Friday, November 15, 2019

The Gushu Puerh Conundrum


2019 loose raw gushu puerh from Lancang
Teas differ in intensity of taste. The lightest teas are the least oxidized: green and white tea. In the middle, we have Oolongs, which are naturally sweet and therefore can be brewed more concentrated without tasting bad. And the most powerful of all teas is sheng old arbor puerh! These leaves grow wild at high elevations and are by nature full of flavors. This different degree of taste explains why many green tea drinkers feel that puerh is too aggressive to their taste, and why many puerh drinkers feel that white/green tea tastes weak like scented water.
For that reason, and I generalize a little bit here, puerh drinkers will also tend to brew their teas with more and more leaves, because they are particularly enjoying the punch, the kick in the (taste)buds! Bitterness isn't feared, but expected and ridden like a mighty dragon jumping on the tongue.
The paradox with gushu puerh, especially single origin -not blended-, is that its beauty isn't simply more power. After all, power is rather easy to obtain: more leaves and/or longer brewing time and the result is more concentrated flavors. No, the beauty of a gushu puerh (= tree that is over 100 years old) is its purity and thickness in scent and taste, even when brewed lightly! Or I should even say especially when it's brewed lightly. Because that's when you can experience the amazing purity and long aftertaste of a tea that should be light. Any other tea brewed with so few leaves would have little taste.
And it's not just the taste that is thick, coats the palate, evolves from bitter to sweet and feels very pure, natural. By reducing the power, you are taming the wild beast. Everything feels more relaxed, less aggressive, clean and pure. Instead of a rock concert, it feels like the solo piano of Ludovico Einaudi in Seven Days Walking.
This is gushu puerh conundrum: many tea lovers drink it for its immense power (a tea friend told me once that he got so tea drunk on one occasion that he felt physically ill) and thereby they are missing its other, even more amazing quality, IMO, its purity and deep finesse! A good example of such a gushu puerh is this loose sheng puerh from 300+ years old trees from Lancang from spring 2019. It's the puerh I'm having in this zhuni teapot! And it's amazing!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Oolong de très haute montagne en HD

Dans mon article précédent, je vous ai fait découvrir le Oolong d'Alishan d'hiver 2019. Ce thé a toutes les qualités d'un Oolong de haute montagne et un super rapport qualité/prix. La question se pose donc: pourquoi payer 3 fois plus pour un Oolong de très haute montagne planté 1000 mètres plus haut?
Qu'est-ce qu'ils ont de plus les grands Lishan, Fushou Shan, Da Yu Ling ou Tian Chi?
Pour moi, la différence est celle de la clarté et de la pureté. Ces photos illustrent bien cette impression de passer d'une définition moyenne à de la haute définition! Pour réussir des photos d'une telle précision, il faut que toutes les conditions soient remplies: bon appareil, bon objectif, sujet attractif, belle lumière.
Pour ces Oolongs de très haute montagne, il n'y a pas non plus de maillon faible: plantations très bien entretenues, moins d'insectes en haute montagne, des conditions météo excellentes (soleil et fraicheur), des producteurs très expérimentés et une sélection rigoureuse.
Cette quasi absence de maillon faible et tous ces plus en termes de qualité permettent d'obtenir des Oolongs encore plus purs et précis, surtout si on les infuse bien, avec une belle théière en zhuni d'Yixing!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Winter 2019 Alishan Oolong

The winter harvests for Qingxin Oolong in Alishan are almost done already. Most of the plantations I saw last Friday have been picked and the tea processed. This last harvest of the year takes place in similar conditions as the spring harvest, the first harvest of the year: the weather is warm enough during the day for the leaves to grow slowly, but the afternoons and nights are cold and preserve the freshness of the leaves. (In summer and autumn, there's much more sunshine and heat, and shorter, warmer nights).
New plantation of Qingxin Oolong where the selected tea comes from
That's why winter and spring high mountain Oolong have a similar finesse and light notes. But there's still a difference: spring has higher notes in the scent, while winter has more sweetness in the taste.
Compare the next picture with the first and you'll see how quickly the weather can change between noon and afternoon:
Luckily, the sun comes back half an hour later and let me prepare this outdoor Chaxi in the midst of ChangShuHu's tea plantations.
This is my front view from this spot:
And this is when I sit down:

Naturally, I choose to chose winter Alishan Qingxin Oolong I have selected. It was harvested by hand on October 20th, 2019 in ChangShuHu in a new plantation (see the second picture of this article).

