Monday, August 01, 2005

Welcome to my really cheesy blog about my secret love, tea. It isn't really secret so much as it is geeky, I tell pretty much everyone how much of a tea snob I am, but it sounds better the way I said it the first time. In the course of my pontificating about oolong, it became clear that the world was sorely lacking a journal about my existential quest for the perfect cup of tea. And there aren't nearly enough blogs, either.

So to begin with, it might be helpful to define just how big a tea snob I really am. I drink oolongs, primarily from the Wuyi region of China and usually grown over 4000 feet. I prepare my tea at home in a slightly modified Gong-Fu Cha style in my collection of Yixing teapots. Occasionally I'll have a nice Ceylon or Pu-Erh, but in the same way I'd have a Diet Coke - the oolongs are where it all happens.

Gong-fu cha is a catch-all for chinese tea ceremonies, and means literally "well made tea". Though it has a ritual aspect, it is less structured than Japanese tea ceremonies and you see far more variations. There are some decent writeups online, I'll try to find a good basic one. For everyday drinking (I often make 6 large Yixing pots a day) I have streamlined the process a bit. It's still evolving, and I'll talk more about the strategy of creating good tea later.

Yixing is a region of China where a peculiar type of clay, Zisha, is dug. It comes in several colors, but they share a unique porousness that allows unfinished pottery to absorb the flavor of whatever they come in contact with. The longer you use a Yixing teapot the more the clay will cure with the flavor of the teas you've used, and thus will make tea which tastes better and better. They say after a few years you can make tea in the pot without any leaves at all... though being hard on my teapots I've never gotten the chance to find out.

Oolong is not a varietal of tea per se, but rather a class representative of the degree of oxidation the leaves are exposed to. Fully oxidized leaves are known as black tea, steamed but otherwise unoxidized are greens, and Oolongs are in-between, partially oxidized. This presents a huge spectrum of tea flavors which can be considered Oolong, but I am primarily concerned with the darker versions as a matter of personal taste. I also only like oolongs from Wuyi or Fujian regions... Formosan oolongs are crap. Vietnamese oolongs are like Texas wines, and Darjeeling is great, but it's a black tea.

So many topics to cover... some future installments (other than reviews of my latest teas) will include the many faces of Tikuanyin, how much breaking in does Yixing really need, Why do I hate Taiwanese tea so much (may be a short entry), and of course how to make the perfect every day cup.