Monday, March 30, 2020

2 Hung Shui Oolong videos

Last week, I have started to broadcast live Chaxi lessons on Facebook. But since not everyone is following my Tea-masters Facebook page, I'm also recording them with a different camera (better sound!) and posting (some of) them on my YouTube Channel. Here are the last 2 lessons:

Aged Hung Shui Oolong from Lishan from winter 2007



Hung Shui Oolong from Alishan from spring 2016



Please comment on the videos if you have questions about how I brew, the tea... so that I can answer them for everybody! I hope that these classes will give you inspiration to enjoy tea at home with a Chaxi. Because if meditation is a tool to live in the present, a Chaxi is a tool to enjoy life where you are. Harmony in your tea space can be translated to your whole house. The principles are to make your personal space functional and beautiful!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Video: Chaxi lesson with a SanHsia BiLuoChun

As promised, here is a video of how I brew the 2020 Spring SanHsia BiLuoChun in a gaiwan:



The goal of the videos I produce during the confinement is to help you feel comfortable and healthy at home. Taiwan's example shows that this virus can be tamed and life continue almost normally if everybody shows discipline and follows the public recommendations.

The tea-masters.com boutique continues to function during this crisis. Unfortunately, some countries have suspended trade with Taiwan due to the virus (for fear of contamination through local activity, not for fear of importing the virus from Taiwan, since there are only very few cases in Taiwan). Luckily, the largest countries still allow deliveries from Taiwan: the USA, Canada, France, Germany, the UK.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Spring BiLuoChun from SanHsia

This spring, I'm back in San Hsia in the south of New Taipei City. This is one of the few tea regions in Taiwan that specializes in green tea (leaves without any oxidation). This production was originally intended for the Mainland Chinese officials who came with Chiang Kai Shek in 1949. Those who came from Northern regions were used to drinking green tea and habits are difficult to change! And since the state of war between the Communists and the Nationalists prevented any trade, their only solution was to find farmers to help them make green tea in Taiwan.
Since green tea is all about lightness and pure aromas, it's quite important that it should be grown organically. The trick to see spot an organic tea garden is to look at the feet of the tea bushes. Here, we see plenty of weed and a lots of insects! In one part of the garden, nature is actually overtaking the tea trees. Since the farmer is only working with his father, he doesn't have enough time to uproot all the weeds by himself. To compensate for the loss, he is planting new tea trees that will be easier to harvest (his harvesters are 80 years old neighbors!)
However, these new tea trees will only start to produce tea in 3 years...
On the picture below, you can see how the tea garden is slowly being invaded from the right.
I visited the garden on March 22nd, when temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius at noon! Thanks to abundant rain fall this winter, there's a good growth of new tea.
However, with such heat, the aromas are already loosing some of their spring freshness. In theory, the best grade of green tea is harvested before the QingMin festival on April 5th. But in practice, the earlier the better, because that's when the weather is still cool, but just warm enough to grow some small leaves.

That's why, the batch I have selected was harvested on March 6!

The farmer used the Qingxin Ganzhong cultivar and turned this tea into a BiLuoChun. It was emperor QianLong (1711-1799) who invented this poetic name for this tea. It means Jade Snail Spring and it replaced a very crude name: tea so fragrant that it scares people to death!!

The next day, I tested this SanHsia BiLuoChun in 2 different bowls. In a dark green glazed porcelain bowl by Michel François with a deep and tall shape:
And I also brewed it in this shallow celadon bowl from the late Qing dynasty. This test showed the impact of the shape of the tea bowl on the taste of the tea. The shallow celadon bowl has lighter aromas, because its large surface in contact with air cools down faster. Its tea is more refined and thirst quenching.
The tall bowl has more power and the brew remains hot longer. And thanks to the very high quality of these leaves, the brew doesn't get bitter easily (provided you use few leaves, fewer than for Oolong).
Since everybody is staying at home right now, some readers have suggested I give tea lessons on my Facebook page. So, I will try to do so and I want to focus them on the subject of Chaxi. Because if meditation is a way to live in the present, the Chaxi is a way to enjoy life where we make our Chaxi. My goal is to make you feel so comfortable at home brewing tea that you won't want to go out (at least not before the threat is over)! See you soon.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ces 2 héros en première ligne

Dans le parc national d'Alishan, 2014

Mes parents sont des amateurs de thé depuis ma plus tendre enfance et ma mère est la créatrice de mes plus beaux Chabu. Rien que pour cela, ils méritent toute notre reconnaissance pour leur influence sur mon blog.

