Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Continuing Saga of the 90's CCNP Lucifuge Bricks

Back in late 2014,  I finally started appreciated the taste of traditionally stored teas. Since most of the tea I bought in 2005/6 was newborn sheng to match my tastes of the time,  I was forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel on suspect aged stuffs off ebay. To catch you up on this particular strand:

Furry brick on left, dry on right
Prolog: I overcome my gag reflex on that basement trad stored taste and scramble to find more aged stuffs.
Chapter 1: I buy a 90s CNNP Lucifuge brick that arrives rather furry.
Chapter 2: The vendor sends me a drier brick from the top of the pile(along with another bonus brick) claiming the furry brick probably was stored close to the floor.
Chapter 3I'm stoked to have stumbled on this storage experiment, drink both and find the furrier brick more interesting. I store both unwrapped bricks next to each other in hopes the taste giving mold will rub off.

So we continue this story 3 years later on this fine Sunday and brew up both bricks.  The furry brick(left) still has white mold over the surface and is not a bad brew with a slight cooling menthol taste. It's nothing I would serve guests but decent enough for a taste now and then again; definitely this brew is leaps more interesting than hongcha and definitely more powerful.  I was jittery and jumpy for hours.

The outer surface of the dry brick is clean without any sign of white mold. However when I peel off a few outer leaves, the interior stems show some whitish mold.  These bricks are relatively loosely compressed which may have helped.   The dry brick still tastes a little harsher,  thinner, more bitter than it's furry counterpart.  Probably the dry brick won't be able catch up to the furry brick especially in the suboptimal environs of Berkeley.  I guess I will give them another go in 2020 but I don't have high expectations.  At this point- I'm happy if any of it is mildly drinkable. I didn't have any dried anchovy or squid which I think would be good accompaniment to such basement sheng.

Footnote: Downing trad stored stuff is an ability that one has to keep up like alcohol tolerance.  I fell down the shicang ladder drinking nothing but hongchas as of late.  I don't expect to make "drink more shicang teas" a 2018 new year resolution but I do need a better scheme to rotate through my inventory.   

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Roast levels

Dear Reader- I have not relapsed with coffee although I almost did yesterday but was saved by an intervention of a friend. This is just a months old coffee post languishing in the drafts pile...

One morning I had a spectacular fail as a home barista- my one and only regular customer dumped his lovingly hand crafted cup of high end Ethiopean Yirgacheffe straight down the drain.  My husband hates - hates "blond" roasts as an abomination perpetuated by millennial roasters and I had conveniently forgotten all about it. I reckon you could not serve a blond roast to a civil war union soldier or an old time cowboy neither without them spitting out such weak brown stuffs.

The current trend among specialty roasters is a lighter roast as dark roasting ruins the delicate aromatics of the original bean.  When you add milk to a light roast- it just kills the flavor and the cup becomes dish rag water.  I even contemplated re-roasting or giving the beans away. In the same way you would not defile a high end tea with cow juice, these blond roasts only show their best unadorned. It was the third time I drank this Ethiopian black that I totally understood the beauty of a blond roast. Since the citrus aromatics with the lingering sweetness is not what I traditionally consider "coffee",  my prior expectations had ruined the experience. If someone had served me this brew as "tea" instead of coffee,  I would have simply appreciated the cup without hangups.

A local roaster "paid" my husband in suitably dark beans for a quickie metal job. When I tasted the crowd pleasing rich full bodied nutty taste of this dark roasted Sumatra, I quickly realized fruity high noted complexity in the morning is not an appropriate start for a working man like my husband.  Even I who only moves brain cells and a few fingers for a living prefer a dark cup in the morning- coffee or tea.   I take my light roasted Ethiopians as an early afternoon treat and have given up convincing my man that floral and fruity aromatics belong in coffee.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Rebooting with Hongchas

The Northern California weather gets nippier every morning demanding a dark vigorous brew.  I have almost pried myself away from the seductions of coffee having my last hurrah at Yosemite.  It was really the full cream and the airy microfoam on cappucino that sustained my addiction and so I must cut this inflammatory dairy cord and return back to tealand.  Most importantly, sustaining such high dosages of caffeine in the blood stream has knocked down my deep sleep so I've amassed more than a few health reasons to cut the bean.

