Friday, October 19, 2018

A quiz and paradigm shifts in tea

Puerh A
Let's train our observation skills on 2 puerhs from my selection I've brewed recently. Can you recognize which one is the oldest? Are they sheng or shu? Can you maybe even recognize which ones they are?
Puerh B
This kind of exercise is interesting, because it teaches you to find answers about a puerh you might want to buy from the leaves themselves instead from the wrapper or the story told by the vendor. Learn to read the tea leaves! (The answer to this quiz is at the end of the article).
The second subject of my article is paradigm shifts in tea.

To explain what's a paradigm shift, I like the picture on the left: it shows a young lady or a very old one depending on how your brain processes the image. The shift occurs when you start to see the second person instead of seeing the first. It's kind of destabilizing, because it challenges your beliefs and perceptions of reality. 

Looking back on the last 15 years since my first tea class this fall, I realize I have gone through many paradigm shifts about tea. Here is an incomplete list:
1. Before: Straight and parallel lines of tea bushes, like in the picture on the left, look beautiful.
Now: Such plantations are shaped to be machine harvested. They mass produce tea that is mostly of lower quality. Tea trees that grow differently, with more space are naturally beautiful.

2. Before: Teas from Mainland China are cheap, low quality and suspicious, while teas from Taiwan are expensive, high quality and healthy.
Now: Teas from Mainland China vary a lot. The best Chinese teas (gushu puerh, Yan Cha...) are much more expensive than top Taiwanese teas. 
3. Before: Taiwanese tea farmers go to China to lower their production costs.
Now: Taiwanese farmers go to China to sell their teas to affluent customers.

4. Before: Big wooden tea tables are cool.
Now: Big wooden tea tables are ugly.
5. Before: I trust labels on tea packaging.
Now: I don't trust tea labels (except when I write them for tea-masters!)

6. Before: I'm taking a few classes with Teaparker and will soon learn everything there is to know about tea.
Now (15 years later): I'm still going to the weekly class. The learning never stops. The world of tea is boundless.
Here's the solution to the quiz:
- Puerh A is the 2003 wild raw puerh from Yiwu.
- Puerh B is older, because it's the early 1990s Luyin raw puerh cake from the Menghai Tea Factory.

Please also check my latest Fall 2018 specials.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Celadon Tea Jar by Michel François

1999 Hung Shui Oolong
The tea jar is the most overlooked tea ware in our modern times. Teapots, cups and (most) kettles have not been replaced with plastic and we, rightly, pay attention to the quality of the material they are made of. For storage containers, plastic foils are dominating the field because they are very cheap, light to transport and can be easily vacuum closed. They provide a very cost efficient protection against air and outside scents. (Not all are fully opaque, though. But the foils I use for my samples do also provide a protection against light).

Their drawback is that plastic isn't as natural a material as porcelain. My tests in 2010 have shown that porcelain jars better preserve and refine roasted Oolong leaves than plastic foils.
But all porcelain jars are not created equal! This test in 2011 showed that industrial porcelain didn't preserve the leaves much better than plastic foils! That's why I have tried to find ancient porcelain jars or have cooperated with modern ceramists (Petr Novak, David Louveau) to create jars made from high quality and natural porcelain.

And now, for the second time, Michel François has created some celadon tea jars for us. (See the first time here).
The jars find all their 'raison d'être' on a Chaxi! Their round shape protects the leaves in a very feminine way. The jar contains the leaves, which are like seeds of our pleasures to come! It's not just a bright protection against air, moisture, light and heat (porcelain is cool), but it's also a place where the leaves can slowly evolve in a natural environment. It's clean from all those micro particles that plastic slowly releases as it decomposes. That's one reason why there's this 'decanter effect' with Oolong placed in a jar even for a little while: it breathes freely and becomes smoother.
For this effect, Michel François is using the best kaolin from New Zealand and volcanic feldspar from England. His glaze contains some animal bone ash that adds a special pearl like glow.
And finally, this tea jar adds beauty and elegance to the Chaxi. Since it's hand made, each jar has its own personality. But with this plain glaze, I like the restraint it shows. This makes it easier to fit the jar on a variety of Chaxi. (Wood fired ware often displays too much personality and can be more difficult to pair).   
Spring 2017 Qilai shan Oolong
I have tested this jar with various Oolongs and found that it works very well with Hung Shui Oolongs, jassid bitten Oolongs and even with high mountain Oolong! It reduces and smooths roasted aromas. It sweetens high oxidized Oolongs. It keeps the freshness of the high mountain even as the tea evolves faster than in a vacuum sealed foil.
What has amazed me most is that even very little amounts of tea are well preserved over several weeks/months in these jars. And since the inside is glazed, it's possible to reuse a jar with different teas (provided you've cleaned it and aired it well).
Michel François also makes wonderful tea bowls and cups, but jars are his real passion. That's why he named his blog Tea Jar! Michel François is in South Korea right now to continue to learn jar making with a local ceramist. With his talent, there's a risk (for us) and chance (for him) that he'll become so famous that his prices will soar in a few years. 
Without a tea jar, no Chaxi is complete!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Washington and tea (part 2)