Mais si je vous reparle d'eux aujourd'hui, c'est car ils forcent mon admiration par leur courage et leur sérénité. Mon père a 72 ans et comptait partir à la retraite dans le courant de cette année. Il est médecin généraliste dans le nord de l'Alsace. La situation sanitaire actuelle et le risque accru pour les personnes âgées auraient pu le conduire à prendre, dès maintenant, une retraite bien méritée et déjà repoussée depuis plusieurs années.
Kenting, sud de Taiwan, 2014
Et bien non! Il garde son cabinet médical ouvert pour diagnostiquer et soigner ses patients, car beaucoup ont le Covid-19. Il prend toutes les mesures possibles d'hygiène pour se protéger, mais c'est un exercice périlleux. En effet, il n'a pas assez de masques pour tous ses patients. Il ne peut qu'en donner aux personnes infectées. Or, pour savoir si quelqu'un est infecté ou non, il faut d'abord l'examiner et le questionner! Et tous n'ont pas de la fièvre ou de la toux...

Ainsi, si 20% des cas les plus graves vont à l'hôpital, cela veut dire que 80% de ses patients infectés iront le voir ou l'appelleront pour une visite à domicile. Mais ce n'est pas parce qu'on a peu ou pas de symptômes qu'on ne peut pas contaminer les personnes avec qui on entre en contact. C'est pourquoi le confinement est si important pour vous protéger et protéger les autres. Car si une personne enfreint le confinement et transmet le virus à une seule autre personne, cela peut conduire à des centaines, voire des milliers d'infections en aval si la personne que vous avez contaminé en infecte d'autres. Et avec un taux de décès de 2 à 5%, on peut être responsable de plusieurs morts (des centaines, voire des milliers) même en ne transmettant le virus qu'à une seule autre personne!
Gankou, sud de Taiwan, 2014
De nombreux médecins généralistes sont déjà atteints du virus en France. Les proches avec lesquels ils vivent sont donc très exposés. Hier, sur Skype, mes parents étaient presque aussi radieux et sereins que sur ces photos. Malgré les risques immenses qu'ils courent, leur courage et leur détermination l'emportent sur la peur. Ma mère aide au combat et confectionne ses propres masques, mais elle n'en porte pas quand elle est avec mon père. Si ça ce n'est pas de l'amour?! D'ailleurs, j'en profite pour dire que je les aime de tout mon coeur! Ils ont toute mon admiration et ma gratitude, et j'espère la vôtre aussi.
La plage Baisha, sud de Taiwan, 2016
Et si c'est le cas, alors respectez ce confinement! Vous avez le pouvoir de sauver leur vie, la vie des soignants en première ligne et de centaines d'inconnus avec lesquels nous sommes tous en lien sans le savoir. Merci! Faites-le pour eux, mais aussi pour vous, pour ne pas avoir de morts sur votre conscience.

Friday, March 20, 2020

A puerh for my nerves

1966 Gushu puerh, 3 grams
The constant flow of mostly bad news about the virus is nerve rattling. Most countries seem unprepared, make similar mistakes and are slow to adjust to the new reality. The good news that South Korea and China seem able to get the virus under control is mitigated by the fact that Western countries are way behind in terms of measures that work (tests, masks, confinement...). This statement by French officials could be funny if it were uttered under different circumstances: "Masks are useless and nobody should wear them, because we must reserve them for doctors and nurses." The solution may be to make your own masks with a vacuum cleaner bag or a tea towel!

