Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oolong Main de Buddha de Wenshan

Main de Buddha (Fo Shou en chinois) est un cultivar qui tire son nom du fruit du même nom. Ce fruit fait parti de la famille des citrons et sa forme fait penser à une main composée de plusieurs gros doigts. Or, justement, non seulement ce thé a la particularité d'avoir une odeur de citron, mais ses feuilles sont aussi très grandes.

Il y a deux semaines, dans le Wenshan, j'avais trouvé du mao cha (Oolong à l'état brut) de Main de Buddha (à gauche sur les photos). Récolté à la main le 12 avril, il a effectivement un goût de citron cru. 

Puis, la semaine dernière, de retour chez ce producteur, j'ai pu goûté aux mêmes feuilles, mais cette fois avec moins de tiges et une légère torréfaction (à droite sur les photos).

Le goût et les odeurs de 'Fo Shou' sont toujours présentes, mais, au lieu d'être cru, il est mûr. Et c'est bien mieux ainsi! On remarque la différence notamment lorsque l'on met les feuilles sèches dans la tasse préchauffée: l'odeur de torréfaction toute récente est absente chez l'un et très présente chez l'autre.

Sur les photos, la différence de teinte de la liqueur est peu perceptible. Mais l'on remarquera que les feuilles ouvertes torréfiées sont un peu plus jaunes.

J'ai fait ce test avec 3 grammes de chaque et une infusion en eau juste bouillante pendant 6 minutes. Ce sont les paramètres de compétition de thé. Au risque de me répéter, ce ne sont pas des paramètres idéaux, loin de là. Ils servent simplement de standard pour comparer les thés en les soumettant à des conditions difficiles.

Ayant trouvé cette comparaison entre ces 2 versions de Main de Buddha très instructive, je vais offrir un échantillon de la version crue pour chaque commande de la version cuite que j'ai sélectionnée (dans la limite de mon stock de mao cha).

Pour mon Cha Xi, j'ai choisi des accessoires volumineux pour être en harmonie avec ces feuilles immenses.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spring 2009 Wenshan Baozhongs

Before I introduce the 3 new Spring Wenshan Baozhongs I selected, let me first give some perspective on this spring season.

Tea is amazing: it's not just that every season is different, even every day is different. The smallest changes of weather and/or process have big impacts on the taste and smell. This was especially true this year. The early spring started very cold and dry for longer than usual. Then we had several days of big rain. Since then, the weather has shown all possible conditions: hot and sunny, cold and windy, cloudy, rainy again... Unstable and changing would be the best way to describe the conditions tea farmers faced in the North of Taiwan this spring. That's probably why I felt that the quality of this spring's harvests varied even more than usual from batch to batch. 

Below, I brewed the 3 Baozhongs together: 3 grams for 6 minutes, competition style, to test their limits. The color of the brew is a good indication of the oxidation degree. The cultivar of all 3 Baozhongs is luanze (qingxin) Oolong.
From right to left:
1. 'Lily Flower' Baozhong. Hand harvested on April 4.

Light oxidation. Light floral and buttery fragrance. The taste shows a slight astringency, but also a lot of nice length. 

The leaves have been picked on a partial cloudy day. But you almost wouldn't notice it, because of the high quality of the making process. The leaves contains many buds. They are small and beautiful.

The result is very delicate, flowery and with a long aftertaste.

It is best brewed in a gaiwan (or zhuni teapot) with thin walls.

2. 'Young tree' Baozhong. Harvested on April 15.

Oxidation is the lightest of the three. Light floral fragrance and soft taste.

These leaves come from a new, organic plantation. Young trees are usually so delicate, that the stems are preserved to add depth and taste. This works very well in this batch: the taste is very mellow and calm.

The character of this Baozhong is very feminine.

Both this and the previous 'lily flower' Baozhong are nice alternatives to the more expensive High Mountain Oolongs.
 
3. 'Semi-wild' forest Baozhong. Harvested on March 27.

I chose this name (semi-wild), because the leaves come from an organic plantation mostly left alone (except for harvesting). 

Oxidation is strongest, more traditional. The smells are very natural and pure: those of the Wenshan forest. The taste is full body, mixing some astringency with unfolding, lingering aftertastes.

Its character is masculine. It's a very different Baozhong compared to the first two. The stronger oxidation level has replaced the delicate fragrances with more complexity and darker notes. It's very nice to taste it with its raw freshness. 

