Saturday, December 30, 2017

The year 2017 in 12 pictures

If you're reading this blog on a big screen, I recommend you enjoy the pictures in big size on the TeaMastersphoto blog I launched this year.
It's been very humbling and inspiring to meet photographer, artist... Stéphane Barbéry in October. He did to me what artists do: he pushed back the boundaries of what's possible. The pictures serve the goal of this blog: sharing with you the universal beauty tea inspires!

Please go on my Facebook page to vote for your favorite picture and help me choose as my new tea postcard gift for 2018.

December: The top 10 articles of 2017

May: Alishan Spring 2017 Oolong Harvests

April: Spring afternoon, ready the tea

March: Le printemps à Taiwan

February: Chaxi on the beach

January: Winter 2016 Dong Ding Oolong competition

Click on these links for the pictures of 2016, 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 , 2008 and 2007.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The top 10 articles of 2017

I hope you've spent a wonderful Christmas with your family and loved ones! Did all your wishes come true? I know it can be tricky to be known as a tea lover and then unwrapping a gift package filled with passion fruit scented tea bags! That's where Chinese red envelops filled with cash are a much more practical gift (as it lets you make your own tea order on just after Xmas!)  

Before I list the 10 articles with most views (according to Blogger), I wish to say 2 words about the declining number of articles on the blog. Actually, most of the reduction comes from the fact that now I also post pictures from my mobile phone on Instagram exclusively, that there are some social interactions that I just put on my private Facebook page, and that I would publish more commercial information on my TeaMasters FB page. This takes more time than simply copy/pasting the same content on all media, but I think it makes it less boring for you and me. Besides, this year I also wrote a new 50+ pages long e-book about the Chinese ceramics of the British Museum (also available in French). So, all in all, I think I had a pretty productive year!

And here are the top 10 articles of 2017:

10. The 2017 Chinese Porcelain Exhibition of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Day 3: black glazed bowls. Teaching tea with Teaparker in PA.

9. Jasmine tea's many secrets. Made from real jasmine flowers!

8. Winter 2016 Dong Ding Oolong competition. Tasting the best Dong Ding Oolongs.

7. The 2 most common green tea brewing mistakes. Too many leaves, wrong water.

6. La modernité du thé de la dynastie Song. On n'a rien inventé.

5. The Dong Ding Oolong and WuYi Yan Cha Connections. WuYi's inspiration.
4. Winter Alishan Zhuo Yan Oolong. Insect bitten.

3. What is there to learn about tea? More than a lot!

2. Hong Kong, 20 years later. The end of a business model.

1. The purest form of gastronomy is Tea. Tea and food connections.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Puer natus est

Noël! Noël! L'enfant est né! Vous imaginez bien que si j'ai choisi la phrase latine, puer natus est, c'est parce que j'ai choisi d'infusé du puerh pour célébrer Noël avec mes amis en thé. Je n'ai malheureusement que la photo ci-dessus de mon Chaxi, car j'étais trop occupé par la préparation du thé. Mais dans la photo ci-dessous, nous pouvons voir l'infusion lors d'une séance d'entrainement chez moi.
Mon choix d'un puerh cru ancien en vrac a pour but de me faire voyager dans le temps et de retourner en enfance, quand les Noëls étaient magiques et d'une joie innocente sans faille. Ce n'est pas tant que c'était mieux autrefois, mais que c'était plus simple de croire au père Noël, aux anges qui annoncent Jésus aux bergers... quand on est enfant que quand on est adulte. La dégustation d'un puerh vieux et si pur et si délicieux est un petit miracle qui ouvre la porte à l'imagination. En plus, j'ai la parfaite théière pour l'occasion: une Yixing antique (fin de la dynastie Qing) en forme de buche! Elle est décorée de fleurs de prunus (symbole de résistance à l'hiver) et sa décoration avec des émaux de couleur (falangcai) vert, jaune, bleu et rose convient assez à le décoration bariolée de Noël. Mais surtout, cette théière a une glaise zisha fine, assez poreuse, légèrement sous cuite qui arrondit et intensifie bien le goût du puerh cru ancien.
 Après le puerh, une amie a préparé du thé rouge dans une théière dorée. Cela nous permet de voir mon sapin bansai de Noël, les 4 bougies, les petits gateaux au beurre, à la cannelle et ceux au miel/cacao que j'ai fait moi-même cette semaine. Plus haut, il y a aussi une pomme et un fumeur de pipe en bois de l'Erzgebirge, la région allemande d'où ma grand-mêre est originaire. C'est l'occasion de faire vivre les traditions de Noël à Taiwan également.
Ce Chaxi nous a permis de fêter Noël avec du (très bon) thé et beaucoup de joie et de plaisir. Et ce fut bien plus digeste que le réveillon qui allait suivre!...
Joyeux Noël à vous tous! Puer natus est.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

40 years old Anxi Tie Guan Yin

 For this Christmas Chaxi, we were in for a special treat: a 40 years old Anxi Tie Guan Yin.

