Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spring 2014 Shan Lin Xi Oolong

Cultivar: Qingxin (ruanzhi) Oolong
Harvested : May 2nd, 2014
Origin: Shan Lin Xi (1500m), a new plantation
Process: Lightly oxidized, rolled Oolong

You can read my review of this tea on my Tea-Masters boutique, using 3 grams and 6 minutes brewing.

It tasted so good that way that I barely use more leaves for this Chaxi with a big, modern zhuni Lixing teapot.
One reason that allows me to use so few leaves and still get so much fresh energy is that these leaves are particularly concentrated with pure flavors. Compared with your average Shan Lin Xi Oolong, these leaves will produce a brew that has more substance and that still tastes very clean. The secret to this top quality is cracked with some simple common sense: the soil from the new plantation is naturally rich and doesn't require artificial fertilization. The trees are young, growing and full of energy.
Obviously, the tea farmers can also taste the difference and will ask a higher price for superior concentration. So, if you can get the concentration of 4 grams of regular Oolong with just 3 grams, then the price is likely to be about one third more expensive. If the price reflects this, is it still a good deal? From a tea drinker's point of view, all other things being equal, I believe so for three reasons:

1. Not only are the leaves more concentrated in good flavors, but they usually also contain less impurities in the taste. The mouth feels cleaner and the tea feels more natural and energetic. That's the second benefit of a new plantation Oolong. This benefit is more subtle, because it's not about having more concentration/flavors, but about having less (harshness in the taste, heavy tongue...)! The taste's finish of new plantation tea is much more comfortable.
 2. A clean taste is an essential quality for advanced tea lovers. As our palate becomes more demanding, we expect always better quality. But while average quality is common, higher quality is in more limited supply. This is the whole point of selecting tea: finding superior quality. That's why we (vendors and customers) sample several teas until we find the ones we consider best. Top quality is rare.

3. Teas which are more concentrated age better than lighter teas. (It's similar to wines in this regard). There's less hurry to finish the pack of tea quickly.

Monday, May 26, 2014

La préparation Gongfu Cha traditionnelle de Chaozhou

Durant la dynastie Qing (1644-1911), est née au Chaozhou la méthode dite 'gongfu cha' pour préparer le thé semi-oxydé (Oolong). Cette méthode a fortement influencée la façon dont on infuse le thé de nos jours. L'expression 'Gongfu cha' est restée, mais l'on sait rarement ce que cela recouvrait exactement à l'époque.

Cette expression est riche de sens multiples. Elle s'applique:
- à la maitrise du temps: savoir gérer son temps quotidien pour trouver un moment pour préparer son thé. Cette maitrise du temps passait aussi par la maitrise du temps pour allumer son feu de charbon et arriver à faire bouillir son eau assez rapidement, mais sans précipitation.

- au choix de feuilles de thé de bonne qualité. Les gens de Chaozhou étaient prêt à y mettre le prix: un vieil écrit mentionne que lors d'une transaction, un thé de WuYi particulièrement bon s'échangea contre son pesant d'or! Un prix élevé n'est jamais une garantie de qualité, mais il est évident aussi que la meilleure qualité est rare et a un certain coût.

- le choix des ustensiles par rapport au thé et l'harmonie entre ces ustensiles. Théière d'Yixing, coupes en porcelaine de Jingdezhen, Nilu du Fujian, jarre et soucoupes en étain de Chaozhou... Il n'était pas aisé de s'acheter un set pour gongfu cha à l'époque, car chaque ustensile venait d'un endroit différent. Les ustensiles les plus raffinés étaient souvent des commandes auprès d'artisans, et non des produits de consommation de masse.

- la maitrise du processus de l'infusion des feuilles. L'étape du préchauffage des ustensiles était primordiale. Aussi, je vous montre la technique de Teaparker et comment il fait tourner 2 coupes à la fois dans l'eau chaude:
 L'autre geste important est comment l'on verse d'eau bouillante dans la théière. A chaque infusion, les feuilles ont une disposition et un degré d'ouverture différents. Il s'agit donc d'adapter le flux de l'eau aux feuilles de thé pour en sortir le plus et le meilleur.
 Cette dernière image me permet d'illustrer une autre particularité du gongfu cha originelle: la théière baigne dans de l'eau très chaude. Cela a pour but de la maintenir plus chaude que si elle était à l'air libre. Ainsi, plus de saveurs sortent des feuilles en infusion. C'est donc pour cela qu'on se préoccupait de savoir si une théière est shuiping ou non. Shuiping signifie qu'elle est bien équilibrée et ne se retournera pas si on la fait flotter sur l'eau.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tea and the city

"With High Mountain Oolong, I can see far and clear!"

"Voyagez toujours plus loin avec mes Oolongs de haute montagne!"

Note: I have now completed my selection for spring 2014  Wenshan Baozhongs.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Feeling of Taiwan High Mountain Oolong...

