Friday, December 13, 2019

Funky Dancong Shuixian from Taiwan

This Shuixian Dancong from Wenshan, in the north part of Taiwan, is unlike any other Baozhong or Taiwanese Oolong. It was made in the manner of Phoenix Dancong, using the same cultivar, but grown and processed in Taiwan. 
And it is a very powerful tea! The main reason for its quality and power are the young leaves. They are all very tender and I can only advise to use a small amount and to brew this Oolong lightly. 
 The result is truly astonishing, crisp and a little astringent with very funky, fruity notes that are typical of Dancong Oolong.
The special flavors are the inspiration for my pictures. Was it luck or this amazing December light? These pictures really capture the Advent spirit!... I don't have much to add.
 Below, we can see just how tender and lightly oxidized the single leaves are. So beautiful!
 The tea world is amazing! There are always new flavors to discover, new teas to try. And there's a tea for every mood. And I'm glad that I can give you access to all these wonderful Oolongs, red teas, aged puerhs... that I'm enjoying!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Couleurs de Noël et Oolong exceptionnel

On s'approche du solstice d'hiver et lorsqu'il y a du soleil, ses rayons ont un éclat particulier. L'astre du jour peine à s'élever dans le ciel et éclaire de biais mon Chaxi. On se croirait à la montagne avec cette fraicheur ensoleillée.
 Quoi de tel que d'en profiter pour déguster un Oolong de très haute montagne, de FuShou Shan, infusé dans une magnifique Yixing zhuni à peau de poire.
 Et c'est l'occasion d'utiliser ces anciennes coupes fines et colorées. Elles s'accordent si bien avec l'ambiance bariolée de ce Chaxi!
 Cette lumière intense, mais fraiche, sèche, sans les lourdeurs de l'été tropical, est la source d'inspiration de ce Chaxi de Noël. Entourée d'ombre, elle annonce une bonne nouvelle et l'espoir.
Cette lumière généreuse se réflète et se propage, se transforme et se sublimine. Cela me fait penser à ce Podcast sur France Culture: Qui était Jésus? Armande Abécassis nous dit que même le texte de la bible n'est pas saint, car il est sujet à interprétation. Par nature, rien de ce qui existe sur terre n'est divin, saint. Mais là où l'homme peut trouver de la sainteté c'est dans sa relation (avec Dieu).
Ainsi, ces images de célébration de Noël ne vous toucherons pas si vous n'avez pas une relation particulière avec la fête de la naissance de Jésus. En soi, ce Chaxi n'a pas plus d'importance ou de signification qu'un autre Chaxi. Ce qui le rend particulier, c'est effectivement la relation qu'on entretient avec Noël.
Rien de ce qu'on trouve sur terre n'est d'essence divine, mais parfois on est quand même bouche bée quand une oeuvre d'art nous émeut ou qu'on déguste un Oolong délicieux! 
Cet Oolong taquine les étoiles et m'élève au-delà des tracasseries du quotidien. C'est juste un excellent thé. Il n'a rien de divin. Mais c'est dans ce que j'en fais que je retrouve l'esprit naïf et enfantin de Noël.
 Donnez un sens joyeux à vos Chaxi durant l'Avent!

Friday, December 06, 2019

A charming tea story

Evening starts early in winter. As the day goes from cold and grey to dark, we long for the warmth of  a cup of tea and a Christmas cookie! These long winter nights were traditionally spent telling stories around the fire in the chimney. We may still feel this quiet atmosphere when we light a few candles. This would be a perfect time to read my short story "Emperor Fei's Dream of Tea". Here is the feedback I received about it from Marian in NYC a couple of days ago:

"What a charming story! It is laced with so many picturesque and delightful images, and that you were able to seamlessly integrate such a quantity and variety of information about tea is a testimony to your skill as a storyteller. I started to read the story before I left for a class this evening and the first thing I did when I got home was to resume reading it. Both the images and story line are so appealing- I wanted to indulge my imagination as soon as I stepped inside the door! You are a wonderful writer and I hope you will continue to explore that outlet."
Thank you for your feedback, Marian. It warms my heart to know that you've enjoyed my tale.

