Monday, December 18, 2017

Jinxuan Oolong


In 1981, Dr. Wu Zhen Duo (1918-2000) created the Jinxuan cultivar, also known officially as Taiwan Tea Experiment Station (TTES) No 12 or, inofficially, as experimental number 2027. He gave it the name Jinxuan to remember the first name of his grandmother. (He did the same to TTES No 13, Tsui Yu, named after his mother!)

This tea cultivar is proving particularly popular in Taiwan right now. We can find it in Songboling where it is replacing SiJiChun as a more elegant fresh, low altitude Oolong alternative. It is also very suitable for organic farming, which is why I was able to find an insect bitten zhuo yan version this spring there. 
It is also used in northern Taiwan to make fresh Wenshan Baozhong and even Oriental Beauty in summer!
And this winter I even selected this very good Hung Shui Oolong from Feng Huang (Dong Ding) made from Jinxuan leaves. (You'll even find green and red teas made from Jinxuan!)
Thanks to its big leaves, Jinxuan looks very much like a high mountain Oolong. And, indeed, it's also possible to find Jinxuan plantations above 1000 meters of elevation in Alishan, for instance. Th
But the Jinxuan I'm drinking here is my 2016 spring top Jinxuan Oolong from Dong Ding. Preserved in its vacuum sealed foil for almost 2 years, this tea still tastes and smells completely fresh. The scents are subtle with hints of Japanese sencha, very light seaweed and meadows. Sometimes you get a milky note, too, but it's very light. (If this aroma is strong, it is likely due to added artificial flavors ; that's Jinxuan's weakness: since it's scents are rather light, many producers use it to add their own flavors). 
The taste of Jinxuan is also milder than that of qingxin Oolong, which makes it suitable for a brew in my silver teapot, because it's not so likely to become overpowering. It shines its purity with a sense of grace and restraint that few cultivars have at this price level.
This makes Jinxuan a wonderful cultivar to start exploring the world of Taiwan Oolong teas in all their complexity.
Let the sunshine of Jinxuan Oolong brighten your December days. Cheers!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Strong December Brews

Last week, we had perfect tea brewing conditions in Taipei: it was so cold and rainy that I felt like home in the Northeast of France again! Since it's not likely to snow, this is as close as it gets to a Christmas season in Taiwan. The difference is that Taipei's apartments are not heated in winter. In such conditions, the teas I crave are very different than in summer and even the preparation method changes. I want to drink stronger, darker teas and the fresh high mountain Oolong below was a lone exception to this mood.
Some of my nicest cups were brewed with this Winter 2017 Top Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding:
Winter 2017 Top Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding
Usually, I recommend using fewer leaves and long brewing times for top quality teas. But this week, I turned to a different technique: lots of leaves and medium brewing times. By lots of leaves, I mean at least twice as much as what I usually use. For rolled Oolong, this could mean filling the teapot one third with leaves. For twisted leaves, like roasted Baozhong, this would mean crushing 30% of the leaves and 70% of whole leaves to fill the teapot completely.

The water is at just boiling (important that it be extremely hot) and then I would pour the water slowly in the middle of the teapot for the first brew. Thus, the leaves then open up harmoniously in all directions starting in the middle. The first brew is longer if the leaves are rolled. What you get is a very intense tea experience that is a little bit similar to an Espresso! The 2017 Dong Ding has a very good balance of malty roasting notes with fresh power. It's exactly how I love my Hung Shui Oolong! The 1979 Dong Ding, on the other hand, surprised me with thick plum liquor aromas (without alcohol). It's completely different than when it's brewed with fewer leaves!
While experimenting with what comes close to the traditional Chaozhou Gongfu Cha technique, I have realized that small teapots are a better fit for this style of brewing. Drinking several cups of very concentrated Oolong quickly feels too much. When the tea is very concentrated, it tastes better in small quantities. In this regard, tea is really like liquor: the stronger it is, the smaller the cup! Think of beer, wine and shot glasses.
During my 15 years of tea study, I have rarely brewed teas so strong. It's fun that there are still ways to rediscover different ways to enjoy good tea. Thanks to the strong concentration, the aftertaste is really extremely long. If the tea is good, you'll want to enjoy the lingering aromas, but if the tea is harsh that's when you'll want to eat something right away after the last cup (or even between cups).