But the more I drink it, the more I believe this would be a good candidate for some more traditional roasting... (Maybe I'll have half of this batch also roasted. It could become more like the Qizhong. In 2007, I had part of semi-wild Baozhong 'honey' roasted. I just opened my last pack to check its evolution: it's very delicate and despite being 2 years old, it doesn't taste stale at all, on the contrary.)

All three Baozhongs have passed the test well. They still tasted good after 6 minutes infusion. They will taste even better when brewed with skill and heart.

Tasting fresh spring Baozhong is about the youthful energy of nature, green mountains. Somehow, if it were a song, it reminds me of this euphoric song, Allein, Allein.   

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brewing Baozhong overlooking Wenshan

The best place to brew Wenshan Baozhong is... on top of a mountain overlooking the Wenshan area... except when it starts to rain! 

So, as history repeated itself (!), it we took refuge under the roof of the nearby temple. The monks kindly agreed that I set up my Cha Xi at the entrance of their temple. 

Earlier in the day, I had been testing some Spring Baozhongs, overbrewing them on purpose to find their defects. Now, I wanted to enjoy the tea as much as possible in this perfect setting. This summarizes schizophrenic qualities a tea drinker should have: 

1. a great deal of suspicion for every new tea: don't believe any spoken or written word. Just let the tea tell you how good or bad it is. (Tea is bad = leaves are bad.)

2. love and understanding for your tea: use your gungfu cha skills to maximize the potential of your leaves. Even an imperfect and humble tea can bring tremendous satisfaction if you brew it well. (Tea is bad = brewing is bad). 
And now, imagine how much happiness one feels when, having found a high quality, fresh Baozhong, one brews it with the right accessories, local spring water, good skills in this natural setting! 


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

La couleur du thé vert Lung Jing

(Clickez sur la photo pour l'agrandir. Click the picture to see it full size)Quizz: which of these 3 fresh green teas (which all call themselves Shi Feng Lung Jing) tastes the best?

Le thé vert Lung Jing est l'un des plus recherchés de Chine. Je compte même parmi ceux qui le placent en tête de leur classement. Mais derrière un même nom se cachent souvent des thés bien différents. Ci-dessus, on a 3 fois le même nom, mais des couleurs bien différentes. D'après vous, lequel est le meilleur?

Update: My answer is in the comments.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bian Hu de Bo Xia en zisha d'Yixing

Cette théière plate en zisha d'Yixing a une jolie calligraphie taillée sous son socle. On peut y lire le nom de sa créatrice, Madame Bo Xia. (On retrouvera aussi ce nom sous forme de tampon sous le couvercle).

Sa contenance est de 12 cl pour un poids de 134 gr environ. Elle n'a pas de filtre interne. 

Sa forme ne convient pas aux Oolongs roulés qui s'ouvrent comme des ballons qu'on gonflerait et ont donc besoin de formes rondes. Par contre, elle convient bien au vieux puerh, au vieux Lung Jing, au Baozhong torréfié et surtout aux Oolongs de Wuyi. Ces thés ont des feuilles sèches de forme presque plates.

Par rapport à un zhong en porcelaine, le thé a un goût plus calme, mieux balancé. Certaines odeurs extrèmes sont gommées. Sa glaise zisha est particulièrement douce au toucher.  
Petit cadeau: 40 gr d'un Oolong Ban Tian Yao de Wuyi de 2008 pour l'achat de cette théière.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Celadon exhibitions in Taipei's museums

This week, I visited the National Museum of History in Taipei. It features an exhibition of Celadon in ancient Korea until April 26.  

If you can't make it in time, I recommend the Palace Museum's Green: Longquan Celadon of the Ming dynasty. The collection is breathtaking. These antique objects have such grace, their colors are so vivid and natural. It is even possible to touch a (broken) piece of celadon. Their texture is soft despite being thick. Amazing. (At least click on the link for a virtual tour. Until October 15, 2009)

On the way out of the museum, I picked this book: Empty Vessels, Replenished Minds: The Culture, Practice and Art of Tea.

Perfect: paintings, books and imperial tea artefacts all related to Chinese tea! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jinxuan Oolong de haute montagne

Pour ce Jinxuan Oolong récolté à la main fin mars 2009, j'ai repris mon Cha Xi printanier dans les grandes lignes.  J'ai juste remplacé la théière en zhuni par mon gaibei (zhong) afin  de le tester de manière plus neutre. (Si le thé est bon en porcelaine, il sera encore meilleur dans une bonne théière).

