Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Adapt your tea to winter

Heavily roasted Dong Ding Oolong of 1999
This was the subject of a class I made 10 days ago and that you can see here on YouTube. I wanted to make an additional observation that just struck me recently.

During the class, I explained that in winter one is rather looking for quality tea, teas with strong aftertaste that have a warming impact on the body, rather than teas that are simply fragrant and light and that have little impact on the body (or a cooling impact). The reason is that the weather is cold, and therefore we are looking for a powerful and warming effect on our body during winter.

And, what do you usually do when you want a stronger, more powerful cup of tea? You use more leaves, right? Well, this doesn't always work well. I actually had a better brew when using fewer leaves of my 2006 spring gushu puerh from Lincang than when I used more! With roasted Oolong, especially younger ones, there can also a point when more leaves means less enjoyment. With some teas, a too strong cup will feel awkward and saturated. You loose the details and the harmony.

So, what's the solution? Shorter brews will lots of leaves? This is the emergency solution after you have identified the problem and you are already brewing with too many leaves in your teapot. However, short brews tend to focus on the scents and reduce the taste of the tea. This is still not what we are aiming for in winter. So, the best solution to get your winter brew right is to use the same amount of leaves than in summer and increase the brewing time in order to get more taste and aftertaste out of the leaves. Of course, there are exceptions. Some teas can be brewed longer and with more leaves in winter. But in general, I feel that the key to adapting your tea to the winter season is to use longer brews, not more leaves. And use an Yixing teapot over porcelain! This will also help get more aftertaste.


 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The secrets of Song dynasty style tea

The tea of the Song dynasty (960-1279) is the finest tea in Chinese history, both literally and figuratively speaking. Its powder is ground much finer than during the Tang dynasty (618-907), and it stopped being ground at the beginning of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). And it's fine in the sense that it's the most imperial of all teas! It's the only tea for which the reference book (Da Guan Cha Lun) was written by an emperor (Song Huizong)! Thanks to Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) who adapted this method and codified it, top grade made matcha (green powder) tea continues to be produced and practiced in Japan. For a long time, the 3 tea schools that go back to Sen no Rikyu, Urasenke, Omotesenke, and Mushanokōjisenke, were only teaching the Japanese nobility! It's only quite recently that they have opened up to the rest of Japanese society and even foreigners. To this day, top grade matcha continues to be more expensive than sencha or gyokuro, and the Chado tea ceremony is still one of the most important tradition in Japan. 

So, while Rikyu was born 500 years ago this year, the Song dynasty style tea brings us back over 900 years ago, as the Song Huizong wrote his book in 1107! And if you want to study any subject, it's always best to go to the original source! 

There's another good reason to learn about what may appear like ancient tea history: you can still practice it today (especially thanks to the fact that matcha continues to be produced in Japan)! Actually, it may appear easier to prepare matcha in the Song dynasty style than in the Japanese way, because it's not ceremonial at all. It's all about the technique and getting the most of the tea. That's why it feels so well linked to modern gongfu cha, even though that technique is quite different. And to help you get a better understanding of this ancient tea method, I've made this class about the secrets of Song dynasty tea:
   
Of course, this class doesn't teach everything there's to know about Song dynasty tea. There's much more to learn. But the points I make go to the core of the preparation. Literally!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Le thé en hiver, un ami pour la vie


Hung Shui Oolong de Dong Ding 1979
Je suis désolé pour la mauvaise qualité du son de cette première vidéo de l'année. J'ai du oublié de remettre mon micro sans fil en marche... Mais ce qui manque à la forme, le fond le compense assez bien, selon le retour que j'ai eu.

Or, j'ai même oublié un argument que j'avais fait le jour précédent, lors du même cours en anglais. Cet argument, le voilà:

Le pin (ou sapin) est l'un des 3 symboles de l'hiver. Cet arbre est aussi le symbole de la longévité et de l'amitié. Les deux vont ensemble, car une amitié brève n'est pas une vraie amitié. L'amitié se construit sur de la confiance, une capacité à répondre présent et avec de bons souvenirs et de beaux projets.

Je crois que cela définit parfaitement ce qu'on attend d'un thé de garde. C'est un thé de bonne qualité qui ne nous déçoit jamais. On a de bons souvenirs de dégustations antérieures et on en conserve précieusement les feuilles pour les bonifier, car on s'attend à encore plus de plaisir et de finesse dans les prochaines années.

