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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dance of the Tea Teaser Out Now

We just released the first teaser for our Taiwan Oolong Documentary! The Dance of the Tea.

This is the first installment in a series of teasers, all organized around elements of tea. This first is focussed on the actual leaves, farms and processing. You can see Dong Ding mountain and the tea fields there. The farmer we have bought tea from for a decade is in there, a thin man with white hair. He will show up in later videos.

Please enjoy and stay tuned for more teasers. We think the way the leaves dance is so beautiful!

Special thanks to Jake Knapp who filmed and edited the video and to Jon Davis who contributed music for this piece.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Dong Ding Guided Tastings Beginning Soon

We are very excited to bring our live session focus to Dong Ding! We believe drinking tea together with tea people is the best way to explore tea, and we want to bring that experience of sharing tea to our clients and friends far away. In these sessions, we will share what we have learned from having tea with Taiwanese tea merchants, farmers, artists and masters. It is really important to us to deliver the knowledge of these people. They have been steeped in tea culture for generations, and have so much to teach all of us. We hope you can accompany us on our journey.

With Master Zhan. Photography by Jake Knapp.

Dong Ding oolong is so important to us because it is a tea that inspires these tea people to work their artistry. Oolongs processed with caring hands in the traditional Dong Ding style bring our imaginations to Dong Ding tea farms of the early 20th century. It is clear that these farmers were striving for an excellence beyond commercial success, and their commitment to the craft is really beautiful to us. Now it is rarer to find this kind of tea, but what we've found we've fallen in love with.

Charcoal Roast Dong Ding. Photography by Lee Damon.

We hope you can find time to accompany Shiuwen for guided Dong Ding tastings this month, starting on November 14th. We really recommend you purchase the Traditional A and Charcoal Dong Ding from our website so you can drink it with us. If you do this, we will offer a one sessions sample of Charcoal Four Roast Dong Ding, given the name "Secret of the Sages" by Master Zhan. It is a rare opportunity to drink a masterpiece like this. Our first session, on Traditional A Dong Ding, will be Tuesday November 14th at 11:30 AM on Instagram. The next sessions, focussed on Charcoal Three Roast and Four Roast, we will cast on the following Tuesdays: November 21st and 28th.

Written by Noah

Dong Ding Oolong Tasting Set
Charcoal Dong Ding (three roast) is scheduled to arrive in the shop on the 6th. We've put together a tasting set to make things easier. If you prefer to buy the teas separately, we will still send a sample of Master Zhan's Four Roast Dong Ding. If you pre-order the tasting set this weekend, we will ship it to you as soon as the tea arrives. *The new Charcoal Roast Dong Ding just arrived!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Extra Tips on Waking Up Aged Oolong

After posting about waking up aged oolong I had gotten a lot of questions, so I thought I should post some more specific guidelines. This is a new technique for us, too, but we are very excited to practice and share. We decided to do an experiment, which I will lay out for you. I hope the outcome of our experiment will be a good starting point to practice waking up aged tea with heat.

We got the idea of waking up teas from footage shot in Taipei for the documentary. The tea brewing master she interviewed used his brazier that keeps his kettle hot to heat his clay teapot, dry, with aged tea in it. This, he said, was to wake up the tea.

We had touched up old teas before, but this encouraged us to practice it and make it a more regular part of our tea brewing.

The Experiment:

We did a side by side tasting of the '66 Aged Beipu before roasting, after being touched up in our electric tea roaster, and after being touched up in an old teapot over a candle flame. The three versions of the same tea all tasted different, and we preferred the candle flame tea.

Earlier this week, Shiuwen tried herself to touch up the tea in our electric roaster. After roasting it, she felt that although it was clearer tasting, the heat was not enough. So we tried again. This time, we tried 60 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes in our electric roaster. Despite being slightly over-roasted (had a stronger drying effect on the tongue), the tea was pretty good.

