Thursday, June 22, 2017

Spring 2017 Alishan Jinxuan Oolong

This April 16th, 2017 Jinxuan Oolong from Alishan is the most most affordable high mountain Oolong in my selection this year. While it's an excellent gift choice for Oolong beginners, it's also a nice everyday fresh tea for experienced drinkers.

I still tend to eat and drink great food or tea on special occasions only. Drinking Da Yu Ling or Lishan Oolong every day would end up being boring, I feel. Call me a reasoned Epicurean! Or maybe it's because I'd feel guilty to indulge in the very best teas every day?! 
But no matter the tea that is on the menu, it's always the same question: how do I get the most of these leaves? How do I make this moment the most meaningful?
My answer for this tea is summed up in this 'Refreshing Waves' Chaxi!
This round zhuni teapot makes a great job unfolding the leaves and releasing all the light aromas of this Jinxuan. If you have a great tool to improve your tea, it feels right to use it!
Jinxuan and qingxin Oolong are 2 different cultivars with different characters. If you're used to drinking High mountain Oolong made from qingxin Oolong leaves, this Jinxuan will feel lighter in taste with different fragrances. To enjoy it, you need to adjust your expectations. When you go to a guitar concert, you don't expect it to hear the sounds of a violin! While there are the similarities coming from the Alishan climate and soil, the Jinxuan cultivar has its own, lighter, character.
This lightness is actually a good match with the high mountain spring freshness of this tea. It's a simple pleasure, but very satisfying nonetheless.
And I feel my Chaxi has well captured the spirit of AliShan and its diverse vegetation!
Note: Place your order until June 29th (preferably a little bit earlier) before my month long holiday in Europe in July.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

La beauté des Oolongs

Il m'est facile de répondre à la question: "Quelle famille de thé emporterais-tu sur une ile déserte si tu ne pouvais qu'emmener des thés d'une seule famille?" Du Oolong, évidemment! C'est le thé le plus divers.

Les Oolongs de haute montagne ont la fraicheur et finesse du thé vert. Les Hung Shui ont des notes complexes dues à leur torréfaction (parfois comme du café ou de la noisette). Avec les Beautés orientales, on a des arômes mielleux et fruités parfois similaires au thé rouge. Chez les Oolongs âgés on retrouve l'impact du vieillissement et des notes de bois et d'encens typique des puerhs! Et quand on déguste une Beauté Orientale, traditionnellement torréfiée, et vieillie (comme sur ces photos), alors on a un peu de tout cela concentré dans sa coupe! Quelle finesse et quel régal!
Dire qu'on aime le Oolong, c'est une réponse de Normand! Il y en a pour tous les goûts et toutes les couleurs chez les Oolongs. Vert/jaune, or, orange foncé, brun, voire noir, on trouve toutes ces couleurs dans les infusions d'Oolong!

Cette diversité provient d'une grande latitude dans le degré d'oxydation, de torréfaction et d'âge des Oolongs. C'est ce qui rend leur production plus difficile que les autres thés. Les Oolongs ne sont pas unidimensionnels, mais sont toujours une recherche d'un équilibre du degré d'oxydation et de torréfaction. Et si l'on rajoute les divers cultivars, terroirs, saisons et climats, on arrive à une complexité étonnante, voire déroutante.
Le livre le mieux fait ne saurait jamais décrire tous les Oolongs qu'on peut trouver. Il y aura toujours des innovations (comme les zhuo yan qui ont apparu dans ma boutique depuis l'automne passé.) Et à quoi cela servirait-il de lister tous ces thés si l'on n'arrive pas à les trouver en Europe? Ou si leur description est incomplète ou erronnée? 

Note: Passez vos commandes sur tea-masters jusqu'au 29 juin au plus tard pour profiter de la fraicheur des toutes nouvelles récoltes d'Oolong Taiwanais. (Ou bien attendez mon retour à Taiwan en août.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Da Yu Ling, spring 2017

View from a plantation on Da Yu Ling
The fame and prices of Taiwan's most famous tea mountain keep growing. A farmer told me that buyers were lining up in his factory to purchase and carry away the tea as soon as it was produced! 

DYL 95K, spring 2017
Therefore, I consider myself lucky and happy that I am able to offer several lots of Da Yu Ling High Mountain Oolongs from different plantations along the road number 8, Taiwan's central road that crosses the island between Taichung and Hualien. The Da Yu Ling mountain stretches for many kilometers along this road.

