Wednesday, February 26, 2020

International Tea Sommelier graduation day

 I've already posted most pictures on my Facebook page and if you're interested in seeing the whole thing (in Chinese), there's this video where you can see me accept my diploma (at minute 37) and later perform a Chaxi (at 1 hour). But let me give more details about the event to those interested.
 The honorable Justice Prof. Dr. Chen Shin-Min handed me my diploma. He's a retired judge from Taiwan's 'Supreme court' which handles questions about the constitution. But yesterday, he came more as an expert of fine dining and wine (about which he wrote a book) and as a juror for the last test of the International Tea Sommelier Academy training.
Most of the trainees who attended the 3x2 days training are staff from the Landis Hotel. The other trainees were either tea students of Teaparker who wished to learn about tea pairing or chefs who were interested in the new possibilities of tea pairing. That's why we were 2 to be distinguished with the honor of receiving our diploma at the event: me, because I graduated with the highest score among all students, and the wine sommelier of the Landis' Paris 1930 restaurant, because he had the highest score among the staff at Landis.
The Landis Hotel used this graduation ceremony to communicate to the media about their tea pairing activities. Their Tian Xiang Lo restaurant has 28 loose leaf teas on its beverage menu! They want to give customers the possibility to order tea that will pair well with their food. And instead of a long explanation, they provided 2 examples of dishes from their menu that can be enjoyed with tea. (I didn't pay too much attention to this, because I was getting ready to perform in front of the whole room -40 people or more. All I remember is that they brewed an Oriental Beauty!)
I start my Chaxi by trying to empty the tea from Teaparker's antique silver jar. He bought it in Paris at an auction some 30 years ago. It was made in China for export to the West.

The trouble, from my point of view, with this jar, is its very small neck and opening. I couldn't get all the leaves out of the jar! That was quite a pity, from my point of view, because the tea Teaparker brought yesterday is one of the most expensive and famous tea in the world: Song Pin Hao puerh from the 1920s! (Estimated at about 1600 USD per gram!)
Below, the writer Li Ang, famous for her novel 'The Butcher's Wife', told us she had tasted Song Pin Hao once in Hong Kong, but she wasn't sure what she tasted was real. That's why she was very eager to taste the original Song Pin Hao from Teaparker's private collection.
(Li Ang attended this event, because she's also a juror on the International Tea Sommelier final exam. And she often dines in Michelin starred restaurants!).
Then I also said a few words about my Qianlong era Yixing zisha teapot with falangcai decoration. My grandfather's pen name was Leo and being a Leo myself, I feel a strong connection to this teapot decorated with a lion.
Since it's old and quite fragile with its thin walls, I start to preheat the teapot by pouring on the lid in order to warm the outside first.
Then I remove the lid.
And place it on a lid holder, an old qinghua mini plate.
Then I preheat the teapot.
While the teapot is preheating, I remove the qinghua cups from their stands. Then, I pour the content of the teapot in the cups.
Next, I carefully let the leaves glide from my hand into the teapot.
I slowly and carefully pour boiled water into the teapot.
While the tea is brewing, I empty the water from the cups in the jianshui.
Then I fill each cup with tea partially.
I go over each cup 2 or three times.
I do this back and forth until the teapot is empty and each cup has received the same amount of tea with the same concentration.
Then I place the cups on their stands.
And I hand them out to the guests of honor, Mrs Li Ang, Teaparker and Justice Chen Shin-Min. The top management of the Landis also received 3 cups.
I didn't drink from this first brew, but I noticed that the color of the brew is very similar of that of my puerh from the 1920s!
The last 2 cups were given to 2 journalists who asked questions about tea pairing.
The ceremony is almost over, but I sense that many people didn't come to just see other people enjoy Song Pin Hao.
Teaparker gave his OK to do one more brew. All those who had a cup would get a sip! And what a rush! It felt a little bit too hectic to appreciate such a fine tea. I had clearer impressions when I continued to brew it at home...
Acknowledgement: A big thanks to Christopher Day for taking all these wonderful pictures!


EG said...

Hi Stéphane,
What an important event in your long tea history! Such excitement!
I wonder, how did people respond to tasting the tea? Did the writer find it as she had remembered?
And especially, how did it strike you, more quietly at home?


TeaMasters said...

Hi Elisabeth,
I think Li Ang felt that there wasn't enough tea in her cup and that it wasn't strong enough to her taste. So, she was very eager for a second brew. But there were even more cups to share the tea from the teapot during the second brew that it was difficult to enjoy, especially since many people felt quite excited to taste this precious tea.
So, I felt it was much more easier to connect to its purity and elegance when I was quiet at home. Naturally, the most power was in the first brews, but I still find it very enjoyable. But it's difficult to find words to describe the feeling. I still have the leaves in the teapot and I'm still trying to find a good way to describe the experience.