Sunday, 10 January 2016

Tie Guan Yin at the temple of Guan Yin, Cho Lon

Welcome to readers from Somalia


Singing Bird Tea


Fortune Cookie


Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world    
                                                                                   T'ien Yiheng

Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy gives her name to a kind of tea. Tie Guan Yin or sometimes Tie Kwan Yin.

A fine example of this tea, along with a particular Da Hong Pao tea, has reportedly been sold for something in the region of $3000, for a one kilo.

Her temple in the Chinese sub-city of Cholon in Saigon.

The tea here is a heavy roast, highly oxidised tea. It is popular in Hong Kong and Chaozhou, where serious practitioners of Chao  Zhou style gongfu tea brew the Tie Guan Yin with a heavy hand. There are too many steps to list here for this style of brewing. One may also brew such teas more casually by following parameters similar to a high roast Tie Guan Yin. This type of Tie Guan Yin looks like this: 

The teapot is a short spout yixing pot bearing the Chinese characters of a Buddhist prayer.

The liquid is mid-brown colour with a long shallow finish. The aftertaste is lingering and of smoke, close to rolling tobacco. It's a distinctive tea and quite unlike any other tea I have tasted. The mouth-feel is slender with sweet coffee notes. 

The Iron Goddess of Mercy - a very humble, paint spattered 12 inches high.

I was in Da Nang at Christmas. 

At Lin Ung Pagoda on the Son Tra peninsula.  The Son Tra Guan Yin statue is 220 feet tall. The tallest statue in Vietnam.

Praying to Guan Yin in Da Nang

Guan Yin is known across east Asia from Sri Lanka and Myanmar to Korea and Japan. She is an important symbol of compassion. She's also associated with vegetarianism.

Jump back to tea. 

 Muzha Tieguanyin tea 木柵鉄観音 

This Tie Guan Yin tea is a very dark roast.

This is a traditional oolong. It is roasted and has a stronger taste with a roast nutty character. The tea liquid is more brown than red. 

In this version of Tie Guan Yin I can first of all taste a lot of smoke, some roasted nuts followed by a slowly evolving sweet caramel flavour. My feeling is that fine tea, like good wine, reaches the back of the palate and seems to infuse through the nose on the breath out. 

The second steep is similar but the smokiness is softer. Some say the second steep is for your friends, the first for your enemy with this tea I find the reverse is true. The next three brews are less distinctive. The first two are rich and dimensional while the third tails off quite dramatically despite longer infusions. This tea is sourced from Taiwan

see also Stephane Erler's Teamasters high-roast-Tie-Guan-Yin 

Back at the Quan Am temple in Cho Lon.

The names of temple benefactors 

A temple frieze. 

These porcelain dioramas skirting the roof depict life in a 19th century Chinese city. Actors, demons, animals, Persian sailors and traders appear - a representation not unlike the trading history of Cho Lon.

There are approximately 465,000 Cantonese Chinese in southern Vietnam, the majority in Cho Lon.

Some of these incense coils burn for as long as a month. The tags carries the name of the worshipper who paid for it.

At the pagoda I met Dr Zhifang Song of The University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He explained to me the significance of the temple and others in Cho Lon. He told me something of the significance of these temples for shǎoshù mínzú (少数民族diasporan Chinese people especially as the new China begins re-recognising the old "silk road" routes.

Happy tea drinking!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Visiting a Japanese Tea Company, Uji, Kyoto


Singing Bird Tea


Matcha Tea at Marukyu Koyaemen

Fortune Cookie

継続は力なり。 (Keizoku wa chikara nari) 

Continuance is power and strength. 

Don't give up. Just continuing to hold on will yield/reveal strength and power. Continuing on after a setback is its own kind of strength. Perseverance is strength.

And so from Kyoto ...

... to Uji

The train from Kyoto Central took only a few minutes.

Approaching Uji, a small town very near Kyoto

Most of Japan's gyokuro tea is made here.

The guide at Marukyu Koyaemen.

She was from Chile.

Visit a Vietnamese tea factory here

The tea testing room; some different grades of tencha leaves before grinding into matcha

Explaining the process of tea tasting

The matcha grinding stone

Read here Making matcha tea about producing powdered green tea in Uji

Some of the teas at the factory.

Marukyu makes many different matchas.

I wanted to buy a matcha whisk and tea set. 

But travelling around Japan for a month brought on a pain in the pecuniary gland, so I quickly dismissed that thought.

Whisking the tea.

Many claim that matcha tea improves concentration and has multiple times the anti-oxidants of ordinary green tea.

Since all the nutrients are in the tea leaves themselves why not grind them into a powder and ingest the whole leaf?

I very much like these matcha tea bowls - Handthrown teaware at NoirDragon

I drank matcha tea in several towns and cities. So for one month I was au fait with the drink.

There are different grades of matcha, premium matcha and ceremonial matcha. 

I wish I knew more about this tea and its gradations. What I noticed was that 80g cost the same as 200g of sencha.

It also looks appears extremely difficult to make/process yourself which you can do with tea you grow yourself.

I feel bound to say that I really enjoy matcha latte and would rather have that over a traditional matcha drink.

Happy Tea Drinking!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Tea Scooter arrives in Binh Thuan, south Vietnam

Fortune Cookie

Khong ai co the lam sach tam hon chi voi nuoc

One does not cleanse the mind with water

Thich Nhat Hanh

By a paddy field in Long Hai near Vung Tau. 

Taking a drinks break at Ho Coc, Xuyen district.

A north Vietnamese style house built in south Vietnam.

