Thursday, July 30, 2015

Prag, 1st Oolong Brewing Workshop (without pitcher)

On Saturday, July the 18th, I taught my Oolong Brewing technique in Prag, Czech Republic. A long time tea friend, Zdenek, who runs the Longfeng.cz tea store invited me to teach his most passionate customers. One of them runs a tea forum and tea site. Another one writes a tea blog where he posted about the event. They are very quick learners and it was interesting to share my knowledge with them. I focused on gaiwan brewing, since a gaiwan is the perfect brewing vessel when you wish to learn about tea. It's cheap, easy to clean and, most importantly, its porcelain material is neutral and doesn't affect the taste of tea.
The participants wondered why I don't use a gongdao bei or cha hai or pitcher during this training.

A pitcher is a practical accessory that makes preparing tea more convenient:
- No need to wait for everybody's cup to be empty and back next to the brewer to make the next brew,
- It's easy to empty your gaiwan or teapot in the pitcher,
- Everybody receives the same concentration level of tea from the pitcher.
However, a pitcher also has some drawbacks that make it unsuitable if you wish to pursue the path toward tea perfection. Here is why:

1. Scents. Every time you pour a hot liquid into another vessel, the temperature of the liquid drops a few degrees. Therefore, if you pour tea into a pitcher and then into the cups, it will be cooler than if you pour directly into the cups. This matters, because the hotter the tea, the more scents it releases.
 2. Simplicity. Get rid of what's superfluous on the tea table. With a pitcher, you need 2 steps to pour in the cups. Without, you only need one step. That's why there were no pitchers in the traditional Chaozhou gongfu cha.
3. Skill. Gongfu cha means 'skilled' tea. One of the skills of gongfu cha is pouring the tea into the cups. With a pitcher there's not much skill involved. Pouring directly into the cups without spilling tea requires a good technique, experience and attention. At the same time, you must also make sure you share the tea evenly between the cups. The proper way to do that is to partially fill 3 cups in this order: 1 half - 2 half - 3 full - 2 half - 1 half so that the cups receive the same tea concentration.
4. Flexibility. In theory, we aim at achieving the same tea concentration for all the drinkers. But if one of them likes it lighter than the others, then pouring directly in the cups allows us the possibility to pour different levels of concentration. In order to take this person's taste into account, I would pour 1 full - 2 half- 3 full - 2 half and give cup number 1 to the person who likes its tea light.
5. Focus. Trying you best to minimize the water/tea you spill while averaging the concentration and volume in the cups requires your full attention and a steady hand. It forces us to calm down and this also benefits the other aspects of the brewing (hot water pouring, feeling when the tea is ready, tea appreciation...).

When I manage not to spill any tea outside the cups, I am often rewarded with a sense of flow, a beautiful sensation of harmony. And the tea from these cups feels particularly good. This is how tea gives you a direct feedback on your state of mind.
Pouring from a gaiwan directly into cups is very difficult. Using a teapot makes this much easier, especially if you have trained with a gaiwan first. Practice makes perfect.

This full day of Oolong brewing went really well and we finished it with my 2001 Concubine Oolong from Yong Lung (Dong Ding).

This was a perfect tea to share and to mark this special occasion that brought us together in this Prag winter garden. Thanks again to all the participants and to Zdenek for his very kind hospitality.
Thanks also to Dzin TeaRacer for all the pictures where I'm on.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stage d'infusion du Oolong en Alsace