With the teapot roasting setup above, I started to heat it over the flame myself. The tea started out smelling slightly prune-like and moist. When I felt that most of the moisture was out of the tea, I showed Shiuwen. She smelled it and said "It's not done yet. Don't be afraid of the heat. And you don't need to toss it the whole time." You can see me babying the tea in the picture, continuously holding it shaking it so it wouldn't burn.

She placed the pot directly over the flame and let it sit. When she pulled the tea off the heat, we smelled the dry leaves. The fragrance was more clear, and I noticed
it penetrated deeper into my sinuses.

Brewed, the teas were all great because we started with a very good base. But the MVP was certainly the flame touched tea. It was not only clearer without the stale note, but it also 'opened' much more. The broth felt soft and round and expansive, and the scent was clear and assertive. The untouched tea was good, but the teas we 'woke up' felt like they had just a little bit more. The electric roaster tea was definitely right in the middle, clearer but without as much smoothness or roundness as the candle flame tea.

So go ahead and wake up your aged teas, if you like. It may help them to shine even more. If you discover something really awesome, let us know. We're on the same journey. And don't fear the heat, or you may find yourself outside the kitchen ;)

Written by Noah

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Oriental Beauty

This tea goes by many names. Oriental Beauty (Dongfang Meiren), Bai Hao Oolong (White Tips), Champagne Oolong, Formosa Oolong, Five Colors Tea (Wuse Cha), Braggart's Tea (Pong Hong De). It was the most exported tea from Taiwan to the West in the 1800s. The Queen of England is credited with naming it Oriental Beauty, because loved it so much when she tasted it.

The tea is well known for its distinctive honey sweetness. The story goes that tea jassids (little aphid-like bugs) fly around and bite the leaves of tea plants. The plant produces a secretion at the bite-mark, which apparently gives the tea its sweet taste.

The first time this happened, the tea farmers thought their crops were lost. But a bold farmer turned around and made the tea anyway, and his Western middleman loved the product. He was so proud, he went around telling all the surrounding farmers, hence the tea garnered the name Braggart's Tea.

The tea is highly oxidized, about 70 percent. It is sweet, light bodied, floral, fruity. The bouquet is really exquisite. The dry leaves are tippy, with little silver buds and long brown-red leaves. It's distinctive taste has gotten the attention of tea drinkers across Asia, so there are farmers in Viet Nam, Thailand and China trying to reproduce the taste. But it was first grown in Xin Zhu/Miao Li in Taiwan, and now Ping Lin grows some great Oriental Beauty as well.

Our Oriental Beauty is made in Ping Lin with the Qing Xin varietal. The most popular, original style Oriental Beauty is grown with the Qing Xin Da Pa varietal. And farmers are also making this tea with Bai Mao Hou varietal (White Haired Monkey), which produces a beautiful tea with tiny, fine leaves.

This is a regular daily tea for both of us. It is great in a bowl or mug (grandpa style) for a morning tea. The tea jassids only show up in a big group once a year, so the tea is only produced one season per year. Because Shiuwen doesn't visit Taiwan in the summer, she's never seen it being processed. We hope to visit some great Oriental Beauty farmers and watch them make this tea some day.

We will be drinking this tea live on Instagram next Tuesday 10/24 at 11:30. Please tune in and drink the tea with us! Shuiwen will brew the tea and talk about her experience with it. If you have our Oriental Beauty, that's great. If not, brewing another Oriental Beauty would also be great. We hope you can make it! Our Instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/floatingleavestea/

Written by Noah

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Waking Up Aged Oolong

Aged oolongs can have a soothing energy. They are usually temperamental, and sometimes sour, but if you nurture them they can be full of life and delicious. And they will have a story to tell you. Part of the process of nurturing aged oolongs is waking up the tea.

