Friday, May 27, 2016

Spring 2016, the legend of Lishan Oolongs

Da Yu Ling, former tea plantation
Last year, I reported about the fact that the tea plantations on Da Yu Ling are returned to the government as their leases expire. The tea trees are uprooted and the death of Da Yu Ling can only mean that its legend will continue to live on in the memory of tea drinkers. Like for great painters/sculptors, it's with their death that prices really soar, because their production is now limited, finished, but the demand continues to grow with the mystic. And since it's possible to age great high mountain Oolong for 30 years, there will still be billionaires (and patient tea lovers) enjoying a spring 2015 Da Yu Ling Oolong in 2050! 
Da Yu Ling, former tea plantation
Each high mountain produces Oolong with a different character. Da Yu Ling's power and purity explain its appeal and reputation. While the power comes mainly from the altitude, the purity probably comes from the very fact that has led to Da Yu Ling's demise: growth on public land that wasn't intended for agriculture. Since the surroundings were protected forests, each plantation could grow its tea trees in very natural conditions.
Da Yu Ling, 97K
Lishan Oolong, spring 2016
Lishan has a more typical development: lots of small parcels of plantation wherever possible, in order to take advantage of the considerable fame of the Lishan name. The better plantations are located outside the village, of course, at a slightly higher altitude and with better surroundings. This year, I have selected this Oolong from a 2400 meters high plantation, harvested on May 9th. For me, this was an experience of ultimate elegance.
Lishan village
 Tsui Luan Oolong, spring 2016
Things are pretty crowded near Lishan, but this is still not enough to provide all Taiwanese, Chinese (and a few Western) Gao Shan Cha lovers with tea. That's why nearby mountains that reach or approach the 2000 meters mark are often simply packaged and marketed as Lishan Oolong. This is the case with the Tsui Luan (翠巒) mountain. It reaches 2100 meters and is located very close by in a western direction. However, despite this proximity, these spring Tsui Luan leaves harvested on May 8th are very different. Very green. Their energy is much more similar to Da Yu Ling than to Lishan, IMO.

Tsui Feng, spring 2016
There's another mountain that is very popular and often lumped together with Lishan: Tsui Feng, 翠峰. It is located south of Lishan, on the other side of the He Huan Shan pass, near the Cing Jing farm. At 1900-2000 m, the elevation of Tsui Feng is a little bit lower than Tsui Luan, but it produces very similar sweetness than Lishan. This year, its chaqi is particularly powerful, even though it starts very slowly and unfolds over several minutes.

Conclusion: The spring 2016 Lishan, Tsui Luan and Tsui Feng are 3 distinct top High Mountain Oolongs. Which one will be your favorite?

Friday, May 20, 2016

"The best tea autist blog"?

Spring 2016 Jinxuan Baozhong
I laughed when I read this on an Internet Forum about my blog:

"This is the best tea autist blog. He takes really nice photos while reviewing teas that 99% of his readers will never be able to afford or find. He brings his huge tea kit outside all the time and always meticulously photographs every drop of tea." (...)

Thanks for the compliments (best, nice photos). However, I would like to take this opportunity to answer the complaint that my teas are too expensive.
And just to prove that I'm not "autist", let me start to agree that there are indeed some teas in my selection that cost more than what 99% of the people would call reasonable. If I'm proposing such teas, it's not because I have a big following among the 1%. It's simply that I love those teas like I love Christmas: they are very special, once a year experiences. They also provide valuable lessons about how teas evolve with time, standards of perfection, qi...
There's always a fine line between the tea enthusiast and the tea snob. Getting used to high quality tea makes it difficult to go back to drinking simpler and cheaper teas. And since I have a direct access to truly amazing teas that continue to drive my passion, it's probably a little bit normal that such teas stand out in my selection. But, first of all, my teas are not difficult to find since anybody can order them online at my tea boutique: !