3 of my tea students from the Tea Institute at Penn State University are visiting Taiwan right now. What would be a good place for them to fully enjoy and appreciate a High Mountain Oolong? Well, on a warm day in May, that would be a spot in a Taiwanese mountain, overlooking tea fields and bamboos. And that's the place where we went this Tuesday!
Outdoors, the heavy and sweet flower smells of the forest permeate the air. It's hot and we are longing for a cooling tea. This makes high mountain Oolong a perfect match for this occasion. We brewed Oolongs from 3 different mountains to taste and compare these mountains.
We started with my Qilai mountain Oolong of Spring 2013.
We used charcoal to boil the water in the silver kettle. This made our water very precious, because the Nilu only produced a limited amount. But less is often more in tea: it made us more careful in our movements and focused on the teas we brewed.
Everybody loved the Qilai and felt it had a very creamy, buttery taste with lots of freshness and sweetness. There's also dry, rocky feeling which creates a very pleasant aftertaste. It's only after the first brew that I told them that it's from 2013. Nobody had found any sign of it being old. They all felt it had the freshness they are looking for in High Mountain Oolong.

Next, Ryan brewed the Lushan Oolong. The package mentions Da Yu Ling, but this is a kind reminder that you can't trust a tea package. It's all too common for teas to be 'upgraded' by the farmers, because the famous names sell better than some obscure mountain that is just starting to be developed.
The reason for selecting this Lushan is that it has indeed certain qualities that make it very similar to a Da Yu Ling Oolong, even though it comes from an elevation at 1600 meters (only). The leaves are particularly thick and rich, because the plantation is new and the soil very rocky.
This Lushan Oolong tasted differently than the Qilai. I think the main difference was in the energy level felt in the aftertaste. This felt more powerful and direct. But it shared the same freshness and clean taste in the mouth. And that's despite the fact that we used relatively more leaves, because we're brewing outdoors where we are more easily distracted. This is a character of great quality teas: they feel stronger and more powerful, but at the same time, there's a lightness and clean feeling in the mouth.
The third tea is from Lishan, because I want to let them experience this famous mountain and a plantation above 2000 meters elevation. It's Merv's turn to brew:
The concentration and steady hand of these students is impressive and an example to follow. While brewing, they only have eyes for the teapot. Their brews were very successful and they always managed to open up the tightly rolled leaves well.
The Lishan Oolong has a little bit longer leaves than the Qilai and Lushan. But in terms of concentration of flavors, it's pretty similar. The overall feeling was almost lighter, more subtle and elegant.
Jeff continued to brew the enduring Lishan Oolong:
He's using an 80s zhuni teapot. Its hard clay is a great match with fragrant Oolongs. There's very little rounding of edges, but an added intensity due to the very high heat retention of this teapot rich in iron.
Tasting 3 different high mountain Oolongs back to back in this luscious forest with changing weather was a great experience for all of us. Ryan, Merv and Jeff have accumulated a whole new set of tasting data and taken detailed notes. For the future, they have now high and clear standards.
Merv agrees that it's been a tasting he won't forget so soon:
Ephemeral beauty in a cup of tea...
Quenching our thirst for knowledge.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chaozhou gongfucha brewing, step by step

The Chaozhou Gongfu Cha brewing method originated during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in the eastern Guangdong province, next to Fujian. The tea used was roasted Oolong, preferably from the Wuyi mountains.

Chaozhou Gongfucha was necessarily brewed for 3 persons (like bridge is played by 4 people). If more people wanted to drink tea, they'd have to set up their own set (for another group of 3 people)... This method has greatly influenced the way tea is currently brewed in Taiwan and China. In a previous article, I have presented each item of the Gongfu cha set. Let's see how to use it!

First, water was boiled in a clay kettle (diao), heated by glowing hot charcoal in a Nilu.

This hot water is then poured on the zhuni teapot and then inside it and also also in the bowl (Chaxi):
This hot water in the bowl is used to preheat and wash the teacups. Using 2 fingers, the brewer turns the cup(s) in the hot water behind the teapot
The third cup is handled alone. What's important when handling all the cups is to only touch the outside walls of the cups. Touching or holding the cup's inside would be seen as a mistake, since the goal is to clean the cup.
The hot water inside the teapot is emptied in the cups. That's when you see if you have a good fit between the size of your teapot and the size of your cups:
The empty teapot floats on the water in the bowl if it is light enough and a real Shuiping (water balanced)! This is where this teapot quality came into play. The lid either rests on the Jianshui (waste water bowl) or on the cups. The dry leaves were stored in the pewter caddy and we put them now in the teapot with our hand, in the middle of the teapot. In case of Wuyi Yancha, we would first crush 30% of the leaves and then add 70% of whole leaves on top in order to produce a very strong brew:
The boiling water is poured onto the leaves:
No rinsing. The tea was top quality. While the leaves brew, the water is emptied in the Jianshui.
As I prepare to pour, I slowly let my teapot glide over the rim of the Chaxi in order to leave any water inside the bowl. It's also possible to use a piece of fabric to let the teapot rest a couple of seconds to dry its bottom:
The tea is poured in the cups: 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 in order to make the brew even:
The cups are placed on their pewter saucers:
The tea is then presented to the guests on a tray (cha pan):
The guests drink their cup of tea in three sips at least (not in 1!), because they wish to enjoy the taste rather than just drink to quench their thirst. ( means tasting and this Chinese character is composed of 3 mouths).
For this Chaozhou Gongfucha demonstration, I've used my winter Shan Lin Shi strongly roasted Hungshui Oolong. Fittingly, the sun came out as we were enjoying this tea and shone its bright and warming light!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Un parfum de Renaissance du thé à Penn State

