Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dorm Life

I have successfully moved into the dorm and am assimilating quite nicely!
The floor that I am on is filled with great people and I am excited to participate in the social events and such.
Anderson, Indiana is a great place!

As far as tea goes, I have brought a few of my things and organized them and used them!
I will be back to regular posting now that most of the freshman events are through, and classes start on August 30th.

A new environment will have a good effect overall for me.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Wabi Sabi

"Wabi Sabi embodies the Zen nihilistic cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back too nothing.

Wabi Sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, and even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholy beauty in the impermanence of all things."
-Andrew Juniper

In my own words, the art and practice of simplicity.

No fancy tea ware, just the bare essentials in creating the perfect cup of tea.

A time of reflection and internal cleansing is needed periodically.

I will be moving from my comfortable home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and braving the world in the state of Indiana.
My dorm room awaits me.

With this state of mind, Wabi Sabi, I think about the necessities that I will need.
Selective packing is on my schedule for the next two days.


One can only wonder what I shall chance upon in the future.

"Wabi Sabi: it appreciates the fleeting moment for itself, not for what the future may or may not bring."
-Solala Towler

I will take the moments in as they are presented to me.

God willing, I will have opportunity to do His will, work for Him, and trust in Him. Amen.

I shall not be posting for a while, due to the hustle and bustle of modern society and the journey of relocation.
So until then, God bless.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Darjeeling - Makaibari Estate 1st Flush

Another contender in the lineup of Arbor Tea selections.
This tea is certified both organic, and Fair Trade.

First flush teas are not my favorite. Second flush teas are alright. Autumnal flush teas are beautiful. I enjoy the flavor profile of an Autumnal flush Darjeeling much more than I do first or second flush.
I do have a bias, but I will try not to let it get in the way of a review. I review a tea for what it is, not for how I see it. It is all about personal preference in the end, but I am not here to push my preference on readers. I take a tea for what it is.
That was my disclaimer.

Onto tea.

The dry leaf is good looking, and looks to be of a moderately high grade. I do not know the specific grade but I could guess that it would be somewhere along the lines of a TGFOP. I am no authority on the subject, but I had to make a guess, right?
The leafs aromatic qualities are delightful, much more fruity than floral. I pick up mango, guava and lemon. Subdued hints of muscatel are evident as well, but are lingering in the background.

The tea produces a liquor that possesses a heavy aroma, and outstanding clarity. Good sign for this tea.
Squash, zucchini and bayleaf scents are pungent and inviting.

First flavors encountered are of squash; the vegetal attribute, and mango; the sweet characteristic. There is a very clean citrus finish, and quite a light astringency.
I do not enjoy an overbearing astringency in a tea, so I was very pleased it was subtle (the tea is just trying to make a good impression on me).

This tea is not the classic profile of a first flush Darjeeling, but I believe that is what I enjoyed about this tea.
It is a standout and a palate catcher in the vast amount of Darjeeling teas.

Now for a bit of science.

I had my Father sample some of this tea, and one thing he said stood out to me;
"This tea has some oolong flavor to it."

When one takes a look at the infused leaf, you would wonder how this tea is not classified as an oolong.

There are obvious variations between the levels of oxidation of each leaf.
Darjeeling teas are a fully oxidized black tea, so why are there green leaves?

This is a direct result of the processing that Darjeeling teas undergo, mostly due to the withering stage.

Withering is a process in which the raw tea leaves lose moisture to make the pliable for rolling and shaping, and it is a time which the chemicals in the tea leaf change. This results in increased levels of caffeine, organic acids and polyphenol oxidase, the enzyme responsible for oxidation.

There are varying levels of withering.

-Soft wither: the leaves lose only about 25-32% of their moisture content, usually employed in the production of CTC and low grown, full bodied teas.

-Medium wither: the leaves lose about 32-40% of their moisture content, used in the production of low grown, full bodied teas, but have a more pronounced aroma than in the soft withered teas.

-Hard wither: the leaves lose about 40-50% of their moisture content, used primarily in the production of high grown teas. There is a noticeable increase in aroma and flavor.

-Very Hard wither
: the leaves lose about 70% of their moisture content, used in the production of extreme altitude teas, such as Darjeeling. The result of this extreme moisture loss is the inhibition of oxidation. The enzymes in the cells become too dry to bond with polyphenols when the leaves are rolled. This enzymatic reaction is what turns the leaves to a coppery color we see as black tea. In the case of Darjeeling tea, this process only occurs to a certain degree. In essence, the leaves are fully oxidized, but the variation of color is due to the fact that the chemicals cannot bond to further oxidation levels. This is what gives Darjeeling its leaf appearance, and profound flavor profile.

