Friday, July 24, 2009

Proposal Research - The Beginning

I have been do a lot of prep research for my upcoming school project. The project is to submit a proposal for a museum exhibit. All the other students in my intake group are creating exhibits for already existing museums, but I asked if I could create an exhibit for the museum I hope to one day be able to open, a tea museum. After some discussion I was given the go ahead.

This is very tricky because I 1)have no actual collections from which to draw from and 2)have no actual space in which to house the museum. The second problem I am overcoming by assuming that the Tea Museum will exsist in the space currently occupied by the Austin Children's Museum (in Austin, Texas). The first problem is a bit trickier, because I have to do some very quick research to see what objects a small and new museum would likely to have acquired and then figure out what connections the museum might have with other people and institutions from which loans could be acquired.

I first had to decide exactly what the focus would be. Ultimately I decided to persue the topic of tea cups. Since this is a LARGE topic I had to narrow it down. I decided to follow cups from raw material to object of use, reverance and collection. To accomplish this I plan to divide the overall topic into three main topics; manufacture, styles, use. Each of these topics contains approximately four subtopics. I have decided to go ahead and be bold and attempt to show objects covering a wide range of time and space, but at the same time keep the exhibit from being too stimulating. If I can pull that off I will have demonstrated a pretty key skill.

I plan on supplementing this object-heavy exhibit with some art of tea cups. I want to incorporate some hands-on elements, audio and video elements and personal stories. I need to carefully consider the overall narrative and then find how the personal narratives will forward the main narrative.

So far, I am created (for my own use) a table/timeline which incorporates time periods and significant tea/tea cup related events for China, Japan, Korea, Russia, Europe, Mongolia....there are also some notes for places like Turkey and Moracco. This has been tedious, but quite enlightening if sometimes baffling. For instance, I have had a hard time tracking down what tea cups existed in Japan pre-Edo. I hope the mysteries might be able to be solved when I can finally get to the library.

The Japanese tea ware so far has been overwhelming for me because there is SO much variety. At least 26 chawan shapes, about 5 yunomi shapes, and I have yet to really look at the senchawan. There are about 52 glaze finishes and styles I have found listed so far.

Some interesting things I have run across are Indian "chullarhs" which are low fired cups that street vendors and tea shop owners serve chai in. The idea is that when you are done with your chai you just throw it on the ground and it shatters and eventually will become mud again. I also love the 'ear cups' from China's Eastern Han dynasty. I also loved the design of a shufu cup from the Song Dynasty that looks like a typical small bowl style tea cup, but it is up on a tall stem.

I have also discovered that archaeologically speaking the first use of tea leaves is in India where about 5000 years ago the leaves were used with other herbs to flavor oils. Also, the first medicinal teas in Chine were like thick soups containing tea leaves that had been packed into myriad shapes (bricks, cubes, spheres...) as well as spices, orange peel and onions! Later they would add salt to the tea, which they seem to have liked thick and bitter.

I am also fascinated by how often in the history of tea, the culture is spread through religion. Monks travelling. Even the first European to encounter tea who was a Portuguese Jesuit Father travelling to China as a missionary.

My research so far is a little all over the place and if I find something which interests me I might follow a tanget. If you have any specific questions about anything I have found, feel free to ask. If you have knowledge of any fascinating tea ware or of a good reference which would aid my research feel free to let me know!

Much of what I am learning, I will note, I don't necessarily have documented as well as I would like and so my knowledge of things my change and I keep persuing this topic.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Two Spiced Greens

I like spiced teas. I love a good chai. Typically these spiced teas are blacks, but recently I have been trying green teas that contain spices. Today I am going to look at two of my favorites. Both are offered through One is their Bengal Green Chai and the other is a blend I created called Martha's Foolish Ginger.

First an introduction to the two teas: Bengal Green Chai (shown on the bottom in the pic above) is described this way on the site:

Our smooth China green tea with a chakra warming spice combination. Its natural sweetness and fiery kick will bring you back to center, no matter how polarized you’ve become.

