Wednesday, July 27, 2011

White gold in the 'Favorite' Palace

The Favorite Palace is located near Rastatt, next to the Rhine river, in Germany. The margravine Sibylla Augusta von Baden-Baden (born von Sachsen-Lauenburg) built this summer palace from 1710 to 1712. She was wealthy and the widow of Louis the Turk, a general famous for defeating the turkish army in Vienna in 1683.

This baroque palace is also called a 'porcelain castle', because it contains so many pieces of porcelain from China and Europe. The main reception room mixes red alabaster with blue on white tiles made in Nüremberg. For a long time, it was believed that these were 'Delft' tiles, faience made in Holland and imitating Chinese qinghua porcelain. But they actually came from Germany.
(Picture courtesy of Schloss Favorite)

The palace also contains a great number of jars, plates, vases, cups... made of porcelain from Jingdezhen, De Hua and Meissen. They used to be diplayed in each room. Now they are mostly kept in an exhibition room in the top floor. (Pictures are not allowed). This fine porcelain collection was Sibylla Augusta's "white gold", her treasure. She was one of Meissen's first customers (Meissen is the first German porcelain manufacturer). And it's interesting to see how popular Chinese designs and art was at that time: in her collection, we can see both the Meissen made cup and the Chinese original cup it imitates! Yes, this was the 'good old time' when Europeans were imitating the Chinese!

This visit is a useful reminder that we are not the first Westerners to fall in love with Chinese porcelain and art. 300 years ago, the wealthy and powerful families of Europe were huge fans and collectors of Chinese tea and table wares. Thanks to their deep pockets, that's also the time when the finest qinghua porcelain was made.

Castles and museums in Europe offer great opportunities to discover these Chinese masterpieces. No need to go to China or Taiwan to admire such pieces! In Paris, for instance, I recommend the musée Guimet.

And next time you drink tea from a porcelain cup, remember that you are holding a piece of 'white gold' and that this is how only the European high society enjoyed life 300 years ago!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Un été frais en France

Durant la première partie de mon séjour, je n'ai pu faire qu'une seule fois le thé dans le jardin. (Photo ci-contre). Ce jour-là, je fis du Oolong de haute montagne de printemps, rafraichissant.

Mais la plupart du temps, les températures oscillent autour de 20 degés seulement. Une envie de chaleur me tourne alors plutôt vers mes Hung Shui Oolongs, mon Oolong Concubine ou mon puerh sauvage cru. Ces thés apportent le soleil qui manque parfois à ce curieux mois de juillet alsacien 2011.

Ce sont aussi des thés qui nous transporte virtuellement, grâce à leurs saveurs, vers ces chaudes contrées d'Asie. Ainsi, j'ai beau être en France, mes thés me procurent les mêmes sensations qu'à Taiwan, le temps d'une bonne coupe de thé!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tea morning in France

My tea cups, Cha Tuo (saucers), teapot and Cha Bu have accompanied me to France. The other items come from my parents' collection. The white waste water bowl is a simple rice bowl, while the painted porcelain plate for the teapot comes from Meissen. Now that I'm back in Europe (for a month), I find it's quite alright to mix some European ceramics in my Cha Xi.

The other thing that has come with me are my teas! Today, I'm drinking some winter 2010 semi-wild Concubine Oolong.
(Note: Many readers have been asking ; I've tasted more than 10 summer 2011 Oriental Beauty teas this year, but haven't found the right one, yet. I'll resume my search in August).
And thanks to a mineral water low on minerals (Mt Roucous), I manage to get this tea as I know it. The cooler temperatures in France also add to the pleasure of drinking a mildly roasted Concubine Oolong.

I've brought a piece of Taiwan to France. It feels like home!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Simplicité et retenue

La lecture d'un livre sur le Chado japonais m'a inspiré cette herbe verte à la place d'une fleur (ou d'un arrangement floral). Le maitre de thé japonais qui a fait le plus pour le 'moins', la simplicité, est Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). Il voulait le thé accessible à tous. Il a privilégié les accessoires locaux et des petits espaces à thé peu décorés. Or, il fut le maitre à thé de Hideyoshi, un des guerriers les plus puissants de son époque. Comme il a du être tentant d'utiliser la magnificence et la grandeur pour en imposer aux autres! Il est donc fort admirable que malgré la fortune et la puissance politique à sa disposition, Rikyu ait choisi une voie simple et intérieure, véritablement exemplaire.
Ce Cha Xi est donc un mix de plusieurs influences, l'une qui vient empiéter sur l'autre (bambou sur Cha Bu!). La beauté de la courbe d'une simple herbe est à la portée de tous. Essayez, je vous garantis que vous serez ému par tant de grâce!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of (Tea) Happiness

On this 4th of July, I celebrate 15 years since I've moved to Taiwan! On this occasion, I want to write about the tea party I recently had with my American friend Jason (president of the Tea Institute at Penn State).

After a month of tea study in Taipei -and just before his departure-, I wanted him to experience not just the pursuit, but the achievement of tea happiness. This is, I feel, the best reward for the commitment and effort he has shown this month. Such an experience is also a good motivator to learn and practice more and more.

So, I took Jason to one of my favorite spot near Nan Shan temple in the Wenshan mountains. We started with the obligatory Wenshan Baozhong. Below, a picture of the spring 2011 'Subtropical forest' Baozhong we brewed.

Our water comes from a nearby spring. Fresh.
I unpack my accessories from an ancient, 2 levels, bamboo basket. Lovely.
The bamboo mat and kimono belt create a thin and long Cha Xi. Elegant.
A porcelain gaiwan lets us taste several teas. Neutral.
Pewter and porcelain tea jars protect the dry Oolong tea leaves. Fragile.

Great tea moments rarely happen by accident. They require Preparation, Practice and Patience. It's the right fit between high quality leaves, the proper accessories, sweet water, learned brewing skills and a quiet mind. There are many variables and no guarantee of success. Failures are part of the experience and road we have to travel. Let's learn from them, too. And let's be cheerful and thankful when we achieve such tea happiness, as here, in the Wenshan mountains!

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Holiday Countdown

In 10 days, I'll board a flying dragon (a plane) that will take me to France (Japan was last year) for a month.

Reminder: If you need some more unroasted high mountain Oolong or green Bi Luo Chun to cool down this summer, now is the time to send me your order! Once I'm in France, I won't be able to send packages.
(I hope you like my latest Cha Bu!)