When I talk about waking up a tea, I do this with heat. This is also called spot roasting, or touching up a tea. It is like roasting it just slightly, right before brewing. The simplest way is to get a candle, like a tea light, with a low flame. You can use a small sheet of paper, resting one pots worth of tea on the paper. Hold it above the flame so that a gentle heat starts to warm up the leaves (and not burn the paper at all!!). The goal is not to roast the tea, but merely to push out the slowly accumulated moisture. You can also make an apparatus to roast aged teas with an old teapot and a candle based teapot warmer as in this picture.

However you wake it up, the tea will taste cleaner, more direct and more full. The moisture that gets stuck in an aged tea can be like a glass wall between the tea and the drinker.

Our ‘66 Aged Beipu, for example, benefits from a quick spot roast. As it is, the tea is herbal, medicinal and smooth. When I feel like using some extra time and energy, I spot roast this tea as a step in my brewing process to produce an even more delicious pot of tea.

Written by: Noah

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Lishan High Mountain Oolong

photography by Douglas King

The highest tea growing peaks in Taiwan are located on Lishan. Misty, cool, high elevation, this mountain produces some of Taiwan's most famous tea. Tea farmers are growing tea around 1500 meters up to about 2600 meters at the highest point. Da Yu Ling and Fu Shou Shan teas are the most sought after among the wider tea audience because of their elevation.

Other lower elevation tea growing mountains may be growing other kinds of cultivars, like Jin Xuan. Around 1500 meter areas, Lishan farmers may be growing these varieties, too. But Qing Xin cultivar is the only one that can stand up to the highest elevation conditions and still produce a good oolong.

Compared to Alishan, Lishan tea is much more buttery. Alishan has high notes. And Lishan has a buttery texture that coats the mouth. It is balanced and thick, and is very classically representative of High Mountain Oolong.

We will be doing an Instagram live session with Lishan High Mountain Oolong on Tuesday the 10th of October at 11:30. Shiuwen will talk about how she brews and tastes the tea while drinking the tea with you. We want to encourage people to drink the tea along with us. If you have our Lishan then that's great, and if you drink another Lishan Oolong, that should be fine, too. Our goal is to facilitate drinking tea together and share the way we experience our teas.
Our Instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/floatingleavestea/

Written by Noah

Note on Myself: I’m Noah, and I have been an apprentice at Floating Leaves Tea since 2015. Since then, my love for tea has grown deeper and deeper, and I want to share my journey with you all. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Alishan High Mountain Oolong

Floral, buttery and light bodied, Alishan was the first oolong I encountered on my tea path. It opened up my mind to what is possible with tea, capturing my attention from my mouth and nose and into my mind. It was my ‘a-ha moment’ for tea drinking. The aroma was captivating and very friendly to me when I was new to tea drinking, and Alishan has stayed with me as a reliable companion through my career as a tea person.
Taiwan Day5 Alishan 28.jpg
Alishan tea field. Photography by Matthew

Alishan oolong is grown between 1000 and 1600 meters. Our Alishan tea is grown in the Zhangshu Hu area, which is about 1200 meters high. There are two major cultivars grown in Alishan, Jin Xuan and Qing Xin Oolong. For high mountain oolong, we exclusively buy tea made with the Qing Xin cultivar. Qing Xin can grow at higher altitudes and develops more slowly, producing a more complex broth. Do you know what cultivar you are drinking?
Taiwan Day5 Alishan 5.jpg
Tea picking at Alishan. Photography by Matthew

Alishan is now the most famous high mountain tea region abroad. The first high mountain growing region in Taiwan was Meishan. Now, lots of Meishan tea is sold as Alishan, relying on Alishan’s star status. Tea from each region can be delicious; we think it is largely up to the farmer to see how good the tea can be.