In case you're new to my blog, let me remind you that you receive a free copy of this short story if you place a 90 USD (or more) order on tea-masters.com. To see all the benefits you receive when you place an order on my eBoutique click here.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The holy grail of tea

Nobody believes in miracles anymore. As aged puerh is getting rare and increasingly expensive, who could have imagined that a puerh from the 1950s would still be lying around in an antique shop in Taiwan? As the famous red label (hong yin) or green label (lu yin) cakes from the 1950s sell for over 100,000 USD per cake in auctions in Hong Kong and Beijing, who could have predicted that similarly old leaves could still be had at a large discount? Ten years ago, when I selected it, I already felt that I struck gold with this 1966 loose gushu puerh. I didn't think it possible to find an even older puerh 10 years later. And yet, the impossible has happened! My Christmas came early! Here are some leaves of 1950s gushu puerh and I could even get enough to make them available in my selection:
1950s puerh
The question you may be wondering is how do we know the age of these leaves? Aged loose leaves should point to the cultural revolution (1966 to 1976) when the work in the factories was greatly disturbed, not to the 1950s! Indeed, and that's why this other batch of leaves I also acquired is estimated as from the 1970s. However, if we closely look at these leaves, we can notice that they are flattened, because they were once pressed into cakes! So, these are leaves that came off old cakes and were collected by the tea vendors that were purchasing and storing them in Hong Kong before 1997. In those times, it was their habit to dust of the old cakes of the leaves that had come naturally with time. That's the main reason why, at auctions, these red and green label cakes from the 1950s weigh about 310-340 gr instead of 357 gr.
The other way to ascertain the age is to compare this tea to the loose gushu from 1966 or those from the 70s. The taste considerably is rounder, calmer. And the aftertaste feels more refined and warmer. This is consistent with the way puerh ages according to my experience.
Using my gold plated silver teapot enables me not use all the (expensive) leaves I have photographed above. I must have only used half. And thanks to the high extraction rate of this teapot, this was already enough to produce wonderful brews! That's another reason why aged puerh becomes so precious. The scents turn to ginseng, old wood, incense and the taste is so soft, long and pleasing that it feels more akin to a spiritual encounter.
The record prices set by 60 to 90 years old puerh may seem crazy to non puerh drinkers. But if you're a serious sheng lover then you may understand that aged puerh is simply the ultimate tea experience, the holy grail of tea. No other tea ages so well, no other tea is so powerful, no other tea is surrounded by such interest! And no other tea seems so unattainable (100,000 USD for a cake)! But this changes if you can purchase just two or 3 grams and if you're a group of 3 to 6 people! Then, this luxury becomes as affordable as a ticket to a show on Broadway or a top bottle of wine. It's not something you enjoy often, but at least you can say that you know the feeling!
For me, it feels like Christmas! A perfect tea, old but still feeling young, so naturally sweet that you don't want to eat anything with it, because it's light tinkling is so enjoyable and goes on and on!
The spent leaves of the 1950s gushu puerh
As I often say, the tea experience isn't about quantity, but quality. Why? Because you can only brew a few grams of tea at a time! And on a special occasion it's just fitting to enjoy a tea that defies time!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Fête de Noël pour buveurs de puerh


Puerh cru en vrac des 1970s
Voici la quatrième fois déjà que Cosmin est venu prendre un cours de thé avec moi. Il m'a laissé ce super commentaire sur son compte Instagram: "I am lucky to have found not just one, but several great teachers, in different areas of life important to me. For tea, @stephane_erler has been teaching me first indirectly via his blog and his shop and now directly, as I have the chance to fly to him more often. Although I am making tea for more than 10 years and I have taught many people myself, I have missed small but very important details. I am very happy and grateful to be able to learn more about this one thing which I love, chinese #tea".

Comme tout un chacun, j'apprécie les compliments, surtout quand ils sont sincères! Et cela me fait plaisir de savoir que j'ai pu transmettre une partie de ce que j'ai appris de Teaparker, mon maitre de thé. Et comme l'on n'apprend bien qu'avec du bon thé et que Noël approche, j'ai décidé de partager avec Cosmin ce puerh cru de vieux arbres en vrac des années 1970s!
En plus, la saison froide est idéale pour la consommation de puerh âgé, car ce genre de thé réchauffe et apporte plein d'énergie et de douceur. Pour l'infuser, j'aurais pu utiliser une petite Yixing zisha. Cela aurait encore mieux accentuer la longueur en bouche du puerh, mais la théière en argent me permet de tester les limites de ces feuilles qui viennent tout juste de rejoindre ma sélection. Et c'est bon, je sais maintenant que ce thé n'a pas de limites!
Ces quelques feuilles sont un superbe concentré de saveurs fraiches sur la langue, douces dans le palais et longues dans l'after-taste. On a des odeurs de vieux bois et d'encens qui nous font penser, Cosmin et moi, aux odeurs de vieux temples chinois! (Habitant Taiwan depuis plus de 20 ans, j'en oublie l'odeur des églises d'Alsace!)
Mon cours avait porté sur le puerh gushu. Avant ce puerh des 70s, on avait dégusté un faux jeune gushu et un ma galette de théiers de 500 ans de 2017. Ainsi, on a pu remarquer que la longueur en bouche et l'épaisseur de l'infusion sont les caractéristiques que nous retrouvons chez les gushu jeunes et les anciens. La différence, c'est qu'après plus de 40 ans, cet arrière-goût s'affine et l'amertume du jeune gushu devient de plus en plus douce. 
Montaigne écrivait: "Celui-là y a mieux profité, qui les fait, que qui les sait." Le savoir théorique sur le goût du gushu puerh ne remplace pas l'expérience. Aussi, pour bien apprendre la lente évolution des saveurs du puerh, je suis heureux de pouvoir maintenant vous proposer du puerh gushu des années 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s... Voilà une collection à faire pâlir les millionnaires Chinois! Rien ne sert de collectionner des centaines de tongs de puerh. Personne ne peut en boire autant! Mieux vaut avoir quelques grammes exceptionnels pour fêter les grands moments (avec l'excuse d'apprendre en même temps!) 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Turning tea into wine!