Martha's Foolish Ginger contains decaf spiced green (containing cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger) and lemongrass.

I brewed both teas with these parameters: 2 tsp leaf at 180 for 3 minutes. Both teas were steeped in 6oz mugs.

Both teas have almost identical golden colored liqour. The Bengal Green Chai smells like mulling spices; it was rather difficult to discern any green tea aroma from the tea. Overall the aroma is warm and soothing. Martha's Foolish Ginger smells like green tea and lemongrass with the spice aroma barely discernable. This tea smells very lively and fresh.

Bengal Green Chai is very spicey! I can agree totally with the 'firery' part of the discription. However, I did not experience any 'natural sweetness'. The spice stays on your tongue and almost masks the green tea flavors. The flavor of the green tea is more evident if you have been drinking a black based chai and then switch, but alongside other greens it is pretty hard to pick out.

Martha's Foolish Ginger right up front tastes like green tea, followed quickly by the freshness of the lemongrass and then finishes with just a hint of spice. This tea is not as in your face as Bengal Green Chai and the flavors blend very well, none overwhelming the others. It is a very, very mellow cuppa. None of the flavors are very clear, however. They don't seem to ever resolve fully in a sip - but the overall effect of drinking a full cup is satisfying and refreshing.

I would not add sweetners or milk to either tea. I did try it once with the Bengal Green Chai, but dispised the result. Neither tea really is a good substitute for black chai, but each is pretty good for its own character and taste.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2009 May Xiping Anxi TGY

For my first post I am reviewing a tea that was sent to me by my friend, Tim. If you are lucky enough to read Chinese then you would know by looking at the beautiful, yet simple deep red and gold box that this was 2009 May Xiping Anxi TGY - I had to ask Tim. For the record the tea arrived at about noon and I got to it about 5pm on a day where the temperature in Austin reached about 105 degrees! The box is full of little metallic sealed packages of tea that I was unable to touch without burning myself for a good few minutes. This is ONE way to roast oolong, but I don't reccommend it ;)
I was able to have the tea a week later when the husband and the child were out of the house for the afternoon. I decided that I would keep my heated water in my PersonaliTEA, since my yixing has mysteriously gone missing, and place the leaves in my porcelain gaiwan. The steeps I did at Tim's suggestion; 10 second brews for the first 5 steeps, starting with boiling water. I was excited to try this. One legend about the discovery of TGY is that a scholar named Wang found the plant growing under a Guan Yin rock in Xiping, so it felt akin to eat Cheddar IN Cheddar, England or like drinking Guinness IN Dublin.

The balls were very tightly rolled and a very pretty emerald green in color. The dry leaf smelled a bit like Muslix cereal - grainy and vegetal. The liquor, though, smelled potently floral. I did a flash rinse and then sampled the first 10 second steep. I have to say I LOVE this tea. The floral and vegetal tastes combine beautifully and held on strong through 10 steeps. After the third steep there was a hint of astringency, but it was very slight. Starting at the sixth steep, which was 15 seconds, the finish was sharply bitter. I may be able to correct this by altering the steep time or water temp. Overall, this tea was much like the box it came in, simple, yet richly beautiful.

I had gathered from reviews others have done of Xiping that the aroma and taste would be subtle, but this was not the case here. Both the aroma and the taste were crisp, clear and present almost to an extreme. There are not a lot of competing flavors and aromas in this tea - it is rather minimalistic and uncomplicated. I think this aspect does not detract from the experience of this tea at all, but rather inhances it. You get to fully enjoy the florals and fresh green taste without being sidetracked by other flavors.

I am struggling to get the photo of the wet leaves to post upright, but no matter which way it ends up facing, you can see that the majority of the leaves are whole and deep green with ragged edges. They smelled a bit like a freshly watered garden which was quite pleasant and uplifting in its way.

I cannot wait to try a second session of this tea!