Spring is coming and I'm waiting for a sunny day for a trip to San Hsia in search of pre- Qingmin festival green tea. But today was rainy and I felt I needed a strong tea as medecine for my mind. That's why I brewed my 1966 gushu puerh.
I already practice social distancing, but what I need even more is distancing myself from my phone and social media! So, this Chaxi helped me to focus on something different, happy and delicious. The balance in the Chaxi brings peace and harmony. The warm colors of the brew match with the brown/yellow/green colors of the Chabu. And the small Yixing zisha teapot does a great job concentrating the aromas in the cup. The world goes crazy and unpredictable, but aged puerh tea still tastes wonderful! It's almost as pure and smooth as Song Pin Hao, but has more of a backbone in the taste! I think many would even prefer it to a Song Pin Hao!!
 Tea doesn't cure the virus, but for me, it's the best remedy to remain calm and sane! I recommend that you give it a try as well!

Friday, March 13, 2020

L'espoir et le thé viennent de Taiwan

Oolong de Lishan du printemps 2017
Cette semaine a été bien éprouvante pour les nerfs et le moral. Des événements inimaginables il y a 2 mois se sont produits: arrêt des vols transatlantiques, fermeture des écoles, des régions entières en quarantaine, suspension des rencontres sportives...

Il est bien difficile d'écrire sur le thé et de vous indiquer, par exemple, que le Hong Shui de Dong Pian de janvier 2020 est disponible. Je n'ai pas le coeur à faire comme si ce virus n'existait pas. Mais je pense qu'il est de mon devoir de vous envoyer un message d'espoir de Taiwan.
En effet, cette île est très liée à la Chine Continentale. Un million de Taiwanais y travaille et est revenu pour fêter le Nouvel An Chinois vers la mi janvier. Et dès que les premiers cas sont apparus, Taiwan a pris des mesures rapides pour combattre la propagation du virus. Il faut dire que les Taiwanais ont eu de l'entrainement avec le SARS en 2003. Depuis, les gens portent des masques dans la rue quand ils sont malades ou quand ils vont voir un médecin. L'hygiène et la propreté sont également des principes très forts dans l'enseignement à Taiwan et à la maison (on enlève ses chaussures devant l'appartement).

Or, je constate que les infections sont très limitées avec 50 cas pour l'instant et un seul mort. Il est donc tout à fait possible de ralentir considérablement la progression de ce virus. Taiwan est devenu un exemple dans les médias internationaux et en France chez Libé. Il ne faut donc pas paniquer, mais s'inspirer des mesures et des comportements des Taiwanais. Le plus impressionnant, c'est le métro: tout le monde ou presque porte un masque et très peu de personnes s'y parlent.
Bref, buvez du thé chez vous et restez calme!

Friday, March 06, 2020

Thoughts on tea and avoiding the virus

In this post, I will try to give my readers some advice on the virus now spreading around the world. I will try to base this advice on my previous experience of SARS and how Taiwan is currently handling this disease. As for the link with tea, I am not going to claim that any tea you drink can protect you from the virus. However, drinking tea may be part of the solution to avoid catching the virus. Let's see how!
Taiwan was among the first countries outside of China to be hit with the Covid-19 virus. The reason is that there are many Taiwanese who work in China who came back home for Chinese New Year. However, being an island with very few entry points helped Taiwan to track those at risk and it quickly banned tourists from China and required Taiwanese coming from China to remain in quarantine. The number of people infected still continues to increase, but very slowly. Right now there are fewer than 50 cases in Taiwan. There are other reasons for this success at keeping the virus from spreading:
- Most people in public transportation wear a mask. While experts say that a mask doesn't really protect you, it does protect others in case you are infected (and you don't know it). Even after living 23 years in Taiwan, wearing a mask still feels strange for me, but it's an accepted habit here, which makes it easier to wear.
 - Washing your hands regularly, especially each time you come home, is another good way to prevent the virus from spreading. For a tea drinker, washing one's hands should be simple and self-evident habit. Even if you use a scoop instead of the hand to put the leaves in the teapot, having clean hands without bad smells is essential to drink from small tea cups.