Hope you learned something.

*All the facts stated are based on the manuals authored by the STI.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Huang Shan Hair Tip

This is another offering from Arbor Teas.

My first experience with a Huang Shan Mao Feng was a less than positive experience.
I bought a sample pack from a company I will not mention. It was a pack of the Top Ten Famous Teas from China.
This was one of the teas included in this pack.
I was just venturing into the tea world at the time and I had only read a few books and experimented with a few teas.
When I brewed this tea, I found it to be much to earthy, a bit bitter, and almost smokey.
I do not remember if this was due to my lack of brewing capabilities, or to the fact that this may have not been a very well prepared tea.
In either case, I was cautious whenever I ran across a tea like such.
This tea has changed my mind quite a bit.

The dry leaf emitted the aromas of almond, pine and cocoa.
Almond and pine were somewhat expected. Cocoa threw me a curve.

The infusion;
from the cup, there was a light aroma. There was a floral aspect to it; lavender.

Nutty aspects paired well with woodsy evergreen.
A fresh, well balanced astringency took hold of my mouth.

The liquor left me with a sweet and sour, green apple trait.

The infusions were drawn out much past my expectancy.

Hay became a pronounced flavor in the latter infusions.

To end the session; smooth butter.
A great finale to a somewhat simplistic tea.

This tea treated me to a wonderful session; a getaway.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Emerald Spring Lung Ching

Arbor Teas was gracious to send me a few samples.
One thing this company does that stands out against the rest; they go green.
This is a company driven by the idea of sustainability of agricultural products.
Their teas are all organic certified, their packaging is compostable (a clever idea) and a large selection of their tea is produced under the FairTrade label, which I believe to be beneficial to those who profit by it; the farmers. This is a touchy subject amongst the tea world though, so I shall move on.

The first tea being reviewed out of the set is their Lung Ching.

Dry leaf;
dominantly toasted notes, along with walnut and alfalfa aromas. The pan firing process sure imparted its scent into these leaves.

The liquor was lacking in aroma. All I could pick out was the toasted scent.
Sweet walnut comes through as the opening flavor of this tea.
A cooling basil taste follows, which leaves my mouth feeling quite refreshed.
The finish is of a very delicate toast, which I find surprising due to the pungency of this specific attribute in the dry leaf.

There was not much astringency to be found.

Following infusions display lemongrass and a light resemblance to basil, still.
The toast is definitely on the decline as well.

One aspect I did enjoy in the latter cups was the more potent astringency.
I enjoy a dragonwell with a bit more of a bite. Not bitter, mind you, but just enough astringency to leave a lasting impression.

This tea overall was not the best dragonwell I have tried.
I enjoyed it on the whole, but probably wouldn't order it.
The flavor profile was in line with the "classic" dragonwell profile, but this was not a shining star.
If I wanted to introduce someone to the vast assortment of green teas, this would be a tea I might use.

Another thing that did surprise me about this tea was this curious leaf.
Lung Ching teas normally have a plucking standard of "one leaf and a bud."
It was a bit of a random stumble to find a set of "two leaves and a bud."
This has nothing to do with the quality of this tea, it just seems that someone missed the extra leaf as it passed on through the stages of processing.

A thank you to Arbor Teas for this sample.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Essay on FairTrade

Written in a rhetoric class I was enrolled in. There is some pretty good information about the FairTrade organization.

Fair Trade is an organization specifically formed to aid farmers in developing nations. The farmers normally would have to wait for an auctioneer to buy out their crop, but because the farmers typically do not know what a fair price is, auctioneers typically cheat the price. Farmers would work their land but no profit would be gained. The Fair Trade organization solves this issue by buying those farmers’ crops at the market premium, which increases profits for the laborers. The newfound revenue would be put to use either in the town that the farmers resided by building hospitals, wells, schools and other public facilities, or be used to help improve the farmer’s business by improving irrigation, increasing wages, or buying eco-friendly fertilizer.

The Fair Trade organization is dedicated to helping small farmers increase their personal profits, not the profits of the middlemen that dictate unfair prices to the poor agricultural producers. The price of commodities should be regulated by the public market and under a Fair Trade label, this is insured. The Fair Trade organization buys products from the small farms at a minimum price that is always above or equal to the current price of those goods. Skeptics believe that Fair Trade is deceptive, seeing as the increased retail price in the product does not all go directly to the farmers. The money is divided between the farmers, the packagers, the distribution, and the retailer. The skeptics also point out that the organization might hurt farmers not able to join an established co-op, which is a requirement of Fair Trade. Overall though, the organization has helped numerous communities in countries that are oppressed by poverty and lack of a safeguard to help regulate fair prices for products, as well as labor. The money from the organization has gone to support the farmers in their businesses as well as for their personal benefit. The Fair Trade organization should be installed in numerous farms and plantations to directly aid in the development of many countries.

