Monday, July 18, 2016

Encore

Le chaxi crée-t-il l'émotion ou bien ne fait-il que l'exprimer? Aujourd'hui, il pleut à verse dehors et c'est jour de deuil en mon pays. Une fois encore le malheur s'est abattu sur d'innocentes victimes. Pardonnez-moi de ne pas arriver à faire comme si de rien était.
 Encore une fois, je ressors ce Chabu dont les fleurs de chrysanthème ressemblent à des feu d'artifice.
 Pureté de la porcelaine blanche pour l'innocence bientôt teintée de sang (ici thé) rouge.
Et le vert sapin car c'est une odeur provençale et celle des cercueils. On peut y voir la couleur de l'espoir ou de l'islam.
 Une grande assiette en étain pour le monstre de métal.
 Des soucoupes en étain aux bords recourbés comme des haches tranchantes.
Le bec de la théière évoque le cygne, l'envol des âmes vers la paix céleste.

Friday, July 15, 2016

From bitter to sweet, 3 tea classes

Tea friend Mick came visiting Taiwan and asked me to organize some tea classes to deepen his knowledge and practice of tea. Aware of the importance of water, he was very interested in learning about kettles and their influence on water. So, on the first day, we brewed 3 different teas with these 4 kettles: a stainless steel, a black ceramic, an iron tetsubin and a silver kettle (above from left to right and below from right to left).

We started with a green tea made from Qingxin Dapang from this spring. This light and fine tea was the one where the quality of the water mattered the most and was most obvious. The silver felt pure and emphasized the scents and freshness. The stainless felt not as pure as silver and the ceramic has a light earthy taste, but these 2 were not too far apart from the silver. It's the tetsubin that produced the most different brew, very sweet, but lacking freshness and high notes. Not bad, but not so suited for green tea.
The second tea was a new plantation Wenshan Baozhong and here the tetsubin added depth and mellowness to the brew. The silver was second as it emphasized again the scents.
When we tasted the red Ruo Gui tea, the impact of the water was less obvious than with the other teas, because the flavors of the leaves were stronger. Nevertheless, the tetsubin's rounding effect was again appreciated with this tea.
We also tasted the waters without tea and here the metallic taste coming from the tetsubin wasn't very pleasant. It's only when this water is used to brew tea that it makes the tea more pleasant. The water from the silver has the most freshness, purity and sharpness. (What kettle is best for you also depends on what type of tea you're drinking most.)
On the second day, I took Mick and his wife to one of my favorite tea spot in the Wenshan mountains.
This lesson was dedicated to brewing his favorite type of tea: roasted Oolongs!
So, we started with a roasted Baozhong to connect with the surroundings.
This meant using a gaiwan in order to test the teas in an objective way (and using the silver kettle, since its water is also more 'objective' and pure than from a tetsubin).
The second tea was my spring 2016 Hung Shui Oolong from Shan Lin Xi, which felt very powerful and concentrated.
Mick is a quick learner and gets the opportunity to turn my advice into action.

2016 Dong Ding competition Oolong
For more finesse, the third Hung Shui Oolong is my Dong Ding competition Oolong from Tsui Feng from this spring. These finer aromas are due to the fact that the tea comes from a very high plantation (1700 m). It's also been well roasted, which is why it has won a good ranking in the competition.

The aftertaste lingers pleasantly and sweetly in the throat.

