Tuesday, October 01, 2019

A gaiwan tea class

For his second tea class with me, Cosmin asked to improve his gaiwan brewing! This may seem a little bit strange for someone who is passionate about tea and who first contacted me long time ago, in 2010! (In those days he used to have a blog and published an interview he did with me! Unfortunately, his blog isn't active anymore. Like many early tea bloggers, adult life is too time consuming to do more than posting pictures on Instagram...) Besides, he told me that he would fly to Taiwan specifically for this tea class (and to purchase some Oolongs from my selection)! This put a lot of pressure on my shoulders and therefore I opted for this beautiful tea house to conduct the lesson!
The idea of learning to brew with a gaiwan is to focus on the fundamentals of tea brewing. So, in this spirit, I decided to use a very basic ivory color porcelain gaiwan.
Actually, Cosmin's request was even more specific. His focus was to learn to brew roasted Oolong in a gaiwan! That's why I chose this qingxin Oolong, high mountain, roasted and jassid bitten Zhuo Yan Oolong from Shan Lin Xi. The roast on this tea is particularly strong, which makes it a real challenge to brew well in a gaiwan.
Rolled Oolong requires energy to open up. It also requires a high temperature. That's why it's so important to preheat the gaiwan well. Water near boiling also helps to unfold the leaves. Then, it's possible to pour slowly and calmly on the leaves for the first brews.
The result is a beautiful color, excellent transparency and shine. The fragrances are a nice mix of roast and ripe fruits. The taste is sweet and very long. It's complex and rich like a pure malt whisky!
After showing how to brew, it's time to let Cosmin practice the gaiwan. Because if the theory is relatively easy, the practice is much harder. There are many details to keep in mind. And the best way to remain focused is to pour in the cups instead of in a gongdaobei (pitcher).
The trick not to burn your fingers is to hold the gaiwan by the egde of the cup. Again, easier said than done. I showed him and told him several points how to improve his brewing. I think it was helpful, because this is what he wrote to me afterwards: " Just want to say thank you for sharing that knowledge with me. I learned so many years by myself and caught a bit of info from all around, but this is first time I am properly guided.

I was very excited and overly happy on Saturday so it was hard to calm down, but those tips you shared have massive effect on the way I do tea. 

Even on puerh, my smoothness is different. My consistency on oolong brewing is now very different."
Thanks for this feedback! As I explain in my Oolong Brewing Guide (which you receive for free if you a place a 60 USD+ order), "the goal of the first brew is to unfurl the leaves as evenly as possible in the gaiwan/teapot". You know your tea is well brewed if it tastes good and if you see that the leaves are evenly open in your gaiwan!

