Friday, March 31, 2017

Experiencing the tea-nature connection in a tea plantation

This tea plantation in San Hsia is special for me for 2 reasons. First, it's one of the closest one to my house, just half an hour away by car. Second, I've known its farmer for over 10 years and have regularly purchased his Bi Luo Chun.

And since green tea is the harvested before Oolong (because you want buds and not mature leaves), it's always one of the first plantations I visit every spring. This has enabled me to have a very close relationship with this farmer (and now his son who is taking over the work).
I also have a free access to his plantation to take pictures and even to brew tea! And since there was no spring 2017 BiLuoChun available, I brewed a Wenshan Baozhong from spring 2016, because it's a tea that is grown in very similar conditions in the north of Taiwan.
I'm using a bowl to brew this wood fired bowl by David Louveau, because it's the simplest brewing method. It's a good fit for green teas or fresh Baozhongs, because they don't mind the water cooling quickly. This underlines their light aromas.
This 'tea on the plantation' experience probably looks like a dream come true for most of you. In reality, it's not that comfortable, because there's no place to sit and I quickly got bitten by a hungry bug or mosquito. That's why I planned to brew tea simply in a bowl with earth like colors and drink it in big light celadon cups.
But what makes this brewing so interesting is that the tea felt exactly like the air I was breathing on the plantation. The osmanthus aromas of the tea were echoing the sweet flowery scents of San Hsia in spring. It confirmed just how tea is recording the scents of its surroundings with high fidelity!
This is what makes green tea and lightly oxidized tea so pleasant to enjoy at home. They connect us to this feeling of being surrounded by nature in spring!
Spring is in my cup!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Le printemps à Taiwan

Puerh 7542 de 1999 dans ma coupe
Dans une semaine on fêtera Qingming, le nettoyage des tombes, à Taiwan et en Chine. Cette fête marque aussi la fin des meilleures récoltes de thé vert de l'année. En effet, avant Qingming le soleil n'est pas encore trop fort, les températures trop hautes et les bourgeons sont donc plus petits et leurs arômes plus délicats.

Intéressons-nous donc à la météo Taiwanaise pour savoir à quoi nous attendre cette saison. Le printemps arrive enfin, comme le montrent ces photos, mais il est un peu tardif et il a fait bien froid cet hiver (mais pas au point de neiger en plaine comme l'an passé). La mauvaise nouvelle concerne le manque de précipitations. Cela aura pour conséquence des rendements plutôt faibles en ce début de saison.
La bonne nouvelle, c'est que le printemps est bien là! Les fleurs envahissent la nature. Et du très bon thé trouvera bientôt le chemin de nos coupes! On commencera par un peu de thé vert, puis viendra le Oolong de plaine et le Baozhong avant de finir par le Oolongs de haute montagne.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

From average to paradise in 3 teas

I think that Mick must have liked last July's 3 tea classes, because he came back to see me for 3 new classes! He was very intrigued by my Wuyi teas and wanted to try some with me to better understand the true taste of Yan Cha.

I started by showing him 3 Shui Xian. The one on the right is heavily roasted (let's call this the Hong Kong style). The one in the middle has beautiful big leaves and is only lightly roasted even if it's not very apparent here. The one on the left is medium roasted.
It isn't difficult at all to recognize which one was the best (and truly from Wuyi). Already the smell is so nice and natural that it makes you smile and stimulates your taste buds.
We compared all 3 teas in my mini gaiwan. The first 2 ShuiXian were tasting pretty good on their own. One had chocolate flavors and a dark notes, but little bitterness, from its strong roast. The second one had a pleasant fresh fruity aroma.
But they were no match in terms of aftertaste with the third. Simply blown away! Mick notices that the tea starts very lightly, almost as if it were simply hot water, but that the taste then coats the whole mouth and throat. It keeps on lingering, evolving into new scents and waves of stimulation on the palate. There was nothing comparable in the other 2 teas in terms of aftertaste.
Yan Gu Hua Xiang. Mineral taste and scent of flowers is Teaparker's favorite idiom to describe YanCha's characteristic. 
The roast is not overwhelming the pure aromas of the Wuyi mountain, but it does provide a backbone to the tea that emphasizes the mineral taste of the leaves.
It's not difficult to appreciate how different and superior true Yan Cha tastes. What's difficult is to find it! So little is produced by so many farmers...
On the second day, we had an interesting class about Yixing teapots. We compared a duanni, 2 zisha and a zhuni teapot vs a porcelain gaiwan with the same tea to taste how the teapot impacts the brew.
On the third day, Mick wanted to experience the secret taste of Wuyi once again. Since a good roasting is part of the equation, we started by comparing 2 Shan Lin Xi Oolongs.
First a fresh one, without roast.
Then one with a light roast and aged. Deeper, more mature notes develop, but they don't entirely overwhelm the freshness of the tea.
Nature's aromas must be emphasized by the roast, not covered...

We finish our third and last class with a jewel, a BeiDou No1 Yan Cha brewed in a flat zhuni teapot. Mick had liked the Wuyi teas from the first class so much that he insisted on tasting more of them in this third class.

