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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Chaozhou Tea Brewing

I got yelled at today by a Chaozhou tea expert!

I love oolongs and I think our Tieguanyin is excellent.  So does my friend the Chaozhou tea drinker.  The cup on the left is how I - and most people - brew oolongs nowadays.  The one on the right is how he brews.  Chaozhou is a region between Fujian and Guangdong provinces and tea lovers there are known for making very strong tea, using lots of leaf and long brewing times.

My friend said my tea is weak and does not allow the true character of an excellent Tieguanyin to shine, which to him are "the namesake metallic note, the sour fruit note, the dry & sweet after-notes, the earthy aroma, the beautiful amber liquid and the thick viscosity."  

We tried several cups of tea brewed his way, which is double the normal amount of leaves and 3-5 minute steepings.  Wow, the brew was so strong and powerful!  We were wired, as if we had taken shots of espresso.  Do people really drink tea that's this strong on a regular basis?  My friend does and loves his tea this way, which is fine by me since he has to buy more tea from me, haha!  I must admit that a strong brew allows you to see all of the tea's strong points and flaws.  I enjoyed our session, but still prefer a more moderate steeping time.  I always say, though, that one should drink tea in whichever enjoyable way one chooses to and to not be too stuck on following set rules. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Charcoal Roast Master: Getting To Know Each Other

I met the charcoal roast master Mr. Zhan back in May 2010 with my friend Jennifer. I remember his store was difficult to find because he was running his tea business in a second floor apartment tucked in a narrow alley.

When we entered the shop, he, his assistant and another woman were there. In the middle of a small living room sat a tea table, and boxes of tea were laid around the room. There was nothing fancy about the room and yet there was a feeling of serenity. That day the room was filled with Chinese herbal medicine smell.
We all sat down. His assistant brewed tea for us. In my mind I thought, 'wow, that was nice to have someone brewing tea for you.'

Since it was the first time they met me, I tried my best to communicate with them what I like in a tea. They listened when I expressed my thoughts on the teas she brewed. I remembered the atomsphere was very pleasant. After trying two different teas, despite the flavor differences, these two teas had something in common: very soft. "How long have you been brewing tea? You are very good at it." I asked the assisstant. "25 years" she answered. I looked at her and noticed she looked like she was 30 years old, so I said, "you started when you were 5!?" "You are too funny, Miss Tai!" she laughed. "OK, what kind of lotion do you use?" I asked. We all laughed.

Mr. Zhan sat there without saying much. But there is something about his presence that I really enjoyed. He left the room for a while. I asked the other woman if she is learning tea from Mr. Zhan. She said she is learning "Yi Jing" (The Book of Changes) with him, and she said he is very good at "Yi Jing". Mr. Zhan came out from the back. "I just heard you are quite a scholar of the Yi Jing. Do you tell fortunes?" I asked. He answered, "Yi Jing is not for that." "I know, but I am shallow!" I joked with him.

charcoal roast dong ding

The third tea was a Charcoal Roast Dong Ding, and it hit the spot. "That's the tea I was looking for! The broth is solid and smooth." I claimed. He looked at me and said, "Let's see the place for roasting tea with charcoal." "Righ now?"I asked and reached out to grab my bag. "You can leave your things here." I followed him and suddenly came to realize that it's in the apartment! A door at the end of the hallway was opened and the warm tea, charcoal smell gently rushed to my face. I thought I was in a dream......

charcoal under the ashes

The room was as small as a closet. A cement platform was built with two big holes for charcoal. Mr. Zhan was roasting tea that day. He showed me some of the tools in the room and told me it's very time consuming to roast tea with charcoal. I thanked him for doing it so that we could have great tea to drink!

On the way out I handed him my name card, which also had my name printed in Chinese. He looked at it and said, "your family name is heavy." "You do know how to tell fortune!", I thought, but instead I asked him what it meant. He looked at my face and told me what it meant. My friend Jennifer also asked him to read her. But I think I should skip our fortune tellings here.

That tea session felt very good. I didn't know at that time that Mr. Zhan and his tea will be a huge inspiration to me. More of his stories to come.....

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Dong Ding, Farmer, And Tea: Care And Love

After all these years, I still cannot say that it's easy to deal with the Dong Ding Oolong Farmer, although I do find it's easier nowadays. He has learned to take "No" from me as an answer, even if he doesn't like it.

I love recalling how our relationship has evolved, from being super difficult and swearing to myself after every visit that I would never go back there, to sometimes arguing with each other, and now to a level of mutual understanding where we have learned to get along with each other.

I think he has realized how sincere I feel towards Taiwan oolong and Dong Ding tea and at the same time how stubborn I am. He knows I will stand up to him if necessary and to push for him to craft the tea that I know my customers will love. And I've learned to see how he "loves" and cares for me and other people in his unique way.

He loves to show people around. I actually really enjoy those moments when he drives us around. I love seeing the mountains and trees. I love listening to the Taiwanese oldies he plays in the car, blasting at a high volume with the windows rolled down as we drive along quiet backroads. I take in the air, the view and the music from my youth. It feels like my past life and current life blending together. I sometimes wonder if the birds and insects would say, "Here he comes again!" When my son was younger, he would hum along with the songs even though he had no clue what they were saying and it would make the farmer very happy and they would sing together. I thought that was one of the most beautiful moments I've  witnessed.

Here is a clip of video where he drove us around in the mountains:

He is also very specific with things we eat. He thinks we are eating too much bad food. Their food is simple. Cooking is simple. Most vegetables come out of their own field or from the neighbors. Many times I had to eat some unknown powder which he thinks super good for our health, and drink some Chinese herbal brew which he believes will make me healthier. He also likes to ferment fruit. He has numerous jar of permented fruit "juice." I really dislike drinking those. On my last trip, I was thankful that my friends David and Jake enjoyed drinking them and it made the farmer very happy. He is OK now with me not drinking them.

I am grateful with all the things that farmer has done for me. I think I will never forget the moment he asked me, "When you drink a tea, can you taste if it's good?" I am looking forward to our future encouters. And I am really looking forward to my relationship with his wife, a strong woman behind the scene. I have been able to talk to her more and more during recent trips. She agreed to be in my Dong Ding documentary! It's time we bring her forward and showcase her skills and personality!

My friend Jake Knapp and I are going to be shooting a Dong Ding documentary this July. It's a dream come true for me to be able to showcase a tea that I think represents the soul of Taiwanese oolong. We will have a short two weeks to meet with a lot of people and to collect as many stories and as much footage as we can. The harder work will begin after our trip, when we have to edit the videos and put together a story that I think everyone will enjoy. The fundraiser page is up on my website. We appreciate and are grateful for all of your financial support as we work to preserve important Taiwanese tea culture and the human treasures who produce the finest oolongs.

The next few posts will be all about Dong Ding tea and this documentary project. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

2016 Winter Taiwan Tea Trip: Meishan

This is the first time I visited this tea farm at Meishan. The tea country at this part of the mountain is absolute beautiful. The farmer and his wife also run a bed and breakfast business. They showed us around and cooked us food. Besides tea farming, they run a bed and breakfast business too. If you ever come to this part of the tea world, make sure you check it out: http://zhulin.okgo.tw/

We spent two days visiting tea fields, taking walks, and drinking tea. We were surrounded in nature and kindness. I hope your 2017 will be filled with beauty, good tea and kind people too!

beautiful tea country

well-maintained tea field

bamboo forest right outside our cottage

we were surrounded by spetacular mountains

sunset with amazing "cloud sea"