Friday, September 20, 2019

La confusion autour du Bai Cha

Cette infusion de mon Anji Baicha à côté de la bibliothèque de la maison Lin (Banciao, New Taipei city) me permet de revenir sur une confusion autour des termes 'Bai Cha' qu'on traduit trop rapidement par 'thé blanc'.
Cette confusion ne concerne pas que ce Anji Baicha. On la retrouve dans le traité du thé de l'empereur Song Huizong (1082-1135). En effet, l'empereur y parle de Bai Cha, son thé préféré, produit par une poignée de fermiers seulement. Beaucoup de lecteurs, même chinois, font un contresens lorsqu'ils en concluent que Song Huizhong aimait le thé blanc!
Or, de nos jours, parler de thé blanc, c'est faire référence à la classification du thé en six couleurs (blanc, jaune, vert, bleu/vert, rouge et noir). Cette classification ne date que du début du XXe siècle, et le procédé de fabrication du thé blanc ne date que de la dynastie Qing (1644-1911)!
Ce à quoi Song Huizong fait référence est bien du thé vert, non oxydé. Ceci est clair dans sa description de la production du thé à son époque (les autres couleurs de thé n'avaient, d'ailleurs, pas encore été inventées à son époque).
Deux raisons peuvent l'amener à l'appeler Bai Cha, thé blanc:
1. Le cultivar du thé peut être décrit comme blanc. C'est le cas du Anji Bai Cha ou du Bai Ji Guan (crête blanche de coq) à cause de la couleur claire de ses feuilles séchées.
 2. La mousse créée par le fouettage de la poudre de thé vert matcha est de couleur blanchâtre. C'est le cas avec du matcha frais de bonne qualité.
Et j'en profite aussi pour tordre le cou à une autre idée reçue: non, les galettes de puerh ne datent pas de la dynastie Song (ou Tang). Autrefois, les galettes étaient du thé vert pressé. L'arrêt de l'oxydation de ce thé vert était obtenu par une cuisson à la vapeur, alors que pour le puerh cela se fait au wok (et l'étuvage ne se fait que pour le pressage). Le puerh date, lui, de la fin de la dynastie Ming (1368-1644).
 Avec mon thé vert Anji Baicha, je suis agréablement surpris par une infusion de couleur très claire et je remarque aussi que la feuille de thé est d'un vert clair également. Et pourtant, le goût et les senteurs sont bien là, rafraichissantes et délicates!
 La forme pointue du Anji Bai cha a aussi inspiré ma nouvelle "Le rêve de thé de l'empereur Fei" (offert pour toute commande de plus de 90 USD). A ce propos, voici le commentaire de Laurent: "J'ai bu ta nouvelle d'un trait avec délice. Un bel éloge de la complémentarité incarnée par les 4 enfants (...) C'est très bien écrit, dans les règles de l'art du conte. Je n'ai pas détecté de lourdeurs. Vraiment gracieux ce texte."
Et si vous voulez faire l'expérience d'un vrai thé blanc, je vous renvoie à celui de ma sélection. Il est même possible de goûter sa version thé vert!

Friday, September 06, 2019

Matching the tea to your attention level

Is it possible to travel to this forest with the help of a tea? I don't mean physically go there, but in your mind. If you say "No, it's not possible", then it's probably because you haven't had yet made such an experience when tasting tea. And maybe it's because your tea didn't have forest scents or because you were distracted. Maybe you're tasting tea while working on your computer or while watching TV, reading a book... In that case, your mind is already full with other thoughts and pictures.

So, what I'm getting at is that when you are making tea, your attention level is like pregnancy. Either you're fully there, or you're not! If your attention level is 50%, where does the other 50% go?! Computers may multitask, but when it comes to tea, if you want the best experience, you better be fully present.

Of course, sometimes tea is simply a beverage you drink to quench your thirst while your mind is busy with something else. That's not when you make a Chaxi and that's also not when you brew your best leaves. (It's for such daily teas that I have also selected more affordable teas like this 2004 raw Xiaguan Tuo Cha at 10 USD for 100 gr)
But when you're making a tea with (full) attention, that's when you want to brew particularly good leaves. What else do you need beside attention and very good leaves? The concept of Chaxi that I advocate says that you should organize/create a setup that is both functional and connected to the leaves you're brewing in an aesthetic way. Recently, I've read this text by French artist/writer Stéphane Barbery. He proposes 3 elements to make a tea bowl meaningful. We can also apply his concepts to the Chaxi itself:

1. Storytelling: the Chaxi should tell a story. With this aged organic roasted Oolong tea, we are travelling to a golden age of purity. I've got it in 2004 and have aged it for 15 years. Patience sometimes leads to excellence... (A word of caution: too often tea marketing offers a nice story, but it's not always matched by the leaves. Beware!)

2. Ritual: turning a tea into something that connects us to something sacred or bigger than tea is another way to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. Tea isn't something sacred at all. It's made by humans from plants that grow like other plants. And like any food, the better you prepare it, the better it will taste. But when you turn your tea into a ritual with all your attention and care, than the whole process and ritual will feel meaningful, not just the tea.