1990 loose Yiwu puerh
There's another comfort tea for that time of the year: aged puerh. For this 1990 aged wild old arbor Yiwu loose puerh I'm using a big Qing dynasty Yixing zisha teapot. The soft zisha clay of this teapot is slightly under-fired and its porosity refines the aromas of aged puerh. The resulting cups are incredibly smooth and delicious. It's so mellow that this puerh feels 20 years older in this teapot than in a gaiwan!
Combining my Chaxi with Christmas decoration adds joy and warmth to the tea experience. And the tea itself adds joy and warmth to the Christmas experience! Special moments always call for special teas that can provide long lasting memories.
This week, it's still theoretically possible to place your tea orders for deliveries before Christmas with EMS shipping (which is FREE if your order exceeds 200 USD). Otherwise, EMS shipping is just 17.5 USD worldwide.

Let me also remind you of the current tea gifts:
- 25 gr Hung Shui Dong Pian Sijichun from January 2017 for order between 60 and 200 USD
- 25 gr red Da Yeh Oolong from the East coast of Taiwan from spring 2015 for orders above 200 USD.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Top Oolong d'Alishan d'hiver 2017


Gouleyant, doux, rafraichissant, chaleureux avec une pointe d'épices et de verdure... on trouve de tout dans cet Oolong de haute mountagne d'Alishan de cet hiver! Il a même un petit arrière-goût minéral à la fin qui lui donne une finesse rarement goûtée cette saison...
Cette longueur en bouche est excellente! Elle va jusqu'à la gorge et renvoie beaucoup d'arômes verts de montagne. Voilà qui annonce un bon potentiel de conservation! Surtout dans une belle jarre en céladon de Michel François!! Je la teste depuis plusieurs mois et le Oolong que j'y ai mis garde non seulement sa fraicheur, mais ses arômes deviennent plus intenses! Et en plus, c'est un très bel objet. Merci Michel! (Pensez à lui pour vos idées cadeaux de Noël!)
Quelques petits rappels pour bien réussir ce genre de thé de haute montagne:
1. Une bonne eau (je viens de changer mes filtres et cela a un impact positif sur mes infusions)!
2. Un bon préchauffage des ustensiles,
3. 1 seule couche de feuilles sur le fond du gaiwan (ou de la théière). Le Oolong de haute montagne a des arômes fins et une liqueur trop concentrée n'est pas agréable.
4. La première infusion demande plus de temps pour ouvrir les feuilles roulées. (Et une eau toute proche de l'ébullition). Mais il ne faut pas non plus trop la prolonger, sinon on arrive aussi à trop de concentration. La couleur de l'infusion ne doit pas être trop jaune, mais être d'une couleur mêlant le vert et le jaune avec clarté.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This tea is insane


That's what came to my mind with the first sip of my aged Top Oriental Beauty. It's insane how crystal clear the aromas shine on the palate. A heavy oxidation and, yet, such light flavors! The honey notes are all over the cup, but it's a very gentle, light and flowery kind of honey. And it resonates like a piano in Erik Satie's Gnossienne or Gymnopédie.

There's a melancholy in this these slightly aged flavors, but also a lot of lingering sweetness.
Speaking of melancholy and time passing by, it just occurred to me that using one's hand to let the tea leaves glide gently in the gaiwan is somewhat similar to the gesture of letting some earth fall on a coffin when the priest says 'dust to dust, ashes to ashes' at a funeral... It's not a happy thought, but death is part of life and it's what adds meaning to all these joyful moments. And like for a funeral, using our hand is the most gentle, respectful and intimate way we can handle the tea leaves. Or not. You could also throw the leaves down with strength in a very disdainful manner! The hand lets you express many different feelings...

Something else happened this weekend: I changed the pre-filter and main water filter under my faucet! This has improved the quality of my water. While you get kind of used to the slowly decreasing quality of water, it's a wonderful shock when it's fully restored!

