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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays!

The weather has been pretty bad here. This is the most snow I have ever seen so far. I am lucky to live close to the tea shop so that I can walk there. I want to thank those people who came to the shop in this kind of bad weather.

This has been a long year for me with a baby and the tea shop moving to a new location. Thank you for your support and help!

The new high mountain oolongs are on the way to Seattle. What a good way to start a new year! And I can feel this coming year will be a good year.
Have a wonderful time with your friends and family in the holiday season. Stay warm and drink lots of tea!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chin Hsin Oolong and Chin Hsin Da Pa

My tea friend Michael came in with a can of Alishan (阿里山茶). It was a present from from his friend from when he visited Taiwan. Some tea friends were here to try the tea together with us.

I poured hot water and rinsed the tea. I passed the gaiwan around to let people smell the aroma. After that, we all thought that it smelled different from all the Alishan we normally had. We decided to taste it to see whether or not the tea was good. We had the first infusion and still didn't know what to make out of this tea. We all agreed that the tea didn't taste bad, but it was something new to us.

I passed the second infusion around and told everyone that I had tasted this kind of flavor before, but couldn't remember when and from which tea exactly. I took some open leaves and let people look at them. I knew that it was not a Chin Hsin Oolong varietal (青心烏龍), which is what we are more used to in a high mountain tea. The leaves are smaller than in a Chin Hsin varietal and are closer together. The sweetness suddenly reminded me of Bai Hao Oolong (白毫烏龍)and I yelled out loud, "I think this is Chin Hsin Da Pa青心大Pa." Friends looked at me and asked what Chin Hsin Da Pa was.

I took a bag of Bai Hao Oolong and put some leaves in a white bowl. I told them that I wanted to see if my guess was right. After the leaves were infused in the bowl, I took some sets of leaves out. We compared these leaves with the Alishan ones we were drinking. The Alishan ones were bigger and greener, but the shapes looked similar. I told people that it was my first time to have Chin Hsin Da Pa in a high mountain Oolong style.

People in Taiwan believe that Chin Hsin Oolong and Chin Hsin Da Pa are originally from China. In 1895, Japan occupied Taiwan and saw that tea was an important and big business. The Japanese authorities set up a tea research institute (茶葉研習所) and selected Chin Hsin Oolong, Chin Hsin Da Pa, Big Leave Oolong (大葉烏龍) and Hard Stem Red Heart (硬枝紅心) as the four varietals to promote for initial growing in Taiwan.

Chin Hsin Oolong and Chin Hsin Da Pa are now two of the most popular varietals for tea in Taiwan.

Chin Hsin Oolong: It's believed that Chin Hsin originally came from Fujian province in China. A tea expert went to Fujian and believed that he found Chin Hsin's "ancestor plant": Soft Stem Oolong (軟枝烏龍). Chin Hsin Oolong can be said to be the most popular Oolong varietal in Taiwan. You can find this varietal in Baozhong, Dong Ding and High Mountain teas. Tea lovers like Chin Hsin for its delicate and soft fragrance. The price for Chin Hsin is second only to Tieguayin from the original Tieguanyin plants(正樷鐵觀音). Chin Hsin grows slower than lots of other varietals in Taiwan and it's more prone to disease. Due to the high quality tea that it can produce, though, it's still the most popular varietal for Oolong in Taiwan.

Chin Hsin Da Pa: This varietal is also believed to be from China. Chin Hsin Da Pa is mostly grown in Hsinchu and Miaoli. Chin Hsin Da Pa's leaves are more oval than Chin Hsin Oolong. Outside of the the Summer tea season, farmers use machines to harvest this varietal and make restaurant teas. However, in June, after some insects attack the plants, farmers make a special Oolong called Bai Hao Oolong. Chin Hsin Da Pa is the most popular varietal for making this tea. The highest grade of this tea has a very distinct honey, peach and/or apricot note.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taiwan Wuyi and Mr. Tsai

The weather has been very cold and I have been craving roasted Oolong. Friends came by and gave me Wuyi Cliff Tea and Roasted Tiequanyin. Besides that, I also drink Taiwan Wuyi.

