Friday, November 28, 2014

Tea on the roller coaster

Life is made of ups and downs. Let's enjoy the ride and find out how to make every moment count! It's when we push the limits that the experience becomes really memorable.

I'll always remember the moment when I was driving a busy boss on the German Autobahn (Highway) in his Mercedes Benz S320 some 20 years ago. I was at 180 km/h (112 mph) and the boss said: "Go faster, Stéphane, I have a busy schedule today." So, I was soon cruising at 200 km/h (125 mph), marveling how quiet the engine still was. The trucks seemed to have stopped, as I was passing them! It was thrilling, but mostly scary. Driving on the Autobahn at full speed wasn't something I really enjoyed. Nevertheless, I was thankful that I had been given the opportunity once (and thankful not to have been asked again!) I learned that I would never purchase a car for its speed, and I had an experience I'll never forget (and it was legal, since there are no speed limits on the German Autobahn. Don't do it anywhere else!).

Everybody reacts differently to tea. The only way to really know if you'll love high mountain Oolong is to experience it! Today, I received this account from Amy in California:
"I am sipping your very high altitude Winter ’14 Qingxin Oolong from Fushou Shan and it is so warming and wonderful.

I loved the dry nuggets; they look moist and tight and their color is pure and concentrated.

The brew is so clear…clarity of a treasured crystal and a beautiful warm yellow color.
The taste is full, rich and very unprocessed…perfect for me! I notice that the bouquet fills my mouth completely and lingers.

Oh, I am so happy and I count my blessings!

This is a completely satisfying tea. Sometimes when I consume a main course, I still crave all the sides: a veggie, some fruit, and then maybe a cookie! But this tea is complete. This tea is all. And I fully understand why you awarded it your “Gold Medal!”
My second cup was interrupted and completely cooled down. WOW! I like it at room temperature. I am tasting notes that I did not taste when warmer.

I am going to try fridge-chill brewing with just a few nuggets! I know, you are probably rolling your eyes with the thought of chill-brewing this very special tea, but we are in the HIGH 80’s today…Thanksgiving out on the patio!"
 Thank you for sharing, Amy!

A great tea can provide a thrilling moment that makes life memorable. Just like a fast car, but with less danger. On a special day like Thanksgiving, it brings even more satisfaction, because it feels right to enjoy leaves that are out of the ordinary on such a day. It gives you one more reason to be thankful for your ride on the roller coaster of life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

La forêt aux couleurs de jade

Le climat subtropical du nord de Taiwan donne à ses forêts des teintes vertes profondes tout au long de l'année. Sa végétation luxuriante composée, entre autres, de barrières de bambous, de fougères géantes et d'arbres à lianes la rend impénétrable. Heureusement, de nombreux sentiers permettent quand même de plonger au coeur de cette verte nature. La vue de cette cascade d'eau et de lumière au bout de 3 heures de marche me donne une furieuse envie de boire du Baozhong, le thé issu de ce terroir.

Mon Chaxi aux couleurs de la forêt et décoré de bambou s'inspire donc de ma randonnée. Les feuilles ci-contre sont mon Baozhong jade de ce printemps. Il est composé de feuilles du cultivar jade Oolong (Tsui Yu ou Cui Yu). C'est le thé No. 13 créé par le centre de recherche de Taiwan. Ses odeurs ont une dimension très 'nature' de forêt de jade sous laquelle pointe ensuite des notes fleuries et un goût très moelleux. C'est vraiment idéal pour retrouver rapidement les sensations de de cette nature luxuriante!
L'automne Taiwanais est comme un second printemps car les arbres gardent leurs feuilles. Et quand le soleil est au rendez-vous, il s'en dégage une belle impression de chaleur et de douceur, tout comme dans l'infusion de ce Baozhong jade! Il est étonnamment bon pour un Baozhong réalisé avec ce cultivar.
Je vous rappelle que pour vous remercier d'une année extraordinaire (10 ans, une boutique web, un premier guide...), je vous offre 50 gr d'Oolong de Shan Lin Xi (1200 m) pour toute commande de 60 USD ou plus (sans les frais de port). Avec une telle commande, je vous offre aussi mon guide de l'infusion du Oolong et des cartes postales de thé. Et si la commande dépasse les 100 USD, les frais de port sont offerts également! (Ce cadeau d'Oolong de haute montagne est limité par sa disponibilité dans mon stock.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Japanese tea ceremony (Omotesenke school)