3. Mirror: The Chaxi echoes something in us. The delicate fragrances of the tea may unlock memories in our brain. Or maybe the bliss we experience with the beauty inspires us to create something beautiful or to feel grateful... The Chaxi is meaningful because it connects with our emotions, or it expresses them. 
These 3 elements: Story, Ritual and Mirror can be part of a successful Chaxi. But they still require and presuppose your (full) attention! Of course, there are many ways to make good tea, but thinking of these 3 elements will help you make your tea particularly meaningful! Your mind might even find the way to a forest!

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

TeaMasters fait sa rentrée littéraire

Beauté Orientale de Hsin Chu
Ce n'est pas tous les jours que j'écris une nouvelle sur la Chine ancienne et le thé. C'est même la première fois! Et les premiers retours de lecteurs sont bons:

- Nate: "I like the story. It has a real classical feel".

- Elisabeth: "I am totally enchanted by your story. You’ve managed to create the magical quality of a folk tale or legend, complete with tests, obstacles overcome, lessons learned, treasure discovered; a charming “once upon a time” story in a historical setting. It’s both lighthearted and thought-provoking. Pure pleasure!"

J'attends avec impatience les impressions de mes lecteurs Français!

Le déclic pour cette nouvelle m'est venu, je crois, après l'achat d'une BD à la librairie Le Pigeonnier, la librairie française de Taipei. Cette BD est La légende du Héros Chasseur d'aigles selon le roman de Jin Yong, un des romanciers les plus lus de Chine. Cette histoire m'a transporté dans la Chine d'autrefois et j'ai eu envie d'y rester un peu plus avec une histoire où le thé occuperait une place centrale.
J'ai situé mon histoire autour de l'an 370 après JC. On est donc quelques siècles avant la dynastie Tang et le Classique du Thé de Lu Yu qui documente clairement comment il préparait le thé. Dans les dynasties antrieures, les méthodes de préparation et les connaissances de cette plante n'étaient pas aussi claires. Ma légende offre donc une explication, parmi d'autres, comment on est passé du thé utilisé comme épice dans une soupe, à un breuvage presque exclusivement composé de feuilles, auquel on rajoutait juste un peu de sel.
 Avant les Tang, les feuilles de thé n'étaient que rarement bouillies seules, mais souvent avec d'autres ingrédients. Et on les utilisait soit en poudre ou en feuilles entières. Mais dit comme cela, il est probable que vous l'aurez oublié d'ici un mois. C'est pourquoi j'ai essayé de faire passer cette information et d'autres connaissances au travers d'un petit conte. Le thé êtant surtout un plaisir, il est bon de ne pas toujours le prendre trop au sérieux! Teaparker nous disait même récemment qu'il ne faut pas en faire une religion ou un produit aux vertus magiques! Ses effets sont réels, mais on peut les expliquer rationnellement.

Ajout du 6 septembre:
Laurent m'envoie ce commentaire de ma nouvelle: "J'ai bu ta nouvelle d'un trait avec délice. Bravo! C'est très bien écrit, dans les règles de l'art du conte."
Et je vous rappelle que 'Le rêve de thé de l'empereur Fei' est offert pour tout achat de plus de 90 USD sur tea-masters! J'en profite aussi pour vous informer de quelques nouveau thés: un Tuo Cha de Xiaguan de 2004 à 10 USD les 100 gr, une galette de puerh cru 'paon' de 2007, un thé blanc d'Anji de ce printemps, une Beauté Orientale de Hsin Chu cet été et plusieurs belles théières d'Yixing... Et profitez des 18 thés en promotion!

Friday, August 30, 2019

A new eBook: Emperor Fei's dream of tea

This summer, I felt like writing another short book about tea. I even started a new guide on a particular tea subject, but didn't feel much inspiration coming. Then, one day, a short story of a Chinese emperor who tasted excellent tea popped in my head and kept unfolding. So, I simply wrote it down and it's now available here on tea-masters.com.

