Tuesday, November 13, 2018

About the freshness loss of high mountain Oolongs

Spring 2017 Qilai mountain Qingxin Oolong
David in NYC wrote me the following:

"I have noticed something with green oolongs: If the package has been opened for more than 2 weeks, the flavor starts to change even if the package has been sealed tightly and has an oxygen absorber. After 3-4 weeks the flavor of the tea degrades a lot and it loses all of the subtleties that made it high quality. Have you noticed this as well and do you have any suggestions to preserve the flavor longer? 

One experiment I thought I could try was exposing the tea to humidity similar to puer, hoping that the tea would "wake up.""
My answer:

Green Oolongs are also called fresh Oolongs for a good reason: what is fresh and young rarely stays that way very long! Actually, if your fresh tea has a strong aroma that stays the same for a long, long time, this would point to an artificially flavored tea! Since these Oolongs have not been roasted, their moisture content is higher and causes changes in aromas when it's exposed to air (water + air + organic material = oxidation). Adding humidity, like for puerh, would actually make things worse! So, it's normal that these Oolongs would be less stable than roasted Oolongs. This raises several issues:
1. To preserve the fresh flavor longer, it's important to close the bag/foil tightly and minimize the air inside. Ideally, one would have a vacuum sealer! Then keep it in a rather cool, dark and clean place. (Not the fridge, as there are too many smells there). Another tactic is to drink one fresh Oolong at a time. Only open the next package when you've finished the open one(s). Or drink them fast enough within the time frame you've observed. Some pewter tea caddies can also help preserving the fresh feel of Oolong.
2017 spring Qilai mountain Qingxin Oolong 
2. Not all fresh Oolongs are processed the same. Even if they don't go as far as roasting them, the better high mountain Oolongs are well dried and come with a slightly higher oxidation level. Quality isn't just limited to the freshness level. This refining of the rough tea (maocha) helps not only to make the Oolong stable for a longer period of time, but also to give it a better aging potential.
3. The change in aromas is part of life. Let's embrace it! A well aged high mountain Oolong can be very delicious, especially the better ones, those that were well dried and were sufficiently oxidized (the others are sometimes called 'nuclear green'). Such Oolongs can even be kept in porcelain jars. Their scents will change and progressively loose freshness, but the taste and aftertaste will become smoother, but still powerful. And sometimes the change in scents even becomes positive as it adds complexity and richer aromas! But it's also a matter of managing your expectations, of course. Instead of hoping to freeze the aromas in time, expect them to change and realize that what you may have lost in terms of freshness, you might have gained in terms of finesse, elegance, depth. Also, the taste shouldn't change that much, and if the aging is well done using my (best) Oolongs, it should taste even better!

I hope this helps!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The ultimate tea ware collection of Chinese emperors eBook is available!

I'm happy to announce that I have published my third eBook. As you can tell from its cover above, it is about the tea ware collected by Chinese emperors and displayed in Taiwan at the National Palace Museum (in Taipei and Chiayi). This book follows a similar structure as my second eBook 'TeaMastersBlog at the British Musem'. I tried to avoid repeating the same information by focusing more on the context of China's history in this new book.

Here are the first pages to give the others an idea of what this new eBook is about:
Then comes my presentation for those who don't know me well:
And the introduction to the book:
To read the entire eBook, go here. The price of this eBook is 8 USD. But it's FREE if you make a purchase of 200 USD (or more) on tea-masters.com ! And, if you make such a 200 USD purchase and have not received my other 2 eBooks, I will also add them FREE of charge! So you'd get 3 free eBooks about Oolong brewing and imperial tea ware with your purchase!

But why is this imperial tea ware collection so important? How can this knowledge add to today's tea brewer's experience?
These tea ceramics at the National Palace Museum (NPM) have a clear origin and meet the highest standards, because they once were made or selected for the emperors of China. In the world tea ware fakes, imitations and replicas are plenty! Museums are the best places to see genuine antiques, and the reputation of the NPM for Chinese art is second to none.

Besides, this collection includes tea ware that is over 1000 years old. Tea was prepared very differently then. This is an opportunity to learn how the wares fit the way tea was enjoyed.
The meaning of the saying "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" is that those who don't know tea history are destined to make lots of mistakes. However, one way to learn from history is to try to repeat, to imitate the way tea was (correctly) brewed in the past! In these pictures, for instance, I'm brewing my sheng puerh in Ming dynasty style: I'm using a large Yixing teapot and large celadon cups (or small bowls).
This method is a good fit for green tea or for lightly brewed sheng puerh. That's the way countless Ming dynasty literati, officials and court members were enjoying their tea 500 years ago. It's good and necessary to know the tradition before you want to change and improve it!
See how much fun it is to mix the old and the new in my tea ware and in my clothes, to follow some traditions and break others (my hot water came from an automatic water dispenser, for instance), to brew Ming style in a Qing dynasty garden...! This eBook isn't about finding antique tea ware, it's about finding knowledge and beauty, and turning it into inspiration!