This house is in a very small town 20 km from the mountains and the first tea terraces. You can buy freshly picked tea leaves and roasted green tea here easily. You can also find floral, white aka milk oolongs here. 

In nearly all of Vietnam black tea and dark oolongs are just not drunk and nguoi here will sip it politely but always refuse a second cup. That is not to say that both those teas are unavailable. Black tea is fashionable for the young. Anyone between 4 and 30 years old will drink it but nearly always with ice, small candies and thick, sweetened milk. 

In Ho Chi Minh City it is easy to buy every tea right through to artichoke tea.

See post on Japan's best tea - Gyokuro from Kyoto here

Simple set-up

Neighbours visit to drink the light green oolong

Approving noises are made throughout.

This is a tea grown in the mountains of south Vietnam. Taiwanese growers work with Vietnamese owners in the commercial development of this tea - the fragrance of this oolong is my reason for drinking this tea. The bouquet from this tea is one of my favourites. The tea has that smoothness which remains through all steepings. Even if you forget the tea and leave it brewing there is no bitter taste. 

It is a fine tea that you can steep six or seven times easily. I used three grams in a 150 ml red clay teapot from Bat Trang. The brewing here was around one minute at 95 degrees C.

Son, coy, by the lotus ponds. An excellent place to pick lotus to make lotus green tea known here as tra sen.

In the other direction lie the southern mountains where this oolong is grown.

Phuong, Son's elder sister with lotus flower behind her and in the background the highlands.

Happy tea drinking!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Gyokuro, Kyoto

Fortune Cookie

案ずるより産むが易し。 (Anzuru yori umu ga yasashi)  

Giving birth to a baby is easier than worrying about it. Meaning: Fear is greater than the danger. 

In the traditional Japanese hotel (the ryokan) every room has a caddy of green tea and a tea set. This is a Karigane with the leaf stems still in evidence. Karigane is made from the stems of Gyokuro tea. If it isn't stems from Gyokuro the Japanese won't call it Karigane.

The tea was pretty tasty taken as it was in the traditional Japanese surroundings, a ryokan (a very formal one) in the centre of Kyoto.

The next day I would visit some temples on the edge of the city but tonight I decided to relax. Ice cream is not really my thing but green tea ice cream ...

Central Gion, Kyoto

Tea shop matcha ice cream! This was a dream to eat and the green tea shone through. I don't yet make ice cream but the time approaches. 

I forced myself away to another street where geishas still plied their trade. One sin to another?

Bamboo groves, Arashiyama. 

If you like travel on Singing Bird visit her sister site GuerillaZ at 

Gyokuro Cha

Gyokuro tea was invented in the year 1835. In the old days, Gyokuro tea gardens were covered by bundles of rice straw. Now the shade is provided by black plastic webbing. 

Asahina (Shizuoka), Uji (Kyoto) and Yame (Fukuoka) are the three major Gyokuro manufacturing areas in Japan.

Gyokuro is mainly produced from the Yabukita cultivar. Gyokuro leaves are a deep green in colour. The shading processes that precede plucking lead to a deeper than usual green colour.

The tea liquid is correspondingly green rather than the yellowy coour of many green teas.

An extraordinary bright green, and the deep tasting warm sip is sweet seaweed in nature.

Gyokuro Modern Brewing Method

Water volume and quantity of tea leaf

You need to measure 4g of tea leaf for 200ml of water. On the contrary to the traditional brewing method, use more volume of water. A teapot that size is in about 150-220 ml is right nice for one person.

The leaf is very shrunken from the steaming process and presents only as fragments. The whole leaf or half-leaf is not present here. Japanese tea pots have a wire mesh to filter of the fine pieces of tea.


Cool boiling water down to 70-80 degrees C. Some people say 60 degrees but try to stick to the same temperature over the series of brewings until you feel all taste has gone. At the last increase brewing temperature so as to bring out the remaining taste and flavor.

Brewing time

Gyokuro leaf is much more tender than the sencha leaf. Brewing time should be slightly shorter than how we brew sencha. For sencha, the first brewing is for 1 minute. For Gyokuro, 30 seconds to 40 seconds is long enough. The second brewing increase by 10-20 seconds. 2nd and third brewings also the same. From the forth brewing, increase to 10 seconds and for the each subsequent brewing add additional 10 seconds.

For 100 grams/3 oz this gyokuro from Aikoku Seicha cost 3240 Yen, around $26.

See Japanese style teaware at:

After extensive walking around the extremely pretty Arashiyama district north of Kyoto ...

.... I returned on the suburban train to my ryokan to brew the Uji gyokuro I bought for myself earlier in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

This gyokuro brewed at lower temperatures around 70 C (I find the recommended temperature  of 60C too low for my liking) yielded a thick, almost soup-like bright green tea as if from fresh leaves. 
The flavour is indeed very deep and rich with endless leaf particles swirling around in the tea. The whole mouth is coated with a rich flavour. After the second steeping, which is less impactful than the first, I found the flavour fades away quite quickly. A little disappointing compared with some other teas I enjoy where the leaves provide a good cup 6 or 7 brews later. Still it's a very good tea with that distinct richness of good quality Japanese tea.

I would buy this tea again.

Living in Vietnam with its high temperatures I think I am going to ice a litre and see how it fares. 

Gyokuro from Uji a delicious, rich tea at a good price $20 for 100g from Akiko Seiku, Tokyo.

Kyushu teapot 300 ml from Matsumoto City $30.

Caddy from Shinjuku $16

I must get some hon gyokuro sometime soon and compare with ordinary gyokuro which I think this is. Hon means authentic and such tea is shaded traditionally using straw and is therefore more expensive. But that's for another day.  

Happy tea drinking!