Where do you suppose did this ceremony happen? In Taiwan or in Japan? Both answers would be wrong. This private tea room is located in New York City, USA! Mr. Yasuo Koike and his wife invited Teaparker and me to their apartment in order to let us experience their (Japanese) way of preparing tea. This happened this spring, just after the events at the Tea Institute at Penn State. This was our last evening in the US, but it seemed we had already arrived back in Asia, as this tea room transported us there much faster than any plane!

While the rest of the apartment is very modern and western, this traditional tea room shows the respect this charming Japanese couple has for tea and its traditions. I should note that Ms. Koike is a Japanese tea instructor from the Omotesenke school. And her husband is now her student! So, she was supervising her husband and instructing us how we should proceed at each step.
If you attend such a ceremony for the first time, all these rules may seem very awkward and rigid. Why bow in front of a calligraphy? A calligraphy of mouse?! This tiny animal represents joy, happiness. But beyond the symbol, this calligraphy also has a value, because it was bestowed to them by someone with a high rank in Japan's tea community. It's not a painting that you can buy with money, but one that is earned through your accomplishments (like teaching Japanese tea in NYC for several decades). 

Respect for the master and the teaching is essential for the student to learn. In the West, we may feel the rigidity of the Japanese tea ceremony stifles innovation, because you're not thinking outside the box. But in our urge to be innovative often becomes an excuse not to learn the traditional technique in depth. My belief is that great innovation only happens after you have mastered the tradition, not before.

The matcha tea ceremony originally comes from the Sung dynasty and it's very difficult to perform this technique well. So, from my experience, the rigid steps of the ceremony are a good way to guide you through each moment and to make you pay attention to what you're doing. There's a reason for most of the steps. For instance, you are supposed to turn your bowl twice by one quarter. That's because ancient bowls were not perfectly round: they had a front side, a place that was best suited to drink from. Looking for and find this perfect place is what this turning of the bowl is about.
 After a long day of visiting the Met, this tea and these sweets were the perfect combination of art, beauty and pleasure for body and mind! Everything was there: even the sweets from Japan looked and tasted delicious!
Thanks again Mr and Ms. Koike for the wonderful evening and this special Japanese tea experience in NYC! The formality of the event helped engrave it in my memory. This is also an interesting subject to develop some other day: how to make each moment in tea/life special?
 And thank you also for the traditional meal concluding our tea ceremony!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Spring 1999 Hung Shui Oolong from Yong Lung (Dong Ding)

This 15 years old Dong Ding Oolong is made from qingxin Oolong cultivar leaves. It's a Hung Shui Oolong that hasn't been roasted frequently, but that was left to age by itself. I'm using a gaiwan to test it. The appearance of the leaves is interesting, especially when compared to a Hung Shui Oolong from this spring from the location:
1999 vs. 2014 Hung Shui Oolong from Yong Lung
What can we tell from the dry leaves?
- The size used to be smaller. Nowadays, more leaves are harvested together, on one stem. This makes the dry Oolong look more like high mountain Oolong. This represents a paradigm shift in the way consumers look at Oolong. Before, small was considered better, because this implied more buds, leaves that are more tender, more concentration. There were no stems also, like for competition Oolong. But with the rise of high mountain Oolong, a big leaf size is now associated with high altitude and high altitude with quality.

- The color of the old Oolong is slightly brown, whereas the young Hung Shui actually looks darker with its dark green color. This is the normal color of naturally aged Hung Shui.