We will be broadcasting a live tea session on Instagram with Alishan on Tuesday the 26th at 11:30am Seattle time. If you have this tea, we encourage you to get it out and drink with us! The best way to learn tea is to drink with other tea people, and we want to try to bring this experience to our online tea friends and clients. Shiuwen will be brewing Alishan and talking about her experience with this awesome oolong. If you want to get tips on brewing or just soak up some tea knowledge please tune in! Our instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/floatingleavestea/

You can find the tea here.

by Noah

Photography by Douglas King

Note on Myself: I’m Noah, and I have been an apprentice at Floating Leaves Tea since 2015. Since then, my love for tea has grown deeper and deeper, and I want to share my journey with you all. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Tea Documentary Filming: Love

These past few days of filming has been very full and rich for me. From a tea brewing master I met for the first time to some tea vendors I work with for 11 years, everyone showed me how they love tea. Even though they all have a busy schedule, they have given me so much of their time.

I feel they are loving me through their love of tea, through their open heart and through their kindness. And I love them back with my gratitude. Every day I live in this beautiful space called Affinity.

With all this love and gratitude, we are going to Dong Ding Mountain to capture the beauty of the mountain and the work of the farmers. Stay tuned.
*photography by Jake Knapp.

Tea Documentary Filming: Heart

The first two day of tea documentary filming has been incredible. My body is jet-lagged, loaded with pots of tea, and my heart is filled with gratitude.

I cannot describe fully how beautiful the tea and the tea people are. People showered us with their generosity and their love of tea. Just like what a tea master told us, "the depth, the experience, and the beauty of this tea session will be hard to find words for it." 
He used his heart to brew tea, and his tea touched my heart. I was in awed with the experience. 

Here are a few photos for you to see how beautiful they are. I am looking forward to sharing the experience with you soon!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A Good Traditional Dong Ding, Brew It 30 Times?

Our Dong Ding farmer told me that I could brew his Dong Ding 30 times. To be honest, I never have patience to brew any tea past 15 times. My friend, Oolong Owl, attempted it with our Charcoal Roast Dong Ding. She did 24 infusions with this Charcoal Roast Dong Ding! You can check out her writing here on her blog Oolong Owl. She has great descriptions of her process and the notes of this tea. Enjoy!

*photography by Lee Damon.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dong Ding Documentary Project Sponsored By Embrace The Moon

Embrace The Moon, School for Taijiquan and Qigong is the first sponsor for our Dong Ding Tea Documentary! 

The founder and owner of Embrace The Moon Kim Ivy and I have known each other for 11 years now. I am honored to call her my friend and teacher. Two years ago I went back to take Taichi again, and our friendship grew. 

She teaches hard and really cares about what she does. I have learned so much about taichi and I love it! I see a lot of similarities between tea and taichi. There is so much detail and endless levels to explore. 

Then she started to come in to Floating Leaves Tea on Wednesday afternoon for tea. We tell jokes, gossip; sometimes talk about philosophy, politics and dreams. I show her what a good tea can do beyond just tasting good. We expirement with different styles of tea energy and see how they impact our Taichi practices. That has been extremely fun!

Since the first time I mentioned this Dong Ding Tea Documentary project to Kim, she has been supporting the project with money, encouragement and ideas. It's because of people like her and many of you who have believed in me that helps to push this project forward. Thank you!

We will continue to raise funds for editing and post production. To support this project, please visit our tea documentary fundraiser page here

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

An Excellent Charcoal Roast Dong Ding: Expansion

In my previous post about my experience with charcoal roast master Mr. Zhan I mentioned a Four Roast Dong Ding. That tea taught me about what a good tea can do 10 months after I first had it.  I purchased that tea in April 2016 and have been loving it to this day.

About two months ago, my tea friends Char of Oolong Owl and Andrew of The Happy Tea Man came to have a Dong Ding session with  me. I tried to show them how a good Traditional Dong Ding not only has good, solid broth and great aftertaste, but also that it has the most amazing "expansion". I normally experience expansion with Cha Qi (tea energy). That day, the Four Roast gave me a wonderful surprise. The expansion this Dong Ding has takes two routes: one is the tea energy, which is super strong, and the other one is texture expansion. I felt it for the first time. Its texture was pushed into my body while the cha qi was happening at the same time. I can't really express how excited I was when that happened! Our friend, Jake of Cloud 9 Photography & Design shot a short video of us. I don't think I completely understood what was happening at the time. I only knew how AWESOME the tea was afterwards.

