Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Smile to the cloud in your tea


I'm very grateful for the tea friends in France who sent me this calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh. There are many possible interpretations for this short sentence. The word cloud is the most enigmatic and poetic here. In Chinese, yun, cloud, also means the aftertaste of tea! And a tea that produces aftertaste is one that will always make one smile, because it's so good and full of emotions.

A cloudy tea, however, would mean a tea that isn't clear and not well processed. This is probably not the meaning of the author to smile when you drink bad tea. But maybe you should smile when you drink bad tea, because you won't feel better if you start complaining. Even if the tea is bad, you can appreciate the fact that you are alive and have experience and good memories of good teas that enable you to tell that this tea is bad. It's only with the experience of good and bad that one makes progress. And if you are drinking tea, even a bad one, be satisfied that you have found time in your day for a pause when you can listen to your own thoughts!
And it's also fun to imagine a modern meaning to the word 'cloud', a place where we store our digital documents. Smile at the virtual world! Smile at the effort and passion you put into your tea and life! All this will come to pass much sooner than we expect (as the candles on the birthday cake care to remind us!) So smile and enjoy your tea!
And that's why I finished a very rare 1990 aged high mountain Oolong that day. It had a very clear brew and lots of aftertaste that definitely made me smile!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Napoléon's 250th. Great men are like Yan Cha: destined to go through fire to enlighten us


The actual quote, which Bonaparte wrote in high school, is that "Great men are meteors destined to burn to enlighten their century". That was very prescient for a teenager from Corsica who'd become France's greatest emperor, just after a revolution that had ended in a bloodbath and a word we're still using today: terror(ism)!

Napoléon was born 250 years ago today and this Chaxi is my way to remember this great man who saved France when it was on the brink of disaster. I remember that I read his biography with fascination when I was a teenager myself. His spirit continues to inspire many French to think big, universal.

So, for this Chaxi, I knew I had to have a tea invented around his time. A tea that revolutionized tea in China and the world. A tea that stands for top quality, often imitated, but rarely attained. A real WuYi Yan Cha (from 2017).
To brew this YanCha, I naturally chose my Qianlong era Yixing zisha teapot with white and blue decoration, because emperor Qianlong reigned when Napoléon was born. As for the Chabu, I selected one with an eagle, the imperial symbol of Napoléon. The pine tree is a common tree in Corsica.
Such a Chaxi is worthy of an emperor! I may not have conquered the world (of tea) with my blog and my boutique. At least, not in terms of quantity, number of readers/followers or profits. But this wasn't my goal. However, I think that in terms of quality of the knowledge, the wares, the leaves and the tea readers/customers, I have by far surpassed my dreams. This doesn't mean that there's no room for improvement, or that my tea life may get wiped out by the rise of China or some other threat. The bigger you become, the more attacks you're getting, as Napoléon found out... 
True greatness in tea is ephemeral. It's a great brew and then it's gone. "Pourvu que ça dure" said Napoléon's mother when her son was crowned emperor! It's the same for tea: all we wish is that this deep feeling of bliss and elegance lasts!
(Note: since I'm posting about Yan Cha, I would like to share this piece of interesting information from Tea Drunk: True Yan Cha teas harvested in spring 2019 are still being refined in Wuyi this month. This means that real Yan Cha from 2019 are not supposed to be up for sale for another month or 2 weeks at best. So, if you check now and see that a vendor or maker is already selling 2019 Yan Cha now, you can be assured that it isn't genuine. Unfortunately, it's not because sellers wait for the right time that the leaves are necessarily true Yan Cha. But at least this is one way to spot those impatient retailers of fake Yan Cha!)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

2 Chaxi de bord de mer

 Pour ce premier Chaxi, je suis à Kenting, à 100 m de la plage. Le vent souffle trop fort pour me permettre de préparer tranquillement mon thé ce matin-là. Aussi, je vais à cette table partiellement à l'ombre. Et comme on est le matin, j'ai une envie d'Oriental Beauty...
Les odeurs de miel sont gourmandes et en harmonie avec l'été. J'infuse dans mon gaiwan de porcelaine, polyvalent et facile à transporter.
La couleur dorée ressort avec plein d'éclat dans les fines coupes chantantes de couleur blanc ivoire.
Les parfums de l'infusion me chatouillent les narines! Le jeu du soleil et de l'ombre sur le Chabu, face noire, fait ressortir les couleurs chaudes et vibrantes du thé.
Vous en prendrez bien une coupe!
Pendant que je vais faire un tour sur la plage...
Malheureusement, les vacances ont cela de commun qu'elles sont toujours trop courtes et qu'on finit par rentrer chez soi!

