Monday, January 14, 2019

Puerh nostalgique du début des années 1970

 Voici mon Chaxi de ce samedi, à six mille lieues des manifestations en France. Mais bizarrement, et malgré la chance que j'ai de résider à Taiwan, je ne peux m'empêcher de me sentir triste et préoccupé par la mauvaise passe que traverse mon pays. Même marié à une Taiwanaise et résident local depuis 22 ans avec mes enfants scolarisés dans le système chinois et ma passion pour le thé et la culture chinoise, je continue de me sentir pleinement français.

Le thé et l'histoire de la Chine contiennent de nombreuses leçons pour la crise en France, mais ce blog n'a pas pour vocation d'être politique et clivant. Au contraire, j'aimerais pouvoir créer du consensus et du plaisir partagé avec mes expériences et le plaisir de mes Chaxi. L'idée de celui-ci est de retourner au début des années 1970, avant la première crise économique qui mit fin à la croissance des 30 glorieuses. C'est pourquoi, je choisis ce puerh cru en vrac. Et pour l'infuser, ma théière zisha décoré d'un lion. Car c'était l'époque où de grands hommes (de Gaulle, Pompidou) présidaient au pays. Ils servaient la nation avec la férocité du roi de la jungle. Sans déficits, sans dette, sans chômage.
 Qu'il est doux et puissant, pur et riche ce puerh et le souvenir de cette époque! Il a des odeurs de vieux bois noble, une douceur qui approche celle d'un miel de forêt sauvage foncé ou de mélasse, de sucre brun. Au goût, c'est le paradoxe d'une sensation d'extrême pureté et d'une énergie sous-jacente qui s'étend à travers tout le corps. Grand bien-être!
Vision d'un beau coucher de soleil sur une montagne (un pays?) lointaine. Je fais un voeu que la nuit qui vient sera de courte durée et que nous assisterons bientôt à un magnifique lever de soleil! Et si j'ai l'occasion de débattre et de donner des idées de ce qui marche à Taiwan, je le ferai.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Spring and winter in TianChi

We've explored one of Taiwan's most exclusive, most beautiful and highest tea plantation: the TianChi gardens which are part of the FuShou Shan farm. Let's revisit them twice in the comfort of our Chaxi.

Let's start with the spring version harvested on May 19th.

Since I want this tea session to be educational, I have (exceptionally) weighed my dry leaves: 3 grams only. But instead of using a standard competition set, I choose to brew in a (neutral) porcelain gaiwan. I preheat it well, but I don't time my brew. I just make sure that the leaves open up well after the first brew.
Direct pour in the cups: it requires practice and skill. That's also why it's called gongfu cha!
Cristal clear brew, amazing jade color, fragrances of spring flowers and a sweet energetic taste. This is High Mountain Oolong perfection.
Spring is light, sunny and refined.

Let's turn our attention to the winter harvest. This is going to be very interesting, because these leaves come from the very same tea garden as the spring leaves above. They were harvested on October 26th, 2018. Hey! Why is a tea from end of October labeled 'winter'? For 2 reasons:
1. the Chinese lunar calendar has a different date for the seasons as the western calendar. Each season starts earlier for the Chinese. For instance, spring starts with the Chinese New Year (early February this year).
2. the growth period for tea in very high elevations is very short. The first leaves of the year are called spring and the last are called winter.
3 grams is just the right amount to cover the bottom of the gaiwan. With such an Oolong, you don't need more to enjoy its unique aromas.
The color of the open leaves is already very different. They have a yellow hue instead of a dark green one.
The color of the brew is also a little bit more yellow, but the concentration level depends also on the length of the brew.
In terms of aromas and taste, the differences with spring are very subtle. Both seasons are outstanding and share the energy of this high altitude above 2200 meters.
This winter brew is a little bit less fragrant, but has a deeper aftertaste. Maybe you'll find more nuances when brewing these 2 Oolongs.
The most obvious difference is in the spent leaves. The brews, however, can be very similar if you pay attention to the brewing. Even the last and longest brew remains clear and light.
Spring vs winter
An outstanding tea garden for spring and winter!