Sunday, November 04, 2018

My apologies for the Da Yu Ling Oolong of spring 2018

DYL 93K winter 2018
You don't find it in my selection anymore, because is sold too fast!

That's why I'm relieved that I could add this year's latest winter harvest of this amazing high mountain here. And, like this spring, it is either packaged by 25 gr or by 75 gr.
The dry leaves don't look so big as one might expect. The way to brew this DYL in a gaiwan is to use few leaves and just layer the bottom of the vessel.
This is my result after my first brew. See how the leaves have beautifully expanded and filled the gaiwan:
The taste is more powerful than in spring, but the fragrances are a little toned down. This is typical for a winter harvest. It also has this typical cool aroma of DYL, sweetness and a long aftertaste. Second brew here:
 After the third brew, the leaves fill the gaiwan perfectly. If you move the gaiwan around, the leaves stay like they are. They have all opened up and have the same space to open up and release their flavors. This is a good sign that the brewing was well done. The other evidence is the watering in my mouth. Tea bliss!
This open leaf shows that the harvesters didn't take the big fifth leaf. They stopped at 2 buds and 2 leaves only. That's another reason that explains the quality of this Da Yu Ling, a focus on the youngest and freshest leaves. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

Qui sait déguster ne boit plus jamais de thé mais goûte des secrets

Cette citation est de Salvador Dali. Il parlait du vin, mais comme dans Chine classique on remplaçait souvent le vin par du thé et qu'on le buvait dans les mêmes coupes, je me suis permis de faire cette petite substitution.

Dans cette citation on comprend que la dégustation peut permettre de percer certains mystères à propos du breuvage. Que boit-on? Quelle famille de thé est-ce? Quel cultivar? De quel pays/région vient-il? Comment fut-il récolté? Dans quelle saison? Quelle année?...

Une autre question essentielle: est-ce un bon thé? Tout est relatif. Cela dépend toujours à quoi on le compare. Et cela dépend comment on le prépare. Pour réussir son thé, il faut connaitre son caractère. Mais si je ne connais pas ce thé, comment puis-je bien le préparer?
Une solution, c'est de faire connaissance avec les feuilles avec la première infusion. Après préchauffage, on y va fort, avec de l'eau bouillante, et une infusion relativement longue. On veut voir ce qu'elles ont dans le ventre et leurs défauts éventuels. Ne me dites pas que c'est de la torture, car les thés d'excellente qualité adorent et en redemandent! (Et si c'est imbuvable, on a tout à fait le droit de ne pas boire!)

Le secret du thé ne se résume pas à trouver des bonnes feuilles, mais de magnifier cette dégustation. C'est si bon quand le thé touche au sublime. Les secrets dont parle Salvator Dali étaient à la frontière de l'art et de la spiritualité. Le goût de certains grands thés nous y amène également, pour qui sait les trouver et les infuser!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A puerh class with 6 delicious teas

2018/2017 sheng gushu puerh
Many tea fans consider puerh a very rough tea that benefits a lot from being brewed in an unglazed clay teapot. With most puerhs this is certainly true, but puerh can also be one of the finest and most delicious tea if you select top quality leaves. And I proved it today with this class of 6 puerh we brewed in plain white porcelain competition sets! (Porcelain is neutral for the taste. It's used by professional tasters. It lets you see the color of the brew well.) In terms of methodology, I didn't use the Oolong standard of 3 grams and 6 minutes of brewing time. Since gushu puerh is made very powerful leaves, we used few leaves (see the plates). The brewing time was long, several minutes, but not measured with a stopwatch in order to keep things relaxed.
2018 gushu puerh
We started with 2 very young sheng gushu puerhs coming from the same 500 years old trees:
2. the spring 2017 cake
It was interesting to feel the energy of these teas and how the 2017 already feels much more tamed and mellow than the 2018. My student also found these teas amazing by the little quantity of leaves we used and the powerful brew they made. We used 2 ivory porcelain cups: the large ivory singing cup makes the brew look lighter than the flower shaped cup!
2006 (top). 2003 (below)
Next, we traveled 12-15 years back in time to taste 2 puerhs I have aged in my apartment since they were released:
3. the spring 2006 raw wild Lincang puerh,
4. the spring 2003 raw wild Yiwu puerh.
2003 wild raw puerh from Yiwu
The 2003 wild Yiwu is the tea that started my puerh education 15 years ago! It's nice to see and taste the evolution. There was an awkward time when the tea was 6 to 13 years old, not young, but not aged yet. Right now it's really gaining these aged wood and raw clay (?!) earthy aromas, while keeping most of its energy. The brew also  looks beautiful in the cups.
2003 wild raw puerh from Yiwu
 Since these teas come compressed, it's important to flake the leaves well and use strength with the first pour.
Antonio brewing
 The 2006 Lincang is 3 years younger. This explains the slightly more greenish color of the brew:
 The aromas of these 2 teas are also quite different because they come from 2 different regions in Yunnan.
2006 raw puerh from Lincang
 The next 2 teas transport us a little further in time:
5. The spring 1999 raw '7542' cake from Menghai Tea Factory,
6. The 2001 Xiaguan cooked melon puerh. (I used a little more leaves than the 7542, because cooked leaves loose a lot of their energy).
1999 '7542' raw puerh vs 2001 Xiaguan cooked puerh
 The 1999 spent most of its time in a puerh warehouse in Taiwan. Unlike my home, there's no air conditioning during summer in these warehouses. That and 4 more years of age explain why its brew is much darker than my 2003 Yiwu. 
1999 '7542' raw puerh vs 2001 Xiaguan cooked puerh
 The 2001 Xiaguan is even darker because it's a cooked puerh. But one can still see some transparency and brown shine, especially in the large cup:
2001 Xiaguan cooked puerh
 And the colors of both teas almost look the same if you pour the shu puerh in the large cup and the 1999 sheng puerh in the flower cup! (This shows that cup shape and glaze have a big impact on the color.)
2001 Xiaguan cooked puerh vs 1999 '7542' raw puerh
 Drinking these 2 puerhs side by side showed the similarities and differences in aged shu and sheng puerh. Both taste very tasty, but sheng has more energy and aftertaste. This shu puerh, though, is extremely smooth and soothing. The difference is also in the spent leaves: sheng leaves open up and turn brown, while shu leaves remain shriveled up and very dark.
 2001 Xiaguan cooked puerh vs 1999 '7542' raw puerh
On this cool day of October, these 6 amazing puerhs all felt very welcome and in harmony with the season. This class was a good reminder that if you want to learn tea well, it all starts with good leaves.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Peace, comfort, sanity, relaxation, refinement, taste