Since the roasting of these Oolongs is very recent, it's best to brew them very carefully and pour the water very slowly on the leaves for the first 2 or 3 brews.
2016 spring Dong Ding competition Oolong from Tsui Feng
The place and weather were so pleasant that we did a little extra comparison for this class: an Oriental Beauty Oolong from Wenshan (left) vs. my Oriental Beauty from Hsin Chu (right):
Wenshan vs. Hsin Chu
The most obvious difference is the lighter oxidation level for the OB from Wenshan. Its leaves are also slightly bigger. It had nice flavors, but the more oxidized OB from Hsin Chu just felt brighter, had a more powerful honey note and felt smoother.
For the third lesson, we're back testing the same tea with different wares. This time, we are testing which vessel does the best job brewing my shu Xiaguan melon puerh from 2001. We are starting with a porcelain gaiwan to get a neutral brew against which to compare the others.
The silver teapot makes all the characteristics stronger (and the brew hotter) than with the gaiwan.
The zhuni is similar to silver, but the taste is less rough. And with the Yixing zisha the wood scents came out very nicely and the taste was almost sweet. "Isn't shu puerh supposed to taste bitter?" asked Mick's wife in complete amazement about how a type of tea that she usually dislikes can taste so good! I explained that it's all about details. The water quality, the kettle, the brewing, the leaves the vessel... If you are able to make the most out of each of these details, then you're cup is much better than a cup brewed without knowledge and training.
That is often the difference between bitter and sweet tea! 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vacation in Alishan

Oolong plantation around Taihe, Alishan
Most western Oolong drinkers probably know Alishan as the origin of some of Taiwan's best High mountain Oolongs. But the fame of Alishan as one of Taiwan's major tourist destination isn't primarily related to tea. Actually, the tea plantations stop some 15 km before the Alishan National Scenic Area.

Located around 2000 m of elevation, the Alishan scenic area provides wonderful views of sunrise and sunset. Hotels will even give you a morning call (at 3 AM in summer!), if you wish, so that you can catch a glimpse of sunrise.
Sea of clouds during sunset in Alishan
Alishan is a great escape from the hot and humid Taiwan weather in summer. The temperature is a nice 20 degrees Celcius while it's well over 30 degrees in the big cities.
Morning sunshine
Alishan has the typical high mountain weather pattern that suits Qingxin Oolong so well: a few hours of intense sun in the morning followed by cool fog and cold nights that brings moisture and keeps the growing leaves fresh. But this climate pattern can be found in all high mountains in Taiwan.

Afternoon fog
It's the large presence of Taiwan cypress trees that has contributed to the unique early
development of Alishan during Japan's occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Japan even built a railway to access this special logging area. These big trees were perfect to serve as beams in temples or big traditional houses.
Ancient cypress
These large and ancient trees are what makes Alishan such a special place. There are 2 very easy trails in the park that bring you close to trees that are 800, 900, 1500, 2000 years old! The oldest tree, 2500 years old, is called 'holy' by local aborigines and draws crowds of Chinese tourists.
A little bit farther, far away from the crowds, there's this giant red cypress that is 2000 years old! It's still standing, because this area of the forest was more difficult of access! This one is truly majestic. And it's interesting to see that so many other plants have started to grow on and around it. Lichen, moss and even rhododendron flowers!
2000 years old cypress
So, guess what type of tea I'm drinking in this forest of ancient trees?
Old arbor raw puerh! (In this case, it was my 2006 Lincang cake). My purpose is to verify that there are similarities between the scents of these trees and my wild, old arbor puerh. Tea leaves will absorb the fragrances of their environment and that's why old arbor puerh tree should have similar complex scents of lichen, moss as in this forest.
And in terms of taste of energy, you'd expect something rich, thick, but pure, fine and powerful at the same time. It was therefore a real pleasure to feel how this puerh echoes the fragrances and beauty of of this forest of old trees!
Raw old arbor puerh
(Note: I'm back at work and ready to ship your tea orders.)

Friday, July 08, 2016

Sous les feuilles de thé, la plage

Un typhon balaie actuellement Taiwan de ses vents violents. Il m'a obligé de couper court aux vacances que j'avais prévues de faire dans le sud de l'ile. Au départ, j'avais même envie l'aller sur Lu Dao, l'ile verte, en face de Taidung. Mais il est plus prudent de rester chez soi pendant ce jour où la nature force le gouvernement à décréter un jour de congé national.
 Mais être bloqué chez moi m'empêche pas de me sentir comme en vacances au bord de la mer. Avec ce Chaxi bleu azur et coquillages, nous voilà transportés sur une plage de sable fin!
 Même la jarre de thé en porcelaine a un thème marin!
 Le thé est un Oolong de haute montagne pour la fraicheur qu'il donne, comme la vague qui soulage de la chaleur du soleil.
 Le Chatuo transparent en forme de fleur donne encore plus d'éclat à l'infusion ensoleillée!
 La vue plongeante du Chaxi donne envie d'y plonger!
 Et la théière en zhuni semble voguer sur un simple radeau de bambou!
Douceur, chaleur, fraicheur. Bonheur!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Morning and evening light