Friday, January 04, 2019

Dong Ding Dong Ding Dong Ding

Have you heard the bell ring? Christmas vacation is over and we're back in tea class! Sarah and Rattana are back in Taiwan and have asked me to teach them about Dong Ding Oolong. So, I chose several teas to explain what Dong Ding tea is all about.
We started with this Hung Shui Oolong from Feng Huang, winter 2017. This is an excellent example of what a Dong Ding Oolong is and should taste like. The cultivar is Qingxin Oolong and it's grown in Feng Huang, one of the villages that are part of the rather small Dong Ding area. The winter season and the spring season both see the Dong Ding Oolong take place. It was created in 1976 by the director of the Taiwan Research and Extension Station (TRES, Taiwan's tea research institute) to raise quality by using a standard taste close to that of WuYi Oolongs (which were not available in Taiwan at the time, due to the ongoing conflict between China and Taiwan.) The reason for choosing this Hung Shui Oolong is that it comes closest, in my opinion, to the ideal Dong Ding Oolong: the roasting hasn't burned the leaves and they still unfold very nicely. The aromas have been positively impacted by the roasting. There are scents of walnuts, chestnuts, but also fresh fruity smells. And the taste is both long and sweet. This batch is less roasted than typical competition Dong Ding Oolongs.
 The next tea on our list was the spring 2016 Hung Shui Oolong from Alishan. The purpose of this tea is to understand that Dong Ding Oolong has become so famous in the 1980s, that such teas were (and still are) produced all over Taiwan. That's why the name Hung Shui Oolong has come up to describe an Oolong that has been produced with a typical Dong Ding Oolong process. This one comes from Alishan, from a higher elevation than the Dong Ding area. It's also made from Qingxin Oolong leaves. Using high mountain leaves is a strategy used to make finer and more powerful Hung Shui Oolong. That's why most teas that win the Dong Ding Oolong competition don't come from Dong Ding, but from Shan Lin Xi or even Lishan! What's also interesting is that this Alishan Hung Shui Oolong has a stronger roast, which adds even more dark aromas to the brew.
The varying roasting level is what makes Oolong so complex and so fascinating. Other teas are not roasted, but simply dried. Thanks to the roast, new flavors appear. The brew become malty and reminds us of a brandy! This also has a big impact on how the leaves are best brewed. That's what Sarah and Rattana could learn and practice with me. (I explain the brewing in my TeaMasters guide to Brewing Oolong tea, which I offer for any order of 60 USD or more.)
It's SO good!
Then we tasted a very similar tea: this summer 2018 zhuo yan Oolong from Yong Lung in Dong Ding. Zhuo yan means jassid bitten. The difference with the first Hung Shui Oolong is not the roasting (this one also has a light to medium roast), but the season: summer. Because it's produced when the temperatures are higher, the oxidation level is slightly higher. The fragrances are much fruitier and sweet than in the spring or in winter. This is also a Dong Ding Oolong: it comes from Dong Ding and is processed like a Dong Ding Oolong, but the summer season has a tremendous impact on the brew.
2010 fall OB
We then proceeded to taste this 2010 fall Oriental Beauty Oolong from Hsin Chu. With this tea, I wanted to show the similarities and differences to the previous summer zhuo yan Oolong. There are 3 main differences: 1. the cultivar, qingxin dapang instead of qingxin Oolong, 2. the higher oxidation for Oriental Beauty and the shape and size of the dry leaves.

The zhuo yan Oolong from Yong Lung is like a bridge between Hung Shui Oolong and Oriental Beauty Oolong. So, tasting an Oriental Beauty just after the zhuo yan Oolong (or a concubine Oolong, which is not the same) helps to clarify the characteristics of each type of Oolong.

This was really a class, because we only used this ivory white porcelain gaiwan. An Yixing teapot could have given us a deeper and smoother taste, but the porcelain gaiwan brings more clarity and truth to the aromas.