And if you look at the prices, you'll notice that I have also listed very affordable Oolongs. The '209' Oolong costs just 12 USD for 150 gr. A Jade Oolong is at 12 USD for 100 gr. A high mountain Jinxuan Oolong costs only 25 USD for 150 gr And this Jinxuan Baozhong from this spring costs 18 USD for 150 gr (or 4 USD for 25 gr)... It's the tea that you can see in this article. I've enjoyed it very much. I used a big amount of leaves and the first 3 brews were rather short. The tea had flowery scents, a mellow taste and an elegant finish! In the later brews it didn't mind being pushed.
It shows that you can also find nice quality and pleasure in more common teas. But they are not as common as that. Consider that they are:

- fresh harvests from the finest season, spring,
- single batches from the same field and same day to ensure very distinctive and pure aromas,
- well processed in family sized plantations with long tea making traditions,
- naturally made in Taiwan, without any added scents,
- selected for their superior quality by the best autist tea blogger!
I strongly believe that good entry-level Oolong teas have many benefits:
- They are good companions to practice your brewing skills,
- A good understanding of their qualities will let you appreciate exceptional teas even more (than if you only taste such top teas),
- They teach a fundamental lesson in life: adjust your expectations. It can't be caviar every day! A key to finding pleasure in everyday tea is to understand the character of the leaves and be content when you are able to brew them to their full potential. There's actually less risk of disappointment with an every day Oolong.

Please note that you receive a free pack of Dong Pian Oolong if your order exceeds 60 USD (and a free copy of my Oolong Brewing eGuide). Airmail shipping (with tracking) is free above 100 USD. And it's free EMS shipping above 200 USD. You also find good deals with previous harvests that make good tea even more affordable!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Renaissance de la tradition du thé de la dynastie Sung

Taiwan est une petite ile qui joue un rôle déterminant dans l'art du thé depuis une vingtaine d'années. Ancienne colonie japonaise (1895-1945), Taiwan a gardé de nombreux liens avec le Japon après la seconde guerre mondiale. Le Japon est le pays qui a le mieux su préserver les anciennes traditions chinoises du thé: le Chado est la combinaison du chauffage de l'eau de la dynastie Tang et la préparation thé vert en poudre de la dynastie Sung. 
Ainsi, Teaparker, mon maitre de thé Taiwanais, s'est d'abord intéressé au Chado japonais avant de faire ses recherches sur les anciennes origines chinoises de cette cérémonie du thé. C'est donc grâce aux traditions du Japon que Teaparker a pu redécouvrir les traditions de la dynastie Sung! Il a notamment lu et compris le traité de thé de Sung Huizhong (宋徽宗), l'empereur chinois le plus féru de thé (1082-1135).

 "Mon maitre de thé, c'est Sung Huizhong!" aime-t-il répéter.
La renaissance de la tradition Sung s'est donc faite à Taiwan avec l'aide du Japon. Et pour rendre cette petite histoire encore plus internationale, votre blogueur franco-allemand prépare un thé vert en poudre du Brésil! (Merci Heroldo!)
En effet, une société japonaise a eu l'idée de cultiver du thé vert au Brésil! Il ne manque pas de fraicheur et d'énergie, mais il n'a naturellement pas la douceur et la finesse d'un matcha d'Uji. Néanmoins, cela montre que même l'Amérique du Sud participe désormais à l'histoire chinoise internationale du thé!

Monday, May 16, 2016

In search of Tea culture on Mount Emei, Sichuan

Fuhu temple
The tea culture on display at the Emei Shan's Tea Expo was commercial and felt artificial, shallow despite (or rather because of) the huge size of the booths. MarshalN makes a good case that most traditions you find in Chinese shops are invented and have only been very recently imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong or even Japan (here I simplify his article, but I invite you to read it all if you haven't done so, yet).

The communist (cultural) revolution (1966-1976) destroyed China's traditions. Then the recent economic boom has emphasized the modernization of the country. One of the rare place where you can still have a glimpse at the past are historical temples like those I visited on Emei Shan. They are the guardians of ancient architecture and spirituality.