Taiwan Wuyi is made in Taiwan with a Chinese Wuyi varietal. A friend of mine, Mr. Tsai, had his friend harvest the tea and Mr. Tsai finishes it by roasting it. I asked him if he knows the exact varietal of the tea, but he said he doesn't know. This Taiwan Wuyi tastes very different from the Chinese one. First of all, his friend uses the Baozhong making method to make the tea and Mr. Tsai will do a medium roast to finish the tea. When asked about the percentage of oxidation, he laughed and said:" I don't have a way to measure that. But if you really want to know, I will say it's 20 to 30 percent."

For a medium roasted tea, Mr. Tsai will start the roasting temperature at 100C and will finish roasting the tea at 120C; the roasting takes around 5 hours. In my previous tea roast post, I talked about how he changes the temperature when the roasting smell changes. That's something I have to learn in the near future.

Mr. Tsai has been in the tea business for 18 years. He processed tea for two years and then he couldn't keep up with that along with running a teahouse, so he quit making tea and just focused on running the teahouse.

I met him about 15 years ago. His teahouse is on a hill outside of Taipei. We started to talk about tea varietals and he told me that he has some tea plants on the hill across his teahouse, but that he hasn't gone to harvest it in at least 10 years. At the time, he said that the tea plants might be taller than me. I was so excited and asked him if we could go harvest the tea next time when I went there. He said that it would be difficult since no one had gone up there for 10 years and the road to go up there had disappeared. I told him that's even better and we can call them semi-wild tea plants!

Mr. Tsai told me that he will help me to find some tea that is made from the Shui Xian and Buddha's Hand varietals. I've tasted some Buddha's Hand tea and it had a very big mouth feel. I wonder how that Shui Xian will taste like since it's also made in Taiwan from a Chinese cutting.

Thursday, December 11, 2008




外形佔百分之二十 (20%):在比賽之前農夫都會把茶梗挑去,茶葉外形要整齊、一致,且不要有雜色。

茶湯顏色佔百分之二十 (20%)﹕ 茶湯以蜜綠色﹐ 翠綠色為上等。而且茶湯不可以混淆,要清澈。

香氣佔百分之三十 (30%)﹕要有花香,且要單一香氣﹐ 不要有悶味﹐ 也不要有雜味。單一香氣的原因是不要有混茶,而且很有明顯的品種香。

滋味佔百分之三十 (30%)﹕ 茶的滋味要圓潤、甘甜、有活性。茶喝起來要無異味、無酸性。

Thursday, December 04, 2008

New Winter Baozhong

Two boxes of Winter Baozhong came in today. What a nice surprise! I was not expecting them to arrive for another week. And it's good timing, too. My friends, Michael, Klaus, Rich, and Todd were all here.

I decided to taste these four Baozhong in white bowls. This is a wonderful way to compare teas and to judge a tea quality. And what a nice way to try some fresh new tea with good company!

The Four Baozhongs are: First Place Winning Baozhong, Second Place Winning Baozhong, Honorable Mention Winning Baozhong, and Farmer's Choice Baozhong. Rich helped to put those teas in four different bowls so that we wouldn't know which tea is which. I like to compare tea this way so that my tasting won't be affected by pricing, prize winning or which place the tea is from.

After hot water was poured into the bowls, we all picked up a porcelain spoon, dipped it into the tea liquid, and started to smell the spoon. Wow, some of tea is so floral! I started to tell them about the criteria for the bouquet and the color that judges are looking for. Todd immediately decided which Baozhong won a prize. And he was right on!

The first run of tasting, I didn't want to decide the sequence of the teas, but I knew what I liked. The first tea is very floral and the tea color is just the right color, jade green. The second tea was voted by Michael, Todd, and Klaus as the best Baozhong out of the four. They all agreed on that tea has floral note and body. I personally like the third one the best. I like Baozhong with just a light floral note and a nice mouth feel. The fourth one came very close to the third Baozhong. People were all very happy with the quality. Todd was especially happy because he just ran out of good Baozhong.

