Monday, June 16, 2014

2 secret ingredients for brewing great High Mountain Oolong

It's official. Today, the Tea Masters blog turns 10!

To celebrate this milestone, I will give all my readers 2 secret ingredients to brew High Mountain Oolong with success. But before that, I would like to announce some winners of my first contest, the essay about the Tea Masters blog"

Shanlinxi Oolong
Third prize: Elisabeth G. from Canada wins a pack of 150 gr of spring Shanlinxi High mountain Oolong for this essay:

"Although I love to share tea with friends, my greatest appreciation of tea has been more of a private and interior experience. In the midst of a busy, social life, tea moments are for me an oasis of harmony and refreshment.  Though at such a distance, you have been a guide and kindred spirit in the enjoyment of tea.

Through the medium of tea you communicate attentiveness to detail - everything is important- the water, temperature, cloth, tea wares, music, and length of infusion – even the stream of water as it flows from the kettle!  The attitude is relaxed, yet focused, with so many aspects of tea preparation to be enjoyed.

In fact, your best teaching is not about correctness or technique.  Stephane, you have a gift for teaching that goes beyond instruction; it comes from honest, unreserved sharing of your own tea experience.  Your language is sentimental and passionate.  You communicate a sense of appreciation and optimism and, so importantly, you include your reader as a friend. You don’t only prepare a cup of tea; you invoke the presence of the tea spirits!

As a lifelong student, you credit your own teachers and often refer to their influence- another sign of a good teacher.

For all these reasons, your blog has created a sense of connectedness among tea lovers, worldwide. It is a point of return, a touchstone, for those of us who visit."

Second prize: The Lewandowski family in the US wins a pack of 150 gr of spring Qilai High Mountain Oolong for sharing this story:

"A little over 1 year ago I stumbled across an article on Teamasters discussing a specific type of aged tea enjoyed around a holiday.  In this post, Stephane discussed the process and properties of properly aged tea.  I being a collector of pretty much anything really found this to be interesting, in fact it motivated me to think about aging my own tea, and then I read the most important part.  

Stephane discussed how he had bought some tea at the time of his child's birth and aged it for them.  The idea was that they would then share this special tea as the years went by and compare the tasting notes. It did not stop here though. Stephane had a second jar of the same tea to give to his child once they reached a certain age, so they could share it with their family.  I have 2 sons who were 1 and 3 at the time. This story compelled me to invest in the experience of sharing simple tea and simple memories with my family.  So my wife and I decided to purchase 4 jars of tea (2 jars for each of the boys, one to try and one to store).  We talked with Stephane and he made sure we not only had the correct tea, but also had the correct technique for aging them.  We even took it one step forward and purchased 3 identical teapots.  One for the family to use for only these teas and the other 2 to be given to boys to go along with their aged teas.

This is a very special practice in our house and has done exactly what it was intended to do, create memories.  Last year my oldest, Isaac, had a very special quote after trying this tea.  He said, "yummy this tastes like fired marsh mellows".  I'm fairly sure he was referring to roasting marsh mellows over a fire, not sure were that came from, but it is tattooed in my memory.  Thanks Stephane for the wonderful suggestions and helping make it a reality."
The first prize: A 150 gr pack of spring Lishan High Mountain Oolong goes to Zartash H. in the UK for :

"I came across your blog by chance (or was it destiny?) Some of my friends mentioned green tea and how pleasant it was. I tried it but found my brewing was rather crude. I spent some time researching and discovered Taiwanese oolongs through your blog and it was love at first taste!

Your blog has revealed a side of the human persona which I never knew existed, new emotions and an appreciation of different things to what I have been accustomed to.
In the modern world's turbulent times, where life is fast paced and time seems to have sped up, your ethos, as shared through your blog, of taking the time to enjoy and 'feel' quality tea has inspired me to look at life differently, sitting back and focusing on stillness.

I see you as a teacher, after all a teacher facilitates, selecting knowledge which is suitable to the palate of the student and imparting it in a suitable manner. I feel you do the same with your teas and blog. Your writing educates the mind, your tea selection educates the palate. I truly believe that you select your teas as an educator and with me, the drinker, in mind.

