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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dong Ding Farmer and Tea: Deciding On A Tea

After breakfast was cleared from the table, Farmer put the water kettle back on the stove. "You want to taste #3 and #4, right?" he asked. "Yes please!"

I proceeded to brew Dong Ding teas #3 and #4. Farmer's wife would come out of the kitchen from time to time to taste the teas. After the last infusion, she came out and looked at me closely. I was about to give the farmer my decision. She suddenly said, "Miss Tai, if I were you, I would...." "Be quiet! You can't tell Miss Tai which tea to pick!" shouted the Farmer. "It's OK. I know which one I want to buy. It's #3" I said. For the next 10 minutes, I explained to him my reasons for picking #3. I was actually talking to the wife to let her know the reason without talking to her directly. After that, I knew we had developed one of the most beautiful ways to communicate.

After she packed the tea for me, she said, "Miss Tai, don't you need the stroller for your son? Let me help you to get it." I looked at her for a couple of seconds and smiled, "Yes please. I need to get some stuff, too. Let's go together." We left the room and she said, "don't ask him about tea varietals or questions like that." I laughed, "I was very aware of it this morning." She quickly showed me some tea plants and told me about the shapes, leaf sizes and vein structure on the leaves. I thanked her for showing me that.

For the first couple of years, my tea tasting/learning journey in Taiwan had been very difficult. Not a single farmer, tea business person, or tea professional would tell me which tea he/she liked better. I knew that none of them was trying to "keep the secret" from me, it's just that they didn't want to share with me their own preferences. Their philosophy is "no one can tell you which tea is a better tea. You are the only one who can tell which one is right for you." I have come to appreciate this style of teaching, but I do have to say that it was very difficult at first and I felt like I was drowning in a sea of tea every so often.

*photography by Jake Knapp of Cloud 9 & Design Photography.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea: When You Drink A Tea, Can you Tell If It's Good?

I am going to focus these next couples of months writing about Dong Ding tea, so that I can finally finish my stories and avoid repeating what I have written before.

From the recent three posts of my experiences with the Dong Ding farmer, I hope you get a good sense of his personality: Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea; Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea: This Is What I Did For Tea; Dong Ding, Farmer, and Tea: Tasting Tea.

So much had happened during my first afternoon in Dong Ding. I woke up very early the next morning. The sun had just snuck through the clouds. I love that moment, so quiet and peaceful. The only thing that greeted me was the beauty from nature. There were tea fields around the house we stayed. I decided to take a short walk and noticed they were different tea varietals, but couldn't tell which one is which.

After looking at the tea plants for a while, I saw Farmer coming. I asked, "Are these your tea plants? They look very healthy!" He gave me an intense look again and said, "No." "It looks like they are different varietals. Can you teach me how to identify them?" I asked. "Why do you want to learn that?" he said. "Well, I own a tea business. I want to learn as much about tea as possible" I replied. He then said, "That's garbage. Now answer me a question. When you drink a tea, can you tell if it's good?" That question rang like a bell in my head. I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds and then looked at him right in the eyes, "Every time I do my best." He looked at me and I felt he could sense my sincerity. He said, "Tell you mom and son that breakfast is ready." I looked at his back and thought of that question, amazed by how that question hit me.

At breakfast he said to me, "Some people come and tell me they have been drinking tea for 20 years. The moment we share a pot of tea, I realize some of them can't taste tea at all, and that's very pathetic to drink bad tea for 20 years. I don't care how much one knows about tea. If one can't taste tea, what's the point of learning all the facts about tea?" I thought that made a lot of sense. Until today, I put "tasting tea" as my number one tea learning, and I haven't told the Farmer yet that knowledge is still very important. When one can taste more, knowledge becomes alive and beautiful.

*photograhpy by Jake Knapp of Cloud 9 Photography.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tea and Kindness

I attended the 9th Annual NW Tea Festival in Seattle a couple of weekends ago. In the past, I normally showed up and did a couple of talks or presentations. This year, I did something different: I actually had a booth with my friend and colleague, Tatsuo of Charaku Tea!