Le Jinxuan Oolong est un cultivar inventé par le centre de recherche du thé de Taiwan en 1981. Il donne de meilleurs rendements que le luanze Oolong et a des fragrances qui rappellent un peu le lait. (Certains marchands vont même à rajouter du parfum de lait un peu caramélisé pour accentuer cette odeur naturelle au départ.)

Originaire de Lu Shan, dans la région de Nantou, ces feuilles ont poussé à une altitude de 1000 mètres environ. Elles ne peuvent pousser bien plus haut, car elles résistent moins bien au froid que le luanze Oolong dont les tiges sont plus fines. (Des grosses tiges gorgées d'eau sont plus vulnérable au gel en haute montagne).

L'infusion est d'une grande clarté, brillante. Verte claire, elle tire sur le jaune. L'oxydation est typique d'un Oolong frais, sans torréfaction.

Les arômes sont pêle-mêle végétaux, fleuris et finement lactés. Ils ont la délicatesse du printemps qui s'éveille. Les odeurs dans la tasse vide sont celles du soleil.

Au niveau goût, le thé glisse sans aspérités aucune tout le long de la gorge. Même la réception dans l'estomac se passe bien. Les premières notes en bouche sont un peu de salées, mais laissent rapidement place à beaucoup de moelleux, et de la fraicheur sur la langue. Ensuite, tandis que les arômes refluent, je sens comme une sécheresse sur la langue. C'est le terroir rocailleux de la plantation qui laisse cette note qui fait se prolonger l'arrière-goût de ce thé.

Conclusion: La plupart du temps, les Jinxuan sont des Oolongs de basse altitude destinés au grand public. Ils sont un peu au thé chinois, ce que le rosé est au vin: des thés frais, jeunes, bon marché, mais sans grande qualité. Ce Jinxuan de Lu Shan est une exception. Il a toutes les qualités que j'attends d'un bon Oolong de haute montagne: des arômes fins et fleuris, du moelleux en bouche, une digestion aisée et un caractère particulier impreigné par son terroir. Le fermier a réussi tout cela en utilisant du Jinxuan. Bravo! Je le recommande vivement, autant aux débutants qu'aux experts en Oolong de haute montagne! 
Note: Les notes de dégustations sont celles faites avec 3 gr, 15 cl et 5 minutes. Mon eau de source provient de Wulai. (Sur les photos, j'avais utilisé plus de feuilles et des infusions un peu plus courtes.)

Conseil: cet Oolong supporte bien des infusions longues. Par contre, il est très important d'utiliser une eau très proche de l'ébullition.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chinese Triad's secret tea language (2)

Let's assume that the test (to find out if you're a member of the triad) when well. You have selected the correct tea cup. However, you didn't just come to enjoy the pleasant taste of a good cup of tea. You came with an important subject to discuss with your host, the local triad boss.

Your first meeting is likely to take place in a public place, where all kinds of people come to see the host. It's best to remain discreet. So, again, without a word, using the secret language of tea, you can tell your host that you have a serious matter to discuss.

How?

The boss is in no hurry, though. He continues to make tea. This clever guy (otherwise he wouldn't be the boss around this city) has figured out who sent you to him. He pours tea in all cups again and places the teapot with the spout facing you directly.

This meeting is over. What message will you bring back?

PS: I will post my answers in the comments of both articles on Monday. Have fun and a nice Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chinese Triad's secret tea language

My questions about how to hold a teapot led Teaparker to show me his first book, 'Ye Hu', written in 1985 about... Chinese Triads (mafia) in Taiwan. (Update: more specifically, it concerns the Hong Men and the Qing Bang triads only). There's a chapter about the secret way its members would drink tea. 

In times without Internet, telephone or even reliable mailing system, this was an ingenious way to test if an unknown visitor could speak their tea language and was one of them or not. 

In these 2 pictures, for example, I have set up the cups to test you. Imagine that the boss has just filled them and asks you to pick one. Which one will it be, if you want to tell him, without words, that you're one of them? (One or more answers are possible for each picture).  
Good luck! 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cha Xi printanier au Taipei Story House

Summary: The Spring Cha Xi (Tea Party) was a success. I even met one of my Canadian readers!

Après plusieurs semaines de recherches et d'entrainement, dimanche après-midi, j'ai présenté mon Cha Xi printanier au Taipei Story House avec l'association Cha Ren Ya Xin.

