04 August 2016

Visiting California Part 3: The Return of Tea Habitat

Shortly after I left Southern California, Tea Habitat's physical location closed. Imen, who owns and runs the company, specializes in dancong oolong and offers more varieties of it than any vendor I've visited on this or that side of the Pacific. My partner and I, along with the LA Tea Affair folks, had spent handfuls of mornings - that turned into afternoons - tasting and discovering better dancong oolong teas at Tea Habitat. Of course, any time a physical shop closes, it should sadden us; there are too few places in the U.S. to taste high-end teas before you buy them.

Thus, I was excited to learn that Tea Habitat opened a new shop space, although it's available by appointment only. Even better, Imen was there and tasting when we wanted to drop by.

Imen hated me for taking this photo, but I think she looks good.

The new space is cozy, bright and well decorated.

As pictured, we drank many teas. Many were new shipments fresh from China that she herself hadn't tasted yet. I wish I could remember all the names and which ones impressed me most, but my focus was on catching up. She did take notes, and if they're not already on her site, they will be soon.

I wish I could remember all the names. In addition, we had a delicate green and a punchy, supposedly wild-harvested bai mudan (white peony).

I had to take a break to appreciate a few of her teaware items. This cute vintage plate tempted me, but too many plates line my shelves already.

After this, we took a trip to the Huntington Library and Gardens to see how their Chinese garden had fared. The willows and shrubs have grown in, the koi have grown fat, lotuses and water lilies dot the ponds, and new pavilions and paths have popped up.

We needed a refreshment after all the walking. Ever heard of Okinawa-style milk tea? I had not, but I'm glad my friend introduced me. It's milk tea with caramelized brown sugar as sweetener, and it's aromatic and rich. Not as fancy as the tea we'd had earlier, but a delicious alternative to a cold coffee beverage.

01 August 2016

Visiting California Part 2: Tea with LATA

Way back when, a few of us tea enthusiasts in the greater Los Angeles region met regularly to drink tea together. Most of the original crew have moved or moved on, but some of us have stayed in touch. 

During my recent trip to California, I had a chance to meet up and drink tea with some of them.

We drank a handful of teas, including some well aged liu bao sent from Su, our friend in Malaysia who has been drinking and collecting tea for many years (Su, the pic is a shallow amount of a very late infusion, so don't think we messed it up! It was good).

We also drank xiao huang yin (little yellow label), a tea now upwards of 40 years old. I thought to myself, "Bears, we are aging, too: I remember when this tea was in its early thirties!" Another measure of time passing, I updated my New to Pu'er? post, and realized how many years went by since I last tasted fresh raw pu'er productions. Pu'er and other teas I've aged now bring me nostalgic pleasure in part because they have aged with me. Remembering when I bought this or that tea in China, who I was with, where our lives have taken us thereafter: some teas have become a consumable part of my past, a medicine for remembering to remember.

Sentiments and tea philosophy aside, the visit reinvigorated my passion for tea, which I rue to admit had smoldered. Our drinking gave me fresh inspiration to write this blog again.

Thank you for reading. Expect new content at least somewhat regularly. I will be reviewing a book and maybe a website or two, and I'll update on how some of my teas have aged, including my own production.

27 July 2016

Visiting California Part 1: A New Jar

Alternate title for new post: How Not to Photograph a Jar. Lighting high gloss ceramic pieces is tricky!

Trevor Stimson/Laguna Porcelain made this jar, which I purchased from the artist's wife at their booth at the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach (His young daughter excitedly sold some ceramic beads she made to my sister, too). If you're ever in Orange County during their summer or winter festivals, I recommend a visit; they have a handful of ceramic artists with good work at affordable prices, as well as many other types of art and craft.

Back when I used to throw ceramics, there was a saying that blue hare's fur (Google Image search of this term here, for easy reference) was a "money glaze." Meaning, glaze something with it, and it will sell. People love blue, and they love the deep blue and soft texture of hare's fur, also known as rutile blue. Ceramicists expressed a love/hate relationship with the glaze: the guaranteed sell worked like a pair of gilded handcuffs, stifling their ability to glaze creatively. Nonetheless, a beautiful glaze, despite its ubiquity and all grumpy comments about taste and creativity aside.

The shape is ginger-jar-ish, with a wider modern lid. The conservative shape and smooth finish shows off the glazing well. The glaze has a hare's fur feel to it, but it is better classified as a tea dust glaze (probably two or more glazes that were layered). The tea dust motes appear to have left behind streaks of darker teal and blue as they melted down the face of the vessel. They tea dust settles thickly in a matte layer of golden tan, and flecks of it looking like gold stars populate the thickly globbed black background where the glaze nearly flowed off the jar. Hare's tea dust? Dusty fur?

I liked it enough that I felt it worth risking breakage while bringing it home in my carry-on luggage.

I have some 2007 shui xian I plan to store in this jar, guarded by my tea piglet.

22 July 2016

Still Drinking Tea

It's been a while. Here's a picture of some pretty Bairuixiang yancha leaves, a sample from an LA tea friend.

12 April 2013

April 2013 Southeast Tea Affair

Now finally back in the swing of my addiction habit hobby, I decided to risk a caffeine binge and hosted a meeting of our local Southeast tea group.

Unfortunately, a Facebook event snafu created a duplicate posting that made one member get the day wrong. So, there were only three of us.

We drank an unreroasted 1980s baozhong that reminded me why I don't seek out aged baozhong. I have drunk a few good ones, but the other two dozen or so have been like this one, rather bland and single character. Still, with no off flavors and good storage, it could have been worse.

April 2013 SETA - brewed 90s liubao

We moved onto a more recent dong ding from Houde, that bryandrinkstea bought the last of, and we could see why. It was punchy, delicious, and didn't want to quit. Beautiful strong leaves with great structure.

We had a 1999 Dayi brand tuo sample given to me by a tea friend who travels regularly to Xishuangbanna. It was dry stored—authentic dry stored, not American dry stored—and quite well on its way. I was sad I waited so many years to finally try the sample.

Then we dug into some liubao, a 1990s liubao I bought in Guangzhou's fangcun market in 2006. The shopkeeper had it in a large tin that said "aged pu'er" on it; one of the older vendor tricks still alive and well! The tea still bit back, but it's definitely mellower than when I first bought it.

We ended with an early 1990s 7542, also authentic dry storage, that still needs a lot of time.

All in all, very good session.

If you're in the Southeast US and would like to join us sometime, leave a comment with your email address and I'll add you to our Facebook group!

April 2013 SETA - happy bunny