The leaves have a light color, because the way this plantation is oriented means it doesn't get much sunshine (the photo shows that half of the trees are in the shade at noon already). White buds are visible on some of the dry rolled leaves: this is a characteristic that only winter high mountain Oolong has.

The dry scent is lightly fruity and completely fresh, of course!
A warm sunset shines on the Chaxi and emphasizes the sweetness of the brew. My aim of brewing this fresh tea here is to see if it really conveys the terroir, the surrounding smells and flavors. And it does perfectly! It's difficult to imagine a more harmonious feeling!
Brewing at an elevation of 1300 meters means the water boils already at 95.7 degrees Celcius. And since it's quite cool outdoors in the late afternoon, one has to be very careful brewing rolled Oolong. If the gaiwan isn't properly preheated, the leaves won't open well and release their flavors. Then you don't know how good your tea is! As you can see, I avoided this problem and got my leaves to open beautifully and fill the gaiwan evenly:
The leaves are quite typical for high mountain Oolong: 3 big leaves, a small leaf and a bud. They are quite thick, because they come from young tree bushes. This probably explains the long, complex and sweet aftertaste.
The feeling couldn't be better!
The brew has a good clarity and the open leaves are so tender that it seems they have just been picked from the plantation!
Winter high mountain Oolong has a sweetness that fits nicely with the cooler and drier weather of November/December. This winter 2019 Alishan is my new flagship, since the spring version sold out faster than expected, 2 weeks ago!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Wenshan Baozhong in the Wenshan forest


When I take tea friends to an outdoor spot in the south of Taipei, I always treat them to a brew of Wenshan Baozhong (here, the subtropical forest of spring 2019). The number 1 reason is that when you are outdoors there, you can smell the same air, experience the same environment as the Baozhong leaves. And when they release their flavors, you realize that these flavors are like a mirror of the surroundings here! That's how you connect your tea experience with nature! The explanation is that tea leaves are so sensitive that they absorb many scents that surround them.
There's a second reason why Wenshan Baozhong is such an important tea in Taiwan and it has to do with history. Wenshan Baozhong existed long before the rise of Dong Ding Oolong (the competition only started in 1976) or High Mountain Oolongs (in the early 1990s). Baozhong dates back to the end of the Qing dynasty, end of the 19th century, even before the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Baozhong started in the Nangang mountains, east of Taipei, then spread all around the city and then to Shiding and Pinglin. There was easier to move the tea to DaDaoCheng (the former name of Taipei) for roasting and then to the port of Tamshui and later Keelung for export. And when the Taipei Tea Merchants Association showcased its 'Formosa Oolong Tea' at various international exhibitions (Paris, Milan) in the first part of the 20th century, it is Baozhong that the people tasted and that collected first prizes!
Baozhong tea used to be processed very much like WuYi Yan Cha. We can still partly see this from the twisted shape of the dry leaves. What has changed, though, is the roasting level. Most modern Baozhongs are not roasted, but simply dried.
And I could verify on my German friends that the fresh, unroasted Baozhong pleased my younger guest the best, while the older guest preferred the roasted version! In any case, they enjoyed drinking tea in this outdoor mountain restaurant both before and after lunch! First to open up the appetite and later to help digest the meal!
Accessories: Yixing zhuni teapot, celadon singing cup, late Qing dynasty qinghua tea boat, Michel François jar and bowl, green variation Chabu, Japanese Chatuo.

Friday, November 01, 2019

La foire aux 20! Tea Sale!

20 thés et
20 accessoires sont actuellement en PROMOTION sur tea-masters.com dans la limite de mes stocks ou jusqu'à la fin de l'année!
Do you feel the gloom of November 1st? Here's a news to cheer you up:
20 teas and 20 accessories are currently ON SALE on tea-masters.com, as long as I have inventory or until the end of the year!

