Friday, August 31, 2018


A trip to Lishan only takes 3 and a half hours by car from Taipei! A full tank (40 USD) is all it cost to bring my family to these splendid mountains! Why then spend thousands of dollars to fly overseas when there's this perfect temperature (22 degrees Celcius) and these lush landscapes graced with tea plantations so close to my home?!

And there are even monkeys living freely in these mountains! Nobody has trained them to pick tea, though! They are much more interested by the many fruits growing around! Probably that's why the farmers protect the fruits with white paper bags during their growth, so that they are protected against pests and thieves!
The Lishan region is where you find the highest tea plantations. The slopes of some plantations are very steep as you can see. I woke up at 5 AM so that I could take these vivid pictures of Lishan and give you a better idea of what these plantations look like when they are active (from May to October). When you're alone on these roads at such an early time of the day, it gives you the eerie feeling that you are master all of this beauty since there's no other soul around to claim ownership over it! That's especially the case when you are located on the top of mountain and look down around you! I guess that's the kind of feeling that motivates mountain climbers!
The fresh Oolong drinkers also experience a similar desire to drink from the highest tea plantations! There's something irresistible that pushes us to reach for the highest peaks. Lishan offers this opportunity for greatness, elevations surpassing 2000 meters with all that it entails: pure and rarefied air, big pine trees, clouds so close that they turn into fog...
From my blog, you can see that I fit the profile of those people who want to experience the very best teas one can find. That's why, when I visited the Wuling farm (20 km north of Lishan) I brewed my spring 2018 Lishan qingxin Oolong among the tea fields there! The elevation of this place is about 1800 meters. On top of the plantation, a pavilion commands this view on the mountains and the Oolongs trees. This was the perfect spot for my Chaxi!
Dr. Erler, my father
To enjoy this moment, let me take several steps back in time. Washington's biography made me curious about my own lineage: it turns out, the first Erler who came to France from Germany was my great-great-grand-father. He settled in Saverne (Alsace) to become a beer brewer! In those times, you had to store beer in cold caves so that it could be sold fresh in the summer. (Likes good drinks). Unfortunately, he caught a pneumonia in this environment and died at the age of 36.
My great-grand-father, grew up poor, without a father, but found a job in the high tech of his time: the railways! (Innovator who helps others travel long distances).
My grand-father studied pharmacy and opened one in Lembach, one of the smallest and forlorn village in Alsace. (Sold stuff to make people healthy).
My father is a family doctor who has relentlessly continued to learn new techniques to cure his patients. Among others, he learned acupuncture and acupressure with Asian doctors and has now developed his own technique. At 71, he's in a great shape and is still working. (Combined Western and Eastern medicine and made it his own for the benefit of his patients).
In Taiwan, most families have a shrine to worship their ancestors and a deity of their liking. It looks as if I have every reason to be thankful for this meaningful lineage! Everyone seems to have blended in my life: the passion for a delicious beverage, the use of high tech (blog, Internet strore...), providing healthy products and bringing a Chinese culture closer to my Western audience! The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, after all! Studying a business degree and leaving Alsace for Taiwan was meant as doing things differently, but it turns out I am fulfilling the destiny of my Erler forefathers!

These deep thoughts came during this trip at high altitude. It's not just the landscape that your mind contemplates from a high ground. The spirit detaches from petty stuff and looks at the big picture. You wonder about the meaning not of life, but your own life. In such a moment of grace it became self-evident that I was enjoying this Lishan Oolong beyond the mere description of its sweet/fresh flavors and its soothing effect on my body. I was really meant to select, enjoy and share such delicious teas! 
Find the sun and much more in your cup of Lishan Oolong!
View from Lishan

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Washington and tea

Concubine Oolong from ShanLinXi, spring 2018
To drink tea properly in the present, it helps to study the history of tea. Likewise, I thought it would be helpful to read Washington, a life by Ron Chernow to understand the roots of the United States of America. When you grow up in France, like me, you learn about the American Revolution through the prism of France's Marquis de Lafayette. Such a prism was useful to get French pupils interested, but it may have reduced and distorted the role of other important players. These 800 pages should help me get me the proper perspective! However, for this blog post, since my readers are not all Americans, but are all tea drinkers, I propose to let you know about the many links I have found between George Washington and tea. I have found them very helpful to understand and remember his story.