- The 1999 leaves are unfurling a little bit, while the 2014 leaves are tightly rolled. This is another sign that this Oolong is genuinely old.
The scents are fruity, malty, woody and sweet. Lots of layers, but it retains a good purity.
The dark orange/golden brew has a very good clarity and shine.
How is the taste when the leaves are brewed for a long period of time?

It has some Wuyi suan (a kind of fruity astringency), lots of sweetness and also some iron taste. The aftertaste is very, very, very long. The remaining taste in the mouth is clean. There's a nice salivation on the side of the mouth and a comfortable feeling in the throat.

For the second brew, I pour my boiling water very slowly on the open leaves. I imagine that I want to caress them with the water...
And since it's starting to get cold now, I'm preheating the cups again while the leaves are brewing.
I've mentioned it on Twitter a few days ago: the golden colors of this Chaxi (the obi, the copper chatuo, the copper jianshui, the brew) take their inspiration from Klimt's Kiss!
Having such a high quality aged Oolong in this setting feels like living a time of opulence and extravagance. And indeed, the pleasure of well aged Oolong is one that only very few seek and find nowadays.
And the powerful aftertaste of this tea feels like a kiss! The stronger the brew, the more it feels like a 'French kiss'! It goes deep and you feel happy.
A successful brewing means that the leaves have opened so well that they occupy all the gaiwan. On the picture above, you can see that even when I move the gaiwan by 90 degrees, the leaves still stay in the same position.
The leaves unfurl well and are still green inside. It's a tea that tastes younger and younger as the brews add on. We can see now that the leaves are mostly single, not held together by a stem. That's why they look smaller than the 2014 version.
I have also tested this tea with a zhuni and a zisha teapot. The zhuni expressed more its energy, fruitiness and youth. The zisha expressed more its deep, dark and smooth old flavors. The porcelain gaiwan is somewhere in the middle. With all their complexity, the way the leaves are prepared will have a great impact on how the tea will taste.
My preference goes to the passionate French Kiss!

Monday, November 17, 2014

High Mountain Shan Lin Xi Oolong giveaway

Thanks to your incredible response, the free Dong Pian Oolongs have all been shipped out today! So, as we start approaching Thanksgiving, I wish to continue to show you my appreciation for your support with another giveaway! This time, have selected my Spring 2013 Qingxin Oolong from Shan Lin Xi (Yang Keng, 1200 m). Last year, this was ma favorite spring High mountain Oolong below 2000 meters. Why? Because it has a lightness that seemed to come from much higher, and its scents reminded me a little bit of Japanese Sencha: they have something green and oceanic on top of the regular Gao Shan Oolong scents. Add a powerful aftertaste when you use lots of leaves or something very refined when you use less, and this Oolong is one that never ceases to produce different results and never feels boring.
You can find some advice on the first brew of such a tea here. I would like to add a word about the preheating of your teapot or gaiwan. The way to do it right is to fill your vessel 99% with boiling water and wait long enough for the lid also to become hot. This is not the time to save water and fill it half only, because you'd end up wasting your much more precious tea leaves.

It's now 19 months since these leaves have been harvested, an eternity for an unroasted Oolong, as most would think. And yet, this tea still feels thoroughly fresh and vibrant. It proves that a high mountain Oolong that has been well processed can be kept well for quite a long time.
Here is how this giveaway works: you'll get 1 FREE pack of 50 grams of this Shan Lin Xi Oolong for any order of 60 USD or more (excluding shipping) on my tea boutique. Like this, you'll also qualify to receive a free electronic copy of the Tea Masters guide to brewing Oolong tea!
Traduction en français: Noël approche et j'ai envie de jouer au Père Noël! Pour vous remercier du succès de mon déstockage de mes Dong Pian Oolongs, je remets cela avec mon excellent Qingxin Oolong de Shan Lin Xi (1200 m) du printemps 2013.