Par rapport à ma dernière répétition, j'ai ajouté une petite assiette en céladon pour présenter les feuilles sèches d'Oolong de haute montagne de ce printemps aux invités. Je place ensuite cette assiette sous mon bol à eaux usées durant les infusions. J'ai aussi ajouté un petit tissu brun clair devant mon Cha Bu: je m'en sers pour y poser la théière et absorber l'eau qui mouille son pied. 

Le public fut nombreux et curieux. Un lecteur Canadien de mon blog a même suivi l'invitation que j'avais lancé vendredi, et est venu en compagnie de sa femme Taiwanaise! Teaparker était en grande forme également. Au lieu de se cantonner à un petit discours d'introduction, il n'a pas arrêté de répondre aux nombreuses questions du public. Il y avait de quoi remplir un livre ou deux!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holding the teapot

My previous article has sparked an interesting debate about how I held this 21 cl teapot in the video (I had the thumb on the knob instead of the index). So, yesterday morning, during the practice for the Taipei Story House event in the afternoon, I asked Teaparker how I should hold my teapot. I explained I felt better, more relaxed using the thumb than the index with this rather big teapot. Teaparker partially agreed with my intuition. Big teapots are indeed easier to hold with a thumb. However, Chinese tea culture is more complex. How you hold the teapot also shows your cultural background (similar to western table manners). 

So, for small teapots, including this one, Teaparker recommends I hold it with the index on the knob (see picture above), the Phoenix hand, according to Scott. This is how I then practiced it with my teapot. 

In case I didn't feel comfortable enough, or should I use an even bigger teapot, then Teaparker advises to hold the handle with one hand and knob with a finger (index or middle finger) from the other hand (See on the left). 

I now remember that Teaparker often told and showed us how to hold a teapot properly. I just didn't make this lesson mine for medium and big teapots. So, the pictures below (taken last year) clearly show the student (me, with my thumb) and the master. 

However, thanks to the discussion that was triggered and the article I now wrote, I think this time I won't forget again!  

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tea pouring skill

This Sunday afternoon, the Cha Ren Ya Xin tea association will host a 'Spring Oolong Cha Xi' at the Taipei Story House. (Please come if you're around!) I have now finalized my Cha Xi set up for the occasion. 

Each teapot pours a little differently, so I practiced pouring with my zhuni Da Bing Ru Yi for several brews today.

The easy way would be to use a chahai, a pitcher, to collect all the tea and then distribute it in the cups. But it wouldn't be very 'gong fu', would it?

It takes much more skill to pour directly in the cups. The goal is to pour the same volume and same concentration into each cup without spilling too much tea around. It is a (difficult) skill to master, but at the same time it simplifies the process by bypassing the cha hai. Done with grace, it looks nicer, saves time and maintains the tea at a higher temperature.

Here is my third (and best) attempt today:
video

There were a couple of drops here and there, but the result was quite OK, I think. Now it's your turn to try!! But before you do, let me give you several 'tricks' or details:

- Dry the foot of the teapot. If you see it has collected water, place the teapot on an absorbing cloth just before starting to pour,

- stop your movement for a second or two when the teapot is next to the cup and before you pour. If the water is still shaking inside the teapot, it is more likely to come out unevenly and cause a spill,

- fill the cups in this order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

- hold the teapot so that you can open the lid of the teapot with one finger (see how I pour at the last cup). This will help to pour the teapot dry.

- practice often.

Note: Today, I brewed the Shan Lin Shi Dong Pian of late November 2008. It tastes pure, deep, mellow and long. A fantastic tea for a very nice Cha Xi practice. 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

In the mood for tea

Granted, I'm almost always in a tea mood! So, the real is question is: what tea am I in a mood for now? Readers often ask me which tea is my favorite. It's hard to answer, because it really depends on my tea mood.

Today, for instance, Taipei continues to be quite cold and grey. I feel like some fresh spring energy and warmth for my early afternoon tea. So, I turn to a Sung style powder green tea from Japan. 

Just the fact that it needs good whisking (my whole arm is moving) warms up my body. The aromas of the powder are fresh like tender grass, but the whisked tea is more like a smooth soup. I'm also amazed how hot the unglazed bottom of my Jianyang ware becomes. The iron content of this clay is so high, that the hot clay feels more like metal than clay.  

The outside temperature, the moment of the day, the season... are some of the elements that impacted my tea mood. Being alone and quiet for an hour was another element for choosing a full scale Cha Xi. If I had less time or were constantly disturbed, I would have chosen a different tea (easier to prepare) with a simpler setting. 

To choose the right tea, understand your mood and what you expect from it!