These dry leaves tell us several things:
- the color isn't uniformly black and oily, but a variation of brown colors (because different leaves evolve differently based on their water content.)

- the leaves have unfurled with time (and also due to the fact that 40 years ago, the rolling of the leaves wasn't mechanical and as tight as today),

 - this small amount of aged leaves is sufficient to brew a delicious and bright cup of aged Oolong.

The brew looks bright and intense, because the tea is still very much alive! The scents of this wonderfully aged Tie Guan Yin remind me other aged Oolongs, greens and puerhs I've had in the past. Precious wood and incense scents are common themes for very old tea leaves. These smells are very suitable for Christmas where pine scents and incense are triggers for my brains that it's Christmas time.
 Süßer die Tees nie schmecken, als zu der Weihnachtszeit! (Tea never tastes as sweet as during the Christmas season).
The past is source of pure tea happiness.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Jinxuan Oolong

In 1981, Dr. Wu Zhen Duo (1918-2000) created the Jinxuan cultivar, also known officially as Taiwan Tea Experiment Station (TTES) No 12 or, inofficially, as experimental number 2027. He gave it the name Jinxuan to remember the first name of his grandmother. (He did the same to TTES No 13, Tsui Yu, named after his mother!)

This tea cultivar is proving particularly popular in Taiwan right now. We can find it in Songboling where it is replacing SiJiChun as a more elegant fresh, low altitude Oolong alternative. It is also very suitable for organic farming, which is why I was able to find an insect bitten zhuo yan version this spring there.
It is also used in northern Taiwan to make fresh Wenshan Baozhong and even Oriental Beauty in summer!
And this winter I even selected this very good Hung Shui Oolong from Feng Huang (Dong Ding) made from Jinxuan leaves. (You'll even find green and red teas made from Jinxuan!)
Thanks to its big leaves, Jinxuan looks very much like a high mountain Oolong. And, indeed, it's also possible to find Jinxuan plantations above 1000 meters of elevation in Alishan, for instance. Th
But the Jinxuan I'm drinking here is my 2016 spring top Jinxuan Oolong from Dong Ding. Preserved in its vacuum sealed foil for almost 2 years, this tea still tastes and smells completely fresh. The scents are subtle with hints of Japanese sencha, very light seaweed and meadows. Sometimes you get a milky note, too, but it's very light. (If this aroma is strong, it is likely due to added artificial flavors ; that's Jinxuan's weakness: since it's scents are rather light, many producers use it to add their own flavors).
The taste of Jinxuan is also milder than that of qingxin Oolong, which makes it suitable for a brew in my silver teapot, because it's not so likely to become overpowering. It shines its purity with a sense of grace and restraint that few cultivars have at this price level.
This makes Jinxuan a wonderful cultivar to start exploring the world of Taiwan Oolong teas in all their complexity.
Let the sunshine of Jinxuan Oolong brighten your December days. Cheers!
Addendum: This top Jinxuan Oolong from 2016 has sold out today. (Thank you!) If you're looking for something similar, I recommend the spring 2017 top Jinxuan Oolong from Alishan.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Strong December Brews

Last week, we had perfect tea brewing conditions in Taipei: it was so cold and rainy that I felt like home in the Northeast of France again! Since it's not likely to snow, this is as close as it gets to a Christmas season in Taiwan. The difference is that Taipei's apartments are not heated in winter. In such conditions, the teas I crave are very different than in summer and even the preparation method changes. I want to drink stronger, darker teas and the fresh high mountain Oolong below was a lone exception to this mood.
Some of my nicest cups were brewed with this Winter 2017 Top Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding:
Winter 2017 Top Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding
Usually, I recommend using fewer leaves and long brewing times for top quality teas. But this week, I turned to a different technique: lots of leaves and medium brewing times. By lots of leaves, I mean at least twice as much as what I usually use. For rolled Oolong, this could mean filling the teapot one third with leaves. For twisted leaves, like roasted Baozhong, this would mean crushing 30% of the leaves and 70% of whole leaves to fill the teapot completely.

