Friday, May 22, 2020

Shan Lin Xi, à 30 minutes de Dong Ding

La majorité des plantations de Shan Lin Xi sont situées dans la section Yang Keng, à une altitude de 1300 mètres environ. (L'autre section importante, la plus haute, est LongFeng Xia). En semaine, lorsque le traffic est normal, il suffit d'une demi-heure pour rouler de Lugu (Dong Ding) à ces plantations de haute montagne. On y retrouve alors le climat qui régnait à Dong Ding il y a 40 ans: soleil le matin et brouillard l'après-midi. Ces conditions météorologiques étaient l'une des raisons de la qualité supérieure des Oolongs de Dong Ding. Maintenant, on les trouve surtout en haute montagne et, comme le montrent mes photos, à Shan Lin Xi.
Mon fermier a bien voulu me conduire à sa plantation pour me montrer les conditions dans lesquelles poussent son Qingxin Oolong. Cette photo ci-dessus donne une bonne idée de la raideur de la pente dans la plantation. C'est un exercice physique intense de marcher jusqu'au sommet! Mais avec ce brouillard, il n'est pas aisé d'admirer le paysage. J'en profite donc pour remarquer que des larges bambous poussent dans la plantation. Le fermier m'explique qu'il les coupe ou les déterre manuellement, car il n'utilise pas d'herbicides.
J'ai rencontré ce fermier l'an passé et il venait de réduire la taille de ses théiers. En lui parlant, j'ai pu constater sa passion pour le thé et pour sa plantation qu'il chouchoute!
Durant ma visite de sa plantation, il me montrait avec une certaine fierté ses théiers, le lendemain de la cueillette. "Regarde tous ces bourgeons que les cueilleuses ont laissé sur les théièrs. Je leur ai demandé de ne pas faire une récolte trop intensive, afin de ne pas fatiguer les arbres et le sol. De plus, je ne ferai pas de récolte en été, mais juste une autre en hiver. Avec seulement 2 récoltes par an, mes arbres sont en meilleure forme et nécessitent moins d'engrais (naturels)."
Il me dit aussi utiliser peu d'insecticide (sauf quand c'est absolument nécessaire), et il me montre alors ce petit criquet vert dans l'arbre à nos pieds. C'est le même insecte qu'on retrouve à Hsin Chu et qui est essentiel dans la production de la Beauté Orientale! C'est la preuve qu'il minimise bien les produits phyto-sanitaires et qu'il pourrait presque faire du Concubine Oolong (mais ce n'est pas le cas).
Ci-dessus, il me montre ce fil de plastique qui fait office de clôture avec la plantation voisine (à droite). Cette plantation-ci n'a pas encore été récoltée. Cela montre que la plantation de mon fermier a été récoltée relativement tôt, et c'est pourquoi ses feuilles sont si tendres et concentrées!
Les deux prochaines photos furent prises à 20 minutes d'intervalle. Elles montrent bien comment le brouillard peut rapidement laisser place au soleil en fin d'aprè-midi!
Le panorama se dégage, les couleurs resplendissent:
Un groupe d'une bonne vingtaine de cueilleuses a récolté les feuilles de cette plantation le 2 et le 3 mai 2020. Et comme j'ai bien aimé les deux productions de ces deux jours, je les ai sélectionnées ce printemps pour vous permettre de constater combien le Oolong de haute montagne est subtil. Il n'y a qu'un jour de différence, et la plantation est la même, mais on ressent bien la différence entre un Oolong du 2 mai puissant et un Oolong du 3 mai plus en finesse. Et c'est cela que j'aime le plus: le goût très pur et harmonieux d'un même jour de récolte (pas un mix de plusieurs jours).
Ce qui est aussi intéressant avec Shan Lin Xi, c'est la proximité avec Dong Ding. Comme dit, en 30 minutes on est de retour dans ce centre de la torréfaction à Taiwan! Et il n'est pas étonnant que certains s'amusent aussi à torréfier ces feuilles de haute montagne! En effet, ce qui fait la complexité du Oolong, c'est que non seulement on peut varier son degré d'oxydation, mais qu'on peut aussi varier son degré de torréfaction!
De la même plantation, j'ai aussi ramené deux Oolongs torréfiés à des niveaux différents. D'abord, un Oolong légèrement torréfié dont la couleur de l'infusion ne varie guère, mais qui est séché en profondeur. C'est la première étape de la torréfaction. Mais j'ai surtout sélectionné ce top Hong Shui dont la torréfaction correspond bien à la méthode de la compétition de Dong Ding appliquée à un Oolong de haute montagne:
Avec ce Hong Shui Oolong, on côtoie les meilleurs Oolongs de la compétition de Lugu! L'infusion a franchement changé de couleur. Elle brille, châtoie et étincelle comme de l'or liquide au soleil! Et que le goût est profond, gouleyant, long en bouche avec ces notes de fraicheur et de malt!
La torréfaction de maitre a su préserver les arômes les plus fins, et a sublimé l'énergie de Shan Lin Xi. Il convient si bien à la préparation dans une petite théière zisha d'Yixing!...
Bref, grâce à ces 5 Oolongs de Shan Lin Xi, nous avons pu explorer les changements subtils de la haute montagne, et les changements plus radicaux dus à la torréfaction!