Le stage du 15 juillet s'est déroulé principalement dans cette grande pièce sobre autour d'une longue table. Chacun avait son gaiwan et ses coupes pour pouvoir immédiatement s'exercer au maniement des ustensiles. Cette formule en petit groupe et au calme nous a permis de couvrir tous les aspects de l'infusion du Oolong en gaiwan. Cela commence par l'eau et continue par la compréhension de la nature du Oolong et notamment son oxydation partielle. Pour explorer ce dernier point, nous avons dégusté successivement 3 thés de ma sélection:
1. le thé vert du cultivar Da Pang,
2. le Wenshan Baozhong du même terroir, de la même saison et du même cultivar afin de comparer thé sans oxydation et oxydation légère,
3. Puis cette Beauté Orientale faite avec du Da Pang également afin de sentir l'impact d'une oxydation plus intense.
Cette rencontre fut aussi l'occasion de dialoguer et de répondre aux questions des amoureux du thé. La méthode que j'ai apprise auprès de Teaparker et que je pratique diffère un peu de ce qui se fait habituellement en Chine et à Taiwan. Les 2 différences les plus marquantes sont que je ne rince pas mes feuilles et que je n'utilise pas de cha hai/gongdao bei (pichet). J'ai aussi eu de nombreuses questions à Prague sur ces 2 points et j'essairai de récapituler tous mes arguments dans un article ultérieur (ou 2).
A midi, j'ai également fait une démonstration d'Oolong infusé en grand théière pour accompagner notre repas alsacien et hellénique (tarte flambée et salade grecque!) de manière détendue dans le jardin. Puis, en fin d'après-midi, pour conclure l'apprentissage de l'infusion des Oolong torréfiés, j'ai fait cette démonstration d'un Chazhou gongfucha avec une théière en zhuni.
Pour remercier tous mes participants, je choisis d'infuser ce Hung Shui Oolong de Dong Ding de 1999. Cet Oolong a des odeurs de vieux bois pour Gregory, mais son goût n'avait rien de vieux ni de frais. C'est un équilibre de force et de finesse, de douceur et de profondeur. Il symbolise bien l'aspect bonification des meilleurs Oolongs.
Merci pour cette journée Alsacienne autour du thé qui restera longtemps dans ma mémoire. Je retourne ce soir à Taiwan, heureux d'avoir pu vous rencontrer et partager ma technique et ma passion du thé!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Swimming pool chaxi

It's a hot summer in Europe, but there are lots of ways to escape the heat. While the kids enjoyed the swimming pool in the Cretan villa, I prepared my tea in the shade.
I chose a very special high mountain from Alishan, Changshu Hu. It's my winter 2014 Tie Guan Yin. The dry scent is not very powerful or very distinctive. But once it's brewed, it's obviously different than a typical High Mountain Qingxin Oolong.
It combines the freshness, power and finesse of the high mountain with the flavors of Tie Guan Yin. The leaves are particularly big and the light golden color is a sign that it's not too lightly oxidized, despite coming from over 1500 meters elevation.
The villa has some nice porcelain plates, and I was glad to integrate them in my chaxi.
And the little terracotta amphora became my waste water container! This made this Chaxi Greek-Chinese and proved once more that the spirit of Chaxi is very flexible and can be adapted to any place and circumstance. Even by the pool!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Cartes Postales de Crète

Palais de Cnossos
Un séjour en Grèce n'est pas complet si on ne visite pas ses ruines. Et je ne parle pas des banques locales, mais de monuments anciens! Ils nous rappellent que le progrès de l'histoire se fait avec des hauts et des bas. Ainsi, à Cnossos, on voit que la civilisation minoenne de Crète fleurissait déjà entre 2600 et 1400 avant JC!
Thermes romaines d'Aptera
L'empire romain domina la Crète plus de 1000 ans plus tard et construisit ces bains et de larges citernes à Aptéra. Quel dommage qu'ils ne connaissaient pas encore le thé à cette époque, car cet endroit se prête bien à sa dégustation.
Coupe Qinghua à Aptera
Je suis particulièrement content d'avoir choisi une grande coupe qingua ancienne pour ce voyage. Certes, 100 ans ce n'est pas grand chose face à ces édifices plusieurs fois millénaires! Mais au moins y retrouve-t-on le charme d'une coupe réalisée à la main. Et puis le bleu sur blanc sont aussi les couleur de la Grèce! Ce sont les couleurs du ciel bleu et des nuages (pour les Mongoles de la dynastie Yuan qui adoraient le qinghua)
Baie de Souda
Mais en Grèce il y a bien moins de nuages, si bien que le blanc y représente les vagues de la mer. C'est donc la combinaison du ciel azuré et de la mer. Si bien que le thé au milieu de la coupe y luit comme le soleil!
Port de Chania
Le ciel est calme, mais la mer peut s'agiter au moindre instant...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trip to Europe

The tea-masters.com boutique won't make any shipments for a month starting now. I thank all of those who placed their orders just before my European trip and I kindly ask the others for patience until I come back.

Summer is a great time to drink tea! The sunshine gives such nice colors to the brew and to the ware... I'm looking forward tasting my teas on this trip with friends and family!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fête des pères

Le plus beau cadeau, c'est la vie! En tant que parent, la plus grande joie, c'est de voir son enfant grandir et devenir plus autonome, cultivé et responsable. Il ne s'agit pas seulement qu'il sache ses leçons par coeur et qu'il obtienne des 20/20, mais qu'il fasse sien ce qu'il apprend. Et si en plus il ressemble un peu à son papa, alors le bonheur devient quasi métaphysique!
Pour donner encore plus de sens à ce Chaxi, je demande à mon fils d'infuser un Hungshui oolong de 2003, son année de naissance.