I need a morning replacement that is dark, robust and NOT shu. (Well I shu on weekend mornings but work weekdays require something more mediated than the raw power of shu. Otherwise I get aggro and forget to be diplomatic during technical reviews.) My morning habit was hongcha for decades before this coffee detour and so I return to this familiar ritual of swishing hot water around dark leaves.

Where to procure decent quality hongcha (Indian, Chinese or otherwise) for daily use that is not too fancy but better than average?  My last 2 orders of darjeelings direct from India was a slight flop as the first flushes were just too light/white and delicate for morning use.  I use a pinch here and there in my afternoon blends but my kitchen cabinet is still overflowing with those sample bags.   The solution to too much tea is of course more tea.

15 years ago, I remember my brother in law had gifted me some pretty good tins from Upton Tea. But since I had moved onto puerh and ordering direct from China, I never ordered from them.  For the price less than my last parking ticket, I happily sent out for dozens of samples.  My husband wryly commented, "There is something so deja vu about mylar bags stuffed in a box."   In reality, I could have held out the year comfortably with my home supply of Yunnan dianhong and Lapsang Souchong but I wanted to give myself some more encouragement to choose tea over coffee in the mornings.


No disrespect to hongcha, but novelty in hongchas for the long time tea drinker does not stray far from a narrow band of familiarity. Nothing explosive or life changing, just pleasant diversions in more of the almost same. But that's exactly what I need in the mornings- one can't overstimulate the brain so early without consequences. Their Earl Greys are very respectable and I can see ordering from them regularly for hongcha.  Truth be told, I thought I would be drinking my own aged shengs by now but I am to wait out a few more decades.  In the meanwhile I quietly imbibe some juicy keemuns and assam blends without any second thoughts of coffee.


Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day Tea Reflections

Dear reader I hope you are resting and effortlessly drinking good tea on this Labor Day.

My hubs is away on a rafting trip which in previous years meant days of serious weekend brewing from dawn to dusk.  These days I continuously brew leaf and bean but without quite the analytic fervor that made for years of enthusiastic tea blogging.  Now days, I mostly wanna have just a good time but today I hunker down to capture a few observations on the impact of dietary changes on tea taste. Good times!

In the tea enjoyment equation, the tea can change, your brewing method can change or you can change.  I am exploring the very last option as I've put my body in a unique opportunity to do so. For the fun of experimentation,  I've severely cranked down sugar and carb consumption. Why you ask? Why deprive oneself of the sweet sweet joys of life from luscious fruits to buttery baked wonders?  I'm sheepish to admit that I've gone keto to achieve higher brain function. (tldr; changing primary fuel of glucose to burning fats.) 

Is a brain fueled by fats any better for tea enjoyment? When you severely restrict food types subtracting the very edibles that make life so worth living, tea becomes one of the few remaining sources of gustatory pleasure.  On the upside, my palate is hyper sensitive to sugar.  Oolong has become my dessert of choice and I'm exceedingly grateful I even have oolongs as a worthy substitute. Life without fruits once unthinkable  (those plump juicy orbs how I miss you) has been endured with cups of oolong. But unexpectedly, the sweetness in shus I used to taste has been overwhelmed by a more mineral and umami profile. A baseline brick shu I've drunk a lot now tastes pleasantly of the sea.  If I were to compare taste memories,  this single tea has become almost two different teas.  On the downside- teas also taste dryer in the mouth so astringent shengs are decidedly out but I've been in keto adaptation for only two weeks so I need to give shengs a more thorough sampling.

From the decades of tea drinking, I've found my own physical apparatus to be the least reliable and most variable part of the equation.  There are many easy and not so easy ways you can manipulate your palate at a physical level from inducing hunger to increase olfactory sensitivity to the more extreme method of carb deprivation. (Mental tamperings I leave for another post.)  Rather than trying yet more new teas,  I find altering myself to experience different dimensions of the same teas deeply more satisfying and worthy of further investigation.