Friday, May 08, 2020

The friendly farmer of RuiFeng, Alishan

I don't know if it's an urban legend, but I still remember my management teacher tell us this story 28 years ago in business class: "A sales guy is on a business trip to a small town quite far away from his home. He arrives late afternoon while his business meeting is set on the next day. So, before checking in at his hotel, he goes to the local supermarket to make some purchases. At the cashier, he happens to help an older man pack his goods. And he even carries the bags of the old man and places them in the man's car while chatting with him in a friendly manner. The next day, the sales guy goes to meet his appointment, the president of a local plant. As he's rushed into the office, he recognizes the old guy he had helped the day before! He's the president and our sales guy had an easy time making his deal!"
Business is a human connection that runs on trust. It's the same if you're selling tea, cars, computers or your skills... So, 3 weeks ago, when I was looking for Jinxuan Oolong in Alishan, I had already met my regular tea farmers, but their teas failed to satisfy me. So, I decided to explore more tea farms. I stopped at an intersection and looked at a map when an old farmer (60+ years) stopped his truck and asked if I was lost and where I wanted to go. I told him I was looking for Jinxuan Oolong, but couldn't find any I liked. He said he didn't have any left, but would help me ask his friends around. And he invited to go to his nearby farm from where he would make some phone calls.
There, I really liked what I saw. Beautiful surroundings, well managed tea fields, a clean tea factory with a smart and young employee (who turned out to be the farmer's son). - At this point, I must point out that not all tea farms are as welcoming. In many cases, the work seems done by local gangsters: guys with large tattoos chewing on betel nuts and very rude manners. That's because it's a very tough and exhausting job. These guys can be very nice to customers, but I find it hard to connect! -
So, it turns out that despite the farmer's connections, he couldn't find any Jinxuan for me that day. This actually turned out to be a blessing, because it made me consider a farmer from a lower altitude plantation and his Yiguang Shan Jinxuan tasted better than those I tried in Alishan!
When I returned to Alishan to select Qingxin Oolong this week, I paid a new visit to this friendly farmer in RuiFeng. He remembered me and let me taste the Oolongs he had available. I really liked this April 25th harvested Qingxin Oolong. It's a batch that the farmer will submit to a tea competition for Alishan Oolongs. It's a very sweet, clean and straightforward high mountain Oolong. It's easy to drink and easy to brew, making it very suitable for beginners and daily brewers. And I think that the trust was quite mutual, because I also liked the price he proposed! That's why it is my best value high mountain Oolong ever at 7 USD for 25 gr or 35 USD for 150 gr!
It's always a good feeling to return a kindness to friendly people!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Spring 2020 Wenshan Baozhongs