De Taipei, je n'ai qu'une bonne heure de trajet pour aller à la plage de Feitsuiwan près de Keelung ou celle de Fulong, mais quand il fait 35 degrés Celcius dehors, ma flemme l'emporte et je préfère souvent mon confort et mon air conditionné!

Et quand j'ai envie de plage, je transorme mon coin à thé en Beach Chaxi! Les couleurs Qinghua (bleu et blanc) sont en parfaite résonnance avec le ciel bleu et l'écume des vagues! Je choisis cet Oolong de haute montagne (Shan Lin Xi) pour sa fraicheur et ses senteurs marines inattendues.

Ces feuilles font le toboggan de ma main à la théière en zhuni d'Yixing.
Le soleil illumine l'infusion dans les coupes. Fraicheur et transparence.
Ces coupes ont l'air si rafraichissantes qu'on a envie de s'y baigner!
Et quand il n'y en a plus, on en refait encore et encore. Le Oolong permet ces multiples infusions miraculeuses!
Le temps passe si agréablement au bord de ce Chaxi, que le soleil commence à tomber. Les ombres se rallongent et il est temps de se dire au revoir et de ranger les affaires...
Mais pas avant d'avoir fait un tour en parapente et d'avoir survolé notre petite plage très privée!
Toutes les vues sont belles, mais j'affectionne particulièrement celle-ci, en contre-jour:
Et à la fin, j'ai même trouvé ces drôles d'algues au fond de ma théière!
Un bon Chaxi nous permet de voyager et de nous amuser. La plus belle plage, c'est celle qu'on crée de toutes pièces avec notre imagination! Bonnes vacances!

Friday, August 02, 2019

Ruby red tea from Sun Moon Lake

This summer 2018 Hong Yu is one of my recent additions to my selection.
I had a lovely early morning session with this fully oxidized tea. I prepared the large leaves in a thin white porcelain bowl by David Louveau.
The white color of the bowl helps to figure out when the brew is ready to be poured in the cups. And then you simply add more boiling water in the bowl for more tea.
This red tea is very popular and reminds me a lot of the Early Grey Twinnings tea my parents used to drink when I was a kid. The difference is that this tea isn't scented! The bitter orange scents come naturally from the leaves.
It brought back lots of memories. Summer breakfast in Provence. Toasted bread with butter and incredible local honey, white and stiff with lavender notes... And a sweet and warm sunshine like this morning!
Tea (and smells in general) sometimes brings back memories that were buried deep down in some dark corner of the brain... And even when it doesn't, it's a wonderful way to experience the start of a new day, with some classical music in the background. Beauty in front of your eyes, in your nose and ears, at the touch of your hand, at the tip of your tongue.
And in these morning Chaxi, I'm blessed with a sense of urgency. Due to the orientation of my apartment, this sunshine won't last later than 7 AM. I only have 40 minutes to complete my tea with the sun. It's a life lesson: simplify, harmonize, enjoy, feel grateful and share the joy around you.
Let tea and light shine on the simple joys of life!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Les thés voient rouge l'été à Taiwan