The first paragraph gives you an idea of what you can expect in this tale:

"Once upon a time, in the southern kingdom of the Eastern Jin, lived Emperor Fei who had 2 sons and 2 daughters with his wife, Queen Yu. This period of Chinese history is known as the 16 Kingdoms, a time of continuous rivalry and war between 16 fractured regions. Emperor Fei faced many challenges to his authority from outside kingdoms and from within his own administration. His powerful general Huan Wen and court eunuchs were always scheming to weaken his power. As a result, Emperor Fei had regular nightmares in which he saw himself and his family massacred, tortured or decapitated. He didn’t share his dreams with his wife or anybody. He was afraid that mere rumors of his nightmares would become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

And this short story (5500 words) is FREE if you place a tea order worth 90 USD or more (excluding transportation) on my site!

Et la version française est disponible également aux mêmes conditions: gratuite pour tout achat de 90 USD ou plus (sans les frais de port).
Cette nouvelle "Le rêve de thé de l'Empereur Fei" concentre de nombreux thèmes qui me sont chers. Le thé permet une grande liberté. Chacun l'interprète et le prépare à sa manière. En cela le thé est malléable et nous renvoie ce qui nous y avons mis.

Et à force de parler de créativité dans les Chaxi, j'avais aussi envie de la mettre pratique d'une manière bien française, par la littérature. J'espère surtout vous faire passer un bon moment. L'idéal serait de l'accompagner d'un bon thé de ma sélection!
Et si vous avez envie de lire un texte plus profond et plus théorique sur la pratique du thé en mode asiatique/chinois, je vous renvoie vers ce court essai de Stéphane Barbéry, l'homme d'une Renaissance moderne et universelle!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Smile to the cloud in your tea

I'm very grateful for the tea friends in France who sent me this calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. There are many possible interpretations for this short sentence. The word cloud is the most enigmatic and poetic here. In Chinese, yun, cloud, also means the aftertaste of tea! And a tea that produces aftertaste is one that will always make one smile, because it's so good and full of emotions.

A cloudy tea, however, would mean a tea that isn't clear and not well processed. This is probably not the meaning of the author to smile when you drink bad tea. But maybe you should smile when you drink bad tea, because you won't feel better if you start complaining. Even if the tea is bad, you can appreciate the fact that you are alive and have experience and good memories of good teas that enable you to tell that this tea is bad. It's only with the experience of good and bad that one makes progress. And if you are drinking tea, even a bad one, be satisfied that you have found time in your day for a pause when you can listen to your own thoughts!
And it's also fun to imagine a modern meaning to the word 'cloud', a place where we store our digital documents. Smile at the virtual world! Smile at the effort and passion you put into your tea and life! All this will come to pass much sooner than we expect (as the candles on the birthday cake care to remind us!) So smile and enjoy your tea!
And that's why I finished a very rare 1990 aged high mountain Oolong that day. It had a very clear brew and lots of aftertaste that definitely made me smile!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Napoléon's 250th. Great men are like Yan Cha: destined to go through fire to enlighten us

The actual quote, which Bonaparte wrote in high school, is that "Great men are meteors destined to burn to enlighten their century". That was very prescient for a teenager from Corsica who'd become France's greatest emperor, just after a revolution that had ended in a bloodbath and a word we're still using today: terror(ism)!

Napoléon was born 250 years ago today and this Chaxi is my way to remember this great man who saved France when it was on the brink of disaster. I remember that I read his biography with fascination when I was a teenager myself. His spirit continues to inspire many French to think big, universal.