C'est un moment de transmission. Je suis à ses côtés et lui rappelle le point clé auquel il doit faire attention durant chaque étape de sa préparation du thé.
Le plus important dans l'infusion d'un Oolong, c'est d'arriver à ouvrir les feuilles! La couleur et la concentration du thé dans les coupes nous indique que cet objectif fondamental est atteint!

Le goût de ce thé subtil et sensible est un peu comme un enfant. Il est ce qu'on a fait de lui. Donnez-lui de la douceur et de l'attention, et il vous rendra des saveurs moelleuses. Mais si on le maltraite ou on l'oublie, il peut devenir amer et astringeant. Alors aimez votre thé comme vos enfants et ils vous le rendront bien tous les deux!
Note: Puisqu'on parle transmission, je signale qu'il ne reste plus qu'une seule place à mon stage de thé du 15 juillet en Alsace.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A first class feeling

Traveling to another continent is great. But the 12 hours (or more) journey in a plane to get there is modern torture. There's lost time, crowds, police, a lack of legroom and bathroom access, bad food, noisy engines... Taking the plane is stressful and I completely understand that affluent fliers would agree pay more to get pampered with better service on board. My  financial resources are too limited for a business or a first class seat, but I've managed to find a couple of tricks to make the trips much more sufferable.

The first is to use a noise-cancelling headphone! It's such a comfort not to hear the loud roar of the plane. And when you use it to watch a movie, the sounds are as clear as if you were watching it at home! Also, the silence creates a distance between you and the other passengers. The flight feels less crammed already.

The second way to make a flight more pleasant for a tea drinker is to enjoy very good tea during the journey!

It's forbidden to bring drinks through security in the airport. So, I bring my thermos and dry tea leaves in my carry-on luggage. This allows me to start brewing tea in the departure hall. In Taiwan, you'll find hot water fountains easily. Otherwise, you may have to ask for hot water from a restaurant or coffee house. (In the US, they sometimes charge 1 USD for hot water). It's also possible to refill once you're in the plane.

What would be the best tea to brew in a thermos? I recommend you make some tests at home first. Find a tea that won't taste bad when it's overbrewed. One trick is not to use too many leaves. The second trick is to use a tea of excellent quality. This is a perfect fit for old sheng puerh.

This April, on my way to NYC (and back!), I brewed some of my 1989 Menghai Factory 8582. The moment I had my first sip, I felt I had been upgraded beyond first class! In first class, you may get Champagne and fine wine, but there's no way you could get such tea! This pure and powerful puerh felt even better in these unpleasant circumstances. It brought back a sense of luxury and good taste in a situation so utterly lacking these characteristics.

And since I had flaked a generous amount of this tea, I had the pleasure of sharing this tea with the most passionate tea students of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Here we were brewing this 26 years old puerh in a zhuni teapot after midnight, in silence, while listening to 'Planctus by Capella de Ministrers'.
The sound of sacred music and the taste of this puerh created a moment of perfect harmony of shared joy between us. We brewed the tea one after another and we were amazed by its power, refinement and endurance. We witnessed the interaction between brewer and tea: each brew felt different depending on how it was brewed. Addie's was particularly good! The perfect ending to this 4 days event.
For my next trip to Europe in a week, I plan on using my latest puerh selection, the 1995 sheng Yiwu brick. Its natural sweetness is a good fit for plane brewing and it's much more affordable than the 8582!
Reminder: Order now, before June 24, or you'll have to wait until end of July to have your package shipped!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Brique de puerh cru d'Yiwu de 1995


Quelle idée de boire un vieux puerh cru par une après-midi ensoleillée où le mercure dépasse allègrement les 30 degrés Celcius! D'habitude, ce genre de thé chaleureux est surtout réservé aux froides soirées d'hiver! Mais c'est compatible avec un précepte de la médecine chinoise: quand il fait chaud, boit chaud pour te rafraichir!