We call it "tea with benefits"! It's not just having tea, but enjoying a moment of peace, comfort after, during or before a rough day. Read the headline news about the world and you quickly long for something to relax and feel sane again. And in a world of food chains and micro-waved industrial dishes, tea is a way to claim back a sense of refinement and good taste. And maybe even health! 
Add caption

Top OB from 2000
I find these added benefits very real when the tea is really so natural and good that it tastes amazing and gives much more pleasure than normal food. While I know how much enjoy the teas I've selected, I also appreciate to receive feedback from my customers.

I'm very thankful for Andrew's message from the UK. He wrote: "A few friends have asked me to make some tea samples for them so they can try quality teas. I plan to share some of your quality oolongs with them and hope they can learn to appreciate quality tea like we do. I have been sampling around quite a few oolongs this season from various sources, but honestly what I have tried, none compare to the oolongs you are offering. Thank you for doing what you are doing."

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Un dimanche d'automne

Dimanche fut un rayon de soleil dans un automne pourri car inhabituellement pluvieux, même pour Taiwan. Je pris la direction de la maison Lin, à trois coups de pédales de chez moi, à Banciao. Le ciel bleu m'appelai à déguster du thé en plein air. Et je résiste à tout, sauf à la tentation de boire un bon thé!
Je choisis ma boule de puerh cru sauvage du printemps 2018. Elle provient de feuilles d'arbres cinq fois centenaires. C'est le genre d'affirmation qu'il faut prendre avec des pincettes et un paire de gants après avoir revêtu d'une combinaison Hazmat! Comment savoir si c'est du pipeau ou non? A la vue, ce n'est pas évident.
Le test le plus simple est une infusion longue avec très peu de feuilles. Sur la photo ci-dessus, on peut voir que j'ai à peine entamé ma petite boule. 2 grammes tout au plus. Et j'ai infusé ces quelques feuilles dans ma grande théière zisha d'Yixing. Le résultat fut intense. La longueur en bouche est phénoménale. Le palais est comme tapissé par ce nectar soyeux. Les dernières coupes de la première infusion (celles où l'infusion fut la plus longues) furent si concentrées que je les coupai avec l'infusion suivante. (Le gongfu cha, c'est aussi savoir s'adapter!) Et quelle pureté dans les arômes!
Après deux longues infusions, la troisième perdit (naturellement) beaucoup de sa force, mais resta très agréable. Je sentais encore la force derrière cette fine légerté. C'est la force d'un terroir rocailleux où ces arbres de thé sauvages poussent encore complètement en harmonie avec leur environnement. Or, il leur faut beaucoup de force pour survivre si vieux sans la protection d'un fermier. C'est pourquoi leur feuilles sont de tels concentrés d'arômes qu'un ou deux grammes suffisent déjà pour les apprécier.
L'odeur des feuilles sèches est si persistantes que je la sens encore dans ma jarre (vidée, mais pas nettoyée). Quelques poussières de thé continuent d'émettre des odeurs de folie!

Et magie de la prise de vue ou de la céramique: les courbes de la jarre semblent épouser celles du bec de ma théière antique!
J'avais amené de quoi lire, mais les plaisirs du thé et la beauté de ce jardin chinois de la fin de la dynastie Qing me distrayèrent amplement. Je passe déjà trop de temps sur mon portable ou devant l'ordinateur. Cette reconnexion avec la nature me fit le plus grand bien.