Since I've taken classes in the Tea Sommelier course, I have opened much fewer bottles of wine! The classes didn't say that tea should replace wine, but that tea is an alternative pairing option to wine and that you can even use both tea and wine in order to have more pairing options. However, since this is a new field of experimentation, I find myself so busy and excited tasting tea with my meals that I only seldom open a bottle!

And since today is Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share a great tea for pairing with poultry: fresh high mountain Oolong! The powerful light flavors of Oolong go well with the light flavors of the white meat of turkey or chicken. And then there's the fun of finding which high mountain is the best fit!

It's the 17th year since I've started to learn about tea and there are still new things to learn and explore! This is something I'm grateful for. And I also wish to thank you all who read my blog and support my tea journey thanks to your purchases on tea-masters.com (By the way, I'm glad I was eventually able to upgrade to a better eBoutique platform this year). I am also very thankful for the renewed opportunity to teach at Penn State in the spring and to meet tea friends in NYC! I also wish to thank all of those who come to have a tea class with me in New Taipei City, because the more I drink good teas, the more I enjoy sharing them!!

Note: tomorrow is Black Friday and I have 20 teas and 20 accessories on sale, free shipping starting at 100 USD and free samples (see here for more details). And I also have free eBooks! My latest is a short story taking place in ancient China: Emperor Fei's Dream of Tea.

Happy Thanksgiving!
(Note: on these Ming dynasty De Hua porcelain cups, you can find the character 'tea' on one side and 'wine' on the other side of the cup. This shows that early on the Chinese have switched from wine to tea effortlessly and used the same cups!)

Monday, November 25, 2019

La musique des tableaux de Leonardo da Vinci, et un thé qui va avec!


Beauté Orientale impériale de Taiwan
La synesthésie, c'est le mélange des sens. C'est quand on entend les couleurs, quand on sent les mots, quand on voit des sons... Pour certains, c'est un phénomène neurologique involontaire, mais pour la plupart, c'est une recherche d'harmonie entre les sens. Imaginez écouter de la musique punk pour un repas de Noël: cela ne va pas bien ensemble!

A un mois de cette fête justement, je me suis amusé à prolonger le travail de Denis Raisin Dadre et de son groupe de musique ancienne 'Doulce Mémoire' dans le coffret ci-dessus: la musique secrète de Leonardo da Vinci. Sur le CD, chaque musique de la Renaissance correspond à un tableau particulier de Leonardo. Et le premier tableau marque bien la saison de l'Avent: L'annonciation (1473-75). Il représente l'ange Gabriel annonçant à Marie qu'elle va donner naissance à Jésus:
L'Annonciation, Musée des offices, Florence
Ainsi, pour ce tableau, Doulce Mémoire avait l'embarras du choix concernant les Ave Maria, les uns plus somptueux et complexes que les autres. Mais le choix s'est finalement porté sur plusieurs laudes qui sont des chansons religieuse simples et lentes. Elle conviennent parfaitement à l'ambiance relaxante et spirituelle d'un Chaxi, et ces musiques et ce tableau m'ont inspiré le Chaxi suivant:

Christie's images. Nov. 2017
La couleur rouge de la joie est présente sur l'étoffe de l'ange, chez Marie et à l'intérieur de la maison. Je l'ai donc adoptée comme thème et pour mon Chabu.

Ce rouge représente la joie du miracle de la naissance du Christ. Partant de là, je me suis dit que le thé (presque) rouge le plus miraculeux est la Beauté Orientale. En effet, pour être vraiment bon, ce thé de plaine, d'origine modeste, a besoin des morsure d'insectes minuscules, les petits criquets verts (Jacobiasa Formosana Paoli). Et autre miracle, ses feuilles sèches sont multicolores!