Baoguo temple
Did they also preserve some tea culture? Sichuan Province has one of the oldest tea history in China: Lu Yu's tea classic already mentions its tea plantations. Look! These 2 signs mean that it's possible to get tea in these temples!
Fuhu temple
Let's have a look at how tea is prepared there!
It's very simple: inside, you'll find dispensers of boiling water. The employees of the temple (and many local visitors) use them to get boiling water.
Then the water is brought to the tea guest and the water from the thermos fills a gaiwan with green tea.
The green tea is drunk directly from the gaiwan where the leaves are brewing. When the gaiwan is empty or the tea is too strong, the drinker adds hot water from the thermos in the gaiwan. Since the water is getting less and less hot with time, this method really only fits green tea and wouldn't go very well with Oolong or puerh.
There are 2 ways of looking at this degree 0 of Chinese tea culture:

1. Sad. Over thousand years of refined tea culture are forgotten, gone. All that's left is the gaiwan, green tea leaves and an ugly, big, plastic water kettle.

2. Hopeful. These local Chinese visitors are still drinking local whole leaf tea (as opposed to coffee, tea bags with sugar&milk or soft drinks)! And they do so in a place that connects them with nature and Chinese history through the architecture of the temples.

Tea books sold at Chengdu's airport
The Tea Expo in Mount Emei and the high number of people who came to visit my booth shows that there's a big appetite to learn and practice China's forgotten tea traditions.

A Chinese tea Renaissance is in the making. Tea books are becoming popular in China. A couple of years ago, Teaparker's most recent books have been published in simplified characters on the Mainland. Such books help make the link between the past and the present.

Lost knowledge is just waiting to be dug up from old books, paintings, archeological research... As China focuses its vast resources on tea culture, it will make great progress in reclaiming its ancestral tea culture.

This next real challenge is more difficult: knowledge alone isn't sufficient to renew the link to ancient traditions. You also need a good teacher who helps to make the link between theory and practice. The knowledge of the classics must be translated into action, into Chaxi!

Each generation grows when it builds on what previous generations have discovered. The more you understand the past tea culture, the more you'll understand the present and can shape its future.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wenshan Baozhong du printemps 2016

Nouvelle plantation de thé au Wenshan
Le froid prolongé de cet hiver a contribué à décaller les récoltes du printemps 2016. Mais la bonne nouvelle, c'est que l'attente a permis aux théiers de mieux se reposer et leur lutte contre un court épisode de neige a concentré leurs arômes. Les pluies furent nombreuses et nous n'avons pas connu de sécheresse comme en 2015. Mais le temps fut globablement bon lors des récoltes.
 La semaine dernière, j'ai pu aller à Pinglin pour y déguster les nouvelles récoltes. Mais avant cela, pour me mettre dans l'ambiance et savourer la chance que j'ai d'être ici, j'ai dégusté quelques thés sur ce rocher.
Les lecteurs habituels du blog reconnaitront sans doute ce magnifique endroit, à quelques pas d'un temple local taoiste.
J'arrange mon Chaxi aux couleurs fraiches du printemps et du ciel bleu. Et j'en profite pour infuser mon Baozhong d'une jeune plantation de 2014. Ses senteurs sont si proches de celles qui m'entourent!
 C'est aussi l'occasion de vérifier la bonne tenue de ce Baozhong après 2 ans de conservation. La couleur jaune claire de l'infusion est éloquente!
 Sa fraicheur brille sous le soleil!
 Et les feuilles s'ouvrent harmonieusement dans le gaiwan.
Je vous invite à découvrir les 6 Baozhongs de ce printemps que je viens de mettre en ligne sur ma boutique Leurs arômes sont particulièrement fins et fleuris cette année. J'en profite pour rappeller que le Baozhong s'obtient avec presque tous les cultivars. L'important est sa forme sèche torsadée, son oxydation partielle et son terroir du Wenshan, du nord de Taiwan. Autrefois, il s'écrivait parfois Pouchong. Exporté vers l'Asie du Sud-Est au début du 20 ème siècle, on le parfumait avec des fleurs. Mais c'est nature, sans ajouts, que l'Europe et l'Amérique du Nord l'appréciaient déjà!
Car c'est ainsi qu'on peut ressentir toute la douceur et la beauté des forêts montagneuses du Wenshan.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Mount Emei International Tea Culture Exhibition