A supporter of Fair Trade, Alastair M. Smith, is a graduate of York and Oxford Universities with degrees in politics, history, and development studies. In an article published in the Economic Affairs journal, he breaks down critic’s arguments and offers counterarguments. He also critiques the critic’s arguments in terms of rhetoric, stating that their fault is “a failure to cite credible empirical evidence to support arguments…” Smith’s first counterargument is against a writer that stated that “[Fair Trade] has only little to do with how it treats its employees.” Smith analyzes the Fair Trade standards, which have an entire section devoted to labor requirements. Fair Trade employs the standards set by the International Labor Organization that encompasses everything from employment policy, to discrimination, to health and safety. The requirements are meant to be met within a three year period when the participating farms are in the process of becoming certified by Fair Trade. The labor standards are not only aimed at permanent employees on the production facilities, but also to seasonal and temporary workers that would not otherwise receive those specific benefits. Another argument against Fair Trade is that it “helps only a select few at the expense of other [small farmers]…” This argument is based around the assumption that small family production facilities cannot afford any permanent employees, which in turn means that the farm cannot join a co-op to secure the protection of their employees’ rights under the Fair Trade Standards. Smith points to a section of the Fair Trade Standards which states that “any producer group that is structurally dependent on hired labor still has the option to register under alternative certification.” The Fair Trade Standards give those farmers another option which entitles that the workers are able to form a union to secure their labor rights. Every small farmer has ability to be able to become certified by the Fair Trade Organization, which is evidence that no small farmer is hurt. Smith points out the flaws of rhetoric in critic’s arguments, mostly in that the arguments are lacking in logos to back up claims, an aspect that is very prevalent in Smith’s counterarguments. Smith sheds light to the fact that Fair Trade is not selective or inclusive to who they will give aid to; Fair Trade is fair.

Smith continues in his argument about the criticism that most of the money from the Fair Trade products does not go to the farmers themselves but rather is (he quotes) “eaten up by the co-operative bureaucracy.” Smith is not blind to the fact that not all of the money goes to the farmers, but how could the Fair Trade organization exist without a small portion of the profit? Another criticism he addresses is about the co-ops and how they are inefficient and how they waste consumers’ money. But, he points out; “one of the primary expenses … is repaying pre-existing loans which they are now able to pay off thanks to Fair Trade incomes.” Along with the opportunity to gain a fair income, the farmers are also able to practice trading in a safe environment; under the Fair Trade umbrella. Learning the about the public market and practicing trading on a world economic level is an invaluable skill that being part of a Fair Trade co-op offers. For a third world country to start developing, the citizens in the country need to understand economics on a world level, which is the first step to modern development. As Smith states, “…rural communities and agricultural producers need to learn how to integrate effectively with the wider economy.” Fair Trade not only offers financial benefit, but also the benefit of the skills of trading. These, along with many other positive effects, make the Fair Trade organization a successful charitable group.

In an article published by the Africa Research Bulletin, The Times scrutinizes the Fair Trade organization. The article’s only credibility is that it was published for The Times, but it lacks in logos and pathos immensely. The article is a direct example of the kinds of articles that Smith (aforementioned) criticizes for their lack of facts to back up their stance. The article states how “Managers at one tea estate in Kenya said that Fair Trade regulations were too expensive or difficult to implement and that some of their workers found them too restrictive.” The only aspect to analyze in this passage is diction; there are no facts for the argument to stand on. In another example, “Some workers suspect that the scheme is being used to make estates appear socially responsible…” There are only “suspected” allegations against the Fair Trade organization that are being stated. The argument that the article is putting forth is not convincing, as it does not offer counterarguments. Estates that are certified by Fair Trade are being chastised for buying from non certified farms. The counterargument for this statement is that not all farms are certified by Fair Trade, so the amount of Fair Trade products that one can buy is limited. To make profit an estate must buy and sell a specific quota and as a result, must buy from non certified farms, which is a statement found in the article itself; “Fair Trade estates can also supplement their output by buying from non-certified plantations, although they cannot then sell such produce as Fair Trade.” The article presents the negative side of the argument without presenting a full 360 degree view on the subject, which is unsuccessful rhetoric.