Brewing tea well - mastering the tea - is all about paying attention to details.
For instance, you'll notice that the first 4 pictures in this article were taken early in the morning, at sunrise, and the last 3 were taken in the late afternoon, shortly before sunset.
Despite the fact that the sun's angle to the horizon is similar, the light in the morning is much more crisp, fresh and clear than in the evening.
Morning cup of aged Oolong from 1999
The light in the evening feels murkier, less transparent. This is probably due to the fact that the air through which the light travels is cleaner in the early hours of the day than at the end.
Evening cup of high mountain Oolong from Fenqi Hu
The mood is more romantic at sunset than at sunrise! The light creates a certain mood and our mood plays a big part in why we choose one tea or another.
How well does the tea you've chosen fit the moment of the day? This is probably just a detail, but it's an important one. I've experimented with various teas for the early morning hours, before breakfast, recently. Red tea with its warming characteristics is the classic choice to wake up a body that's still partially asleep. An aged Hung Shui Oolong felt even more subtle and elegant, while adding a touch of mellowed freshness.
I'm rarely in a mood for low oxidized Oolong or sheng puerh in the early morning. Such teas seem too cool and raw for an empty stomach. In the evening, though, this kind of character is helpful to relax and cool down after a day of work. These are not rules set in stone, though. Especially in summer, it can be nice to experiment with lighter teas in the morning.
There's one certainty: with sunlight, I'm always in the mood for tea!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fêter le solstice d'été à Taiwan

En France et dans le reste de l'Europe, la fête du solstice se déroule le soir de ce jour le plus long, quand le soleil ne semble plus vouloir se coucher. A Taipei, aujourd'hui, le soleil s'est couché à 18h47! Cela ne laisse pas beaucoup de temps pour faire la fête le soir!
DYL 102K
Taiwan est proche de l'Equateur et la durée d'ensoleillement ne varie pas tellement durant l'année. C'est pourquoi Taiwan n'a pas d'heure d'été non plus. Aussi, pour moi qui me lève tôt, la fête du soleil est sa présence très tôt le matin, dès 5h05 ajourd'hui! Un rayon de soleil vient alors éclairer mon coin à thé jusqu'à 6h55. Cette lumière est vive, pleine d'énergie et de fraicheur. C'est une invitation au thé chaque matin pendant ces semaines autour du solstice.
Aujourd'hui, j'ai dégusté mon Oolong de Da Yu Ling 102K en théière zhuni sur ce Chabu de juin (car le paon est l'animal de Juno, la déesse de la Beauté qui donna son nom à ce mois).
Hung Shui Oolong de compétition de 2016
Le soleil transforme l'infusion du Hong Shui Oolong en or ou bien en astre solaire!
Avec ce rayon de soleil direct sur mon Chaxi, j'ai l'impression d'être en extérieur sans en avoir les inconvénients.
L'infusion rayonne de clarté et de transparence. Sa couleur est pure et si appétissante. Le Hung Shui Oolong mêle bien fraicheur et douceur.
Le plus grand classique pour le matin reste le thé rouge. Voilà comment je conjugue le soleil et ces feuilles dans un Chaxi 'rouge passion'.
Ses arômes fruités ont une composante fraicheur car il s'agit de feuilles de haute montagne. Cela colle bien avec l'air matinal, le seul moment de la journée où il fasse moins de 30 degrés Celcius ici!
Mais l'important, c'est de retrouver le soleil dans la dégustation de ces thés afin que la perfection ne soit pas simplement visuelle mais aussi gustative.
Harmonie entre les sens. Bonne fête du solstice!