- Taiwan also prolonged the winter vacation for pupils and students by 2 weeks. This meant they were in quarantine until it was certain they were not sick and wouldn't spread the virus among each other in school. Not everyone can take a 2 weeks vacation! However, one can try to limit the people he contacts in these time of risk. There are fewer people in restaurants, cinemas and in department stores right now in Taipei. More people are purchasing online and are staying home. A Chaxi is a wonderful way to travel with all your senses while you spend more quality time at home!
In conclusion, my experience in Taiwan recommends to take this seriously, but not to panic. Slowing down the spread is already a big help for the health professionals: it allows them to better take care of those who are sick and gain knowledge about how best to treat the symptoms. Remember, the best way to fight a fire is when it's small (and far away). And teaching others to protect themselves is also a good way to protect oneself! Don't spread the virus, but spread these few recommendations!

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Le secret d'une démonstration de Chaxi réussie


Puerh gushu en vrac des années 1970
Voici le Chaxi que je fis un jour avant la remise de mon diplôme de Tea Sommelier par l'International Tea Sommelier Academy. La ressemblance n'est pas fortuite! En effet, si j'ai appris une chose depuis que je prends des cours de gongfu cha, c'est que le 'gongfu' signifie pratique et expérience. Donc, le meilleur moyen pour se préparer, c'est de s'entrainer avec ses ustensiles et un thé similaire. Ici, je pris mon puerh en vrac de vieux arbres des années 1970. J'aurais pu prendre mes feuilles des années 1920 pour les comparer avec le Song Pin que j'allais infuser le lendemain, mais je me suis dit qu'il est plus intéressant de le comparer à des feuilles plus jeunes (et plus abordables)!
J'ai beau bien connaitre cette théière en zisha décorée de falangcai bleu et blanc, je ne l'utilise pas si souvent que cela. Ce fut l'occasion de me rappeler d'être très attentif à l'écoulement afin de ne pas en mettre trop à côté. Concernant les coupes, Teaparker a pris la décision d'utiliser 8 coupes qinghua inspirées de la dynastie Yuan. (C'est une amie du cours qui me prêtera son set le lendemain). La raison pour ce choix est de rendre le Chaxi plus photogénique. De grandes coupes sont plus visibles de loin que de minuscules coupes de thé! Heureusement pour ma préparation, j'ai gardé un set de coupes similaires que David Louveau avait réalisé pour moi il y a quelques années déjà...
Le Chaxi a l'air pas mal, mais j'ai trouvé qu'on pouvait faire quelques améliorations.
Primo, les spectateurs seront en face et je n'aurai donc pas cette séparation de bambou derrière l'arbre. Secondo, il faudra mettre la plante sur le côté afin de ne pas obstruer la vue sur la théière, la pièce principale du Chaxi. Et pour donner plus de visibilité encore à la théière, je remplaçai cette grande assiette qinghua de la fin de la dynastie Qing par le 'coussin' de porcelaine de Michel François.
Finalement, je n'eus pas besoin de ma jarre, car je pus utiliser celle en argent de Teaparker. Et pour mettre plus de joie dans ce Chaxi, je remplaçai aussi le petit sapin par 2 orchidées! Le 'Xi' de Chaxi veut dire représentation. C'est l'unité de mesures du nombre de spectacles (de théâtre, par exemple). Et comme un acteur, plus on répète, plus on prend de l'assurance, mieux on maitrise le déroulement de l'action, et mieux on est aussi préparé à improviser ou à s'adapter aux circonstances.
Quant au puerh, je trouve qu'il évolue le plus durant les 50 premières années. Mais par-delà, les senteurs ne se transforment plus beaucoup. C'est surtout le goût qui s'affine comme s'il se purifiait.

