Floating Leaves Tea Home ---Shiuwen's Blog!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Baozhong Farmer - Mr. Chen

I finally had a chance to talk to the Baozhong Farmer, Mr. Chen. He told me that he has been making tea for 40 years. He owns tea farms in the Pinglin area, just south of Taipei. He and his wife mostly make tea, and in the busy tea making season, they will hire tea pickers. Farmer Chen handles the entire tea making process himself.

He thanked me for liking his Baozhong tea.

I asked him what he thinks about the tea competition. He told me that it's not all that fair. However, since the tea judges decide what is a good tea, he only can do his best. I asked him about Taiwanese Oolong getting greener and greener. He said it's the trend. He still wants his Baozhong a bit more oxidized than the current trend. I asked him why he doesn't like really lightly-oxidized Oolong and he said it's because the tea has less taste (滋味) and mouth feel. He thinks a true Oolong tea should have a nice mouth feel. If a Baozhong becomes much greener, we can all change and just make a Green Tea.

I noticed that in recent years, Farmer Chen almost never wins first place. I think it's because he still wants to make Baozhong with a bigger taste. I asked him if I can learn how to make tea from him. He laughed and said it's a really tough job. I told him that I can do it, but he still repeated that it's a very tough job.

I asked him about this winter Baozhong. He said that in the beginning, the temperature was not cool enough. I asked him what's the problem with higher temperature and he said that the tea won't taste like "winter tea".

He told me that since the weather is warmer, the "stirring green" (浪青) process has to be fast because the tea oxidizes faster ( Please see the note for "stirring green). So there should be a shorter period of time between each "stirring green" interval. He told me that he prefers that the temperature be below 20c. He said that for a few days this season, the temperature dropped, so even yesterday, he was making tea. It takes him about 24 hours to finish one batch of tea.

I asked him if he can still make more oxidized Baozhong. He said that if people ask him to make it, he will do it. I was so excited to hear it. He told me he likes tea that way, too. Fragrance in a tea is important, but how a tea feels in the mouth should be important as well, if not more so.

Farmer Chen hasn't seen me for a couple of seasons, so I told him that I will for sure visit him whenever I am in Taiwan and remind him again that I want to learn how to make tea from him.

"Stiring Green": After tea leaves are oxidized to the right degree outdoors, farmers will take those tea leaves indoors. Leaves will stay in tea baskets indoors without the farmers touching or shaking them. The purpose of this is to let the water content evaporate from the edges of tea leaves and the water content in the leaves will distribute evenly. At the right moment, farmers will decide to stir tea leaves. We call this process "stiring green". The first goal of "stiring green" is to let the water in the tea leaves "evaporate" evenly. The second purpose of this process is to let leaves rub each other so that oxidation of tea leaves will continue.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

2008 Winter Baozhong

My friend, Mr. Tsai, called and told me that he went to Farmer Chen's place and picked up 2008 Winter Competition Baozhong. I was very excited to know that the new competition Baozhong was on its way to Seattle.

I asked him how the Baozhong tea tasted this season. Mr. Tsai told me that some of the Baozhong tea might lack fragrance because the weather didn't cool down enough and there were too many rainy days. However, he told me not to worry. He chose the good quality Baozhong from Farmer Chen.

Farmer Chen was busy making tea last month. I think it's time to give him a call, since I want to know what he has done differently to the Baozhong processing when the weather hasn't cooperated.

The new Baozhong will be here in about two weeks. We will have a review on the tea. In the next couple of posts, we will also talk about competition Baozhong and Farmer Chen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Konghai and Tea

I took my son Konghai to watch a play last night.
The play is called the Snow Queen and it lasted one and a half hours.
Konghai sat and watched the whole show!
I was amazed. He is only 11 months old!

He drinks tea. Konghai's favorite tea so far is a good Puer, but he drinks Taiwanese Oolong most of the time. Perhaps his calmness has something to do with tea drinking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

2008 Winter Alishan High Mountain Oolong

So some Alishan High Mountain Oolong is finally here!

Michael brought me the tea and he was just too excited from his Taiwan trip; he couldn't stop talking about it. I asked about my friends in Alishan. He smiled and said he fell in love with the family. I can see why he would fall in love with the family.

We sat and drank the Alishan in a gaiwan. The tea smelled very fragrant. The first infusion didn't show much flavor. The second one finally gave me a good sense of how this tea was.

Some friends are here to try the new Alishan.

Here are some taste notes from my friends:

Alice loves the first infusion for its smoothness.