2020 Spring 'Subtropical Forest' Baozhong
 The 2020 spring Wenshan Baozhongs are here!
 And since I couldn't wait anymore, I brewing this 'subtropical forest' Baozhong right there in the hills near Pinglin, the center of Wenshan Baozhongs. I'm literally surrounded by tea plantations on this elevated spot!
The weather is just perfect for this outdoor Chaxi: sunny, but not too hot thanks to a light breeze!
 Here! Have a cup with me while I tell you more about this year's harvests.
This April may have been the coldest since I arrived in Taiwan 23 years ago! This is a good news for all those who like their Oolongs and Baozhongs on the lighter side with flowery notes. This is especially the case with this 'subtropical forest' Baozhong made from Qingxin Oolong on March 29th.
Its brew is the lightest of my Baozhongs and it has never been so close to a high mountain Oolong! Instead of 300 to 500 m, it now feels over 1000 meters in elevation thanks to that cold weather (and early harvest for this particular Baozhong).
The Jinxuan Baozhong is this year's entry level Baozhong. It will be interesting to compare it to the Jinxuan Oolong from Yiguang Shan to understand how the same cultivar is impact by its process (striped vs rolled) and by its region (Wenshan vs Nantou).
The third classic Baozhong in my selection is the Organic Baozhong based on top quality Qingxin Oolong leaves. Harvested on April 21st, during a rare time of good weather, this is the most traditional Wenshan Baozhong I could find!
But the beauty of the Wenshan area compared to Dong Ding or the high mountains, is that you find many more tea cultivars and not just Jinxuan or Qingxin Oolong! So, to celebrate the diversity of Wenshan Baozhongs, I also selected this FoShou Baozhong. It is a fascinating tea cultivar, because it produces huge leaves that look very impressive when they unfold. And it has very unique citrus aromas (similar to the FoShou fruit, which is how it got its name). This year, thanks to the cool weather, these notes are rather light and, while not very traditional, I felt it added energy to the taste in a very pleasant manner!
And, for the first time, I also selected a Qilan Baozhong! Like Rougui, this WuYi cultivar has been planted in the Wenshan area and is adding to the diversity of cultivars we can enjoy! This is another reason why learning about tea never stops: there are always innovations, new cultivars in a tea region or a different way to process them!  
For my Wenshan Baozhong Chaxi, I chose a green Chabu in harmony with the colors of the subtropical forest. I'm brewing in a porcelain gaiwan and drinking from my celadon singing cups. This enhances the green color of the brew!
The leaves have opened up evenly and occupy all the space in my gaiwan!
Thanks for reading this article to the end! The view from this spot and this Baozhong, they go so well together! Have another cup for the road!...

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Le mime de TeaMasters

Cette vidéo me rappelle ce temps où j'étais étudiant à l'Institut Commercial de Nancy. Au lieu de faire parti du Bureau Des Elèves (les fêtards) ou de la Junior Entreprise (les ambitieux), j'essayais déjà de combiner mes études de commerce avec l'art. Ainsi, mon association (Lorraine Art Corps) fit venir des élèves du Cours Florent à Nancy pour 2 représentations du 'Médecin Malgré Lui' de Molière, à l'automne 1991. L'idée était de promouvoir le théâtre classique et de permettre à de jeunes acteurs (et actrices) de gagner en expérience. Ce fut un véritable succès: ils jouèrent leurs 2 représentations à guichets fermés dans une salle Poirel en délire! Le metteur en scène était Thierry Hancisse qui faisait déjà parti de la Comédie Française! Et parmi les jeunes acteurs , il y avait notamment Jeanne Balibar et José Garcia... Ce qui est intéressant, c'est que je me rappelle aussi de l'excellent repas que nous fîmes après la représentation. Mes papilles se remémorent un très bon foie gras sur du pain aux noix et au miel! Ainsi, déjà à l'époque, l'art et le bon goût allaient déjà de pair!

Me voilà donc dans une vidéo où je mime 10 erreurs à ne pas commettre lors d'un Chaxi. L'idée du mime est de permettre à cette vidéo de toucher un public planétaire, sans la limite du langage, car le thé est une boisson universelle!



Ces 10 erreurs sont:
1. L'impéparation et la présence d'objets qui n'ont rien à faire dans le Chaxi,
2. Utiliser un sachet en plastique au lieu d'une jarre,
3. Toucher les feuilles quand on les fait passer entre invités,
4. Souffler sur les feuilles quand on les sent,
5. Verser l'eau de la bouilloire avec précipitation,
6. Parler pendant qu'on verse l'eau,
7. Regarder sa montre,
8. Faire du bruit d'eau en versant dans le bol à eaux usées,
9. Mal tenir la théière,
10. Boire la coupe d'un coup.

Friday, April 24, 2020

New Chaxi lessons: 1 teacher, 2 platforms, 3 dynasties, 4 teas, 5 videos

Here's the recap of another busy week of Chaxi lessons to help all the tea drinkers enjoy their favorite drink even more. And I hope you'll even learn a few new tricks and information along the way! If you didn't catch me live on my FaceBook page, you may scroll down that page to watch my videos in full. Or you can watch them on my YouTube channel. Unfortunately, some videos are cut short due to technical issues with my camera (it can only make videos up to 20 minutes long). So, if you see that the video is shorter than 20 minutes, it means it was recorded with that camera instead of the phone. So, if you want to see the end, you'll have to watch it on FB.