This year, for the first time, there are a great number of Chabu for sale. These tea ceremony fabric are great to create a specific atmosphere, feeling for your tea. They also help you to brew and pour more carefully and slowly, because you'll want to avoid staining the fabric. And these Chabu are all made by hand and exclusive creations of tea-masters.com. You won't find them anywhere else! And here's a tip to further improve your fall Chaxi: add some dead leaves on your display! See in the above pictures how well they match my cup of aged puerh!
(By the way, did you notice that I've recently added a spring 2004 Xiaguan raw Tuo Cha for 10 USD only, and a spring 2007 raw Peacock cake for USD 40 only!)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Réflexions sur le thé et le chamanisme!


Oolong de haute montagne de Lishan du printemps
Cet article fait suite au podcast "Chamanisme: tous en trans?" sur France Inter au NRV à l'occasion de la sortie du film "Un Monde Plus Grand" de Fabienne Berthaud avec Cécile de France.

Le chamanisme nous vient de Sibérie, mais on le trouve pratiqué sous des formes diverses sur tous les continents. Ce sont les pratiques ancestrales pour soigner à la fois le corps et l'esprit. Le chamane est celui qui entre parfois en trans à l'aide de produits psychotropes ou de musique ou d'autres techniques d'auto-suggestion.

J'ai commencé à dresser l'oreille lorsque j'entendis qu'une fois en trans, on ressent plus intensément les énergies, qu'on entre en harmonie avec la nature et avec soi, qu'on a une vision altérée de la réalité. Bref, ce changement de perception est aussi quelque chose que je ressens lorsque je déguste un très bon thé. L'arrière-goût fin et durable a souvent le don de me transporter. C'est un peu 'une porte' qui s'ouvre sur une nouvelle réalité et un bonheur profond!
Cela n'a pas lieu à chaque fois. Ce n'est pas aussi intense qu'une ivresse induite par l'alcool (la seule trans induite dont j'ai pu faire l'expérience). Mais il arrive des moments où une certaine 'magie' opère et que l'effet du thé produise une clarté de la vision, une chaleur dans le corps jusqu'au bout des doigts, et qu'on se sente en paix et en harmonie avec la nature. (Ce fut le cas avec ce Chaxi d'un Oolong de Lishan).
Alors, peut-être que tous les dégustateurs de thé sont un peu chamanes, comme Monsieur Jourdain de Molière fait de la prose sans le savoir! Mais à la façon de Montaigne, je dirais que si voulez une expérience chamanique, allez voir le film "Un Monde Plus Grand" ou un chamane directement, et si vous voulez goûter aux plaisirs du thé, faites du thé! Les bienfaits spirituels du thé ne vont pas de soi. Ils sont dépendants d'un grand nombre de facteurs, à commencer par sa propre sensibilité aux effets du thé. Et en soi, le thé n'est pas spirituel. C'est juste un fantastique produit de la terre, du climat et des traditions comme le vin, le pain, le fromage... Le thé n'a pas besoin de dimension spirituelle pour plaire. Mais s'il peut nous aider à se sentir bien et de faire le lien entre le corps et l'esprit, alors tant mieux!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Bring the past alive

This visitor of the Lin Mansion in Banciao (New Taipei city) chose the perfect dress to visit this late Qing dynasty house and gardens! Instead of simply sightseeing this place, she's reenacting how a Chinese lady might have spent a morning there!
 Her experience of the Lin gardens is completely different than most who come in a modern dress.
And the way she let me take her picture shows that she's really enjoying her time here!
Actually, I was there doing something very similar. I didn't dress Chinese, but I was brewing tea in the old, traditional way. This is also bringing old wares, ancient traditions and aged leaves alive!

 My tea was the 2001 Xiaguan mellon shu puerh. I kept it in a late Ming dynasty jar and brewed it in a late Qing zisha teapot.

These wares seem to be part of this place lost in time. It's an oasis of beauty. But this beauty is not preserved under glass (like paintings in a museum). It's beauty you can play with, where you can become an actor!

Great tea ware is meant to be used, not just sit in a closet. And delicious teas are meant to be enjoyed.
And shared!
That's the least I could do to thank her for posing for my blog.
She told me that she doesn't drink coffee. But when I explained that the dark brew is actually shu puerh tea, she gladly tasted it.
And enjoyed it!
Well, it was a perfect experience for her. She brought the past alive with her dress, her poses, the aged tea she tasted next to the pond of lilies! I'm so glad that I could capture and share these moments on my blog. I hope they will inspire you to also bring the beautiful past alive next time you have tea or visit a historical place!
Michel François celadon cup