Saturday, August 05, 2017

Joy of Brewing In Situ

The Northern California seaside tends to be a blustery chilly affair even at the height of summer- you need something dark and strong like shu or lapsang souchong to hold up. But this summer I must submit to my coffee craze. I hand grind and brew low end Gesha for myself and a dark Sumatra for husband all the while feeling pure unadulterated joy of making coffee in the great outdoors.  I must sheepishly admit I never felt this giddy while brewing tea outdoors. Why?

With strong wind and fire restrictions, the powerful controlled flame of this portable Thunder Range is exactly what does the job.  I had forgotten my teapot back at the camp and so had to make do with a shallow pan.  I vow to keep coffee making tools in the trunk of the car and a bag of beans in my purse at the ready from now on.  While sipping my Gesha- I now totally get why people lurvve their coffee.  Coffee does not take energy to love and now I feel a teensy twinge of guilt for my neglected puerh cakes but they will continue to dry age poorly without me snooping on them.

 The rocky wonderland of Gerstle Cove at Salt Point is one of my absolute favorite play spots in California.  California is chock full of state and national parks where one can goggle at spectacular natural wonders and pitch a tent later. 


Brewing coffee early morning at the camp site is yet another new pleasure that I am glad I waited so long to appreciate.  My Berkeley backyard is too tiny to recreate this cosy woodsy campsite feel but I have hatched new plans to inject more outdoors into my daily living.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Drinking Oolong Whilst Reading about Coffee

Recently I've been trying hard to return to India black teas in the morning and it feels all wrong- way way too wimpy.  Had I really relied on this weak brown water for decades to start my day? I regret boarding the coffee train only for the way my old drugs have lost their powers.  But I am baselessly confident this coffee fling will blow over by end of summer and I'll be happily slugging hong cha by the gallon come winter.

The one tea which still solidly holds it's own is oolong.  After dinner, I often brew up an oolong to share with my husband.  They behold a delicious succulent loveliness that has no comparison to coffee and can do respectable double duty as dessert.

I've been drinking my way through a box from Taiwan Sourcing last year-  I had to replenish the home supply last week.  This here box of oolongs is my only serious tea purchase this year.  Their small curated inventory tends to be much above average with some fantastic gems. I chose the 2016 bug bitten honey aroma oolong last year as my gift tea selection- the honey aroma is almost too decadent.  Most importantly, their oolongs have been gently agreeable to the body which makes me wonder why I've ever been game to take on combative stomach kickers.   Just like California living, oolongs make you soft but I no longer mind.








Sunday, July 09, 2017

Tea brewing Coffee

Coffee is definitely now my summer fling as I recognize I cannot seem to give up the habit despite repeated attempts.  My coffee education continues apace as the world is going through a golden age of coffee worship and there is no shortage of books, videos, podcasts, mountains of growing web material on every aspect of the bean.  My initial humble goal of learning how to make a good cup of coffee for my one customer now fulfilled(nothing fancy, dark and strong), I am free to experiment for my own preferences.  There is real freedom in being a newbie without the baggage of entrenched notions of good or bad- I vow not to be one of those insufferable coffee snobs going on and on about the necessity of burr grinders.
Roasted beans have a dangerously short shelf life preventing any sort of hoarding. I allow myself at most three simultaneously open bags of beans so I end up experimenting with brewing technique to get different cups rather than getting more beans.  The sheer range of available brewing implements for coffee outstrip what is available for tea. Humans have creatively exploded the simple concept to applying hot water to coffee grounds to extract drinkable stuffs.  I decided to exercise moderation in limiting coffee brew toys to what can fit in a small box. Since my husband already had a french press and the stovetop cappuccino steamer, I added two ceramic pour-over filters of different designs to start although I am ogling a glass vacuum siphon.

