots are for boiling! I received this picture from my customer with kind of “what I did wrong” question. The pot he purchased from me a while ago was not made of flameproof clay. Actually, most of the pots are not suitable for boiling. So be careful.




BEFORE YOU START, PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOUR POT IS MADE OF FLAMEPROOF CLAY AND MEANT TO BE USED FOR BOILING. ASK THE MAKER OR YOUR SUPPLIER IF NOT SURE. If it is the pot from me, send me a picture and I will confirm


It took me a while to develop the clay with the proper composition. Literally a few dozens of cracked pots and tons of testing. As you can maybe see from the pictures, it is the same clay (or variations of it) which I use for making kettles. It can handle charcoal as well as gas and electric heat sources.




To give you a better idea how such pot works, here are few lines from the user manual I sending with my flameproof teapots:

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THIS TEAPOT:

....was created for boiling tea or herbs, but can also very well serve as a kettle, for heating and boiling water

......can be used over electric, gas, alcohol as well as charcoal heat sources. If used over infrared (IR) or gas, please use it together with the flame diffuser I send together with the pot. Flame diffuser protects clay from the too intense thermal shocks. You don't have to use the diffuser when heating over the charcoal or using an alcohol burner to maintain the heat

......I recommend filling it up to around 3/4 of its volume . Boiling tea creates foam and bubbles and can easily overflow if the pot is full. Low fire is usually enough for maintaining the boil.

....over stronger heat sources, the ceramic handle can get a bit of the heat as well. Be aware of it and keep the handle away from the direct fire/heat. If the handle get hot, use a tea towel to hold and pour comfortably

.....if empty but still hot from boiling, please let it cool down for couple of minutes before refilling with cold water

.....When the tea session is over, empty the teapot while it is still warm, clean well with hot water and let it dry. Before closing and storing the pot, be sure it is clean and dry.


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I do them mostly unglazed inside. On one hand, glazing inside would make it more smooth, and easier to clean, more user friendly. But I found out the glazing create more tension in the clay and the thermal shock resistance is better if the glaze is not used. And I am choosing resistance over confort :) If you would like to keep your pot clean and without aromas stuck in the clay, I recommend to clean it after you finish your tea session right ahead, and boil inside clean water for a bit, pour it out and let it dry. It works for me very well.



If you went through the videos I shared or you are learning from GTH boiled tea course, you will receive tons of tips on how to boil and what teas are great to prepare this way. What I could recommend is not to be afraid and experiment with what you have right now. You can boil literally any tea after you brew them in your regular way. More the leaves from your teapot, shiboridashi or gaiwan you are using to any clean pot suitable for boiling, glass, or stainless will do. And you will see. Sometimes just heating up to 100°C and a short boil will release an unexpected flavor, sometimes you can boil it for 30min or more. Some teas will be terrible or hardly enjoyable. But some will show their full potential under the longer boil and open their magic for you.











Monday, March 8, 2021

Making big pots...


Water Storage Jars



Pottery is a field with a wide range of skills, and you don't have to master all of them to be a great maker of some particular ceramic objects. Sometimes it can look like two potters are masters in two different crafts. I see some techniques, shapes and finish and I really don’t have any idea how that was made. And even one skill, like throwing one the wheel, can have different focuses.


You are becoming really good at certain forms and with certain clays after repeating them hundreds of times. So it happens that even after two decades behind the wheel, I am really not so great at throwing big pieces, it always takes me a while to get into it and work with elegance and grace. After all, I am spending most of my time behind the wheel within the 0,1-1kg range, sometimes a bit more for kettles or bigger teapots. And here are the water storage jars... This is the beginning of one of my bigger water storage jars. For a ten litre jar I use ten kilos of clay. I like and enjoy very much feeling that extra weight, using forgotten and learning new techniques, listening between my fingers what the clay actually needs.



 

So much admiration for all those skillful potters who do huge pots, vases, jars, plates and bowls with the lightness of skilled dancers.

 

Here are a few of those jars fired. Woodifred to around 1300°C, tenmoku glaze inside. Outside I use either simple black glaze which, at the end of the firing cycle is partially covered with charcoal for local heavy reduction effects or tenmoku ash mixture (those brown ones on the first picture)










Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ceramic Kettles on Fire

 
Ceramic Kettles on Fire


                                 

Many of you, outdoor tealovers, have been asking if you can use my ceramic kettles over an open fire, particularly on the raw, back to the cave familiar bone fire. (Bone fire, like that English expression since the first time I heard it). Not wanting to dive into long explaining emails and messages, my answer is usually a bit shady. In short, I answer something like:



“Yes/well maybe, but you should be careful, please use common sense”


But as this is not saying much and you want to try it anyway, here are my thoughts on using ceramic kettles to heat tea water on the open fire. I hope it will give you all that you need to avoid disasters or some unwanted surprises.


Heating water on an open fire has its depth and beauty and we all know, or at least have some idea how cool that can be. So I will not talk about all the “good stuff” and benefits of that raw energy in our tea experience. But what are the risks and challenges? What to avoid and do I really want to go there with ceramic in the first place?



Let’s split the theme in half. First, take a look from the clay/kettle point of view and then I will also do a few points to be aware of from a “tea point of view”. Here I also want to remind you that I am talking about my ceramic kettles made of flame-proof clay. If you are not sure what clay is your pot made of, then rather don't go there at all. Most of the clays out there are not suitable for boiling at all, pots will crack and be lost forever.


So you have my ceramic kettle, made of flame-proof clay and you want to use it over a bonfire? Well then...


For the kettle sake



-use it rather on burning embers, leftovers of the fire rather than on strong long flames. Rather no flames or very low flames, the strong heat of the burning pillow is what you are looking for.

-use an iron tripod or hunger so you can regulate how high your pot is from the heat. You can create a tripod from stones if necessary

-use not smoking, clean fire. Wood full of resin or wet pieces rather be avoided. Hardwood is a better choice

-even without the smoking wood, the bottom will get carbon deposits. Your pot will get dirty, be ready for that. Not all those marks will be washable.

-never let empty or close to empty pot on the fire

-let the pot cool down a bit before refilling with new cold water

-clay is porous, smoke and flame gases will get in the clay and so will be noticeable even in your future tea sessions. For that reason, I recommend dedicating one kettle of these flame sessions and having other kettle(s) for your more refined teas and sessions


And now, for the sake of the tea..




Having an open fire at the tea session is magical but a real bonfire is not ideal, for several reasons the clean charcoal is a better choice. First of all, re-read the last point above. You can literally taste the fire/smoke in your cup. And if you are using a porous clay kettle, the smoke will get in the clay and through the clay. But if you decided to go for it anyway:
- you might want to choose a tea that can handle a bit of smoky flavor (dark shou puerh, or strong red would be my first choice),

-take with you the fitting teaware. Not fancy Yixing or porous pots which you use for your finest teas.

-if you are preparing in a ceremonial way, pay attention to the whole tea setting before you start. It is difficult to feed the fire, without smoking on your guests and pour gracefully while overboiling water is spilling into the burning hot ash. Sit there and try a few times before inviting guests over.


I love heating the water on an open fire and I honestly feel that I don't do it often enough. I have one pot dedicated for that occasion, the one you see in the first picture. There is unmistakable magic in it. But if I want the occasion to be about tea, and offer the best for my guests, then I choose even for outside charcoal or gas stove. Making a small bone fire later if the mood is there.