This week, we brewed a modern red tea (Hong Yun from Sun Moon Lake) and a lesson about porcelain:


We also traveled a lot in the past. Here, in a dark mood with the 2001 JinGua shu puerh from Xiaguan Tea Factory:


We also traveled to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) to enjoy Shui Xian Yan Cha with this Chaozhou Gongfu Cha demonstration using real charcoal in my Nilu: (This video is complete)


This aged Gushu puerh gave us then the opportunity to revisit the spirit of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644):


And we finished the week in the Song dynasty (960-1279) whisking green tea powder like Emperor Song Huizong:

The technique I'm using is unlike what you've seen elsewhere. This was a FaceBook and Internet premiere! Enjoy!
Next week, I will be busy selecting spring Baozhongs and high mountain Oolongs. I'll keep you posted about the fresh leaves I'll find, but I may skip making videos on some days...

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Helping a tea friend brew Gushu puerh

Here's part of an email I received from R. last week:
"Your teas are remarkable. The Wild Baozhong from Spring 2019 tastes like it was from this spring. I do have a question for you please, and I so much appreciate you sharing your knowledge with me Stephane.
I find that drinking raw puerh which I love, does not love me! The flavor profile is just awesome, but the energy the tea has is just too much. I feel too weird (tea high? or just too much caffeine for me?) after I drink it. Sometimes just after my 3rd steep I feel this wave of nervous energy come over me and I have to take a break. Sometimes it lasts for 20-30 minutes and I really don't like it. Mostly its not relaxing.....its anxiety provoking, unlike I get with high mountain Oolongs, Dancongs, lightly roasted Oolongs and even black teas, it's only with raw puerh. Do you have any thoughts on this? I am brewing using a 70-80 ml teapot and using 5 grams of tea with very short steeps and 210 degree water."

Since I'm making Live video lessons on my blog's FaceBook page during the confinement, I made this Chaxi lesson about young Gushu puerh to show how I'm doing it:



A little later, I made a second video where I examine the open leaves. This video isn't available on YouTube. You can only find it on my above mentioned FaceBook page. And I sent him this recommendation: "According to my calculations, I'm using 5 times less Gushu puerh than you when I take into account the size of my silver teapot (2 gr for 150 ml)! This means you could try it with 1 gram!"

A few days later I received R's answer:
"A quick report as I am on my 8th steeping of the Gushu with 1 gram in my 70ml. The first 4 minute steep was a little strong actually and same for the second steep at just less than 2 minutes although the flavor wonderful. Next time I will reduce the times for both 1st and 2nd.

From steeps 3 thru 8 I have been doing approx 3 minutes adding a little each steep and they have been wonderful. Its been about an hour while listening to Mahler 1 and I am on top of the world.

The energy was good and relaxing. Then I started sweating, but its hot here in Florida and I dont run the air much during the day. The tea hit me pretty hard, it just creeped up out of nowhere!!! but I was fine. Just a rush of energy for about 5-10 minutes and then I chilled out. Almost a numbing sensation in my head, ears and face........tea is amazing!

Everything I have learned on Youtube/other tea sites has been the opposite of what you have taught me. Use lots of tea, 5 to 8 grams or essentially fill the gaiwan or Yixing with dry tea and do very fast steeps.

I must say , using this Gung Fu Cha method (lots of tea/fast steeps) the flavors are amazing, but the tea energy (caffeine kick) will destroy my day and the flavors can be a bit much.

Your way is much more peaceful, relaxing and subtle. You get all the nuances and layers of flavors. It might be a lighter and tamer experience......more refined. I relate it to drinking a 1-2 year old Burgundy to a 13 year old. Same wine, completely different experience. Both good, but I prefer the second.

Thank you sir!!" 

Actually, my understanding of gongfu cha isn't lots of leaves and short steeps, but finding the right parameters for each tea. This search for the right brew takes more skill than always using the same approach. That's why I still like to call it gongfu to use 1 gr of gushu in a small teapot. Each tea has a different character and the more we understand it, the better we can brew the leaves accordingly! In the case of my spring 2019 Lancang Gushu puerh, for instance, the loose leaves come from 300 years old puerh trees and are very powerful. They haven't been mixed with plantation leaves and their old leaves have been sorted out. That's why it's so pure, refined and full of energy! Less is more!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

More Chaxi lesson videos

This week, I continued to make new Live videos on FaceBook Live. That's the best place to watch them (on YouTube, some videos stop early, because my other camera can't record videos longer than 20 minutes). I also managed to solve the problem with the sound by purchasing a wireless microphone. Now you don't need to set the volume to the maximum anymore!