Jenn thinks it's sweet and rich on the first infusion. The second infusion reminds her of Juniper and has a strong Hui-Gan, which means sweetness returns and attaches to the throat after one drinks the tea.

Jason thinks the first infusion very smooth. The second infusion has a bigger scent and body, with a hint of evergreen and basil. The third infusion is very sweet on the side of his tongue with a strong Hui-Gan. The fourth infusion is pleasant but starts to taper off.

There were only two crops of tea ready when Michael was visiting. The weather condition was rainy. I heard that this season the weather has been off and on. Please pray that it will be good to make some delicious Oolongs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aged Oolong and 2008 Winter Taiwan Oolong

My son Konghai is learning how to crawl. He loves to be at home. That's the place where he can go nuts! Two days ago, he was crawling in the bedroom and playing with his toys. Suddenly, he crawled to me and gave me a plastic bag. I picked it up and looked at the bag, reading "1966 Pou Chong (AKA Baozhong)." I was so excited.

Today, friends are in the shop and we tried the aged Baozhong. We were all joking that the tea is older than I am! We brewed it. The liquid is goldenrod in color. It tasted funny in the beginning, but the mouthfeel is amazing. It's very soft, buttery and smooth. Thank you Konghai, for this amazing tea.

My tea friend, Michael, is in Taiwan. He went to a farmer in Alishan for a visit. I have known this farmer for three years now.

Michael just wrote back and told me that there were only two batches of tea ready. I have been so nervous about the weather. I pray every day for good weather. He is also going to visit farmer Chen in the Pinlin region. Farmer Chen will give Michael some tea for me.

I can't wait for Michael to be back. This will be my first taste of 2008 winter oolong.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tea Roast

I purchased a tea roaster during my 2004 trip to Taiwan. I used it a couple of times in the tea house, but I never really put it to work. In 2005 I visited my old tea friend, Mr. Tsai. He does lightly roasted Oolong very well. I was with him many times when he was roasting tea. The fragrance of tea roasting was so beautiful.

It takes about 6 to 7 hours to finish a lightly roasted Oolong for him. After a couple of hours, my smelling senses will be numb. One time in the tea roasting process, I asked Mr. Tsai why he went to change the temperature. He said: " Didn't you notice that the smell just changed?" I ran outside of his tea shop and ran back in, hoping that I could really detect any change, but I couldn't. After that, I was paying much more attention to any changes of smell in a tea roasting.
Because of my friend Xiao FengZi, I am drinking more roasting Oolong now. I decided I am going to make my own House Roasted Oolong for the tea shop. And I did! My first batch is only 3 pounds and it took 10 days to roast it to the way that I liked. Many people tried it and liked it so it's all gone now.

I started a second batch about 2 weeks ago. This time I was more ambitious. I roasted 5 pounds. The tea base is a lightly oxidized Jin Xuan. I started the temperature at 70C and when I detect changes in the smell, I stir the tea. I heard that it's very important to stir the tea when there's a change in the smell to make a good roasted tea. In about a week of time, I almost lost confidence because the tea didn't taste right. Its taste was between a green and a roasted oolong. But I didn't want to give up. I continued to roast the tea and the temperature went up to 100C. I tried to play it safe and didn't want to burn the tea. The final product was a chocolate-like, sweet roasted Oolong. It's nothing fancy, but I am very satisfied with the result.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Taiwan Tea Map

Working with my tea friend at Floating Leaves, we created the following tea map to show where the major tea producing regions in Taiwan are.

Click on the map to expand it for easier viewing.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Welcome to Floating Leaves Tea Blog

I grew up in Taiwan and often thought that tea represents my culture. Tea was everywhere. Every time I visited my friends, there was always tea to have. And I will always remember when I visited teahouses with friends on numerous weekends.

I came to Seattle sometime in 2000. My partner at that time and I shared at least a pot of Taiwan Oolong every morning. In 2004, I went back to Taiwan to purchase tea for our new teahouse, Floating Leaves Tea. That trip opened my eyes and I fell in love with Taiwan all over again, because of the beauty of its tea. I met lots of new tea friends and tea farmers. I was so thrilled to be in the tea fields, touching tea, picking tea and participating in the tea making process. I am grateful for the generosity and helpfulness of the people I met, and I am proud of Taiwanese Oolong.

It has been for quite some time that tea friends and my customers have encouraged me to write my thoughts and experiences about tea. Here I am finally starting this journey. Please give me your feedback to my writing and let’s grow together in the tea world. Sit down and enjoy your good pot of tea! I am looking forward to having some tea with you.

Shiuwen Tai
Floating Leaves Tea