Fin avril, le Tea Institute de Penn State University (PSU) a organisé une série d'événements pour la préservation et connaissance de la cérémonie régionale du thé de Chaozhou, connue également comme gongfu cha. Pendant ces 4 jours, je fus l'interprète de Teaparker auprès du public Américain et des nombreux étudiants du Tea Institute. Au second jour, l'Institut fit une dégustation publique sur ce pont en verre, "Gateway to the Sciences" (voir ci-dessus). De là, nous avons une magnifique vue sur les arbres en fleurs du campus.
Jason Cohen, fondateur du Tea Institute
Le printemps se manifeste dehors, mais aussi au travers de ces Chaxi fleuris. J'y vois un signe annonciateur d'une renaissance du thé de qualité en Occident. La Renaissance européenne eut lieu grâce à un retour à l'éducation classique des oeuvres latines et grecques. C'est en s'appuyant sur l'expérience du passé que de nouveaux progrès furent possibles. Cette propagation du savoir (merci Gutenberg) eut lieu dans les universités d'Europe.
Pour le thé, je vois le Tea Institute de PSU suivre une démarche similaire. Cette année, ils ont demandé à Teaparker de leur enseigner le Gongfu cha de Chaoshan, tel qu'il fut pratiqué durant la dynastie Qing (1644-1911). Il s'agit pour eux de bien comprendre le passé afin de pouvoir mieux comprendre le thé d'aujourd'hui et lui donner une nouvelle impulsion. Chaque élève devient un ambassadeur et diffuse son savoir et son expérience par des événements 'live' ou bien par blog (comme votre serviteur).
Pour donner une impression forte et un arrière-goût long et puissant, c'est mon Hungshui Oolong 'fort' de Shan Lin Shi de cet hiver que nous avons choisi d'infuser lors de cette dégustation. Etudiants et spectateurs se sont relayés pour préparer ces feuilles, aidés des conseils de Teaparker.
La lumière du prinemps rencontre la finesse d'un Oolong de haute montagne et sa torréfaction amplificatrice d'arômes doux. Un rien d'imagination catapulte nos sens au milieu d'une nature en fleurs. 
Cette expérience a bien plu à tous les spectateurs. Et cette instructrice Japonaise Omotesenke en a gardé de beaux souvenirs!
(Note: le site Tea Masters avait un bug, mais il est maintenant résolu! Merci pour votre compréhension et patience. Pour se connecter, il faut utiliser au lieu de l'adresse

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring 2014 Baozhong: 4 years old Wenshan plantation

Cultivar: Qingxin (ruanzhi) Oolong
Harvested by hand: April 29th, 2014
Origin: A 4 years young plantation near Pinglin, Wenshan

Elevation: 400 meters
Process: Lightly oxidized Baozhong, very light roasting

Brewed in a porcelain gaiwan with boiled water and poured in classic qingbai cups. The small Chabu is green with intersecting lines and it is on the black side of a classic sized Chabu. I'm using a Jianyang bowl for the waste water. This creates a powerful contrast underlining a fresh spring feeling.

The leaves are big, dark green, without stems. Their dry scent is light, flowery and reminds me a little bit of vetiver fragrance.  

This Baozhong can be ordered on my new site. Its presentation there may feel dry and impersonal compared with what I used to do on my blog. Actually, the way I brew and review it on my boutique is like a judge at a tea competition: I use a white competition set, 3 grams and brew for 6 minutes. You can see pictures of the dry leaves, the brew and the spent leaves. My notes are those for the tea brewed that way. The goal is to let the leaves speak for themselves. This brewing technique isn't about getting the best out of the leaves, but it aims at getting almost everything out at once in order to better understand its qualities and defects. I think this professional and objective approach is best suited for my tea boutique.
How to brew the leaves to perfection takes a life-long learning! That kind of pursuit and knowledge is best passed through my blog, I feel. For instance, pouring directly with a gaiwan in teacups isn't just about saving the cost of a pitcher, it teaches concentration and dexterity.
 The brew is bright and clear. The scents are like fresh lilies.
The taste is zesty and sweet. The mouth feels fresh and continues to salivate. The aftertaste is pleasant and fresh. The overall feeling is cooling and young. This comes from the fact that this plantation is only 4 years old and it was just started to be harvested last year. New plantation soil is naturally rich and requires little fertilizer, which gives a clean taste in the mouth.
I chose this green fabric for its many thin, intersecting lines. Spring tea is what makes my path meet many of you. I feel very fortunate for all these positive interactions. That's also why I want to continue my blog. Selecting and purchasing tea should be done very critically and objectively. But with the right tea, good knowledge and practice, tea can be so much more than just a hot beverage!
Healthy tea leaves