Friday, January 9, 2009

My new Toy the "Tea Refresher"

Well, after using this new accoutrement to my tea wares, I believe it is worth noting on Ancient Tea Horse Road. I acquired this hand crafted piece from the Famous Lin's Ceramic Studio located in Taiwan from a special order from Dragon Tea House.

The process of heating tea leaves was first described in Cha Jing from Lu Yu and has been a common practice since the Tang Dynasty. Primarily designated for fermented teas e.g. oolongs and blacks, some minorities of Yunnnan currently roast or bake the fresh tea leaves such as using an earthenware pot or piece of paper before steaping the leaves. For learning how to roast tea leaves over a paper please visit Tea Obsession for detailed instructions on how to do this.

The practice of heating tea leaves over heat sources serves two purposes, which interestingly are not related. The first reason has to do with the Traditional Chinese Medicine's concept of "hot and cold" and its effects on the the human body.

Young sheng is said to be very "cold". As a consequence, this cold affects those who are already "cold" negatively e.g., stomach aches, heart burn, yes, even diarrhea. However, when young sheng is heated or "roasted" such as what some of the minorities of Yunnan do, the process is said to turn the "cold" leaves to "hot" making the drink more agreeable to the body. The aging of sheng is said to this process naturally.

It is important to understand that the words hot and cold are not used here in the conventional sense although heat is being applied. For more information please visit Hot & Cold: The Art of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The second reason has to do with the flavor, essence, and in some cases the salvage of tea itself. To be honest, I was somewhat skeptical that heating tea leaves could enhance my tea drinking experience and purchasing this tea refresher was somewhat an impetuous buy on my part ^_^. However, after using this tool a couple of times, my skepticism had quickly vanished.

I first gained interest in heating pu-erh after reading claims which suggested that heating pu-erh, (especially wet stored and shupu) can make some of the off flavors to dissipate. After some trial and error, and experimentation, these claims were substantiated. Heating wet stored and shupu did indeed seem to limit some of these flavors from entering the brew; especially the dampness and the ubiquitous pond which can be associated with these types. The liquor became more, to some degree, layered and more fragrant. The liquor seemed to have become thicker making the flavors linger on the palate longer. From that moment I was sold. Now that it has passed the wet stored and shupu test, I wanted to see if the same could be said about dry stored and young sheng.

For my experiments, I dug out of my pu closet the 1996 Chung Cha MengHai Factory "Orange on Orange", 2001 MengKu Yuan Yieh Xian Thick-Papered Sheng, and the '05 Xi-Zhi Hao Lao BanZhang. I purposely had chosen the '96 and '01 since I have decided that these two did have more dampness than some others that I have and wanted to see if heating these examples could do what it did for the wet stored pu. As for the '05, there was no valid reason other than it was the easiest to access.

Of course I did not drink all of these in one session. That would certainly be a lot of tea drinking and most importantly, would numb my tongue to the flavors. I took my time and patiently delved into my test for each over a day and half.

The '96 and '01 were first on my agenda as I was quite anxious to see how the heat would affect these two. I used 6 grams of each which were both brewed in my 150ml Zhuni Yixing pot, spring water yada yada yada. No special methods were utilized other than the heating of the tea in my tea refresher. After my experiments, I can say without a doubt both seemed to have benefited from the heat. Both of the liquors were again fragrant and seemed thicker, and for some reason much darker than I remembered when I last tried these two. The dampness that I had experienced earlier seemed to be limited thus allowing more nuances to come through. There seemed to be more honey and to some degree a touch of floral than I had remembered. I could tell from the moment that I took the tea refresher from the heating element and placed the leaves in the pot, the heat had done something to to the leaves. A scent of a nice rich puerh was emanating from the pot even before I added water. Needless to say, I enjoyed the aroma of the dry leaves for a time before I moved on to the next step of the rinse. Now the young sheng.

When heating the Lao BanZhang, the fragrance from the tea refresher was different as expected. It smelled more like "roasted tea" than anything else. Needless to say I had become quite concerned that I was doing just that. I again used a Yixing pot that I have dedicated to young sheng and continued to brew the tea as I do with all my other young shengs.

Interestingly, the heat did not affect the tea as much as the previous two. For the most part, the liquor did seem to be more fragrant but none of the thickness. I am not too down however as fragrance is once of may favorite qualities in liquor. All in all I was pleased with the performance of the tea refresher.

The only theory I could come up with for any of the enhancement is that perhaps the heat had caused the tea oil to become active. As for the the wet off flavors, I can only speculate that perhaps evaporated the aroma. I am still searching for the reasons, but if you have any better ideas please let me know. :D

Heating Process

As you will notice from the pictures, the refresher has two parts which - the bowl and funnel, which should be self explanatory. You use the funnel in the down position to funnel the tea in the bowl and then place the funnel up to shake the leaves from the bowl in to your pot or tea tray.

Heat the bowl with the funnel in the downward position for approx 1 minute. Add the desired amount of tea leaves into the bowl and reapply heat for an additional minute. Take the bowl off the flame and gently shake the leaves in a circular motion to evenly heat the leaves. Voila!

Home Set Up

Tea should be simple. I typically brew gongfu except when I make a good English Breakfast. Zhuni pot is one that I dedicate to Chinese b...