Chaleur, quand tu nous tient! 35 degrés à l'ombre est la punition journalière pendant 100 jours de fin juin à début octobre à Taiwan. Sans air conditionné, t'es pris de torpeur comme un zombie en quête de fraicheur dans chaque 7-11 sur ta route! La nuit, sur un matelas d'osier, sans couverture, un ventilateur pointé toi ne suffit souvent pas à t'endormir. Les immeubles de Taipei sont des éponges à chaleur et humidité. Revenir chez soi en fin d'après-midi, c'est comme pénétrer dans un hammam où même l'eau froide des canalisations est chaude!
Si je vous décris mon ressenti estival, ce n'est pas pour me plaindre ou vous déconseiller de visiter Taiwan en cette saison (les montagnes et la mer ne sont pas aussi chaudes que Taipei!) C'est pour vous expliquer que l'été ici est d'une toute autre intensité et endurance qu'en Europe ou en Amérique du Nord. Les nuits ne rafraichissent que très peu. Et cela a donc un impact considérable sur les arômes naturels du thé. La fraicheur printanière laisse place aux notes sucrées et matures de feuilles qui poussent sous un soleil généreux et des pluies brèves, mais intenses.
Dans ces conditions extrêmes et très dures pour les producteurs, Taiwan produit quelques excellents thés rouges ou bien fortement oxydés (et mordus!) Le plus connu est la Beauté Orientale de Hsin Chu. Ce thé vient d'ailleurs d'établir un nouveau prix record aux enchères récemment: 1,01 millions de dollars taiwanais (29 000 Euros) pour 600 grammes!
Ici, dans mon bol Jun, nonchalamment, j'ai préparé ce thè rouge mordu de la côte Est. Sa couleur évoque fidèlement ses arômes de miel fruité et chaleureux. Un si bon thé au lever du soleil est, finalement, une belle consolation pour ces journées de transpiration! (No pain, no gain!). Le thé est un peu comme pour la vigne: il lui faut un souffrir pour donner le meilleur de son terroir.

Friday, July 26, 2019

An exceptional subtropical forest Wenshan Baozhong

Wenshan Baozhong Plantation
I've coined this name 'Subtropical Forest Baozhong' over 10 years ago! At that time, Wenshan Baozhong was suffering from the popularity of high mountain Oolongs and most Baozhongs were on a path of imitation and light, flowery flavors. With the 'subtropical forest' name, I wanted to highlight more classical Baozhongs with a higher oxidation level that were better reflections of their environment. 

This name stuck for me, because it both reflects the dark rain forests that are growing around the tea plantations near Pinglin, and the rich subtropical scents of the leaves.

With the 2019 version, it starts with the dry leaves and you'll notice that the first fragrances are actually young dry wood (from a light roast). Then come some fresh citrus notes and a certain lightness. But I was not prepared to what followed.
In the description of this Baozhong, I mention that I was lucky that these leaves got insect bitten. What was a simple fact 2 and a half months ago turned into something amazing. The brew of this subtropical forest Baozhong is mesmerizing with its complex scents and sparkling taste!
This tea has gone a different route than high mountain Oolong, but it feels like it has finally come home! The taste buds are bursting with a phenomenal sweet and sour zest. The overall feeling remains sweet and comfortable.
Was I lucky? Is there a renewal brewing in Pinglin? The quality of the Rougui, Dancong and semi-wild Baozhongs points in this direction... Or is it the swan song of a tea region isolated by a highway that rides through its mountains?
This Baozhong seems to fight on behalf of all twisted leaves against the rolled Oolongs. And it has won, because it has created scents and tastes that are very different from high mountain Oolongs.
Enjoy the sweet beauty of northern Taiwan's subtropical forest in your cup of tea!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Beach Chaxi of summer 2019

My mini vacation in Kenting is over and I'm bringing back familiar and beautiful memories of tea at the beach. May these pictures be a source of inspiration for those of you in similar environments, and a source of joy for all the others!

The brew took place after 5 PM, near sunset (in Taiwan), because that's when the sun doesn't shine too hard and kids can hunt hermit crabs while their dad enjoys his tea.
I chose a 2017 spring Qingxin Oolong from Tsui Luan, strored in the pewter caddy on my Chaxi. Beside the freshness, I wanted the full Taiwan experience on this beach. When you drive from Taipei to Kenting on the second freeway, you always see the central mountains of Taiwan on your left side. The majestic peaks protect the western stretch of land from typhoons and rain coming from the (not so) Pacific Ocean. And I revere these mountains even more, for they bequeath me the most refined and sweetest Oolongs in the world!
If you could devise a mathematical formula for my happiness at this moment, you wouldn't see plus signs, but multipliers and factors. It would look like:
(Sun x Beach x Chaxi Beauty)^Tea quality
If Robinson had grown tea on his island, he may never have wanted to leave!
Or maybe there's also pleasure in knowing that you will only enjoy tea this way once (or a few times) that makes the moment so special.
And indeed, due to strong winds the next days, I wasn't able to repeat a beach Chaxi during this short vacation. Grab the opportunity when it arises! Enjoy the combination of freshness and heat from the beach and a great high mountain Oolong Chaxi!