1. Page 8: "... recent excavations have disclosed many unexpected touches of gentility. Among the artifacts unearthed have been a ... Wedgewood tea set, betokening an unmistakable air of affluence."
That his parents had a tea set shows that George Washington grew up in a wealthy family in Virginia. Before founding a republic, Washington and his family were part of the aristocracy of the colonies!

2. Page 115: "We entered one the huts of the blacks ... some utensils for cooking, but in the middle of this poverty, some cups and a teapot".
Washington was a slave owner, just like most/all planters in Virginia. He was tough, but not cruel. This detail of letting the slaves have a teapot and cups suggests that he was even kind to some of his slaves.

3. Page 119: "Then he had an unchanging breakfast of corn cakes, tea and honey."
Here we have it! Washington was one of us: he had tea every day!

4. Page 126: From Washington's diary about a party in someone else's home: "tea, and coffee which the drinkers could not distinguish from hot water sweetened".
Another proof that Washington liked the taste of tea and disliked it when hot water only tasted sweetened!
5. Tea played an important part in the American revolution. We've all heard about the Boston tea party. Here it's how it came about:

- Page 143: "Great Britain again provoked colonial discontent in 1767 with the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on paint, glass, paper, and tea."
This made these products more expensive in the colonies, especially tea.

- Page 147: in July 1770 "the strategy was to undercut the dissidents by revoking the duties while retaining the one on tea".
How unfair for tea drinkers! Guess what happened next:

- Pages 165, 166: "On December 16, 1773, (when) a patriotic band, masquerading as Mohawk Indians, heaved 342 chests of tea into the Massachussets Bay.(...) The tea tax wasn't as punitive as is commonly supposed - the cost of tea to the colonists actually declined - but it threatened local merchants by eliminating smugglers and colonial middlemen, entrenching the East India Company's monopoly. (...) The next day Washington and other militant burgesses (...) ratified a boycott of tea."
I am doubtful about this claim that the cost of tea declined at that time. China was still the only source for tea for another 70 years or so. The boycott as reaction to the tax is also interesting: if Great Britain wants to make extra money from our tea consumption, we'll stop drinking it!

- Page 167: "Washington and his ally (...) gave Alexandria voters (...) a ball that evening that was punctilious in its choice of beverages: "Coffee and chocolate, but no tea."
This boycott only worked for a while. The colonists craved their tea so much that they had no choice but to declare their independence in the pursuit of tea happiness in July 1776!
I haven't finished the book, yet. There are no more mentions of tea after this point, so far. However, when speaking of New York city, which Washington tried to defend against the Brits in 1776, the Presbyterian chaplain Philip Fithian noted that :"The vile water here sickens us all". (Page 241). Diseases like malaria, typhoid, dysentery and smallpox were the first enemies of the American militias. Boiling water to kill bacteria was an essential act that saved lives! Also, this confirms that NYC water is more suitable for coffee than for tea, which explains a lot about the prevalence of one drink over another in the big apple!

Note: I chose to drink a high oxidized Oolong, a Concubine from Shan Lin Xi, in a late Ming dynasty Dehua (Blanc de Chine) teapot. The teapot's high spout is shaped like the neck of a white swan. This tall and elegant bird is a fitting reminder of the stature of Washington in American history! 

Friday, August 24, 2018

L'été, la belle saison des Oolongs

Si Formose est célèbre pour ses beaux paysages verdoyants, elle le doit à ses conditions climatiques bien contrastées. C'est en été que c'est le plus impressionnant. On passe souvent de la pluie diluvienne au grand ciel bleu en l'espace de quelques minutes! Et cela peut même arriver plusieurs fois par jour! Eau et soleil en abondance expliquent cette nature luxuriante et débordante d'énergie.
Plantation de Qingxin Dapang à Hsin Chu
L'impact de l'été sur les théiers est une croissance rapide des feuilles et des insectes très nombreux (pour peu que les plantations n'utilisent pas d'insecticides). Lors de la production, l'été favorise l'oxydation des feuilles grâce à ses températures et son humidité élevées. C'est donc la saison propice aux Oolongs Concubine, Zhuo Yan et Beautés Orientales.

