Monday, April 17, 2017

A spring trip to the USA


In a few hours, I'll take the plane to the USA to participate in the Tea Institute at Penn State's 2017 Chinese Porcelain Exhibition. It will take place from April 20 to 23.

And on Tuesday April 25th, from 2PM to 5:30PM, I will conduct a tea excellence workshop in Brooklyn. This is an advanced class to taste tea excellence. I will brew a Dong Ding Oolong from 1989 and a 8582 puerh from the same year. I will also share a real and amazing Wuyi Yan Cha. The cost for this event is 50 USD per person (to cover the price of these very expensive and rare teas). Please contact me directly if you wish to attend.

Then I'll go back to Taiwan to continue my spring selection. The dry and cool weather has delayed and reduces the harvests in most places. The teas won't be ready before May. This means I'll be heading to the mountains right after my return!

Friday, April 07, 2017

First days of Spring with San Hsia Bi Luo Chun

Even after 20 years living in Taiwan, the spring weather remains a constant surprise for me. This year was a little similar to last year: quite cold in the north for a rather long time. There was no snow in lower elevations this year, but it is very dry.
Luckily, there were several days of very nice weather with cool weather in end of March, early April. These days provided perfect conditions for the green tea harvests. The surprise came yesterday and today, just after the QingMing festival. All of a sudden, the temperatures are rising and it feels not like spring, but more like summer! This is a complete shift in conditions for the tea plants! This year again, there's a clear difference before and after this festival.
The pictures here were taken in the late afternoon of March 28th. 3 old ladies are harvesting the plantation of my farmer in San Hsia.
They are complaining that there are not many buds to harvest this year, because the weather had been too dry during the winter.
Indeed, I can't see many buds on the trees. But I see already a lot of insects, which confirms that this farmer isn't spraying his field, because he wants his tea to be certified as organic. 
This is a good thing for Oolong or red tea, as it adds a special flavor. But the insect bites cause some oxidation that is not what we are looking for in green tea. This has further reduced the yield of this harvest, because you can see that many leaves were bitten:
It's tough to be a tea farmer! It's particularly hard to make pre QingMing BiLuoChun tea this year. But, while low yields are not a good thing for the farmer, they are generally a good thing for quality! And I'm very happy with this year's leaves:
They were harvested on March 31st, on the same plantation as above. I'm brewing them directly in my black glazed (preheated) JianYang bowl, using just boiled water. And, as you can see, I'm brewing very few leaves, because green tea is about lightness and finesse.
The taste is like sweet, cool sunshine. It conveys perfectly this early spring feeling when nature awakens under rays of sun that are not too warm, yet. The fragrances are delicate, clean and flowery rather than grassy. Very nice.
This San Hsia Bi Luo Chun shows that the tea harvests of spring 2017 are off to a good start in terms of quality, but that there will be challenges due to dry weather.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Petit Luyin devient adulte

Cette galette de puerh 7542 de la firme Menghai de 1999 fête ses 18 ans ce printemps! Le hasard a voulu que j'en finisse une récemment, ce qui m'a conduit à en entamer une nouvelle. J'en profite pour la prendre en photo avant de la décortiquer pour l'infuser dans un Chaxi un peu particulier pour l'occasion.

En effet, que fait-on d'habitude pour fêter un anniversaire? On invite des amis, pardi! Ce n'est pas facile quand on habite Taiwan. C'est un très beau pays avec peu de chômage (4%) et un faible poids de l'Etat dans l'économie (15%), mais c'est loin de l'Europe...
Aussi, j'ai eu l'idée de composer ce Chaxi avec des accessoires de mes nombreux amis potiers: Petr Novak pour la jarre, David Louveau pour la théière et le bateau à thé en céladon, Dalloun Dalloun pour une coupe en terre sigillée, Geneviève Meylan pour une coupe haute blanche avec émaux marrons et Michel François pour sa coupe et son bol en céladon! C'est le thé qui nous réunit: le bon thé surtout, et la bonté des échanges aussi.
La galette 7542 est la fille des galettes à marque verte (Lu yin) des années 1960. C'est pour cela qu'on appelle aussi les galettes 7542 les 'petites Lu yin' (xiao lu yin). En effet, elles sont composées de feuilles très similaires. Arrivées maintenant à l'âge adulte après une bonne conservation à Taiwan, ce puerh atteint maintenant une bonne maturité. Le goût a de la puissance, un certaine dose d'amertume, mais aussi beaucoup de douceur et de finesse si on sait bien l'infuser. En ce sens, c'est un aussi un thé d'adulte, un thé qui demande une certaine maitrise et un savoir-faire dans la préparation. Et pour mieux apprécier sa fantastique longueur en bouche, il vaut mieux aussi avoir fait l'expérience d'autres thés auparavant.
Chaque coupe transforme le goût du thé selon sa forme, son matériau. Voici un thème que j'aborderai plus souvent dans les prochaines semaines. En effet, je me rendrai de nouveau à Penn State, au Tea Institute, pour 4 jours de cours sur ce sujet avec Teaparker du 20 au 23 avril 2017.

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 www.tea-masters.com 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: stephane_erler@yahoo.com)

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.