Two things happened in this Dong Ding Tea session that I absolutely love: friendship and expansion. I love it that tea is very communal. Tea brings people together. Tea allows us to enjoy not only its goodness but also the company that is there. Tea is expansive. Throughout these years learning about tea, I noticed that the right people with the right mind in tea sessions can open and hold a precious space for the tea drinkers. Char, Andrew and Jake are very open-minded people with great taste in tea. They helped to create and hold that precious space with me.

And a good tea is a great teacher! I am still AMAZED at how this Charcoal Roast Dong Ding still teaches me after so many months. When I realized the tea broth in my mouth was expanding into my body, the beauty of it was beyond description and it has deeply touched me. I thought of Mr. Zhan and how he could possibly craft a tea like this. He inspires me! His tea inspires me!

I am grateful and thrilled Mr. Zhan agreed to be interviewed for our Dong Ding Documentary. I look forward to learning more from him and to sharing with you some of his tea stories. We are scheduled to film the documentary in the first two weeks of July. We reached Phase 1 of our fundraising goal, and that is to shoot footage. Thank you all who have supported this project! We are now working on Phase 2 fundraising and we are half way there! We just need a couple of thousand dollars to hire people in our places so that each of our businesses can stay open while we are gone filming. Please consider donating and supporting this Dong Ding Documentary Project. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Quick Update On Our 2017 Spring Oolong

It's a colder season so the harvest is later than usual.

We just heard from our Baozhong farmer that he started to harvest QingXin Oolong varietal to make his baozhong on Friday April 28th. And we are getting ready to choose our spring Alishan.

For our lightly oxidized Taiwanese Oolong lineup we carry JinXuan and Nantou Four Season as daily drinker teas. We prefer QinXin varietal for our Baozhong and High Mountain Oolongs.

Here is some information on these three varietals:

-SiJiChun( for Nantou Four Seasons): A tea farmer in Muzha discovered this varietal several years ago. This plant has a strong life force and can yield six harvests in a year! Its feature flavor is like jasmine or ginger lily fragrance.

-JinXuan, aka Taiwan Tea #12: This varietal was "made in Taiwan". It was officially published in 1981, and it's now the 2nd most grown tea varietal in Taiwan. It's often seen in tea fileds under 1200 meters high. When it's grown past that elevation, the young stems contain too much water. In this instance the success rate for producing a high quality oolong tea sharply falls. Sometimes JinXuan will have an osmanthus like bouquet. When JinXuan does produce a milk candy flavor, its broth is round. This is why tea drinkers first called JinXuan milk Oolong.

-QingXin: This varietal was brought to Taiwan from Fujian and it has been a very popular varietal for a long time. QingXin grows slower and yields less than SiJinChun and JinXuan. However, its success rate to produce finer Oolongs is higher. The flavor profile from QingXin Oolong varies. It can be floral, fruity or honey-like.

Since QingXin Oolong grows at a slower pace (and because it's the varietal we prefer for our Baozhong and High Mountain Oolongs) please have patience as you wait for our Spring Oolong harvest to be available. We are hoping to get some of the teas in around the middle of May. For higher elevation Oolong, like Lishan, we are hoping to have it in by the end of May.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Charcoal Roast Master: A Spetacular Tea Session

After I met the Charcoal Roast Master Mr. Zhan in 2010, I was not be able to see him unitl 2016. Over the course of these years I would call from time to time to see if I could bring some customers to visit him. But they always turned us down, stating Mr. Zhan's health had not be good. The memory of that strong Chinese herbal medicine smell back in 2010 made me think of his troubled health condition.

In April 2016 my friends David and Jake went to Taiwan with me. I called Mr. Zhan's store and told them I am in Taiwan and I could go pick up the tea order I had placed.