This article continues to look at Washington's biography from a tea point of view. (See the first article here). This time, I'm illustrating it with a special Chaxi on an old American flag. I call it, 'Crossing the Delaware', which is how General Washington turned the tide against the British army at the end of 1776. The wooden trays are symbols for the barges that were used to cross the river. I'm using 13 cups, one for each State in the Union at that time. Washington is symbolized with an old Dehua white teapot, his preferred color for his horse. The tea is Lapsang Souchong, the first red tea in history and one that has gone through smoke, for Washington was the first president and went through fire in battle! The dark bowl is a symbol for the black slavery in the US, the major stain in Washington's legacy. (He freed his own slaves in his will and hoped to set an example.)
- Page 257: "I told my messmates that I could not carry our kettle any further. (...) Of what use was it? They had nothing to cook."
Hunger was another problem that plagued the American forces in their fight against the British.

- Page 331: "Tea and coffee replaced more potent beverages."
During periods of mourning the death of family members, alcohol wasn't consumed. 
- Page 451: "Suddenly an avid consumer again, he went shopping for teapots, coffee urns, and other silverware for entertaining guests at Mount Vernon."
Having won the war, Washington turned to teapots! He's my hero!

- Page 466: "Washington showed up in the room of a sick guest, proffering a hot cup of tea."
The retired general remained a kind and decent host.
- Page 467: "Drank tea there in a very large circle of ladies. (...) met Powel alone for teas, and corresponded with her."
Washington was married, but liked the company of ladies. Did he have more than tea with them?

- Page 534: "While the convention dragged on, Washington drank enormous quantities of tea at the City Tavern and the Indian Queen"
In those days one would drink tea and socialize!
- Page 578: "He and Martha (the first lady) decided that she would entertain female visitors every Friday evening from seven to ten, serving tea, coffee, ice cream and lemonade."
This is how guests were entertained by the first president of the United States.

- Page 579: "Another observer noted that Washington seemed less austere at his wife's teas."
Tea made him feel more relaxed.

- Page 583: "Far from shunting off decorating on his wife or subordinates, he trusted his detailed knowledge of the decorative arts. To create a tea service, he melted down some old silver and had the finished products engraved with his griffin crest. (...) Washington oversaw the purchase of many objets d'art, including porcelain figures, silver spoons, and a china set embellished with the eagle of the Society of the Cincinnati."
An interest in art and elegance is what makes Washington complete. He knew that what you have shows to others who you are.

- Page 617: "Eager to augment presidential dignity, he bought more than tree hundred pieces of gilt-edged porcelain for dinner parties."
In those days, porcelain was also known as "white gold" and a sign of affluence.
- Page 645: "She kept up her Friday-evening receptions, which came to be ridiculed as the Republican Court, even though Martha, the most unaffected of first ladies, frequently prepared tea and coffee for visitors herself."
Even the modest wife of the hero of the USA was criticized by some! This is the lot of the powerful in a democracy. No matter what you do, you'll always have critics. 
- Page 653: "In Georgetown, South Carolina, fifty ladies hosted him at a tea party."
Washington didn't like to attend official ceremonies in all the towns he visited, but he did enjoy such tea parties with many ladies! He would sometimes skip town early to avoid the ceremonial goodbyes. On the other hand, he would enter towns on his white horse, even though he traveled in a coach between towns, because he knew this is the image the people wanted to see.
- Page 684: "On December 13, 1792, Washington conversed with Jefferson about buying porcelain in Germany to dress the presidential table. He had inquired whether Samuel Shaw, the US consul at Canton, could acquire china there, but Shaw told him that it would take at least 2 years to arrive."
Thanks to modern progress, 2 weeks would be sufficient to order porcelain from China nowadays!
- Page 790: "While in Philadelphia, Washington delighted in joining Elizabeth Willing Powel for a number of teas and breakfasts that he conspicuously failed to enter into his diaries."
He was human after all...
- Page 807: "He (Dr. Craik) also had Washington inhale steam from a teapot filled with vinegar and hot water. When Washington tilted back his head to gargle sage tea mixed with vinegar, he nearly suffocated."
Neither sage tea nor teapot could save Washington who died on December 14, 1799 at age 67.
For this second Chaxi, I used a high mountain Oolong from a more recent tea mountain, Qilai. I chose it for its vigor and energy, characteristics that have become those of the United States.
My thanks Ron Chernow for this well documented biography. Looking at the past helps to understand the present. It's fascinating to see that human intrigues about power haven't changed that much since Washington!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Die Oolong Vorbereitung Klasse