When you brew tea- one can fall prey to the mythical notion of a singular perfect brew. I find there exists much narrower range for a well brewed cup of tea of the same set of leaves than coffee. My big learn for last month was that one can get vastly different flavors, body, mouthfeel out of the same beans that are equally pleasurable.  A pour over through a paper filter yields a clean cup with high notes while a french press gives up an equally delicious chewy cup of murky muggy coffee. Neither is particularly superior to the other and there is ample occasion for both styles.  Gaiwans vs yixing teapots yields slightly different brews but nothing as dramatic as this.


I also learn the hard way there is no universal good cup of coffee when you are trying to please one person. The golden ratio of coffee to water is useless theory at least in my household. I carefully and mindfully made my husband a cup using a digital scale to ensure I poured the exact right amount of hot water. A total bust- my cup was derided as being weak as my one customer likes it 4x strong- a level undrinkable for most.

Immersion style brewing like the french press lets through more of the volatile oils but our french press is big, ungainly, and opaque. I spied on youtube someone using the Lifetime stainless steel tea filter as a budget alternative to the pricier metal filters but I now realize my dad had been making coffee this way for years and I had never paid attention.  I happily find I have more control with this simple tea filter which can be used as an immersion filter or a pour over filter suspended on a taller cup.  It is the best of both worlds, I gets me a chewy dense yet floral cup of coffee with light roasted Ethiopian beans.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Coffee Conversion

Dear reader, this is not a belated April Fool's post. There has been more than a few days this month I have imbibed more coffee than tea. Considering I've had less than a gallon of coffee my whole life before this month, I slowly see now that matcha was the gateway drug.  I couldn't drink even a half cup of decaf coffee previously as the caffeine would be powerful enough for an involuntary all-nighter. But I have been slowly upping my daily matcha dosage for months until I was doing a four tablespoons a day without a buzz.


It's frightening how quickly a coffee habit can replace a decades long morning tea habit.  Two weeks ago I started to take the second or third brew off my husband's morning coffee for a wee extra bit of caffeine and here I am. Part of me wants to nip it in the bud and return to tea A.S.A.P.  I don't want to be one of those groggy grumpy morning monsters who cannot get started without coffee. But a part of me just wants to go the full length and go deeper with the bean.

As the quartermaster for all edible supplies, I been dutifully buying coffee beans for my husband pretty much randomly as my husband has a low threshold for satisfaction. Most coffee in the $8-$12 mid range tends to be pretty good as competition among the roasters are fierce.  But in the last two months I started sampling the coffees to try to procure a better cup for my man.  Training my palate little by little,  I find Ethiopian Yirgacheffe with fruity floral high notes to be a pretty cup- very much like a Yiwu. But coffee is mostly a functional beverage for my husband and he wants a robust and flavorful cup.

If I want fruity floral high notes, I better stick to my oolongs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tea for an Underwater Adventure


I am presently escaping the Bay Area monsoon season for a still rainy but warmer corner of Kapoho. The Big Island of Hawaii has some perpetually sunny zones but I've fallen in love with the quieter overcast southeastern side.


These black lava tide pools hold such an exquisite treasury of marine life that I've returned here four times in the last 10 years.  I rented a house direct in front of this magical snorkel zone so I can snorkel my eyes out daily but one can only snorkel for so long.  Lazing about brewing teas goes second right before hot tubbing on the list of hard work required in filling out a productive vacation. Roasted oolongs and hong cha dominate the daily brew.  Thematically, a flowering feng qing(in the gaiwan) matches best the sea urchins and soft corals one ogles in the tide pools but taste wise it's just dependable ho hum hong cha.  The laid back vibe penetrates one thoroughly here and I don't worry about drinking the right or best tea. Just happy to have tea and these bound nuggets are easy brewing.

The green prickly thing is a soursop with a pleasantly tangy but fibrous interior. One of my few regrets this vacation.

My birthday present from the underwater world yesterday was spotting three different types of moray eel but I could only snapshot this white mouthed eel who was defending his hole.