This is a useful reminder that water is the mother of tea and that even the best leaves won't shine with all its power if the water isn't cooperating!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Nouveau e-book: les céramiques chinoises du British Museum


La version française de ma visite au British Museum est également disponible en format PDF!

En juillet, j'avais passé toute une après-midi dans la salle 95 des céramiques chinoises, en compagnie de la célèbre collection de Sir David Percival. Vous me voyez ci-contre (avec le sourire hébété du fan qui voit son idole) avec les 2 stars de cette collection, les vases de David Percival. La lecture de mon livre vous dira pourquoi ces 2 vases sont si importants dans l'histoire de la porcelaine.

Vous y trouverez mes photos en haute résolution de plus de 40 céramiques plus belles les unes que les autres, et couvrant plus de 1000 ans d'histoire. La porcelaine blanche Ding, les céladons Ru, Jun, Ge et Longquan, la céramique de Jian, la porcelaine Qinghua, Wucai, polychrome, Fencai, la porcelaine de Dehua... tous les grands styles de céramiques chinoises sont dans ce livre de 50 pages.

C'est un concentré de savoir et de beauté auquel j'ai ajouté des commentaires souvent liés à la dégustation du thé. En effet, sans ustensiles en céramique, il ne serait  pas possible de boire du thé!
Durant la période des fêtes de fin d'année, j'offre ce livre électronique pour toute commande de 100 USD (ou plus sans le transport) sur la boutique tea-masters. Il n'est pas disponible à la vente. C'est mon cadeau pour vous remercier de votre soutien, car sans vous je ne pourrais pas vivre de ma passion du thé.

Cela fait 15 ans cet automne que j'ai commencé à prendre des cours hebdomadaires (et continue encore à en prendre car il y a tant à découvrir!) Je n'avais aucune idée que ma vie changerait tant par l'amour du thé. Pour marquer cet anniversaire, j'ai réduit le prix de 15 théières de -15% sur www.tea-masters.com! (Premier venu, seul servi car ce sont des pièces uniques dans mon stock).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A new e-book: TeaMastersBlog at the British Museum

I wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the world and beyond! Just in time for the holiday season, I have finished writing this 50 pages long e-book in pdf format. During my UK visit, I spent one afternoon in the Chinese Ceramics Room No 95 and took many pictures of Sir David Percival's collection. It's one of the best outside of Asia, because it includes many items that were collected by Chinese emperors and should have remained in the National Palace Museum. China's rough 20th century history, however, created opportunities for Sir David Percival to purchase these precious wares and we can be thankful that they are now on exhibit at the British Museum!

I wanted to share the beauty of these amazing wares with my comments from a tea drinker's perspective. I hope it will help you get a quick overview of the major styles of Chinese ceramics in the last 1000 years. Here is my table of content:
And here is a example of one page in my book. It's a tea accessory! It's a bowl stand, an ancestor of today's saucers and cha tuo (chataku in Japan):
For most items, I provide a link back to the British Museum. This will allow you to see more pictures of the ware and get more details about it. However, my pictures come with a very high resolution and my comments try to be both brief and interesting for tea drinkers.

On this Thanksgiving Day of 2017 I am especially grateful to all those readers, customers and fellow tea drinkers who have supported me since I started learning tea 15 years ago! I had no idea tea would become such a passion and a new career. So, during the holiday season, I will offer this new e-book FREE OF CHARGE to all those of you who'll place a 100 USD order (or more) on www.tea-masters.com

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Qu'y a-t-il de mieux qu'un Dong Ding Oolong?

Plantation à Feng Huang, Dong Ding en hiver

Top Hung Shui Jinxuan
Mieux qu'un Dong Ding? La réponse est simple: 2 Dong Ding!! Et comme j'adore les Hung Shui Oolong, qui le nom technique des Oolongs torréfiés de Dong Ding, je suis particulièrement heureux de vous annoncer cette nouvelle.