The water is at just boiling (important that it be extremely hot) and then I would pour the water slowly in the middle of the teapot for the first brew. Thus, the leaves then open up harmoniously in all directions starting in the middle. The first brew is longer if the leaves are rolled. What you get is a very intense tea experience that is a little bit similar to an Espresso! The 2017 Dong Ding has a very good balance of malty roasting notes with fresh power. It's exactly how I love my Hung Shui Oolong! The 1979 Dong Ding, on the other hand, surprised me with thick plum liquor aromas (without alcohol). It's completely different than when it's brewed with fewer leaves!
While experimenting with what comes close to the traditional Chaozhou Gongfu Cha technique, I have realized that small teapots are a better fit for this style of brewing. Drinking several cups of very concentrated Oolong quickly feels too much. When the tea is very concentrated, it tastes better in small quantities. In this regard, tea is really like liquor: the stronger it is, the smaller the cup! Think of beer, wine and shot glasses.
During my 15 years of tea study, I have rarely brewed teas so strong. It's fun that there are still ways to rediscover different ways to enjoy good tea. Thanks to the strong concentration, the aftertaste is really extremely long. If the tea is good, you'll want to enjoy the lingering aromas, but if the tea is harsh that's when you'll want to eat something right away after the last cup (or even between cups).

1990 loose Yiwu puerh
There's another comfort tea for that time of the year: aged puerh. For this 1990 aged wild old arbor Yiwu loose puerh I'm using a big Qing dynasty Yixing zisha teapot. The soft zisha clay of this teapot is slightly under-fired and its porosity refines the aromas of aged puerh. The resulting cups are incredibly smooth and delicious. It's so mellow that this puerh feels 20 years older in this teapot than in a gaiwan!
Combining my Chaxi with Christmas decoration adds joy and warmth to the tea experience. And the tea itself adds joy and warmth to the Christmas experience! Special moments always call for special teas that can provide long lasting memories.
This week, it's still theoretically possible to place your tea orders for deliveries before Christmas with EMS shipping (which is FREE if your order exceeds 200 USD). Otherwise, EMS shipping is just 17.5 USD worldwide.

Let me also remind you of the current tea gifts:
- 25 gr Hung Shui Dong Pian Sijichun from January 2017 for order between 60 and 200 USD
- 25 gr red Da Yeh Oolong from the East coast of Taiwan from spring 2015 for orders above 200 USD.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Top Oolong d'Alishan d'hiver 2017

Gouleyant, doux, rafraichissant, chaleureux avec une pointe d'épices et de verdure... on trouve de tout dans cet Oolong de haute mountagne d'Alishan de cet hiver! Il a même un petit arrière-goût minéral à la fin qui lui donne une finesse rarement goûtée cette saison...
Cette longueur en bouche est excellente! Elle va jusqu'à la gorge et renvoie beaucoup d'arômes verts de montagne. Voilà qui annonce un bon potentiel de conservation! Surtout dans une belle jarre en céladon de Michel François!! Je la teste depuis plusieurs mois et le Oolong que j'y ai mis garde non seulement sa fraicheur, mais ses arômes deviennent plus intenses! Et en plus, c'est un très bel objet. Merci Michel! (Pensez à lui pour vos idées cadeaux de Noël!)
Quelques petits rappels pour bien réussir ce genre de thé de haute montagne:
1. Une bonne eau (je viens de changer mes filtres et cela a un impact positif sur mes infusions)!
2. Un bon préchauffage des ustensiles,
3. 1 seule couche de feuilles sur le fond du gaiwan (ou de la théière). Le Oolong de haute montagne a des arômes fins et une liqueur trop concentrée n'est pas agréable.
4. La première infusion demande plus de temps pour ouvrir les feuilles roulées. (Et une eau toute proche de l'ébullition). Mais il ne faut pas non plus trop la prolonger, sinon on arrive aussi à trop de concentration. La couleur de l'infusion ne doit pas être trop jaune, mais être d'une couleur mêlant le vert et le jaune avec clarté.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This tea is insane

That's what came to my mind with the first sip of my aged Top Oriental Beauty. It's insane how crystal clear the aromas shine on the palate. A heavy oxidation and, yet, such light flavors! The honey notes are all over the cup, but it's a very gentle, light and flowery kind of honey. And it resonates like a piano in Erik Satie's Gnossienne or Gymnopédie.

There's a melancholy in this these slightly aged flavors, but also a lot of lingering sweetness.
Speaking of melancholy and time passing by, it just occurred to me that using one's hand to let the tea leaves glide gently in the gaiwan is somewhat similar to the gesture of letting some earth fall on a coffin when the priest says 'dust to dust, ashes to ashes' at a funeral... It's not a happy thought, but death is part of life and it's what adds meaning to all these joyful moments. And like for a funeral, using our hand is the most gentle, respectful and intimate way we can handle the tea leaves. Or not. You could also throw the leaves down with strength in a very disdainful manner! The hand lets you express many different feelings...

Something else happened this weekend: I changed the pre-filter and main water filter under my faucet! This has improved the quality of my water. While you get kind of used to the slowly decreasing quality of water, it's a wonderful shock when it's fully restored!

This is a useful reminder that water is the mother of tea and that even the best leaves won't shine with all its power if the water isn't cooperating!