The name of this tea describes the location where it was planted and the No 1 refers to the fact that this is a clone of the first bush of DaHongPao. This is as close as it gets to the legendary taste of the big red robe tea.

Mick felt that it is difficult to describe all the aromas of this tea, but that this would inspire a poet! It's no wonder there are so many Chinese poems about Yan Cha!
Tasting a real Yan Cha is akin to swallowing the blue and the red pill in Matrix. First, you get to experience bliss and the ultimate refinement in tea, but then you wake up and realize that very few teas come close to this level of harmony and delightful aftertaste.

Then comes the other reality: such tea is extremely rare and hard to find. (I can't sell Yan Cha on because I simply don't have enough of it). That's why I've thought of another idea to share it with my most supportive readers/customers: This spring, I'll give a 2 gr Yan Cha sample and a mini gaiwan for free for (retail) orders in excess of 500 USD.
The other possibility is to do what Mick and his wife did: book a (tea) master class with me in New Taipei City when you come visit Taiwan. (Contact me at:

Saturday, March 18, 2017

2003, puerh far West

2003 raw puerh
China's state monopoly on the production and sale of tea (and puerh) lasted until the end of the 20th century. In the first years around 2000, some big private players started to create new factories with their own brands (like Haiwan or Changtai). But there were also small producers that simply started to press tea and didn't have the money or even the marketing skills to create their own brand and wrappers.

So, they did what most small producers were doing: they pressed cakes and wrapped them with a copy of the well-known CNNP design. These were the days of the puerh Far West, when law was very loosely, if ever, enforced. (Even my top quality wild Yiwu raw puerh cake from spring 2003 originally comes in a blank white wrapper. That's why I had to ask a friend to write this calligraphy on a second wrapper around this cake).

It's only after 2005 that China set up and started to enforce a Quality System on the production of puerh cakes. Factories had to be registered, production date had to be mentioned... Spring 2003, however, was still the wild West in Yunnan when this small private factory cake was made. I found this spring 2003 raw puerh cake thanks to a Taiwanese tea merchant who frequently travels to China. 
This cake has 2 things going for it: the price and the aged scents. At 59 USD for a 14 years old raw puerh cake, it's very affordable. And the aged scents of camphor, wood and earth are already shining thanks to excellent storage condition. 
The leaves are not fancy old arbor, but are decent young plantation puerh. The color of the open leaves shows that they have aged well and shed their fresh green colors. Now the color is between dark green and brown.

For this Chaxi, I have aired the dry leaves for a couple of hours before brewing them in a small Yixing zisha Shuiping. This has helped to make the taste quite smooth and sweet. The raw puerh energy is present in the long aftertaste.

This tea is great to get familiar with (well) aged raw puerh at a low price and as a daily tea for aged puerh fans. It's also interesting to compare it to my wild raw 2003 Yiwu puerh to understand the taste difference between plantation and wild puerh.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Présidentielle 2017 - Humour

Plantation de thé en hiver à Dong Ding
Pour mieux comprendre les candidats à l'élection présidentielle, toute l'équipe du blog TeaMasters a enquêté sur les thés que boivent les principaux candidats. Même le Canard Enchainé n'a pas réussi à se procurer cette exclusivité mondiale!

François Fillon: Il boit du Guanxi Cha! Le concept chinois du Guanxi consiste à se faire des cadeaux pour entretenir une amitié longue et prospère. Ainsi, les fermiers ont de tous temps fait cadeau de leurs meilleurs feuilles aux empereurs afin de recevoir leurs bonnes faveurs.

Benoit Hamon: Il buvait du thé rouge jusqu'il y a peu de temps, mais il boit maintenant Oolong depuis son alliance avec Jadot. En effet, les feuilles de thé semi-oxydé sont rouges sur l'extérieur et vertes à l'intérieur.

Marine Le Pen: Non, elle ne boit pas de thé blanc. Ne croyez pas ce fake news! Elle boit surtout de la camomille, cette tisane de fleur blanche et blonde cultivée en France!

Emmanuel Macron: Il boit du WenChuang cha! C'est un autre concept Taiwanais, plus moderne que le Guanxi cha. Wen est l'abréviation de wenhua, la cuture, et Chuang signifie créativité. Il s'agit d'un processus créatif nouveau basé sur la culture. Appliqué au thé, cela nous donne de très jolis nouveaux emballages très designs, mais, en réalité, le thé est le même que dans l'emballage précédent.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: Il boit du thé rouge de Chine Populaire de 1980. Certes, ce thé ne s'est pas beaucoup bonifié depuis, mais il a été produit par des camarades vivant le rêve communiste. A l'époque, ces travailleurs produisaient peu cher uniquement pour l'export, car le thé était un luxe bourgeois qu'aucun Chinois ne pouvait se payer.

Rama Yade: Cette candidate ne semble pas réussir à se qualifier pour la présidentielle. Est-ce parce qu'elle boit du jeune puerh, un thé noir encore très minoritaire et peu connu en France?