Ces feuilles proviennent d'une brique de 500 gr de vieux arbres d'Yiwu. C'est une commande spéciale d'un marchand de Hong Kong en 1995. A cette époque, le marché n'était pas encore libéralisé et tout transitait par la CNNP. 2 ans plus tard, Hong Kong allait redevenir chinoise et beaucoup de puerh Hongkongais fut vendu à Taiwan, par précaution, et à cause de l'engouement Taiwanais pour ces thés.
Belle de jour comme de nuit, je chauffe mon eau avec ma tetsubin.
La chaleur donne une odeur particulièrement sèche de cave poussiéreuse aux feuilles décortiquées. C'est assez différent de l'odeur, puissante, de camphre qui se dégage de la brique quand je l'hume habituellement dans son emballage.
Mais je passe outre cette première impression et infuse les feuilles avec mon mini gaiwan afin de limiter ma consommation. La couleur est brun clair ou orange foncé. Il n'y a aucune trace de puerh cuit dans cette infusion. Sa transparence et son éclat brillant sont irréprochables.
Les odeurs ont aussi changé du tout au tout. L'eau bouillante a balayé la poussière! Maintenant, ce sont des effluves fruitées de camphre qui se dégagent de la coupe. Il y a une odeur chaleureuse de soleil printanier d'il y a 20 ans.
Le goût de ce thé est épais, pur, doux et vivant. Il tapisse confortablement tout le palais et la gorge. On dirait presque du sucre candy tellement il est doux! C'est d'ailleurs là la caractéristique du terroir d'Yiwu. Et son arrière-goût est à la fois actif, joueur et très long. Son chaqi fait du bien. Il fait effectivement transpirer, mais je me sens plus frais et plein d'énergie par après. Bref, il a tout ce que je cherche dans un puerh de cette âge, et on peut même l'apprécier en été. (Je l'ai aussi testé en Yixing et c'est encore plus fin et soyeux!)
Je me régale des odeurs de camphre fleuri dans les infusions de ce puerh!
Dans une semaine, je pars 1 mois en Europe. Je vous invite donc à passer vos commandes avant le 24 juin (minuit)! Sinon il vous faudra attendre fin juillet pour que je reprenne mes expéditions!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner faces of tea

Fenqi Hu Oolong, spring 2015
Plastic surgery, photoshop, Botox, makeup... The difference between before and after can be breathtaking. We've all seen such pictures of celebrities or normal people. The transformation can sometimes be as radical as with Bruce becoming Caitlyn!

A few days ago, a tea friend brought a new tea. I brewed it competition style with a gaiwan, which means I used few leaves and a long first brewing time. He wondered why I wouldn't use more leaves and a shorter time to make a better cup of tea. Where's my gongfu?

The first skill is to know when to use it! Those who've watched a Bruce Lee movie will remember that he's using his kongfu only when it's really needed. An absence of gongfu when brewing a tea for the first time is already a sign of gongfu! First, it's a sign of humility: you admit not knowing this tea enough from looking at and smelling the dry leaves. You need to brew it to know it better.

Your aim is to understand what's the true character, the real nature of the tea. And like with a person, it's when you apply some stress (boiling water) that you'll find out their defects, their weaknesses. Using the same method for all teas is also a fair and easier way to compare them.

That's why, on my www.tea-masters.com boutique, I first show pictures of a competition brewing. 3 grams of dry leaves, the brew and the spent leaves after the 6 minutes brew. My goal here is not to make beautiful shots, but to show you the tea in all its simplicity and true nature. My description is also mostly limited to what the tea tastes brewed this way. What you get to see first is Bruce!
Fenqi Hu Oolong, spring 2015
Once you know the leaves well, you have the freedom and responsibility to brew them as you like. Your goal is to make a better cup than when using the competition method. If your result were to be worse, then you'd better simply use the competition method!

This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to switch from a gaiwan to a teapot. Like a simple smile can change a face, sometimes it's already a big enhancement to know how to pour the water well and get the leaves to dance happily in the gaiwan! Understanding the nature of the leaves also helps to know what is the character that gains from being emphasized.
For this Fenqi Hu Oolong, for instance, I took advantage of its light roast to seize on its light golden color. The chabu seems to reflect various shades of gold and the green plant and bowl convey a feeling of lightness and freshness combined with the warmer nature of the tea.

This is my own, unique interpretation of this tea. I feel we obtain the best results when I emphasize the true nature of the tea. But I would probably not know what this nature is if I hadn't made a first brew with the competition method!
Another goal of the no-gongfu competition brewing method is to find select the best leaves you wish to purchase in bigger quantity. Knowing how to choose your leaves wisely is already a skill! Let's repeat some obvious truths in this regard:
- an expensive tea isn't necessarily better,
- but quality has a cost and if a price is too good to be true, it's often the case.
- Single batch Oolongs vary greatly in terms of taste and quality (due to soil, climate and human process).
- Beware of nice stories and beautiful packaging. Focus on the scents and taste of the tea.
Alishan Jinxuan, spring 2015
The fun part of brewing tea with skill is to turn Cinderella into the princess she's meant to be! Every tea has a unique personality and taste. That's why there are infinite possibilities to dress and makeup the tea with a Chaxi and with brewing skills.
Alishan Oolong, spring 2015
If you're really gifted, you could even turn a Bruce into a Caitlyn!