C'est la Beauté Orientale de Hsin Chu qui fut pionière de ce type de thé estival, mordu par les minuscules Jacobiasa Formosana Paoli. Alors, certes, son nom d'Oriental Beauty ne provient ni de la reine Victoria ni de la reine Elisabeth, mais si l'histoire est restée c'est qu'elle est crédible. Quiconque a bu une Beauté Orientale de haute qualité se dit qu'un tel thé est un délice royal!
Ce thé récolté fin juin n'est disponible maintenant, fin août, car j'ai préféré en sélectionner un qui soit torréfié afin de lui donner ses arômes les plus traditionnels. Cette torréfaction est un process supplémentaire qui demande du temps et un peu de repos. Meilleures sont les feuilles, moins cette torréfaction sera forte, mais elle reste indispensable pour stabiliser la qualité et permettre la bonification des feuilles dans le temps. C'est pourquoi, il est déjà possible de déguster cette version 'impériale', même si elle sera encore meilleur dans 1 an ou dans 18! (Je recommande aussi cet OB d'automne 2010 pour découvrir les plaisirs de la bonification de ce type d'Oolong.)
La douceur et la finesse de ces petites feuilles de thé m'a donné envie d'illustrer ce Chaxi par cette peinture miniature d'Elisabeth G! (Merci pour ce beau cadeau!) Parce qu'avec un tel thé on passe des arômes au parfum, de l'artisanat à l'art et de la nature au divin.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

The 2000th article: a tea class about Chaxi

Last week, I gave a tea class about Chaxi. I started with the theory contained in Teaparker's book 'Chaxi - Mandala' that was published 10 years ago.  Then, I proceeded with some practice. I brought all the above tea ware and the Chabu below so that my students could create their own Chaxi and use it to brew tea. This was one of the most interactive and creative class I ever did!
The mandala concept is very helpful to explain what a Chaxi is all about. It's creating a universe, a perfect world where each little part is connected to the whole with the purpose of making good tea. It has been called practical beauty, a multimedia performance involving all 5 senses. Literally, Cha Xi means 'tea play' where 'play' has the meaning of a theater play, a performance. We could go on about the theory and abstract meaning of a Chaxi for several paragraphs and the longer I'd write about it, the more philosophical and less comprehensible my text would be!

Let's start with the beginning: the tea. It's like the story of your theater play. This is the backbone of what you want to express, what you want to perform. So, I started by letting my students choose a tea. I gave them the choice between a spring 2016 Tsui Luan high mountain Oolong and my 2017 spring old arbor sheng puerh. Both chose the Oolong, because that's the kind of tea they drink most (in Taiwan!). The second item I asked them to select is the Chabu: this piece of textile is the background to your performance and its colors are going to create the atmosphere of your tea moment.
The third item to select is the tea vessel (teapot or gaiwan). This is your lead actress! She must be chosen with great care. Her job is to be in harmony with the world you are creating and the tea you are going to brew. Then, choose the other accessories you'll need with the same double constraint: that they fit the Chaxi aesthetically and practically. And choose a plant or flower to add connection with nature and a touch frail beauty that reminds us that life is short and precious. 