Conseil pour déguster un puerh qui a entre 80 et 100 ans: Au lieu de 1000 USD le gramme pour de telles feuilles actuellement, mieux vaut en acheter des années 50, 60 ou 70 pour une fraction de cette somme et d'attendre patiemment 20 à 40 ans!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

International Tea Sommelier graduation day

 I've already posted most pictures on my Facebook page and if you're interested in seeing the whole thing (in Chinese), there's this video where you can see me accept my diploma (at minute 37) and later perform a Chaxi (at 1 hour). But let me give more details about the event to those interested.
 The honorable Justice Prof. Dr. Chen Shin-Min handed me my diploma. He's a retired judge from Taiwan's 'Supreme court' which handles questions about the constitution. But yesterday, he came more as an expert of fine dining and wine (about which he wrote a book) and as a juror for the last test of the International Tea Sommelier Academy training.
Most of the trainees who attended the 3x2 days training are staff from the Landis Hotel. The other trainees were either tea students of Teaparker who wished to learn about tea pairing or chefs who were interested in the new possibilities of tea pairing. That's why we were 2 to be distinguished with the honor of receiving our diploma at the event: me, because I graduated with the highest score among all students, and the wine sommelier of the Landis' Paris 1930 restaurant, because he had the highest score among the staff at Landis.
The Landis Hotel used this graduation ceremony to communicate to the media about their tea pairing activities. Their Tian Xiang Lo restaurant has 28 loose leaf teas on its beverage menu! They want to give customers the possibility to order tea that will pair well with their food. And instead of a long explanation, they provided 2 examples of dishes from their menu that can be enjoyed with tea. (I didn't pay too much attention to this, because I was getting ready to perform in front of the whole room -40 people or more. All I remember is that they brewed an Oriental Beauty!)
I start my Chaxi by trying to empty the tea from Teaparker's antique silver jar. He bought it in Paris at an auction some 30 years ago. It was made in China for export to the West.

The trouble, from my point of view, with this jar, is its very small neck and opening. I couldn't get all the leaves out of the jar! That was quite a pity, from my point of view, because the tea Teaparker brought yesterday is one of the most expensive and famous tea in the world: Song Pin Hao puerh from the 1920s! (Estimated at about 1000 USD per gram!)
Below, the writer Li Ang, famous for her novel 'The Butcher's Wife', told us she had tasted Song Pin Hao once in Hong Kong, but she wasn't sure what she tasted was real. That's why she was very eager to taste the original Song Pin Hao from Teaparker's private collection.
(Li Ang attended this event, because she's also a juror on the International Tea Sommelier final exam. And she often dines in Michelin starred restaurants!).
Then I also said a few words about my Qianlong era Yixing zisha teapot with falangcai decoration. My grandfather's pen name was Leo and being a Leo myself, I feel a strong connection to this teapot decorated with a lion.
Since it's old and quite fragile with its thin walls, I start to preheat the teapot by pouring on the lid in order to warm the outside first.
Then I remove the lid.
And place it on a lid holder, an old qinghua mini plate.
Then I preheat the teapot.
While the teapot is preheating, I remove the qinghua cups from their stands. Then, I pour the content of the teapot in the cups.
Next, I carefully let the leaves glide from my hand into the teapot.
I slowly and carefully pour boiled water into the teapot.
While the tea is brewing, I empty the water from the cups in the jianshui.
Then I fill each cup with tea partially.
I go over each cup 2 or three times.
I do this back and forth until the teapot is empty and each cup has received the same amount of tea with the same concentration.
Then I place the cups on their stands.
And I hand them out to the guests of honor, Mrs Li Ang, Teaparker and Justice Chen Shin-Min. The top management of the Landis also received 3 cups.
I didn't drink from this first brew, but I noticed that the color of the brew is very similar of that of my puerh from the 1920s!
The last 2 cups were given to 2 journalists who asked questions about tea pairing.
The ceremony is almost over, but I sense that many people didn't come to just see other people enjoy Song Pin Hao.
Teaparker gave his OK to do one more brew. All those who had a cup would get a sip! And what a rush! It felt a little bit too hectic to appreciate such a fine tea. I had clearer impressions when I continued to brew it at home...
Acknowledgement: A big thanks to Christopher Day for taking all these wonderful pictures!