Here's an introduction video about who I am and with whom I've learned tea:

Et comme c'est un sujet important, j'ai même refait la vidéo en français:


And I finished the week with a Chaxi lesson about high mountain Oolong:



The Live format adds an element of reality to these videos. It's like a real Chaxi. You've practiced before, but the tea you are brewing now requires all your attention. The goal isn't perfection, but being there, in the present moment. There's no way to erase or delete a mistake. You have to find satisfaction in doing the best you can. And if not satisfied, you have to learn to avoid this mistake next time and improve. It's in the same spirit as gongfu cha! I hope to see your comments and likes next week. Let's use this time of lock down to learn how to enjoy brewing tea at home even more!

Monday, March 30, 2020

2 Hung Shui Oolong videos

Last week, I have started to broadcast live Chaxi lessons on Facebook. But since not everyone is following my Tea-masters Facebook page, I'm also recording them with a different camera (better sound!) and posting (some of) them on my YouTube Channel. Here are the last 2 lessons:

Aged Hung Shui Oolong from Lishan from winter 2007



Hung Shui Oolong from Alishan from spring 2016



Please comment on the videos if you have questions about how I brew, the tea... so that I can answer them for everybody! I hope that these classes will give you inspiration to enjoy tea at home with a Chaxi. Because if meditation is a tool to live in the present, a Chaxi is a tool to enjoy life where you are. Harmony in your tea space can be translated to your whole house. The principles are to make your personal space functional and beautiful!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Video: Chaxi lesson with a SanHsia BiLuoChun

As promised, here is a video of how I brew the 2020 Spring SanHsia BiLuoChun in a gaiwan:



The goal of the videos I produce during the confinement is to help you feel comfortable and healthy at home. Taiwan's example shows that this virus can be tamed and life continue almost normally if everybody shows discipline and follows the public recommendations.

The tea-masters.com boutique continues to function during this crisis. Unfortunately, some countries have suspended trade with Taiwan due to the virus (for fear of contamination through local activity, not for fear of importing the virus from Taiwan, since there are only very few cases in Taiwan). Luckily, the largest countries still allow deliveries from Taiwan: the USA, Canada, France, Germany, the UK.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Spring BiLuoChun from SanHsia

This spring, I'm back in San Hsia in the south of New Taipei City. This is one of the few tea regions in Taiwan that specializes in green tea (leaves without any oxidation). This production was originally intended for the Mainland Chinese officials who came with Chiang Kai Shek in 1949. Those who came from Northern regions were used to drinking green tea and habits are difficult to change! And since the state of war between the Communists and the Nationalists prevented any trade, their only solution was to find farmers to help them make green tea in Taiwan.
Since green tea is all about lightness and pure aromas, it's quite important that it should be grown organically. The trick to see spot an organic tea garden is to look at the feet of the tea bushes. Here, we see plenty of weed and a lots of insects! In one part of the garden, nature is actually overtaking the tea trees. Since the farmer is only working with his father, he doesn't have enough time to uproot all the weeds by himself. To compensate for the loss, he is planting new tea trees that will be easier to harvest (his harvesters are 80 years old neighbors!)
However, these new tea trees will only start to produce tea in 3 years...
On the picture below, you can see how the tea garden is slowly being invaded from the right.
I visited the garden on March 22nd, when temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius at noon! Thanks to abundant rain fall this winter, there's a good growth of new tea.
However, with such heat, the aromas are already loosing some of their spring freshness. In theory, the best grade of green tea is harvested before the QingMin festival on April 5th. But in practice, the earlier the better, because that's when the weather is still cool, but just warm enough to grow some small leaves.

That's why, the batch I have selected was harvested on March 6!

The farmer used the Qingxin Ganzhong cultivar and turned this tea into a BiLuoChun. It was emperor QianLong (1711-1799) who invented this poetic name for this tea. It means Jade Snail Spring and it replaced a very crude name: tea so fragrant that it scares people to death!!

The next day, I tested this SanHsia BiLuoChun in 2 different bowls. In a dark green glazed porcelain bowl by Michel François with a deep and tall shape:
And I also brewed it in this shallow celadon bowl from the late Qing dynasty. This test showed the impact of the shape of the tea bowl on the taste of the tea. The shallow celadon bowl has lighter aromas, because its large surface in contact with air cools down faster. Its tea is more refined and thirst quenching.
The tall bowl has more power and the brew remains hot longer. And thanks to the very high quality of these leaves, the brew doesn't get bitter easily (provided you use few leaves, fewer than for Oolong).
Since everybody is staying at home right now, some readers have suggested I give tea lessons on my Facebook page. So, I will try to do so and I want to focus them on the subject of Chaxi. Because if meditation is a way to live in the present, the Chaxi is a way to enjoy life where we make our Chaxi. My goal is to make you feel so comfortable at home brewing tea that you won't want to go out (at least not before the threat is over)! See you soon.