Contrairement au printemps où la nature abondante produit de nouvelles feuilles à foison, l'hiver nous inspire donc de nous concentrer sur ce qu'il y a de meilleur. Place à la qualité!
D'ailleurs, j'en ai refait l'expérience aujourd'hui avec ce puerh des années 1970! C'est tellement bon. OK, là c'est un peu triché, car je n'ai ce thé que depuis quelques années. Par contre, celui de 1973, très similaire, je l'ai depuis 2008 déjà! 
Il y a un sentiment de satisfaction de constater que ce thé se bonifie encore. Il ne s'agit pas d'être misanthrope comme la devise à Washington DC: "Si tu veux un ami dans cette ville, achète un chien!" qu'on pourrait compléter par "et si tu es allergique aux poils, bois du vieux puerh!" 

Bien entendu, le thé ne sera jamais comme un vrai ami, mais cette analogie entre ami et thé nous indique une voie basée sur la compréhension et la qualité. Il faut savoir parfois se concentrer sur un bon thé pour bien le connaitre. Et ce n'est qu'avec des thés de qualité qu'on trouve assez de raisons pour les boire encore et encore, car ils ne finissent pas de nous ravir.

Le bon collecteur est donc celui qui se trouve des thés pour la vie!


Thursday, December 30, 2021

The year 2021 in 12 pictures

Here's the last post of the year you've all been waiting for. Since 2007, we are closing the year with a review of the 12 best pictures of the year, one per month. 

Every year has ups and downs. Sometimes, it's better to forget about the bad and just celebrate the positive achievements. And tea is about finding happiness and contentment in a sea of frustration, stress, challenges called modern life!

So, I will also ask you to help me choose which 2 of these pictures I should turn into postcards, so that I can add them as gifts to your future tea orders! Please give a like on my FB page to the 2 pictures you like most!

Thank you very much for your support! I wish you a wonderful and healthy New Year 2022!

December. Xmas tea pairing advice


November. Become a Tea Ambassador





May. Come fly with me to Shan Lin Xi






Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Top 10 videos of 2021

Winter 2021, Qingxin Oolong from Alishan

2021 is the year the number of my video tea classes really took off! For this, let's thank all of you who place orders on www.tea-masters.com because you are not only getting great teas and accessories, but you help sharing my tea knowledge with fellow tea lovers all over the world. In a different business model, I could limit the access to my tea classes to my customers or charge for the participation. Instead, thanks to your generous orders, I can be generous in return by letting everybody watch and learn.

If I produce so much content about learning the proper tea technique, it's because my experience tells me that skills do matter a lot. This message isn't so popular with the broad public and that's why the number of views of my classes remain relatively confidential. Of course, another reason is that I'm not a natural born public speaker and sometimes my subjects are too detailed for the average tea person. But I'm a demanding professor, because I know that tea is like life: no pain, no gain. The more you learn, the more you might enjoy your tea in the end (when everything clicks). While I try to make things look simple, I know that there are no shortcuts. 

I know it's not pleasant to hear and realize that the main reason a tea doesn't taste great is because we didn't prepare it well. It's not enough to have the right tea, the right ware, the right water, even the way we brew the tea will have a large impact on our enjoyment. But taking the red pill and becoming aware of all the tea challenges is what enables you to make real progress. The is the way to becoming a tea master!!

So, from over 110 videos, here are the top 10:

10. The White Road #1 Jingdezhen, by Edmund de Waal. A review of book by a ceramist.



9. Chinese New Year traditions, those linked to tea.

8. Class about Gaiwan, Gaibei and Zhong. This class was inspired by the reading of 'The Dream of the Red Chamber' by Cao XueQin.
7. Hei Cha class. Fermented teas, including puerh.

6. Tea happiness starts with the preheating step. It's all about details!
5. The fastest way to rinse tea. A class about rinsing tea and good humour.

3. How to end a Chaxi. Like several others, I made this class to answer the question of a viewer.
2. A Free Tea Scoop for all Viewers of this video! This is the most liked video of 2021!

1. Training to become a tea master. More difficult than Navy Seal!

Wait! Where's #4? It's the same as #1, but in French! 4. 2 exercices pour devenir maitre de thé.

Vous pouvez retrouvez toutes mes vidéos en français sur ce lien YouTube. Und deutschsprachige Teefreunde können auch meine Klassen auf deutsch hier sehen!
This weekend, I won't teach a class, but I'm organizing a 'Back to the future tea class' on Zoom (Meeting ID: 772 0292 3071 and Passcode: C8026A). I will host the event on January 1st, 2022 in Taipei, while it will still be December 31st for my North American friends (9:30 PM Eastern)!
Winter 2021, Qingxin Oolong from Alishan

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The top 5 articles of 2021

Spring Qilan Baozhong from Wenshan

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Mine was very enjoyable due to the fact that I followed my own advice: less wine and more tea! The one that stood out is my 2017 spring gushu puerh. I could use it on 3 occasions. First, as I had advised, on its own, instead of Champagne, as starter that gives you energy and appetite. Second, it paired very nicely with my home made gravlax (salted salmon). Third, it also paired wonderfully with French cheese like vacherin! And not only was the pairing a real pleasure, even my digestion felt quite normal despite the higher intake!! (This Lancang gushu is also a good, more affordable choice). 
Before I list the top videos of 2021 in my next post, let's recap the most viewed articles of this year.