Before I mention the next Oolong we brewed to conclude this lesson, I want to point out that these 2 and the following pictures were taken by Rattana with my Nikon D750. He's an accomplished professional photographer and I'm very grateful for the art he has created and his permission to share his photos here.
The most liked picture of 2018 is a black and white picture and these look stunning! The white porcelain enhances the purity of this tea experience!
It also makes sense to use black and white now, because we tasted this aged 1999 Hung Shui Oolong from Yong Lung (Dong Ding) as our last tea.
It takes us back 20 years ago. We notice that the leaves are mostly single, ie not attached to one another on a stem like nowadays. The look of dry leaves is already more refined!
Their aged aromas are very different from a newly roasted Hung Shui Oolong. It's difficult to describe. In wine, they are called tertiary aromas, scents that are not the result of a specific process, but of time. The taste is smoother, less powerful also.
But the character of Dong Ding remains the same.
Brew after brew and cup after cup.
I hope you all had a great start in 2019! I couldn't have dreamed a better one myself. Thank you Rattana for capturing the beauty of this dark dragon!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The year 2018 in 12 pictures

For big format viewing, I recommend you view this article on my photo blog. Please vote for your favorite picture on my Facebook page. This will help me determine which picture should become next year's tea postcard.

December. Ming style tea.

November. Mon nouveau livre numérique est arrivé!

October. The living dead puerh from the early 90s

September. Fushou shan and Tian Chi Oolong gardens

August. Lishan Oolong Chaxi

July. Beauté orientale d'été 2017

June. Existenzmaximum @Alishan

May. Spring Alishan Harvests

April. Printemps 2018

March. Sunset Chaxi among the corals

February. Sunset on lotus lake in Kaohsiung.

January. Wisdom and Peace

Click on these links for the pictures of 201720162015201420132012201120102009 , 2008 and 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The top 10 articles of 2018

Spring 2017 wild gushu puerh
I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and year end festivities! This is a great time to enjoy quality teas from morning to evening! Red teas pair desserts well. Hung Shui Oolongs work well as aperitifs to open up your appetite and wild puerhs give energy to stay up late!

Usually, I rank my 10 best articles according to the number of views counted by Blogger, my blog host. However, this year, I noticed something very strange. All my articles before March 17, 2018 had 1500 to 4000 views. After that, the view count has tumbled to 300 to 1000 views per article! Such a dramatic drop of readers should have had a negative impact on tea sales, but they remained stable and even increased slightly to a new high in 2018! I conclude that a lot of views in the past were generated by bots, fake accounts. Since a lot of advertising money is paid on the basis of clicks and views, I suppose there was fraud to artificially increase the number of views of websites. Apparently, Blogger (and its parent company Google) have become better at detecting this fraud.

This is another good reason why I don't do any online advertising, buying search terms in Google or promoting posts on FB. Since the start, I have only counted on word of mouth and positive reputation to attract new customers. This means I will always count on you, my dear readers, to like and/or share my articles on your social media networks. And this means that I have to earn your trust and interest with quality content, nice photographs and, most importantly, great teas! Thank you for all your support: this blog would cease to exist without you!

Here are the best articles of 2018:

10. Les plantations de Shizhuo à Alishan. With breathtaking pictures of several high mountain tea plantations.

9. The many faces of spring. When tea meets a shan-shui painting.

8. The ultimate tea ware collection of Chinese emperors eBook is available! From Tang to Qing dynasty, see the tea ware collection from the National Palace Museum in Taipei and Chiayi. This eBook is my FREE gift for any order in excess of 200 USD.

7. The process of Wenshan Baozhong tea. A step by step report about how Wenshan Baozhong is made.

6. Magnifying the beauty of tea. True beauty comes from within the leaves.

5. The 2000th article: a tea class about Chaxi. The celebration of a milestone.

4. The pitfalls of discussing puerh prices. Only an educated buyer can be a smart buyer.

3. Dong Ding Finesse. A view of Qilin lake.

2. Débuter 2018 par un puerh de 1988. Un thé d'amitié universelle.

1. Tea photography clues to select an online tea seller.  Some advice for buying tea online.
Spring 2017 wild gushu puerh