So, for this Chaxi, I knew I had to have a tea invented around his time. A tea that revolutionized tea in China and the world. A tea that stands for top quality, often imitated, but rarely attained. A real WuYi Yan Cha (from 2017).
To brew this YanCha, I naturally chose my Qianlong era Yixing zisha teapot with white and blue decoration, because emperor Qianlong reigned when Napoléon was born. As for the Chabu, I selected one with an eagle, the imperial symbol of Napoléon. The pine tree is a common tree in Corsica.
Such a Chaxi is worthy of an emperor! I may not have conquered the world (of tea) with my blog and my boutique. At least, not in terms of quantity, number of readers/followers or profits. But this wasn't my goal. However, I think that in terms of quality of the knowledge, the wares, the leaves and the tea readers/customers, I have by far surpassed my dreams. This doesn't mean that there's no room for improvement, or that my tea life may get wiped out by the rise of China or some other threat. The bigger you become, the more attacks you're getting, as Napoléon found out... 
True greatness in tea is ephemeral. It's a great brew and then it's gone. "Pourvu que ça dure" said Napoléon's mother when her son was crowned emperor! It's the same for tea: all we wish is that this deep feeling of bliss and elegance lasts!
(Note: since I'm posting about Yan Cha, I would like to share this piece of interesting information from Tea Drunk: True Yan Cha teas harvested in spring 2019 are still being refined in Wuyi this month. This means that real Yan Cha from 2019 are not supposed to be up for sale for another month or 2 weeks at best. So, if you check now and see that a vendor or maker is already selling 2019 Yan Cha now, you can be assured that it isn't genuine. Unfortunately, it's not because sellers wait for the right time that the leaves are necessarily true Yan Cha. But at least this is one way to spot those impatient retailers of fake Yan Cha!)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

2 Chaxi de bord de mer

 Pour ce premier Chaxi, je suis à Kenting, à 100 m de la plage. Le vent souffle trop fort pour me permettre de préparer tranquillement mon thé ce matin-là. Aussi, je vais à cette table partiellement à l'ombre. Et comme on est le matin, j'ai une envie d'Oriental Beauty...
Les odeurs de miel sont gourmandes et en harmonie avec l'été. J'infuse dans mon gaiwan de porcelaine, polyvalent et facile à transporter.
La couleur dorée ressort avec plein d'éclat dans les fines coupes chantantes de couleur blanc ivoire.
Les parfums de l'infusion me chatouillent les narines! Le jeu du soleil et de l'ombre sur le Chabu, face noire, fait ressortir les couleurs chaudes et vibrantes du thé.
Vous en prendrez bien une coupe!
Pendant que je vais faire un tour sur la plage...
Malheureusement, les vacances ont cela de commun qu'elles sont toujours trop courtes et qu'on finit par rentrer chez soi!

De Taipei, je n'ai qu'une bonne heure de trajet pour aller à la plage de Feitsuiwan près de Keelung ou celle de Fulong, mais quand il fait 35 degrés Celcius dehors, ma flemme l'emporte et je préfère souvent mon confort et mon air conditionné!

Et quand j'ai envie de plage, je transorme mon coin à thé en Beach Chaxi! Les couleurs Qinghua (bleu et blanc) sont en parfaite résonnance avec le ciel bleu et l'écume des vagues! Je choisis cet Oolong de haute montagne (Shan Lin Xi) pour sa fraicheur et ses senteurs marines inattendues.

Ces feuilles font le toboggan de ma main à la théière en zhuni d'Yixing.
Le soleil illumine l'infusion dans les coupes. Fraicheur et transparence.
Ces coupes ont l'air si rafraichissantes qu'on a envie de s'y baigner!
Et quand il n'y en a plus, on en refait encore et encore. Le Oolong permet ces multiples infusions miraculeuses!
Le temps passe si agréablement au bord de ce Chaxi, que le soleil commence à tomber. Les ombres se rallongent et il est temps de se dire au revoir et de ranger les affaires...
Mais pas avant d'avoir fait un tour en parapente et d'avoir survolé notre petite plage très privée!
Toutes les vues sont belles, mais j'affectionne particulièrement celle-ci, en contre-jour:
Et à la fin, j'ai même trouvé ces drôles d'algues au fond de ma théière!
Un bon Chaxi nous permet de voyager et de nous amuser. La plus belle plage, c'est celle qu'on crée de toutes pièces avec notre imagination! Bonnes vacances!