5. Absolute Beginners. This article is about the best tool for absolute beginners, the porcelain gaiwan. It's not to be confused with a video I made lately that teaches how to make tea if you are an absolute beginner! The video was designed to be sent to your friends, after they have received a tea gift from you.

4. Hung Shui SiJiChun feedback. This short feedback is a great reminder that quality tea doesn't have to burn holes in your pocket!
3. 2003 Spring raw puerh cake feedback. This article is another feedback I received. This gives me the opportunity to thank all of you who write to me with your feedback, questions, suggestions...

2. Tea cultivar TTES #22, Qin Yu. My farmer in San Hsia harvested this new cultivar for the first time from his new plantation and turned it into an exquisite Baozhong!
1. The Reddit influence. This article is based on a reader's feedback I found on Reddit. I had been wondering why this 2003 sheng puerh cake and this 2007 sheng CNNP Peacock cake were selling so well all of a sudden. It turns out that this article helped boost the sales for these 2 puerhs. And the good news is that these 2 puerhs are still available! 
Spring 2021 Qilan Baozhong from Wenshan

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Xmas tea pairing advice


In this week's tea class, I gave some advice about tea pairing at Christmas. The goal of adding tea is to make the special meal even more special and delicious! Christmas is a perfect time to experiment tea pairing for lots of reasons:

1. By using tea instead of wine, you drink less alcohol,
2. While the Christmas meal traditions stay intact, tea pairing adds a new touch that is focused on taste and quality.
3. A good tea pairing is like a good wine pairing: the pleasure is much more than the sum of tea and food. It's not so easy to achieve, but it's very satisfying.

And to help you, I've made this video with lots of Xmas tea pairing advice:

Thursday, December 16, 2021

L'Avent avec un Oolong d'Ali Shan

La région montagneuse d'Ali Shan était un refuge pour les aborigènes quand les Chinois se sont installés en grand nombre dans les plaines de l'ouest de Taiwan durant les XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Mais quand Taiwan est passé sous la coupe du Japon en 1895, ces nouveaux colonisateurs se sont aventurés dans ces montagnes pour y couper des cyprès immenses qu'ils utilisaient pour leurs constructions traditionnelles. C'est aux Japonais qu'on doit ce train rouge qui part de Chiayi pour ce qui est maintenant un parc national au centre d'Alishan. Et c'est là qu'on peut randonner parmi ces grands arbres pluri-centenaires.   
La crise du Covid a été bien maitrisée à Taiwan, grâce à un système de quarantaine plus facile à mettre en place sur une ile où il n'y a qu'une poignée d'aéroports internationaux. Après quelques centaines de cas par jour en mai et juin, nous sommes revenus à une absence totale de contaminations locales. Cette situation incite les Taiwanais à faire du tourisme local afin d'éviter les 2 semaines de confinement au retour sur l'ile. C'est pourquoi, les endroits touristiques comme Alishan connaissent un afflux inédit de visiteurs locaux. Ils viennent maintenant par bus au moyen d'une route agrandie et facile d'accès. Tout au long de cette route, on trouve de nombreux commerces de souvenirs, de restauration et aussi de thé. Pour ma sélection, j'évite ces endroits trop touristiques. Ainsi, ce thé vient de Chang Shu Hu, un village où il passe si peu de voitures que les chiens aiment se dorer la pilule au milieu de l'unique route de la localité!
Chang Shu Hu est aussi un village familial où les fermiers sont cousins ou beau-frères! Quand l'un d'entre eux a vendu toute sa production, il vous envoie un peu plus loin voir si son cousin a encore de bonnes feuilles. L'accueil que j'y reçois est toujours chaleureux, même au moment le plus intense des récoltes. Le fermier et ses 2 équipes ont beau faire quasi des nuits blanches, ils restent très sereins. On les sent comme sur un nuage, un peu comme des gens habités par une tâche plus grande qu'eux-même!
Ce genre de souvenir me revient quand je prépare ce Qingxin Oolong d'Alishan de ce printemps. Il convient parfaitement à ce jour de l'Avent frais et ensoleillé! On se croirait en montagne en train de prendre un bol d'air frais. Le goût du thé est à la fois doux et raffraichissant.
Sa couleur vert clair et son excellente transparence sont des signes de qualité supérieure.
La forme ronde de la théière permet aux grandes feuilles roulées d'Oolong de s'ouvrir également. Ainsi, elles diffusent leurs arômes en même temps. Ce miracle des feuilles de dragon noir (la signification littérale de 'Oolong') s'accomplit dans l'ombre, à l'intérieur de la théière d'Yixing!
Puis, il y a ce jaillissement de l'infusion qui passe des entrailles de la zisha à la lumière reflétée dans la coupe de porcelaine céladon! La vie est là, verte et éternelle...