La liste des politiques suit l'ordre alphabétique. (Les plus anciens lecteurs se rappelleront peut-être cet article de 2007.) Sachons rire ensemble de peur d'en pleurer!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A colorful friend and inspirer

A dream came true last Saturday. Sasha and I met in person around a cup of tea in the mountains for the first time. This Israeli tea friend and I have stayed in contact since his first tea order. His photography is very creative and he makes good use of today's post processing capabilities to enhance the colors of his pictures in a very joyous way. Buildings sometimes turn into butterflies! And just looking at his smart, innocent, happy and skinny face brings a smile to mine!
Sasha does not just bring happiness to those around him, he even brings good weather! The sun made a long awaited appearance during his weekend trip to Taipei and has disappeared behind new clouds as soon as he left! That's why we were able to brew in one of my favorite spots in the mountains. We started with this High Mountain Oolong from Da Yu Ling (95K). Then, since it was a little windy and cool, we brewed 3 warmer, more oxidized jassid bitten Oolongs.
Fall 2016 Zhuo Yan Oolong from Shan Lin Xi
First the 2016 Zhuo Yan Oolong, then the 2013 concubine and the 2001 concubine Oolong at the end. They are a taste of sweet and pure life! And they were interesting to compare one against the other.
After showing Sasha how I brew my Oolongs and also let him practice his skills with my accessories.
And when the sun started to set and stopped shining on our spot, I lent Sasha my beret and vest to keep him warm!
I later found out that Sasha is vegetarian (like many serious tea drinkers) and not a smoker (even if his hair sends a different message, as he joked!) That's why his palate is very sensitive to very clean and natural flavors and why he's such a fan of high quality teas.
I was very happy to share this colorful tea moment with such an inspiring friend.
Toda raba Sasha! Lehitraot!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Un thé d'exception pour un voyage aux pays des arômes

Dong Ding Oolong du printemps 1980
Je risque de passer une fois de plus pour un élitiste du thé si je ne fais pas ce petit rappel qu'on peut trouver beaucoup de plaisir quotidien dans des thés simples et bon marché comme un Jinxuan Oolong frais, un SiJiChun traditionnel, un Baozhong printanier, un thé vert parfumé avec des vraies fleurs de jasmin... Mais ce qui fait tout l'intérêt du thé c'est que les niveaux de qualité (et de prix) sont très variables. On tombe parfois sur des thés qui explosent nos référants, ce qu'on croit savoir et qui ouvrent des perspectives complètement nouvelles. Ce genre de thés sont d'autans plus appréciés qu'ils sont dégustés par des personnes qui ont une expérience approfondie de mets et breuvages fins (= une certaine élite du goût).  
Un grand nombre de mes lecteurs français tombe dans cette catégorie, j'en suis certain. Et l'un d'entre vous est venu me revoir à Taiwan pour prendre 3 cours de thé en 4 jours. Nous avions commencé par les puerhs du Yunnan, puis continué avec les Yan Cha de WuYi. (Ces derniers thés sont si rares que vous ne les trouverez pas dans ma boutique en ligne. Par contre, suite à cette rencontre, j'ai décidé d'en offrir 2 grammes + 1 mini gaiwan pour toute commande de plus de 500 USD).
Pour terminer cette série de cours en beauté, je décidai d'infuser un cousin des Yan Cha, le Dong Ding Oolong de Taiwan! Et je ne choisis pas n'importe lequel, mais ces feuilles du printemps 1980 du village de Feng Huang! Il s'agit de l'âge d'or des Dong Ding Oolongs. A l'époque, il n'y avait pas encore d'Oolong de haute montagne et ce terroir était le plus prestigieux (grâce à la compétition du même nom qui débuta en 1976). Cet Oolong permet de voir la proximité du process de fabrication, degré d'oxydation et de torréfaction. En 1980, les feuilles étaient récoltées individuellement, ni trop jeunes, ni trop grandes.
La couleur et la transparence de l'infusion sont impeccables. L'infusion brille. Elle est claire et dorée. Les senteurs de vieux bois sont riches et nettes. Mais en même temps il y a une impression de vigueur, d'énergie douce et tranquille. Le goût est tout en rondeur. Des odeurs de pêche melba maintenant donnent des accents plus sucré. La longueur en bouche est d'une finesse phénoménale. Il reste présent tout en subtilité et harmonie. Que du bonheur. Certes, il n'a pas la minéralité propre aux Yan Cha, mais il a la générosité et le moelleux fruité caractéristique de Dong Ding. Chaque infusion accentue un peu plus le côté fraicheur de cet Oolong âgé à la perfection.
Cet Oolong 1980, c'est une machine à remonter le temps. C'est une leçon de maitre de ce qu'est un thé de qualité. C'est l'occasion de comprendre la relation entre WuYi et Dong Ding. Mais c'est surtout la chance de partager un moment de finesse, de perfection et de bonheur avec un ami passionné de thé, de vin et de gastronomie. Et cela me rappelle bien à propos que cette envie de partager le bonheur du thé est à l'origine de ce blog. Merci encore pour votre lecture et votre soutien.
(Et merci à Olivier pour ses 3 photos pour cet article).