Last weekend, I have participated in this HUGE tea Expo in Sichuan Province, China.
These 3 pictures show the main area of the event on the first floor. This represents only a third of the total space of the expo! The second floor and another hall were showcasing more tea and teaware companies!
Local companies and big Chinese tea brands had stands that are bigger than most tea stores.
These big stands always had long tables and young ladies preparing the tea (with a teapot and a pitcher).  You would easily feel lost in such a venue...
My booth, on the other hand, was literally empty when I arrived. Even the table and the chairs were missing! Some other stand had taken them, but my wife managed to get them back. So, I decided that the table would be used to show our teas and that I would brew on the floor.
We also got creative with the decoration. I figured that since most tea stands were big and richly decorated, we would stand out if we remained sober and elegant. Let's turn our small size into a strength!
This friendly police guard was the first local Chinese to be curious about our stand! China is very much a police state and it felt good to have him as a new tea friend!
A Yunnan Province tea exhibitor
The stand also proved quickly very popular with my neighboring tea stands. This lady from Yunnan had given us some tape to display my postcards on the walls of my booth. I later helped her with attaching her big posters in her booth. This is how hers looked like:
The entrance to the Expo was free and the public was very mixed. Young and old, poor and rich, farmers and city people... The visitors my booth attracted were mostly young and university graduates, though! The students didn't have much money to spend. My chaxi seemed very expensive to them. Actually, I used a gaiwan and these porcelain cups. I didn't bring my tetsubin or silver kettle since it was too heavy or fragile. So, my main tea making equipment is very affordable. Even the Chabu I used for decoration is less than 40 USD!
Chinese students
More important than money is knowledge and creativity at the service of tea and beauty!
More Chinese students
Not everyone was comfortable sitting on the floor, though. I explained that this is how I drink tea at home. When you're on the floor, you don't need to worry that something will fall down. Also, since you're in a similar position than when you meditate, the tea brewing is also most likely to give you the same benefits as a meditation session.
The space of the Chaxi is naturally limited to the distance of what you can grab with your hands without moving your position. A 10 meter long tea table might look cool, but your arms can only reach 1 meter on each side, so that 2 meters is all you need. What matters is how you organize this limited space so that your tea becomes a pleasant and meaningful experience.
The Expo organizers
On the first day of the expo, I used green plants that I had picked while walking to the Fuhu temple on Mount Emei. I wanted to connect this feeling of Nature and Beauty on my Chaxi
Fuhu temple, Mount Emei
The temple blends with forest.
Fuhu temple, Mount Emei
The bald guy below understood my explanations. He said that my Chaxi is much more natural and comfortable than what he saw elsewhere. Another guest in this group wondered if it was worth it to spend so much effort on the Chaxi. I agreed that this only makes sense if you are preparing a very good and enjoyable tea. The actual tea experience is still what should drive us. My spring Alishan qingxin Oolong was very well received. Everybody in China has heard about Alishan. And since people in Sichuan drink mostly local green tea, they found the fresh, unroasted High Mountain Oolong very powerful and fragrant. It's a very good value and we sold a lot of them. I even sold some Lishan and a 150 gr pack of Da Yu LIng!
More Expo organizers
During peak hours, there were people standing around the booth to see the only foreign guy who was brewing tea!
On the second day, I switched to this gorgeous Chabu and used freshly fallen leaves to show my enthusiasm and warm feelings for this event. It was really very satisfying to meet so many tea lovers and see the happiness I could bring with my Chaxi and brewing...
Even local tea house and tea store managers came to discuss possible cooperation with Tea-Masters! (The last day, I talked to a Taiwanese tea boutique lady who also had a booth in the same alley. She said that, like most Taiwanese booths, she hardly sold anything on the Expo!)
Even this professional teapot makers from Yixing who came to this Expo loved my Chaxi and were so glad to be photographed in it with her teapot!
Yixing teapot maker
A friend of hers, also an Yixing teapot maker, liked her picture so much that she also wanted to have her own photograph! You can also see that I made Teaparker's book about Chaxi, Mandala part of my Chaxi! What I have learned with him in over 13 years has really helped make this event a success!
Yixing teapot maker
But nothing can compare to the beauty of an old Chinese temple at sunrise:
 Especially when drinking old raw puerh under the moon...