Pour toute commande de 60 USD (ou plus) dans ma boutique en ligne, vous recevrez 1 paquet GRATUIT de 50 grammes de ce thé! Ainsi, vous recevrez aussi le guide Tea Masters de l'infusion du Oolong (en format pdf) gratuitement, avec votre commande .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2014 Eté Beauté Orientale Top Tradition de Hsin Chu

Feuilles de Qingxin Dapang à Hsin Chu
Comment on passe d'une feuille verte à du Oolong n'est pas un mystère. Flétrissage, oxydation, chauffage, roulage, séchage et torréfaction. Dans les grandes lignes, c'est toujours la même chose. Ou bien? Pour le Oolong, c'est sûrement là où c'est le moins vrai, car le producteur dispose d'une grande latitude pour déterminer le degré d'oxydation et de torréfaction de ses feuilles. Pour le thé vert et le rouge (hung cha), l'oxydation est soit nulle soit totale, et il n'y a pas de torréfaction. 

Alors comment le producteur d'Oolong détermine-t-il le degré d'oxydation et de torréfaction? Est-ce simplement une question de proposer une gamme de goûts différents, un peu comme un boulanger fait des flutes, baguettes, pains en épis, pains longs... pour accommoder les envies variées de ses clients? Parfois, ces variations sont effectivement une façon de s'adapter à la demande et aux modes. 

Mais il y a aussi l'impact des feuilles et de la tradition, de l'expérience. Le fermier qui a de l'expérience et qui ne se soucie pas trop d'innover va être attentif aux feuilles produites. Selon la saison, le cultivar, la taille des bourgeons, l'origine... il y a un type de thé qui fera le mieux ressortir les caractéristiques du terroir. En haute montagne, au printemps et en hiver, c'est l'oxydation faible ; à Dong Ding, c'est le Hung Shui (oxydation moyenne et torréfaction), et en été, en plaine, ce sont les oxydations plus poussées. Ces principes généraux peuvent être affinés encore bien plus quand le fermier maitrise bien son savoir-faire. C'est au nez qu'il saura jusqu'où pousser l'oxydation et la torréfaction pour obtenir le meilleur thé possible.

Cet Oolong Beauté Orientale top tradition suit cette démarche:

Cultivar: Qingxin Dapang
Origine: comté de Hsin Chu
Récolté en juin 2014
Processus: bourgeons et petites feuilles mordues par les Jacobiasca formosana Paoli, oxydation élevée, en torsades et torréfié

Infusé en porcelaine en infusion longue (pour mieux tester sa qualité).
Belle couleur orange foncée. Bonne transparence.
Les odeurs sont encore un peu 'fermées'. C'est surtout des fruits bien mûrs et du bois sec au premier abord. Ce n'est que lors de la rétro-olfaction que je sens comme une odeur de vieil entrepôt de thé. C'est assez surprenant comme odeur pour un thé jeune, mais cela reflète bien le fait qu'il ait été fait de manière très traditionnelle.
Au goût, il y a quelque chose de tannique et épais. C'est puissant sur la langue et dans la gorge. Mais c'est une sensation 'clean' qui devient moelleuse, presque sucrée. Cette longueur en bouche est impressionnante et ne semble pas s'arrêter. J'adore cette sensation chaleureuse et stimulante qui va du palais à l'arrière de la gorge.
En l'état actuel, ce goût est puissant, mais encore un peu brut (à cause de sa torréfaction récente). Cette force lui donne un excellent potentiel de bonification et de raffinement avec le temps, si on le conserve en jarre en porcelaine. Je vais en mettre un peu de côté car il est de plus en plus rare de trouver de la Beauté Orientale aussi bien travaillée. Le fermier a tout fait pour réaliser un thé de qualité qui convient au long terme. Cela serait presque gacher son potentiel que de le finir trop rapidement!
La beauté et la force de la tradition du thé se côtoient sur ce Chaxi rouge sur noir. Un sentiment chaleureux et estival qui fait du bien quand le temps gris et froid tombe sur la ville.
PS: Le Sijichun est épuisé, mais il me reste encore quelques paquets de Jinxuan Dong Pian! J'en offre un paquet de 100 grammes pour chaque commande de plus de 50 USD (hors frais de port) sur ma boutique dans la limite de mon stock. Profitez-en vite!

