Thursday, April 26, 2018

Tasting Baozhong where it's made

This is one of my favorite spots to enjoy tea outdoors near Pinglin, between Taipei and Ilan. The elevation is only 450 meters high, but it's completely surrounded by green subtropical forests and tea plantations. The tea I brew is my 2016 winter zhuo yan Wenshan Baozhong (it's the tea you get for free right now for any order of 200 USD or more).
This Baozhong is insect bitten, but far less oxidized as Oriental Beauty. The aromas are fruitier than a fresh Baozhong, and the taste has a kind of bitter-sweet astringency that lingers quietly in the palate. The color of the brew is golden, which is a great fit with my Chabu and my T-shirt! It's an interesting variation of the traditional Baozhong flavors. Actually, there's already a great diversity of Baozhongs that are made in northern Taiwan. Since this area is the cradle of Taiwan tea, there are more cultivars than in other tea regions. And all these cultivars can be processed as Wenshan Baozhong. That's why you'll find some little known cultivar names in my Baozhong selection (yingzhi hongxin, ying xiang). This diversity is one of the things that make Wenshan Baozhong interesting.
The twisted shape of the dry Baozhong leaves has an impact on how the tea is brewed. It's actually easier to brew than rolled Oolong, because it's easier to open up the leaves and get them to release their flavors. That's why it's suitable to use a porcelain gaiwan with Baozhong!
The other nice thing about Baozhong is that it comes from such a spectacular landscape!
These pictures make me think of the career of a Sung dynasty mandarin. During the first stage, the mandarin is fully devoted to the service of the emperor and, through him, the country. When he retires or is cast away, he often lives simply on a mountain where he reflects on his errors and what he could have done better! This kind of attitude shows a great strength of character. They'd accept complete responsibility for what happened to them! This shows how free they must have felt, even though they were following the instructions and wishes of their emperor. The only blame they'd cast was onto themselves!
This is also the spirit of the tea brewer when performing a Chaxi. First, he should make it with full devotion, fully involved in making it succeed, as if he were doing this in the service of a bigger power. Then if anything goes wrong, it's his fault and he should not blame anybody or anything else. Are the leaves of poor quality? It's his responsibility to find/purchase good ones. The water isn't warm enough? He should wait until it boils or add more fuel to his heater. The equipment is also his responsibility as well as every movement that he'll do to prepare the tea. Maybe he should train more often or select more suitable ware... We recall that mandarins were used to learn to write Chinese characters through endless repetitions...
The difference is that the mandarin worked rather selflessly for the glory of his emperor, while the tea brewer gets to fully enjoy every tea he makes!


Laurent Vlk said...

Thank you Stéphane for this very nice article. Should we start as early as possible to face our mistakes on the top of a mountain? Or should we wait to reach a certain age? In that case what age is recommended?

TeaMasters said...

According to Sung dynasty mandarins, the time to reflect deeply on the mistakes is when the mandarin had the luxury of time, when he was off duty so to speak. It's not a matter of age, but a matter of (lack of) occupation. As long as they were in the active service, they'd just try to do their best, acting according to the highest principles. There's no time for hesitation or overthinking things when you're in the action.
So, there's no age for it. You did this when you retire or take a break from active life and some retire from work earlier than others...