Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's a wonderful life... to blog about tea

The movie is one of my Christmas favorites. I had the opportunity to watch it again a few weeks ago. And, during this (pre) Holiday season, I have the feeling the happy end is happening to me!

I have received excellent, well written comments/e-mails from my readers. One even sent me a handwritten letter (from England). Several readers sent me samples of their best teas. I'm very touched by all this feedback. It really lets me realize that far from being a solitary act, my tea blog has connected me to passionate, sensitive, generous people around the world. I want to thank you all very much.

2 days ago, an overseas reader even came to my small apartment to visit me! He decided to travel to Taiwan to learn more about Chinese tea. His backpack was filled with gifts for me. Imagine, he brought me the one food I crave since I traveled to his country 12 years ago: hummus (a chickpea spread).He also brought 4 different excellent olive oils (behind the box of hummus). The taste of each is very pure. Like excellent teas, the fragrance is rather low. It slips easily down the throat. But then there is a powerful and yet well balanced aftertaste. I compared with the olive oil (first cold pressed extra virgin Spanish olive oil) from my kitchen. This one has a strong fragrance that says OLIVE and a strong, but very rough aftertaste. This made me then realize that these olive oils don't smell like olives, but more like flowers. Like good wine doesn't smell like grape or tea doesn't smell like grass.

The gifts didn't stop here. This reader also brought pita bread, Turkish coffee and mineral water from Israel. I wonder how my best tea will taste when I use water from the 'Holy Land'... I want to put it aside for a special, mystical moment. Maybe on Christmas night...

He then asked me if the way you pour water to brew tea is really that important. Does it really make a difference? Let's try, I said! I took 2 same gaiwan, preheated them. We used my semi-wild Wenshan Baozhong. He chose to use fewer leaves than me. I went first with the brew. He followed right after me with the same water from the same tetsubin. The result spoke for itself. He obtained a weak, watery tasting tea. Mine was full of fragrances, full body and mellow with a beautiful aftertaste.

"Hey, it's not fair! You had more leaves." So we switched gaiwans for the 2nd brew. Bis repetita: I was again able to get a better result! This was also verified by the leaves that had opened symmetrically in the gaiwan.

That experience was really interesting. It showed me the road I had traveled since I had started learning about tea. And I was now in a position to perform this little 'magic' and get my tea friend to believe that even the way you pour water in the gaiwan will affect the taste of a wonderful tea.


Anonymous said...

Nice post Stephane!

Could you please provide us with more details on your respective pouring methods? What mainly made the difference? Did you pour quicker than him the tea in the cup?

Anonymous said...

Bonjour Stephane,
bon message encore une fois. Alors quelle est cette methode en question? Verser l'eau sur les rebords du gaiwan, doucement et en faisant des cercles???
Je suis tres curieuse, surtout avec cette meteo qui donne envie de boire encore plus de the!

Anonymous said...

J'oubliais, l'hummus se fait avec de la patience, des pois chiches qu'on peut acheter au marche traditionnel, tahini (puree de sesame, facile a trouver ici), ail, huile d'olive, et j'oublie surement qqchose. Bref, plus long a faire a Taipei, mais faisable.

Anonymous said...


It's good to read that the letter arrived; thanks again, and I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas.

Kind regards, and toodlepip,

Hobbes / David

TeaMasters said...

I explained the brewing in my lesson no 4 that you can access from the 'Classroom' page.

Baozhong (and Oolong in general) needs a high temperature to brew and release all its fragrances. This is especially true for top quality Baozhong, and even more for organic, semi-wild Baozhong like the one we chose. Natural grown food is stronger than what grows with human help.

So, during the first brew, you really have to hit the baozhong leaves with the direct stream of just boiled water. Best is to hit as many leaves as possible instead of just pouring on one place. This is what I did.
My friend made the mistake of pouring too slowly, with hesitation. Maybe he was just nervous. But this gave him the proof that the result was vastly different, just because of the pour.

The other problem/challenge was that our water had cooled down a bit after the preheating of the gaiwan. It was almost not hot enough. That meant the pour had to be even stronger to compensate for the lower temperature.

For the second brew, it depends how good you managed your first brew. If it was OK and the leaves are evenly open in the gaiwan, then a slow and steady pour in approximately 1 circle is fine.

Here, his mistake with my gaiwan was that the pour was not very steady, sometimes fast, sometimes slow and at the end it was even interrupted and added again.

With his gaiwan, for the second brew, I actually used a strong pour, like for a first brew. That's because he didn't manage to really 'open' the leaves with his first brew.
As soon as I had opened the lid of the gaiwan, my friend said that he could smell the strong fragrance that had eluded him during his first brew!

I hope this is detailed enough.

J'avais penser faire mon hummus moi-même (j'ai même des pois chiche en boite chez moi), mais je ne crois pas que j'arriverais à en faire aussi bien que l'original. Il faut que cela soit finement broyé pour être excellent.

Anonymous said...

Ni hao! Handwritten letter...England...I was right to guess who that is! :)

Feliz Navidad, Stephane! Always a pleasure to read your writings and musings...Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

Merci Stéphane de partager ces bons moments avec nous, et de nous rappeler L'importance de la façon de verser L'eau chaude sur les feuilles de thé, je l'avais un peu négligée ces temps-ci...

Anonymous said...

Well, we always make tea with Mey Eden (the mineral water from Israel pictured...) - Anyway now I will know what to bring you when I make one day come to visit!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Stephane. I am glad for you and your success :)

I also appreciate your work on writing and linking the texts of the gong fu school. It seems to help. Thank you!

There is a technique of "bolilng" or "cooking" the tea - I do not know, if there is a certain name in English. It seems to be widespread in Mongolia. Do they in Taiwan or elsewhere in China have such a techique?


TeaMasters said...

Tea used to be boiled in China during the Tang dynasty (a long time ago: 618-907). It's also during the Tang dynasty that tea became a drink of its own. Before Tang, tea was more like a seasoning for food and soup. That's probably why it was still cooked during Tang (a pinch of salt was even added!)

So, what they practice in Mongolia is probably a technique that dates or predates Tang dynasty and has survived until now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stephane

Hope all is well with you and the family.

I am glad for the great lesson that meeting thaught me.

Your Gaiwan technique is indeed spectacular! Xiexie.

But I wonder if my "shake the pot" technique would be of any use against your "shaolin-parker pot technique". :-)

Talk to you later and all the best.