According to Gene Callahan, a critic of Fair Trade, the organization “tends to diminish [exploited farmer’s] prospects and hurt overall economic development.” She grounds her stance on the assumption that Fair Trade ignores the economic laws of supply and demand. Her example is coffee, which is a major cash crop in many developing countries. Her argument is that by Fair Trade offering incentives on one agricultural product, the price of that commodity would drop in the free market due to oversupply. She advocates for farmers to diversify their options and maybe even stay away from an agricultural career. The one thing that she fails to take into account is that coffee is not the only crop that Fair Trade can be applied to. Fair Trade products include: tea, fruits, fruit juices, sugar, cotton, clothing and even sports equipment. The range of products is so vast as to encourage diversification. Another aspect that Callahan fails to mention is the education of the people residing in the third world nations. In those countries, modern development has only just begun recently, and those countries are lacking in fields of knowledge that include economics. Farmers would not know how to navigate the market as to be able to make a profit. Fair Trade offers a safe environment for the farmers to practice in and learn the basics of world trade. Callahan’s lack of successful rhetoric makes it simple to break down her argument and present the true facts. She fails to use any form of logos in her article, and she presents too many claims that are not backed up. She boldly states that “fair trade is a bad deal. The intention is noble enough, but the impact on human lives is tragic.” Callahan does not present the opinion of the farmers who are affected by Fair Trade, only the opinion of the analytical, self-professed expert. Research shows differently of Callahan’s statements.

Catherine S. Dolan, in an article published in Globalizations, analyzes the effects of the Fair Trade organization in Kenya. Most of the farmers see the organization as a helpful charity that they can identify with. One farmer in particular says that the organization is a dependable charity. He continues by saying, “Other missionaries come and leave, fair-trade is still there and they keep on giving, giving, giving.” This shows that the Fair Trade organization is prevalent in the lives of the Kenyan producers and farmers. The organization has helped to build roads, school busing systems, hospitals, and overall improve the society. Fair Trade is an organization that gives back to the community as a whole. One producer relates a personal story to the impact that Fair Trade is having on the people of Kenya. “There are many countries that buy produce from Kenya but they don’t give something back for thanksgiving like Fairtrade. Like I had constructed a toilet as a form of appreciation in a nearby school. I was doing that because the money I get, it’s from these children and their parents. So I thanked them by constructing a toilet for them.” About two-thirds of smallholders have directly benefited, or know another that have benefited from the community projects that Fair Trade funds. The good that the organization has done is immeasurable. A manager of one of the certified factories was so bold as to state that “if everything could go to Fairtrade … this area would be like London. ... we would change the whole situation here.” While so many critics of Fair Trade point out flaws and weaknesses of the system, they fail to voice those whom the organization truly affects. More and more farmers in Kenya are demanding that Fair Trade be implemented where they are employed. One manager says that they have seen “the light at the end of the tunnel.” That light at the end of the tunnel should be available to every small farmer, and the Fair Trade organization could bring that about.

Starbucks is the world’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade coffee, buying about 14% of the global supply. The company portrays itself as being ethical and virtuous in statements such as, “For us, corporate social responsibility is not just a program or a donation or a press release. It’s the way we do business every day.” The CEO of the company, Howard Shultz, in an interview on 60 Minutes, announced boldly that “We’re in the business of human connection and humanity. We set out to become a company that would create and achieve the balance between profitability and… a love of benevolence.” Statements like these must be backed up in order to earn trust in the customers, but when Starbucks decided to block the Ethiopian government from profiting on trademarks of the exported coffee, their ethical image was seen as false advertising. Although Starbucks does sell Fair Trade labeled coffee, the company’s efforts to aid in the development of other countries seems to be lacking, which is in conflict with their portrayal of ethical legitimacy. The company boasts a welfare organization of its own titled “Coffee and Farmer Equity” (CAFÉ), which supposedly promotes beneficial social projects and labor requirements. A closer look into the CAFÉ practices tells another story. Almost 70% of Starbucks’ farmers are not in accordance with over half of the guidelines set by CAFÉ. An inspection of the guidelines themselves reveals such rules as “Fair and humane working conditions” and “Minimum child labor laws.” These guidelines are quite vague and could entitle
practically anything. Organizations like CAFÉ do not compare to the Fair Trade organization in terms of integrity and strict guidelines meant to benefit farmers, not corporations. Organizations connected to a large business will still operate to serve that business. Since the Fair Trade organization is not linked to any corporation, they do not have that bias and will serve the people in need.