Et pour l'infuser, le choix de ma théière en porcelaine 'blanc de Chine' de De Hua s'est imposé, car c'est dans cette porcelaine qu'on faisait des statues de Guan Yin durant la dynastie Ming (1368-1644). Or, les missionnaires occidentaux utilisaient ces statues pour parler de la Vierge Marie aux Chinois. D'ailleurs, on notera que les gestes des mains de Marie sur le tableau font aussi penser aux gestes des certaines déités du Bouddhisme!
Mes coupes sont également en porcelaine de DeHua, et cela tombe bien, car la couleur ivoire permet de rehausser la couleur de l'infusion des feuilles fortement oxydées!
De plus, avec la théière et mes petites coupes en porcelaine DeHua, j'ai la chance de disposer d'accessoires qui sont pratiquement contemporains de Léonard de Vinci! Leur grâce et leur pureté sont en harmonie avec le sujet, la musique et le thé!
L'annonce est faite dans un jardin de pins et de cyprès. C'est pourquoi j'ai disposé plusieurs bonsai sur mon Chaxi
Sous la théière, j'ai pris une petite assiette porcelaine encore plus ancienne (dynastie Song). Elle est tout ce qu'il y a de plus modeste et simple, comme Marie. Et en même temps, son ancienneté fait écho au fait que la naissance du Sauveur avait été annoncé dans l'Ancien Testament!
Merci Doulce Mémoire pour ce magnifique livret et CD qui allie si bien l'oeuvre de Léonard de Vinci à la musique de son temps. Associer musique et art est une excellente idée, et on peut même s'en inspirer pour son Chaxi!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Learning about puerh can help you save a lot of money


Aged sheng puerh is the Holy Grail of gongfu cha drinkers. As prices of cakes from the 1970s reach 20,000 to 30,000 USD, they have become the dream of all the serious puerh drinkers. And for this class, I have prepared some sheng leaves from the 70s to show my student what such tea is all about.

But before that, I wish to show the difference between a real aged sheng and a well made imitation. So, we compare these 2 teas: a 1999 and a 1985 sheng.

Can you spot which of the 2 was actually made in the 2000s and is faking its age?
We use gaiwans to brew the 2 teas. And 2 sets of ivory porcelain cups. The color difference is more obvious in the singing cups, but the flower cups are more suitable for the cold weather. Here, the answer is much more obvious, but only if you know that one is a fake.
First brew
Below are the 2 puerhs. Any idea which one is genuinely aged?
 Maybe you wish to have a look at the spent leaves to identify them:
1985
Spotting a fake can help you save a lot of money and it will prevent you from purchasing tea pretending to be older than its actual age.
1999
Of course, the biggest difference is in the taste (and especially in the aftertaste or its lack of aftertaste) and in the fragrances. But this is easier experienced than explained in an article. That is why I have created this puerh sampler in order to taste both teas, s shu puerh as well as the next one:

Below and cup: 1985 loose sheng puerh.  Above: 1970s puerh.
Spoiler alert! The answer is about to be unveiled. In order to show that the first 1985 was a fake, we brew a real 1985 loose sheng puerh. The color of the brew is lighter. It has more aftertaste, but that aftertaste is more refined than the 1999.
1970s sheng puerh
After that, we move to the 1970s loose sheng puerh. We brew it once in a gaiwan to compare it fairly with the other 3 puerhs. Then, we use a small shantou teapot in order to get more out of the leaves. And we are surprised by the fact that the brew from the gaiwan came out very clean and beautiful, almost like from the teapot. It's as if it doesn't need to have its edges polished by the porous clay of the teapot.
The other advantage of the clay teapot over the porcelain gaiwan is that it keeps the brew at a higher temperature on a cold day. This means a better extraction of flavors.
I can't start to explain the pleasure we enjoyed with this 40 + years old puerh. Antonio said that this is a tea that makes you meditate. It overwhelms you with its peaceful force and brings quiet to your mind.
The color of that second brew in the flower cup above is very dark. In the singing cup below, it seems to shine. What a beautiful tea! No wonder it has become a holy grail for which rich Chinese are willing to spend a lot of money despite the risk of getting a fake! The most common way they make sure is that their puerh tea is old is by trusting the packaging. An old wrapper gives the customer a certain reassurance about the age of the tea. However, it's relatively easy to forge a wrapper and I don't recommend trusting the packaging. The best is to learn how aged puerh taste and then trust your own taste to recognize genuine aged from faked leaves!
This tea feels like Christmas!