Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Brewing Surprises

When I laid hands on my first gaiwan, it was love. I began my adventures into the world of gong fu cha over a year ago – a difficult thing since Ottawa, Ontario isn’t exactly a hotspot for traditional Chinese tea culture. My first gaiwan was a big, cheap thing that I found in Ottawa’s Chinatown. I was so excited that I managed to even find a gaiwan in Ottawa that it didn’t matter that the gaiwan was too large to pour with one hand and that the shape led to constantly burned fingers. Since then, I’ve found a few tea dealers in the national capital region that sell exactly the type of tea and teaware that I look for (and I have since acquired a much better gaiwan).


Despite my love of the gaiwan, I love experimenting with different brewing methods. For my birthday this year, my parents bought me a beautiful glass teapot. Because it holds about 300mL (about three times more than my beloved gaiwan), I reduce the amount of leaf and lengthen the infusions when brewing with this pot. I was extremely pleased with this method when I tried it with a green tea from Yunnan province in China called Yun Luo Chun. Prepared in the same method as Bi Luo Chun (originally grown in Jiangsu province), Yun Luo Chun takes on that familiar Yunnan taste of hay and a light smokiness ever present in sheng puer. In a gaiwan, this tea takes on the astringent quality of a young sheng puer, and then mellows out in subsequent infusions. When I performed a longer infusion with fewer leaves, I was amazed at the result. The tea was much lighter and smoother than its gaiwan-brewed counterpart. There was even a hint of sweetness. I also had the pleasure of watching the tightly rolled balls unfurl into gorgeous full leaves.

For most teas, I still like to brew using my gaiwan. I find using lots of leaf and doing multiple short infusions is a superior method to bring out changes in taste from infusion to infusion – especially in oolong teas. I tried brewing an Ali Shan oolong in my glass pot with poor results – the intense honey and graham cracker taste that I associate with the tea disappeared leaving a very generic, uninteresting flavour. There are always surprises to be had when experimenting with tea brewing. It just takes a small step away from personal preferences for new, sometimes rewarding experiences to be had.

Happy sipping,

Alyson

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Refreshments for a Hot Summer's Day

We’ve had a spectacular run of gorgeous weather in the last month here in Northern Ontario.  However, with all of the sweltering heat and humidity, I haven’t felt much like a hot cup of tea.  So it will come as no surprise that I’ve been eyeing the iced tea creations that the Chan Tea guys have been sharing on their blog while quietly plotting my own response to these tortuously delectable looking drinks.

The only problem with my plan was that I had been stuck for ideas up until recently; in fact, only yesterday the inspiration for a cold tea-based drink hit me when a good friend excitedly shared her recipe for iced raspberry green tea with me.  This was rather serendipitous, seeing as the raspberry forest in my backyard (we’ve deliberately lost control of the bushes) is absolutely heaving with ruby red fruit. 

So today I decided to finally try my hand at brewing up some refreshments with the intention of trying it out on my family.  I began by making a number of infusions of a deliciously light and fruity green tea that Alyson had given me at Christmas (Bi Luo Chun).  Once these were poured to my pitcher, I added some organic honey to take the edge off, but not to make it sweet.  I then added a good handful of raspberries which were still warm from the late morning sun.  And that was it!  Simple as that!  With a wish and a prayer I put my concoction into the fridge for chilling. 

While I waited for the fridge to do its magic, I baked a cake (as all 23 year old men do in times like these), slathered it in homemade custard and covered the top with raspberries.  When all was ready for consumption my family and I sat down to a gorgeous slice of cake and some tangy, but refreshing iced tea.  What a perfect combination. 

I hope that this post, and other like it in the blogosphere will inspire you to do something creative with your tea and in the kitchen too.  In my opinion, this was a Saturday well spent!

Happy sipping and keep cool,

Brendan 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

London Tea Journal - Part 1

London, England is famous for its tea culture.  The British always have tea around – it’s always an option on every menu!  One of the many things that I love about tea is the cultural experience which accompanies this magical elixir.

Although the British have a very different culture of tea compared with the traditional and modern permutations of the Gong Fu Cha that Alyson and I have been delving into, they, the Chinese and I’d include most tea drinkers in this as well, share a few basic similarities.  Tea is an important part of social life for those of us who enjoy it on a regular basis.  People gather around tea to talk, compare notes and relax.  The experience of sipping and slurping is more than just the physical act, it is a lifestyle, a way of connecting with others and a way of reconnecting with that inner calm that can seem to flutter away into frenzied activity every once in a while when we are busy, stressed or feeling unwell.  There is so much beauty in the simplicity of a steeped beverage.

I have had all sorts of truly spectacular experiences here in London that have made me feel all sorts of different emotions – confusion, elation, contentment, a bit of fear to be honest (the unfamiliar sounds, sights and smells of the big city) and sometimes an overwhelming sense of wonder.  As I am travelling alone, my constant companion has been tea of various descriptions and qualities.  I have tried anything and everything that has come my way: cheap blacks, sweet-smelling herbals (I know technically that's not "tea" but I'll include it here anyway), blends of various descriptions, a free sample of instant tea (I didn’t even know that existed – it was good, but I wouldn’t buy it myself) and some gorgeous Chinese puer.  I did the math and figure that I had tea five times within a twelve-hour period the other day without even thinking about it (and they were all different kinds too).  I was well-hydrated that day, for sure.  I also turned to tea as a pick-me-up after I got totally soaked during the Pageant on the Thames during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.  Nothing like a good cuppa to regroup and warm you up from the inside out. 

I've had such an amazing time exploring my relationship with tea thus far and look forward to creating more memories in this exciting place.

Happy sipping,

Brendan

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Change

The semester has drawn to a close and with it so has our undergraduate experience.  It's strange to say goodbye to people I’ve grown so comfortable with, knowing I might not see them again (in person).  It’s a bit sad.  However, on a more positive point, Alyson and I have another year together in the same graduate studies program track, so we don’t have to do that yet (although I don’t think there’s a risk of not seeing each other afterwards).

We had our last teasesh of the semester today and afterwards we wished each other good luck over the summer.  I’m headed up north and she’s staying in the south so it’s going to be a bit different on our blog for the next four months.  But different doesn’t mean worse.  It surely doesn’t mean that we will be posting less; in fact, it means more individual posts.  Think of our upcoming material as discrete tea experiences from the wild places of Northern Ontario and the scenic country of the South.  Sounds pretty good, right? 

Of course I’m going to miss my tea buddy a lot, but for someone who’s still wading in the kiddie pool of tea culture, this is going to be the kick in the pants I need to explore tea on my own.  I’ve made some plans to take my gaiwan and camera to my favourite places so, if all goes to plan, I’ll be able to share those experiences with you.  I’m also hoping to take some tea with me whilst travelling.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find time to share that with you as well.


There’s a lot of change going on right now, but luckily, as part of it, we’re going to have a bit more time to explore tea in its many forms and in different geographical contexts.  Here’s to a summer of tea exploration! 

Happy sipping,

Brendan