No organization is perfect and Fair Trade is no exception. There are flaws within the system but the overall premise is having a positive effect on the countries in which it is employed. In an article found in The Ecologist, Tomy Mathews, founder of Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala, simply stated that “whilst the desire to expand Fair Trade was legitimate it needed to be done in a way that put a central emphasis on trade justice and nurtured the smallholder farmers…” He goes on to say that most of the issues with the organization are occurring because they are growing too large, too quickly, and so to keep up with demand some owners of farms are finding ways of cheating the system to raise their profits by a Fair Trade label. One of the suggested solutions to the issue is for consumers to look to buy from certified Fair Trade businesses and not just Fair Trade products. This would insure that the money would be going directly to those who need it most.

The Fair Trade organization is a tool that, if implemented correctly, could build up the economies of developing nations and put money into places that are in desperate need. Countries do not necessarily need government reform or a rebellion to put them on the right track for modern development; they simply need a smart shopper who is willing to pay the extra few cents.

Works Cited

• "Is Fairtrade Still Fair?" The Ecologist 39.1 (2009): 10. Print.
• Smith, Alastair M. "Evaluating the Criticisms of Fair Trade." Economic Affairs 29.4 (2009): 29-36.
• "Tea: Fairtrade Benefits?" Africa Research Bulletin: Economic, Financial and Technical Series 45.12 (2009): 18103c-8105c.
• Dolan, Catherine S. "In the Mists of Development: Fairtrade in Kenyan Tea Fields." Globalizations 5.2 (2008): 305-18.
• Callahan, Gene. "Fair-trade Coffee: Not worth a Hill of Beans." Christian Science Monitor 8 Aug. 2008.
• Davis, Rowenna. "The People vs Starbucks." New Internationalist Apr. 2008: 21-23.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pure Twig Kukicha

I have had Kukicha before, but not pure twigs.
This tea was bought at a local store that specializes in health foods, foreign foods, and all natural products.
The Japanese waste nothing, and so what better to do than make an infusion out of the twigs collected by the mechanical harvesting.

The dry leaf, or rather twig, smells heavily of walnut, caramel, and fired oak.
In essence, it is another form of a houjicha.
This is definitely a roasted creation.

In brewing this tea, I filled the petite kyusu about 1/3 full of leaf.
I made this method as an adaptation of the chao zhou method.
Espresso method, if you will. My intent was to pull as much flavor as possible out of the dark stems

Once the water was poured in, a strong scent of cocoa rose out of the pot.

For how dark the infusion was, there was not as bold of a flavor as I thought there would be.
The liquor conjured up a multitude of flavors to try to describe;
Maple, chocolate, vanilla, toast, oak, and a bit of brown sugar.
The sweetness reminded me of an aged oolong.

The texture was unbelievably smooth and had only the slightest detectable astringency.

The second infusion only brought out a bit of cherry on the palate, but maintained quite the same profile.

This tea is quite an easy drinker.
I would not necessarily spend much time with this tea, as it is not so complex.
It is on the opposite spectrum as teas such as This.

My recommended settings for this tea;
cold night, blanketed, sitting by the fire with family and friends.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Liu An Gua Pian

In addition to the TaiPing HouKui I bought from JK Tea Shop, I also bought a sample of their LiuAn GuaPian.

This tea is supposed to be shaped like a melon seed, as its translated name suggests.
Personally, I cannot see the resemblance.

The tea is quite a vibrant green, and probably one of my favorite shades of the lovely color.
Visually, this tea is very appealing. The leaves are in uniform shape and size for the most part, and one can tell that time and effort went into producing this tea.

The aroma of the dry leaf hinted a vegetal sweetness, not quite unlike the TaiPing HouKui.
A creamy scent arose from the package as well.

Lime is present in the liquor. A cold menthol (mint, camphor, cooling) feeling was present as the tea made its way down.
The vegetal sweetness in the aroma had morphed into more of a string bean type vegetal in the liquor.
The astringency had quite a presence on the tongue and on the sides of the mouth, although this could have been part of the cooling feel aforementioned.

The second infusion was disappointing.
My notes read; "Tastes...fake. Bean flavor still present."

I do not know how to accurately describe how a tea would taste "fake," but that is what I felt.
I believe this mostly to be an operator error on my part, because the third infusion was much better after a tweaking in brewing parameters.

3rd infusion;
beautiful tart, vegetal sweetness.
I felt that the third infusion was well balanced in terms of how the flavors should be matched and the levels at which they should present themselves on the palate.

Much enjoyed for several more infusions.