By the end of the tasting, I thought the teas were exactly what I was expecting from these Baozhong. The one with a nice bright green color and a big floral fragrance won first place. Second place is a very balanced tea. Honorable Mention and Farmer's Choice represent Farmer Chen's tea making style, with a bit more oxidation than the prize winners. Some people like Baozhong tea with a big floral note and others prefer it with a bigger body. I am happy that I can offer both styles.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pinglin Baozhong Tea Competition 坪林包種茶比賽

I have seen the Baozhong tea competition three times so far. The first time, our friend Mr. Tsai took us to visit Farmer Chen back in 2005. My ex-husband Rob and I showed up at Farmer Chen's tea shop as he was just about to leave to submit two batches of Baozhong for a competition. Mr. Tsai did a quick introduction and Farmer Chen told us to get into his car and submit the tea with him.

Tea Submitting 交茶
The place where farmers have to submit their tea is in a high school. Before we entered the place, Chen turned and said to Rob:" Why don't you submit a bag of Baozhong as well?" Rob took the bag and we walked into the hall. The man that sat behind the submission's table raised his head and looked at Rob. You should have seen his expression when he saw an unknown foreigner carrying a bag of Baozhong tea. Farmer Chen went forward smiling and said to the man at the table " This is my tea. He is a friend from Seattle. Maybe he will bring me good luck and this tea will win the grand prize!" Everybody laughed.

The man at the table gave Farmer Chen some paper. Later on, Farmer Chen told us that the paper has numbers for the tea that he submitted. Everyone who submits the tea receives a number. When the competition results are posted, people check their numbers to see if they won anything. For the competition to be fair, the town hall which hosts the competition will come up with different numbers for the tea. They don't want to judges to know which farmers have what numbers.

In the room, there were three big wood tables. Each table has four or so women surrounding it. They threw whatever tea they received on the table, measured it and packaged it in individual foil bags. Each foil bag has 150 grams of tea and there are 42 bags for one batch (一點). After they bagged the tea, 40 bags of tea will go into a white paper box with a number on the box. One bag is for tea judging and one bag is for the town hall for "building relationships" (公關茶). Each competition, they receive over 1000 batches of tea. They have to keep good records on which tea belongs to which farmer.

Tea Judging 評茶
The actual tea judging place is in a building that belongs to the Pinglin government. There is no decoration in that room at all. I saw two judges in two of the competitions and four judges at one of them. I was not allowed to talk to them at all. The Pinglin competition normally lasts four to five days. There are usually over 1000 batches of tea to be tested. This Winter, there were 1059 batches of tea.

For the first three days, judges are pretty much eliminating teas and choosing Honorable Mention Baozhong. There are two men that help to measure tea and time the tea's brewing. For the competition, they use three grams of Baozhong and brew for 5 minutes in the standard tea judging cups. After the brewed tea is poured into the white porcelain cups, judges will go over to the table, look at the dry leaves, smell the brewed tea leaves, and then taste the tea. After that entire table of tea is judged, a secretary will go over with the judges and write down the grades for each tea.

Judging Criteria 評審標準
What are they looking for in a competition: 20% of the appearance on the dry leaves (外型); 20% on the color (顏色); 30% on the fragrance (香氣); 30% on the mouth fell (口感).

The Winners 得獎人數
Grand Winner (特等獎): There is only one batch of tea for this prize
The Top Tens (頭等一到十): The top winners are ranked from 1 to 10. You can see their rank on the boxes that competition Baozhong is packaged and sold in.
1st Place Winners (頭等獎): There are around 50 batches of tea that received 1st place prize, so don't think that you might be buying the only first place tea.
Second Place Winners (二等獎): There are about seventy batches of tea for this prize.
Third Place Winners (三等獎): There are around 180 teas for this category.
Honorable Mention (優良獎): There are many winners in this category.

Tea competitions are ways to promote a specific tea. You can choose to believe in the judges' tastes or not. I personally believe that there are certain qualities and characteristics in good teas, but I don't believe that they can necessarily choose the best Baozhong. They might be choosing the best ones according to their criteria, which could be different fro your tastes.

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