Heute war meine Studentin Deutsche. Deshalb werde ich versuchen auf Deutsch zu schreiben (obwohl wir die ganze Zeit nur auf Englisch gesprochen haben). Habt also ein bischen Verständnis wenn hier und da ein Paar Fehler vorkommen.
Wir haben alle Tees mit diesem Gaiwan vorbereitet. Es ist neutral im Geschmack und kann für alle Tees verwendet werden. Deshalb ist es ein gutes Werkzeug um Tee zu lernen. Das einzige was uns unterscheidet sind die Tassen (meine sind Celadon-grün, Ihre sind Elfenbein-weiß) und wie wir das Wasser im Gaiwan reinkippen (wie stark, wie lange...) Ansonsten sind unsere Parameter die selben. Auch die Temperatur des Wassers ist die selbe: kurz gekocht.
 Wir fangen mit diesem Wenshan Baozhong an. Man stellt fest, daß die Farbe in den Tassen ganz unterschiedlich aussieht. Rechts sie der Baozhong viel frischer aus!
 Nach 2 Aufgüsse sieht man, daß meine Blätter (rechts) sich voll entwickelt haben. Die Blätter links sind noch klein. Deshalb schmeckten meine Aufgüsse viel intensiver und hatten mehr Nachgeschmack. Außerdem, sieht man, daß meine Blätter den Volumen des Gaiwans gut füllen. Sie haben sich harmonisch entfalten.

 Unser nächster Tee ist dieser Qilai Hochberg Oolong aus dem Frühling 2017. Weil seine Blätter kuglformig sind braucht sein erster Aufguß mehr Kraft und Zeit damit sie sich entfalten und deren Aromas wiedergeben. Das heißt auch, daß das Aufwärmen des Gaiwans ganz wichtig ist. Sogar der Deckel muß sehr warm sein!
 Und wenn man direkt in den Tassen eingießt geht weniger Wärme weg, als wenn man ein Krug benuzt.
 Es sieht so leicht und transparent aus, hat aber viel Kraft und Länge im Genuß!
 Bei diesem Tee hat meine Studentin sich sehr verbessert! Ihre Blätter (links) sind fast so offen wie meine. (Beim Baozhong hatte sie angefangen. Diesmal hat sie meine Technik kopiert.)
 Unser letzter Oolong ist dieser Hung Shui Oolong aus Alishan. "Solche Tees schmecken mir nicht. Ich finde sie immer zu stark und intensiv.", sagte sie mir.
Solche Gedanken sollte man loslassen, ganz sanft, wie die Oolongblätter im Gaiwan... Unser erstes Kontakt mit dem Tee geschieht mit der Hand!
 Bei diesem Oolong, rate ich ganz sanft das kochendes Wasser einzugiessen.
 Dieser Duft bringt Freude!
Die Farbe des gerösteten Oolongs ist viel gelber und dunkler.
In Elfenbein Porzelan Tassen sieht es am schönsten aus! Es sieht fast wie Gold aus! Und es leuchtet fast auch so klar! "Humm. Das schmeckt doch sehr geschmeidig und süß! Das ist das erste Mal, daß dieser Tee mir so gefällt!" Das ist ein großartiger Kompliment, und ich habe mich sehr gefreut eine begeisterte und lernende Studentin aus Deutschland unterrichten zu können!
Es weihnachtet fast schon ein bischen hier!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Se trouver une théière à puerh

Un de mes lecteurs français a la chance de venir deux fois par an à Taiwan. Au printemps, je l'ai aidé à se procurer une théière zhuni d'Yixing pour ses Oolongs faiblement oxydés. Ravi de son choix et des progrès qu'il fit dans ses dégustations avec sa nouvelle théière (et après avoir lu mon blog et mon guide de l'infusion du Oolong), il prit un nouveau rendez-vous avec moi hier. Cette fois, il cherchait une théière à puerh. Comme cette famille de thé est très large, je lui suggère de se concentrer sur l'une de ces 3 sous-catégories de puerh: le cuit, le cru jeune ou le cru ancien. L'idéal est d'avoir au moins 3 théières afin de ne pas mélanger les arômes très différents de ces puerhs. La seconde solution est de commencer par en acheter une pour ceux qu'on boit le plus souvent. J'avais donc prévu plusieurs théières pour parer à différentes éventualités et pour lui donner le choix.
Après avoir déterminer que c'est le sheng âgé qui l'intéresse le plus, son choix s'arrêta sur 3 théières qui lui plaisaient le plus. Je lui suggérai que cette Xian Piao en zisha ferait le mieux l'affaire. Pour en être certain, nous fîmes un essai avec mon puerh 7542 de la firme Menghai de 1999.  L'an prochain, il aura 20 ans, mais l'on voit que son infusion a déjà une très belle couleur et transparence.
Dès la première infusion, nous étions enchanté par la présence et la longueur en bouche du thé. Le puerh cru est un thé tellement vivant! En même temps, grâce à la théière, son goût est moelleux et raffiné. Et pourtant, je n'ai que couvert le fond avec mes feuilles, deux ou trois grammes tout au plus! C'était tellement convaincant que mon lecteur a non seulement acheté la théière, mais aussi de ce puerh!
Après lui avoir montré comment infuser, je l'ai aussi laissé infuser lui-même. Cela me permit de corriger un petit défaut dans sa prise en main de la théière: l'index ne doit pas toucher le couvercle (trop chaud), mais le bouton sur le couvercle!
Heureux d'avoir rendu service tout en dégustant un très bon thé: la vie est belle!