Friday, December 03, 2021

Help for choosing an Oolong tea from tea-masters.com

Summer 2020 Imperial Oriental Beauty Oolong

Christmas is approaching fast (3 weeks left only!). In my next tea class on video, I'll address the countless reasons why tea is a great gift for friends, family and loved ones. I'll also explain why my online tea boutique is unique, because it's where you can find teas that I've selected personally for their quality. But in this article, I want to go one step further and give detailed advice on almost all my Oolong teas. (I'll do puerhs and red some other day). It's not easy to choose the right tea as there's an infinite choice of teas online. If my boutique's list is quite limited, it's also to focus on quality rather than quantity. But the choice is still hard and so let me try to help the new comers.  

A. SAMPLES are perfect for gifts

If you're not sure what kind of tea your friend likes or will like, select samples or samplers!

B. If your friend is new to tea, start with teas that are easy to brew and good value.

Easy to brew teas are those that don't become bitter easily. While some bitterness can be enjoyable, most new comers are not used to such taste, because commercial beverages are usually heavily sweetened. Also, it's good to start with simpler teas, because they are already so different from regular tea bags that they have the potential to thrill! Such teas are my:

- Si Ji Chun Oolong Dong Pian (the fresh version or the roasted version). It's particularly flowery, because it's harvested in January, the coldest month in Taiwan. 

- Jade Oolong offers more fresh grassy notes. 

- Jinxuan Oolong from Alishan (winter 2020 or spring 2021). The winter version is on sale! With this cultivar, the aromas are even finer, because it's harvested in Alishan mountain, at an elevation above 1000 meters.

- These 2 Wenshan Baozhong (fall 2020 and spring 2021) offer a change from the rolled Oolong leaves. The Baozhong leaves are more spectacular, because they are open and fill a larger space. 

- This naturally scented Jasmine tea is also light and fragrant tea for beginners who enjoy the aroma of jasmine.

C. If your friend has tea experience, then I recommend that you introduce these popular standards:

- Alishan Qingxin Oolong. Hand picked from a high mountain, the Qingxin tea leaves are the most suited for producing Taiwan's most popular type of tea. The aromas are fresh, flowery and the taste is mellow and energetic. This is such a popular type that I carry 5 versions of it: 2 winter 2020, 2 spring 2021 and a winter 2021. The winter and spring harvests are of similar quality and freshness. The slight difference is that winter is a little bit more mellow and spring a little bit more fragrant. Ruifeng has a slightly lower elevation that Chang Shu Hu, which is why it's priced lower. These Alishan High Mountain Oolongs are great value and my best selling teas!

- Shan Lin Xi Oolong. Spring 2021, Winter 2020 and Dong Pian Oolong 2020 (in that order). Shan Lin Xi is another popular High Mountain in Taiwan. Its elevation is a little higher than Alishan. The aromas are more flowery and mellow.

- Wenshan Baozhong 'subtropical forest': This Baozhong is made with the same Qingxin Oolong cultivar as used in the high mountains. It has a similar profile, but the Wenshan terroir turns it lighter and a hint zestier.

- Oriental Beauty Oolong is another extremely famous tea in Taiwan. It's a pioneer in the organic world, because its leaves become honey fragrant if they are bitten by little green insects called jassids. The most classic OB in my selection is this traditional version from Hsin Chu. Since this is a high oxidized tea, it comes close to a red (fully oxidized) tea like Darjeeling, but with much more finesse and natural sweetness.

- The last great classic Oolong from Taiwan is the roasted Dong Ding Oolong. This is the scotch or whisky of teas. The roast creates smoke, molasse and malt notes that feel almost intoxicating! Another nice example of a powerful roast is this Tie Guan Yin.  

D. Teas for the experienced drinkers

1. Diversity of cultivars among Wenshan Baozhongs. The North of Taiwan with the Wenshan are is where Taiwan's tea started to be produced. In this historic region, one can find all kinds of different cultivars, a little bit like in WuYi. This makes exploring Wenshan Baozhongs very interesting, because it contains so many different cultivars and styles!

2. To experience the very best of the high mountains, turn to the highest peaks over 2000 meters high (Qilai shan, Fushou shan, Tian Chi and the mythical Da Yu Ling)!

3. On a special occasion, indulge in an Imperial grade Oriental Beauty!

4. And finally, the category of Aged Oolongs is also proof that great Oolongs are like great wines: they can age for years and get better and better!

2020 Imperial Oriental Beauty Oolong