The moment we entered the apartment Mr. Zhan was right by the door putting on some classical music (later we figured out his favorite music is Beethoven.) We shook hands, and the moment our hands touched I could feel he was weak. I don't know how to explain that, and from that moment I was doing my best to control my emotions. "Welcome! Please sit and have tea." Mr. Zhan said. I didn't expect to have tea with them that day, so I was very excited to be offered the opportunity.

Conversations started to flow and I was just so thrilled to drink tea with him again. I think we started with Charcoal Roast Dong Ding. The three of us were very happy to drink that. Then another Charcoal Roast Dong Ding was brewed. "That is our 4 Roast," he said.

"What? You have a four roast?" I asked.

"The tea base was very good and I was able to do it this way." I loved the 4 Roast! I continue to be amazed by this tea today. I will write another post on this Dong Ding tea.

Mr. Zhan and I. Photo by Jake Knapp.

With tea, conversations and laughter flowing, I noticed we were all opened up to each other, and a beautiful space was created. "I have parkinson's disease." Mr. Zhan said. I noticed how much his hand was shaking. A couple of times I thought he would drop his tea cup and yet he managed.

Then he asked his assistant to brew a certain Sheng Puer for us. After two infusions, he said, "Stop brewing this tea. This Puer is not showing up for them today. They deserve better." Then he asked the assistant to brew the next Puer.

"I understand some teas wouldn't open up certain days. I had experiences like this." However I forgot to ask him how he knew the tea was not showing up for us. Was it because we didn't say anything about the tea? I took a sip of the next Puer and I immediately felt something. It's not about how smooth the broth was (which was excellent) and it's not about the Cha Qi, or tea energy (which was clear and great). It was something else. It was a 'feeling'. I couldn't pinpoint it so I didn't say anything. After I sip the second infusion that feeling was still there. "What is this?" I thought to myself.

"This is a young Puer but it has an old soul." Mr. Zhan said very gently.

"What? Why?" I asked.

"When I drink this tea, I always feel a kind older sister's presence." he said.

"Oh my god! That's the 'feeling'. He knows!" I thought. I was compeletely blown away by the experience. I looked at him and then everyone else in the room. I looked outside the window and back in the room again. "Ah....He is the tea conductor" I thought to myself. I felt physically we were in an apartment in a city called Taipei, but we all managed to create a space together beyond the physical space. I couldn't possibly describe the beauty of it. I was simply inspired at that moment and thought, "could I accomplish this someday?"

I was extremely happy, if that's the right word to describe my emotion, with this tea session. It showed me a different level of tea drinking. At the same time, I was very sad to see Mr. Zhan's health trouble. In the next 30 minutes or more, I was trying to hide my emotions and became very animated. I poured out my Seattle life stories and how I didn't know how to resolve my karma in Seattle. His assistant and he listened to my stories with gentleness. Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to find an answer from him (I do believe he can read people's fortunes).

The conversation was switched back to tea and he asked his assistant to brew us a 70's Puer. It was delicious! We were all very honored that he gave us such a tea treat! "I would like to ask you a favor. When I come back next year, can I record and video tape your tea roasting? I love your roasting skills and you probably figured out I am crazy this way. I would love to record some of your skills. I mean, your work is amazing to me. You transform tea to a higher level. For nothing else, I would like to know a little bit of this technique and keep this beautiful part of you with me."

His eyes were closed for a while. Then he opened his eyes, "Yes, but only that and nothing else. I get tired very easily nowadays."

"Oh thank you! I am easy. When you are tired, just tell me to leave." I said. "Just one more question. What do you mean by 'nothing else'?" Everyone burst into laughter and he didn't answer the last question.

Still today when I think of this tea session, my heart is filled of gratitude for Mr. Zhan. I thanked him for showing me what he was capable of with tea and I thanked him for such a spetacular tea session. He gave me something to look forward to. I am also grateful to his tea assistant and my two dear tea friends. Their presence helped to create that moment. I will always hold those moments dear in my heart. And who could have known that request would turn into a Dong Ding Tea documentary project for Jake and me.

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"