A part deux exemplaires de compétition, je n'en avais pas dans ma sélection en 2015, ni en 2016. Et ce printemps, je ne trouvai qu'une version non torréfiée (très bonne et intéressante à comparer avec ces versions-ci)! Et pourtant, c'est un de mes Oolongs préférés pour de nombreuses raisons:

1. Il est complexe car il a à la fois des notes fraiches et torréfiées qui en font un cousin des Yan Cha de Wuyi

2. Sa torréfaction intensifie les arômes. (Une étude d'un étudiant de Penn State montra que parmi un échantillon large de dégustateurs lambda, plus un thé est torréfié, plus il est apprécié).

3. C'est un thé qui se bonifie avec le temps (si on le conserve bien). Il ne cause pas d'angoisse dans un inventaire, car il gagne en valeur contrairement à la plupart des thés frais à faible oxydation.

4. En hiver, ses arômes gourmands et torréfiés nous font beaucoup de bien. Leur longueur en bouche phénoménale nous accompagne encore longtemps après la dégustation.

Comment se fait-il que je trouve 2 top Hung Shui Oolong cet hiver? La raison vient de cet élément imprédictible: une météo plus chaude que d'habitude. A cause d'elle, il n'est pas aisé de faire de bons Oolongs frais peu oxydés (même en haute montagne, d'ailleurs!) Par contre, si on transforme les feuilles de thé selon la technique Hung Shui, on obtient de bons résultats, surtout si le fermier de Dong Ding est aussi un maitre de la torréfaction!
Commençons par le top Hung Shui Jinxuan dans cet article. Au nez, les feuilles sèches font penser à du riz soufflé au miel comme on en trouve dans les céréales du petit déjeuner. Mais en regardant de plus près on remarque que la couleur des feuilles n'est pas si brune, mais garde un éclat de vert foncé. Les feuilles sont un peu grandes et on pourrait les faire passer pour des feuilles de haute montagne, mais la raison pour cette plus grande taille est le cultivar Jinxuan qui produit des feuilles plus larges que celles du qingxin Oolong.
L'infusion a une belle couleur orange avec une très bonne transparence. Le goût est doux, sucré même, et plus léger que lorsqu'il s'agit de qingxin Oolong. Au niveau des arômes, la torréfaction a su sublimer le thé et le rapprocher d'un Dong Ding Oolong des plus harmonieux. Et les feuilles ouvertes nous montrent le grand art du producteur: les feuilles sont tendres et s'ouvrent avec une belle couleur verte.
Deux nouveaux top Hung Shui de Dong Ding, c'est un double bonheur qui se boit chaud!
Note: profitons juste de cette occasion pour rappeler que le village de Feng Huang est le plus haut placé dans la région de l'appelation de Dong Ding!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Taiwan tea house

When there's good weather, I often take my visitors to a wonderful spot in the mountains of Tucheng, half an hour drive from my place in Banciao. Last Saturday, the weather was dark and cloudy, so I opted for this old style tea house located a 10 minutes' walk near my house. (Taiwan is most convenient when it comes to tea!) I brought my own teas and tea ware, except the kettle.
This meeting with 2 tea friends from the Czech Republic turned into a High Mountain Oolong tea class. We started brewing the top Shan Lin Xi spring 2017 Qingxin Oolong. I showed how it helps to open up the lid with the finger, at the end of the pour, to get the last drop out of the teapot. Because if there's liquid that remains in the teapot between 2 brews, it will over brew and it's like adding a few drops of bitter tea to your next cups.
It's not easy to hold the teapot with 1 hand and open the lid with the index while pouring without dripping any tea next to the cups. Because it can happen, I taught my guests that it's better to wait until the cups are filled with tea before placing them on the Cha Tuo (saucer). This way, there won't be any tea spilled on the Cha Tuo.
The second High mountain Oolong we tasted is this winter zhuo yan Oolong from Ali Shan.
It has a slightly higher oxidation due to the jassid bites. Being from a different season and mountain, it also felt different from the first. But these differences are not enormous and are less caused by quality than by character. That's when personal preferences play an important role in determining which tea you like best. My guests were split between the two teas. The biggest fan of Japanese green teas liked the lighter oxidized Shan Lin Xi the most, which made very much sense.
Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong
It was a dark afternoon, but the fresh Oolongs lifted our moods!