To conclude, yes your blog has educated me, yes it has directed me to wonderful and fantastic teas which I never knew existed (the 2014 Spring Da Yu Ling is absolutely amazing, the best I have ever had), yes it has changed the way I brew (every tea gets put through the competition brew for a robust tasting and I pay a lot of attention to how I pour water on my tea now) but above all, indebted and full of gratitude, I have been enabled to experience one of the pleasures of life in a unique way which has connected me to a world thousands of miles away which I never knew existed

Special prize (50 gr of a 2013 Hungshui Oolong of his choosing) for Horatio C. who sent me this Haiku:

                     Ten thousand harvests in one cup of

               Enlightenment should be a neverbeginning and
               Neverending moment."
We would like also to honor these 2 essays with a pack of 25 gr of organic Concubine Oolong from Feng Huang each:

" Feeling a little adventurous, I kept some 2012 SLX Spring oolong aside two years ago and tried some of it today. The whole experience made for an authentic experience of how old teas or teas coming of age can still taste fresh! It a little moment of triumphant for me and I believe that little tea victories in life would not have been possible without the existence of informative, educational blogs such as Tea Masters.
The first infusion yielded a yellow-green colour and tasted sweeter than a fresh oolong. It felt mellow but still reminded me of a high mountain tea. I wasn't sure if this was hallucination, but the rocky note of a two-year old SLX oolong came through for me. It felt pretty distinctive as this note has a slight semblance to a lapsang souchong tea I tasted not too long ago.
The second little surprise arrived when the tea refreshes itself with every brew I made. From a mellow, sweet tea to a greener, light refreshing oolong. This tea has rejuvenated itself! Overall, when one brews the right teas, one will be rewarded with the gra-T-fying sessions at the tea table.
Thank you for the high-quality tea supplied in the last few years :)" (Shumin, Singapore)
A concubine and the Shanlinxi High Mountain Oolong
And an entry in French by Hélène in Paris, France:  

"Déjà 10 ans ?! ... Je réalise que j'ai découvert ton blog il y a 7 ans : un beau cycle traversé!
Le temps du thé crée une relativité particulière, une sensibilisation à une perception différente du temps, de l'instant.
Prendre le temps d'un Gong Fu cha, seule ou accompagnée, est un moment précieux pour moi.
Ma découverte du thé m'a menée à découvrir ton blog parmi d'autres. Très rapidement, j'ai choisi de privilégier tes explorations car tu respirais la proximité des théiers !! ... Te lire me projetait directement au contact des expériences que tu décrivais, que tu décris, tel un carnet de route bien agréable et riche d'apprentissages multiples.
Il m'arrive de faire une escale, mais je ne peux guère rester très longtemps éloignée de la mise perspective que m'offrent tes expériences !
Je me recentre bien volontiers dans ma démarche propre sensorielle vis-à-vis de ma pratique de la réalisation d'un thé choisi et suis sensibilisée à de nouvelles attentions, suite à la lecture de tes posts.
Que la poursuite de ton exploration nous ouvre encore davantage à la richesse de ce monde du thé, épanouissant nos sens, orientés et aiguisés à sa culture et au vaste potentiel de la dégustation, pas à pas ! ...

Merci Stéphane !"

Thank you all for your participation and these great entries that made selecting the best really hard. The pictures illustrating these essays come from a Shanlinxi mountain Chaxi I made a few days ago.
By now, you know that to make a great high mountain Oolong, you need:
- high quality tea leaves (preferably selected by someone passionate and knowledgeable!)
-  good water that has reached the boiling point,
- a gaiwan or an adequate teapot that is made of hard clay, fired at a high temperature and has a roundish shape, and that you have well preheated,
- a rather long first brew to open the tightly rolled leaves ...

Da Yu Ling plantation
But there are 2 other ingredients that will make a real difference to your appreciation of the high mountain Oolong. Maybe it was exaggerated to qualify them as secrets, but I feel that they are not mentioned enough:

1. The sun! If you look again at these pictures, you will realize that the afternoon sunshine adds so much beauty and clarity to the tea soup in the cups. 

The sun is a natural companion for high mountain Oolong leaves. It starts in the plantation: they grow basking in bright and generous sunshine! 

It's no wonder that I just love to make high mountain Oolong at the beach then!

2. A happy mood! There are teas suiting a melancholic mood (or poor lighting conditions), but Gao Shan Cha isn't one of them. These Oolongs are harvested in stunning mountain landscapes of Formosa (the beautiful) by their happy inhabitants! Processed in a way to retain its freshness and energy, these Oolongs are an invitation to smile and enjoy life while tasting them!

It's the perfect summer vacation tea.

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