Thursday, October 10, 2013

Nonconformist natsume

My friends ask me, if I would be open to creating some natsume, tea caddy used during Japanese tea ceremony. Those are traditionally made of wood and I was not sure if to go this way. There are a reasons why they do them from wood. Finally I said yes, knowing that it will be quite challenging. From technical as well as from aesthetical point of view. As an inspiration, I received this plastic, cheap thing ...

...but I knew: My natsume will be nothing of the sort.

Although I like sipping matcha I do not prepare it myself much. Time to time, I am happy guest of more or less formal tea sessions, where some of my chanoyu practise friend is the host. I always enjoy all that rustling of silk, singing kettle and whisked green nectar. And when working on these first natsume's, I was thinking about all those craftsman who have worked on such pieces during past centuries. How their tea taste like?

Thank you for reading!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Loosening of toucha

You probably know the situation. You buy a toucha so well pressed, that to get a few leaves from it, in anyhow elegant way, is almost impossible. Even when one knows what is doing with his/her pu-needle, leaves of such toucha are broken at least. With few grams of broken tea leaves you can get few grams of tea dust. Is there a solution?

Few years back, I was going through Houde's eshop and found a few interesting information at his blog as well as in the "f.a.q" section. One of those was this:

   There are two ways to loosen a compressed Pu-erh (cake, brick, mushroom, or toucha):
1. Brutal-force way! Use hammer, knife, chisel or whatever your landscaping tools (kidding, of coz) to chip or knock down enough amount for brewing.
2. Steaming method: This is a much more civilized version. Several advantages from this method:

a. The loosened leaves will retain more complete and original shape than the brutal force way.
b. If you are like me, it is fun to get your hands "tea-y"!
c. It becomes more convenient to have all the loose tea than having to find your hammer everytime you try ot enjoy.

We use the following pictures to illustrate how we do the steaming to loosen two 2004 Jia Ji XiaGuan Toucha.
Step 1: Find a wok and a bamboo steamer (or whatever have similar functions). Put a bowl of water into the wok. Then put the two toucha onto the steamer.

Step 2: Turn on the heat and cover the steamer. Your pu-erh is now enjoying some steamy Sauna! Steam for around 3 mins. The time is only experimental; different cakes or bricks may requires different steaming time.

Step 3: See... after 3 mins Sauna, the toucha are looking very "relaxed"!

Step 4: Now is the most FUN part! Use your mighty hands to gently loosen the toucha and try NOT to cook your fingers! They can be very hot. The toucha now is soft and flexible, as you can see how I "bend" one of them.

Final: Now, you have a pile of good loose Pu-erh for easy enjoyment : ) However, newly steamed pu-erh need to be dried for about 2 hours (more is better) before you put them into containers. Just let them dry in an open and dry place without direct sunlight. Otherwise, those nutritious leaves will invite some fungus to grow on them very quickly.

You can make a brew of the loose Pu-erh tea just like ... yea, a loose tea. Try this! I am sure you will love the extra connection you build between your pu-erhs and you.

Do you know someone who do it this way or who, at least, tried it? I did not heard about it before and I was sure: I have to try it one day. And that time come last February. It was weekend with many tea friends around, we were testing teas and having great time when this "loosening technique" pop up. Lets do it! I was a bit sceptical/afraid about the result. So I pick one not very special toucha from Dayi, found clean stainless pot, stainless sieve for cooking dumplings and turn of a cooker....

 In two minutes we got very furry chunk of tea. Leaves were quite easy to seperate, a bit wet from outside and still a bit hard in the middle of the nest. To dry out, I put that  toucha  loose leave tea on our heating and later on even to oven. Not to cook, just to warm and dry it out.

Next day I could put it in this jar...I was quite curious to see if it will get any worst. And it is not. Now after several months, it is still that mediocre tea as I remember it. :) I would not do it or recommend it to do it with tea which we would like to age. The heat from steam is not going to make any good to living nature of the tea and it may slow or even stop the aging. But if you have a tea you would like to drink soon then you can give it a try. You can get very nice loose tea instead of broken, dusty mixture. For sure, you might want to try it first on something less expensive than 80' Xiaguan products, as I did. Who can find this helpful are those who serve toucha (or other strongly pressed teas) on daily basic. One just open a jar and scoop up few grams of leaves- I can imagine that for a tearoom or a teashop,  it can be pretty convenient.

 For my daily tea live, I still prefer gentle work of puehr needle to this sauna style. On other hand an experiment and experience is always more valuable than reading and thinking about it. I am glad we have tried it.

Thank you for reading!