Then, place your accessories on your Chabu. The brewing vessel is in the center, because it's the most important ware. Next come the cups, the kettle, the jar, the tea display plate and the waste water bowl. Everything must be within the reach of your right and/or left arm. It must be close enough that you don't need to get up during the tea brewing.
Here a few comments on Antonio's Chaxi here on top. You may have noticed that the qinghua cups were not included in the wares I had prepared. These are cups that he had brought (I allowed the students to bring their own ware). They are from the 1980s and are made with good quality porcelain. However, they are tall and have thick walls. This underlines the thickness of the taste and preserves the heat longer. For that reason, they are more suitable for winter than for summer. On this dark and complex Chabu, these cups made sense, though, because this Chaxi's theme is more depth than lightness. High mountain Oolong can express both depth or lightness. It depends how it is brewed and with what. In this regard, while the silver teapot looks nice here, it produces very light aromas. It would have been better to choose the Yixing zhuni teapot!
Let's turn to Manuel's Chaxi. Manuel is a tall fellow and it's interesting to see that his teapot is much farther from his body than Antonio's. There's no set rule for the distance between the brewer and the teapot. The only principle is to feel comfortable when preparing the tea and pouring in the cups.
With this Blue Waves Chabu and a bamboo mat with sand color, Manuel wants to emphasize the fresh energy of the high mountain Oolong he's brewing. The choice of the celadon singing cups and bright Chatuo makes sense to underline the light aromas. The carp jumping out of the water jar is also a nice touch on this setup. The qinghua plate under the teapot features a water and mountain landscape is also OK.
 However, the Yixing zhuni teapot produces a thick taste and it would have been better if Manuel had switched his teapot with Antonio! The silver teapot would have looked cool and would have produced lighter aromas that would better fit the Blue Waves feeling of this Chaxi.
Manuel and Antonio were curious about my spring 2017 wild top old arbor sheng puerh. It's a very unique gushu puerh, because it comes from a remote forest with (at least) 500 years old trees that had never been harvested to make tea in modern times! 2017 was their first harvest. So, to satisfy their curiosity, I made my own Chaxi with the accessories they didn't use. And, unlike them, I decided to set up my Chaxi on this wooden floor. There's nothing wrong with a Chaxi on a table, but I wanted them to experience how it feels on the floor. It's the way many people (including myself) prepare tea in Asia. There's one practical advantage: there's less risk of breaking porcelain when you're so close to the floor!
Since I was brewing a new tea for Antonio and Manuel, I thought it's best to use a neutral porcelain gaiwan to discover this tea. The gaiwan is a great tool to learn about tea and is very useful in a tea class! I used 2 Chabu: a long one on its black side and this Turquoise Flowers. Raw gushu puerh is pure and powerful. Even young, it has darker notes (than Oolong). The wood chatuo and old presentation plate for the cups (taken from my old bamboo basket) are echoes to the old puerh tree. The plant on this Chaxi is rather wild, but has very fine leaves. This sums up this puerh!
(Above, you can also see that I used the bamboo mat as a screen so that the guests don't see the modern induction plate on which the tetsubin is heated).
Since this is my 2000th blog post, I would like to make this article particularly meaningful and complete. What you're missing from this class is the most important: how the tea is actually brewed! A Chaxi isn't just a beautiful and harmonious tea setup. Its main function is to make tea in a very smooth, simple and elegant manner. That's why I made these 3 videos of the spring 2018 Tsui Feng high mountain Oolong I brewed today. 1 video per brew:

With this Chaxi I go back in time to the early beginning of this blog. The Chabu is one of the first my mother made for me. And because this blog has connected me to so many generous, amazing, wonderful tea friends around the world, I am using tea ware made by potter friends (Michel François, David Louveau, Petr Novak). It's a mix of new cups and old mini plates. A mix of Chinese Yixing, Japanese tetsubin, Western porcelain and Taiwanese tea because tea has no bounds.
I made a big mistake in the first brew and a small one in the third. These humbling incidents are reminders that I still need to practice daily to master the art of brewing tea. The second brew is the smoothest and, this is no coincidence, it's also the brew that tasted the best!
To celebrate this milestone of 2000 posts, I have discounted this spring 2018 Tsui Feng Oolong along with other teas on my online boutique (until the end of August).

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

1999 footprints in the electronic snow

Atypical zisha teapots is Teaparker's latest book in his art of tea collection. In this book, Teaparker starts his exploration of the immense world of teapots by a study of Yixing clay and its secrets. He also goes back in time to look at Yixing teapots from the past (from shipwrecks or museums). The largest section of the book is then focused on water polished Yixing teapots that were sold in Thailand (see the cover of his book). Other atypical teapots include painted Yixing teapots, master teapots and red Chaozhou teapots. (Note: a picture of this Chaxi is featured at the start of Chapter 7 on a full page!)

I thought I'd illustrate this book with a small Chaozhou teapot in which I'm brewing a winter 2017 Hung Shui Jinxuan Oolong from Dong Ding. This type of red clay is rather soft and porous. It's a good fit for medium to high roasted Oolongs.

The shape of Chaozhou (or Chaoshan or Shantou) teapots will bear resemblance to that of very classical, small Yixing teapots. The difference in making these teapots is that Chaozhou teapots are wheel thrown. The other difference is barely noticeable. It's the shape of the mouth of the spout! While it's mostly round in Yixing, Chaozhou teapots usually have a slightly pointed mouth (enlarge the picture to see it).
Shantou clay is always red and it appears glossy because the teapot is covered with a bright red glaze, because otherwise the raw glaze would look quite dull. It seems as if the teapot had already been seasoned for some time! And in terms of taste, it manages to lower the roasting aromas and bring a lot of freshness from the leaves into the brew!