Floating Leaves booth, photo by Andrew Goodman

Charaku Tea, photo by Tatsuo

We hit a bump in the road before the festival even started. Tatsuo, whom I have known for years, said he couldn't make it to the festival. I have come to admire his work ethic and how he always tries to help his friends. I knew something big must have happened for him to be unable to attend. I told him that it's OK and I would represent his tea at the festival. That's what friends are for, right? I am glad I did that.

With my busy schedule lately, I found that it was challenging to prepare for the tea festival. Stress started to build. I am very fortunate to have received a lot of help and support from my friend and helper, Noah. Both of us would stay late into the night at the shop packing tea to make sure we had enough tea to bring to the festival. Noah also held down the fort at Floating Leaves while I attended to my tea booth at the festival.

On Friday, the day for setting up the booth, I was not sure how I could finish setting everything up with my busy schedule working in the shop, picking up my son, and then taking him to soccer practice. Thankfully, my tea festival helper Pat carried a car load of things to the festival location and then helped me to set up in the afternoon. A lot was accomplished because I had so much help! My tea friend Eric from Saint Louis volunteered to help, Tatsuo showed up to help, and my dear tea friend and collegue Jeannie from Miro Tea even lent me one of her staff, Anton, to help while I took my son to soccer!

Miro Tea booth, photo by Jeannie Liu

The next morning, Pat and I showed up early to get the booth set up. The moment I saw the booth, I was close to tears. Tatsuo, Anton, and Eric had organized and set up the booth and they were going above and beyond to help. My whole being was filled with gratitude and it is a fantastic feeling. Before the festival opened to the public, some of my tea friends and collegues came by and asked me how I was doing. Laurie of Charles of Whatcom Tea Enthusiasts Association came by to give us some delicious homemade cookies. They had a tea bar right across from my tea booth. For the whole weekend, I saw them brewing tea and sharing their knowledge with tea lovers. Respect! If you live in the Belligham area, make sure you check out their monthly tea meetings at Whatcom Tea.

 Charles and Laurie at the Tea Bar, photo by Jake Knapp

Then the "festival doors" opened and a lot of people streamed through! I realized I was super energetic the whole day. I was fueled by so many tea lovers visiting our booth and my friends' support! My long time tea friends, Jason, Andrew, and the amazing baker Yana from Smacha came by to give us some baked goods and told us we had to eat. Cinnabar and Christopher from Phoenix Tea, Julee and Doug from Perennial Tea Room, and Jeannie from Miro Tea all stopped by and showered us with their kindness and asked if we were doing alright.

Jason of Smacha, photo by Andrew Goodman

Yana bakes delicious baked goods!

My helper, Pat, remained calm and brewed tea and talked all day long. He is a real trooper and his energy is great for balancing out my hyper energy. During the afternoon, there were many moments where we just didn't have enough hands to serve everyone in the crowd. I met a tea lover who visited my booth and begged her for help. She stayed for a couple of hours to help to brew tea, and before she left, she made sure that all of the pots were filled with tea. Wow! I am so lucky to meet all kinds of amazing and kind people that day.

Pat is a trooper, photo by Jake Knapp

Dana, the amazing, generous tea lover!

I went back to the shop that evening and packed more tea with Noah. I thought I would be very tired that evening, but I was somehow loaded with energy. I look back on that day and realize I hardly got a chance to drink tea. I was not wired with caffeine, but was filled with the amount of fellow tea lover's energy and all my friends' kindness.

The next day, I had one more helper, Sara, who was great and dedicated. She is as calm as Pat!
My friend, Jake of Cloud 9 Photography, showed up early to volunteer at my booth. We had an Oolong process presentation that day. Many thanks go to Jake for getting all of the tea photos ready and for making sure the projector worked properly - our talk went very smoothly.

I also want to recognize the team of volunteers at the festival. They were organized, worked very hard and were super funny! Thank you!!

Lastly, I want to thank my friends, Melissa and Todd, for taking care of my son so that I could focus on attending my booth.

While I am writing this, I realize how truly lucky I am. I love this tea business and the best is this great tea community. I feel so loved by my customers, tea friends, and collegues. You guys are the best! Thank you!