Friday, November 07, 2014

A gift of Dong Pian Oolong from Zhushan, Taiwan

I have still some Dong Pian from last winter. The leaves are vacuum-packed and still taste very good. However, I need to make space for the new harvests in late December or January. So, I propose to give you a free pack of 100 grams for each order above 50 USD until my inventory is empty. (Be quick, they won't last long!) 2 cultivars are available: SiJiChun or Jinxuan Oolong. I will star giving away the fragrant SiJiChun unless you instruct me otherwise.

Do you remember what is Dong Pian? It means winter petal. It's a late winter harvest that is unpredictable and only happens when the winter weather turns so sunny and warm that the tea trees mistake it for the spring. November is the regular winter season for lower altitude plantations, but to qualify as a Dong Pian, the harvest must happen after the trees have started their winter rest.

What's particular with a Dong Pian harvest? They mostly happen in lower altitudes, because higher altitude weather is too cold. It only happens after ideal dry and sunny weather conditions and when nights are cold. These conditions are very similar to high mountain weather, which is why it's very well suited to make very light oxidized Oolong. Yields are generally low, because there wasn't much time for the leaves to grow. And they are harvested by hand, which gives less astringency than machine harvests. Since they happen in lower elevations, we can find Dong Pian made with the fragrant Sijichun and the light milky Jinxuan Oolong.

The combination of all these elements makes Dong Pian a very fresh, fragrant low altitude Oolong that resembles high mountain with its very smooth and light taste. In the category of lightly oxidized and unroasted Oolongs, Dong Pian Oolongs have the lightest and nicest aromas. They are a very good and more affordable alternative to high mountain Oolong for an everyday brew.
And now it's even a free gift for your order on my tea-masters boutique! (Valid above 50 USD until I announce that the stock is empty).

Résumé en français: 1 paquet de 100 gr de Dong Pian SiJiChun ou Jinxuan de Zhushan vous est offert pour toute commande de plus de 50 USD sur ma boutique en ligne (dans la limite de mes stocks).

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Winter 2014 Alishan Tie Guan Yin

Cultivar: Tie Guan Yin
Origin: Zhangshu Hu, Alishan, Taiwan
Elevation: 1700 meters
Harvested by hand on October 3rd, 2014.
Processed like a high mountain Oolong, without roast.

Taiwanese tea farmers continue to surprise us with their innovations. With these leaves, we experience the introduction of Tie Guan Yin (TGY) on a high mountain in Taiwan. Not all tea cultivars are well suited to survive the cold winters (where it can freeze). And at 1700 meters of elevation, we are approaching the 2000 meters mark where plants become rare. The farmer is taking a risk and has to spend extra time to help the trees adapt to this new climate. How did it turn out?

The dry leaves are particularly big and they don't seem as tightly rolled as Qingxin Oolong from Alishan. In terms of scents, the fragrances are not as flashy and exuberant as a 'nuclear green' Anxi Tie Guan Yin. Here, the scents are similar, but mellowed down and more refined. What dominates is a very sweet freshness.
 The brew has a very good transparency and clarity. I have made a long first infusion to test the taste of this tea. Despite being strong, the brew feels light and sweet at first. Then I realize how coated my palate feels. The taste of this high mountain TGY is much thicker and more concentrated than a Qingxin Oolong. The freshness, power and sweetness of Alishan is still there, but the TGY gives it a richer feel with an incredibly long and pleasant aftertaste.

The open leaves have the typical TGY scent. They are big, thick and have long buds. This is top quality material! This is a very interesting, tasty and successful innovation. It combines the qualities of Alishan's High Mountain terroir with the characteristics of the TGY cultivar. And it turns out that this combination is perfect to obtain a very thick, sweet and harmonious aftertaste.
 The fact that it's a new plantation also helps to explain the particular richness of this uncommon Gao Shan Cha. And the winter harvest increases its sweetness while taming its fragrances. This makes it very different from a Mainland Chinese TGY. Elegant like an orchid!
It's now available in my tea boutique.