Spring 2018 RouGui Baozhong
The Forgotten Stories of Purple Clay is another book about teapots that has come out recently (in Hong Kong). This book features articles written by 5 "specialists and scholars in purple clay art" and Teaparker is among them. This is the first book I see where his writing is translated into English since it's a bilingual Chinese and English book!
For this Chaxi, I'm brewing a spring 2018 RouGui Baozhong in an Yixing Zhuni teapot from the 1980s. By showing a teapot in a Chaxi, I stress the point that teapots are not made and collected for their own sake, but that their primary function is to make tea, and to make it well!
But once the tea tastes right and beautiful, it enables you to enter a world of art, culture and poetry. The title of this article was inspired from this book, because I read that Gu Jingzhou liked Su DongPo's poem 'Leaving footprints in the snow' (願留鴻爪踏雪泥). The 1999 footprints refer to the fact that this is my 1999th article on this blog! (A big celebration for the 2000th article is coming!) 

And the biggest reason why I continue writing is because I have the kindest and most wonderful readers, tea lovers from around the world. That's why this Chaxi features this painting from my tea friend Elisabeth, in Canada. That's where they literally know what it means to leave a footprint in the snow! Here, of course, it means creating a fleeting moment of tea art and taste. It's a great feeling to be connected to so many people who are intimately touched by their tea experiences!
The brew has a very clear yellow color in the light celadon cups. That's a sign of above normal oxidation. The leaves are indeed green inside and red on the edges (like this Chabu!) The aromas of this Wenshan Baozhong differ greatly from high mountain Oolong. The forest flower fragrances and soft Chinese spices aromas gives this Baozhong a very distinctive and complex scent.
The hard zhuni clay helps to extract the finest fragrances from this fresh Baozhong by opening the leaves completely and absorbing very little aroma. Tea can replace wine and give us inspiration to find beauty and poetry in each cup!

Friday, August 03, 2018

Les plantations de Shizhuo à Alishan

L'été à Taiwan, c'est comme la canicule que connait la France actuellement, mais pendant 3 mois! Cette canicule est parfois entrecoupée par un ou plusieurs typhons, issus du Pacifique, qui vont passer une partie de l'ile au Karcher avant de finir leur chemin en Chine ou au Japon.
Les averses tropicales de fin d'après-midi l'été sont un peu moins fréquentes quand lors de mon arrivée en 1996. J'avais été stupéfait par leur régularité cet été-là. Chaque jour, la pluie commençait à tomber vers 15h30 et s'arrêtait autour de 17h, si bien qu'il faisait super lourd et humide en sortant du boulot, mais au moins il ne pleuvait plus.
 Vingt deux ans plus tard, je découvre une autre facette de l'été à Taiwan: l'école pour les enfants! (Note: mes enfants vont à l'école locale et non à l'école française). Il ne s'agit pas colonie de vacance, mais de vrais cours pour les collégiens et les lycéens! Cela varie d'une école à l'autre, et pour celles qui n'en proposent pas, les parents trouveront des cours privés pour leurs enfants! Ainsi, l'école de mes enfants fonctionne de la mi-juillet à la mi-août.
 C'est ce qui explique pourquoi je suis actuellement chez moi, à Banciao, réponds à vos messages et envoie vos commandes en moins de 24 heures (comme d'habitude).
Je bois souvent des Oolong de haute montagne de ce printemps pour leur fraicheur, leur énergie et leur finesse. Dans ma tasse, j'ai ce Qingxin Oolong d'une nouvelle plantation de Shizhuo. Il me transporte à plus de 1300 mètres d'altitude, là où l'on peut vivre sans air conditionné tout l'été! J'en profite donc pour poster ces photos prises un matin d'avril 2018 à Shizhuo lors de ma recherche d'Oolongs de haute montagne.
Alishan êtant un parc national public où les fermiers n'ont pas le droit de planter du thé, les Oolongs dit d'Alishan viennent, en fait, des villages comme Shizhuo qui précèdent ce parc, l'une des plus belles destinations touristiques de Taiwan. Déguster, sentir et toucher ces feuilles d'Oolongs en fermant les yeux, c'est déjà presque comme si on y était!