The locations of the various Da Yu Ling plantations are identified by the kilometer number of this road. For reference, the village of Lishan starts at 82K and finishes around 84K on this road. The Da Yu Ling starts further up. And since the road is ascending at this place, the highest plantations are generally located at the higher numbers. That's why 95K is higher and more expensive than 90K, for instance. 
At an elevation of over 2000 meters above sea level, it's easy to feel light-headed and slightly dizzy. I wonder if the tea leaves also 'feel' this, because they are able to convey this mountain feeling in the brew!
Da Yu Ling is not the only mountain where qingxin Oolong grows over 2000 meters. It became famous because that's where the highest plantation was located (reaching 2650 meters), but this one has been uprooted. But its fame isn't just simply a record elevation. For high mountain Oolong lovers, this fame is now rooted in the quality of its aromas.
Da Yu Ling Oolong manages the difficult task of combining the power/energy of the high mountain with finesse and purity. With most of the other mountains you have either one or the other.
With Da Yu Ling you can get both! It's a memorable experience for all Oolong drinkers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 2017 Chinese Porcelain Exhibition of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Day 2: Dehua

This year, we witnessed the recent improvements to the design of the Tea Institute at Penn State. The entrance of the tea room is stunning thanks to these 2 wonderful displays of the Tea Institute's tea wares.
Some of these remarkable wares are over a hundred years old! What I like is that they are not just meant to be admired, but they are still being used on special occasions!
On the second Day of this event, the Tea Institute showed its gratitude to its founder, Jason Cohen, by naming this Gallery of Asian Art after him. Samuel Li, the current director, gave the sign to Jason next to his delighted parents.
Jason Cohen graduated a few years ago and has now moved to NYC with the startup company he has founded, Gastograph, that specializes in analytical flavor systems. It aims at using rational measurements to taste and aromas of a big range of food and beverages (chocolate, coffee, beer, wine... and tea).
This is what their tool looks like when I use it to describe my latest Da Yu Ling 95K High Mountain Oolong from spring 2017:
I made this with the free App that exists both for Android and iOS. (Search: Gastograph) It can be a helpful tool to analyze the flavors of the tea, putting words and concepts on your feelings and remembering your experience. So, as you can see, Jason's company is deeply rooted in his Chinese tea tasting experience and his engineering background! And even if most of his customers are beer breweries and coffee makers, Jason continues to brew tea the same as he innovates, fearlessly: so many cups and such a little teapot!
During the first day, we learned that the Chinese achieved the first porcelain wares during the Eastern Han dynasty some 2000 years ago. The technique continued to improve with time. After the Eastern Jin (265-420), kilns in Jiangxi invented the saggar. Saggars are flame-resistant containers that protect the porcelain ware during the firing. This gives them a nicer and more even gloss and keeps the porcelain almost spotless.

White ceramics developed mostly in the North of China (ex: Ding ware from Hebei), but the climax of white porcelain was achieved in the south, in the kilns of Dehua in Fujian Province during the late Ming/early Qing period. French historian Albert Jacquemart (1808-1875) coined the term 'Blanc de Chine' (white from China) to call Dehua porcelain, a sign of Dehua's fame.

While we're focusing our study on porcelain tea cups, Dehua was actually even more famous for its sculptures of deities (ex: Guanyin with or without child).

This tall cup is a good example of the ivory (lard) hue of Dehua porcelain. The porcelain is rather thin and allows for the light to shine through the body. This reveals then a finely calligraphied Chinese poem!
This touches to key concepts of Chinese beauty dating back to the Sung dynasty: simplicity, refinement and purity. At first sight, the cup doesn't look that special, especially now that porcelain production has been industrialized. But instead of showing off the beauty of the calligraphy by painting with color, the artist chose to make it transparent and only visible under a direct light.

And, most amazingly, the tea tasted different when it had been poured from this cup. The taste was smoother, more refined and deeper. We could have used the Gastograph app to measure and analyze the difference! All the participants felt it. But it was no miracle or magic, just the result of using an antique cup made with natural ingredients, rested clay, wood fired in kilns with multiple chambers. For all these reasons, Dehua cups have the best impact on many teas (and Wuyi Yan Cha in particular) and we were lucky to experience it!
The character 'wine'
When we are dealing with antique cups, it's not always obvious if they were used for wine or for tea. Teaparker explained that wine experts often conclude that the cups they study were used to drink wine, while tea experts believe the same cups were used to drink tea.

This small Dehua cup gives us a better explanation: most of such cups had dual use for wine and tea. We have proof for this in this cup: the characters Jiu and Cha were both written on the same cup!
The character 'tea'
Like on day 1, most of us came back to the tea room after dinner to continue brewing tea almost until midnight! I think one of the teas we had was my spring 2017 top Oolong from Long Feng Xia on Shan Lin Xi. This mountain has a very understated, sweet and refined aroma. A good match for Dehua porcelain!

Friday, June 09, 2017

Les rencontres de thé de juillet 2017 en Alsace

Le mois prochain, je rentre en France pour 1 mois de vacances en famille en Alsace et quelques jours à Londres la seconde semaine. 

J'aimerais vous proposer 3 dates pour des rencontres d'une journée chacune sur des thèmes variés autour du thé (Oolong, puerh, porcelaine, méthode d'infusion, Chaxi...)
Ces 3 dates sont les mercredis 19 et 26 juillet ainsi que le samedi 22 juillet. Le lieu serait dans la maison de mes parents à Schweighouse s/Moder dans le nord de l'Alsace.

A vous de me dire quels sont les thèmes et thés qui vous intéressent le plus et à quelle(s) date(s) vous désirez venir. Le prix devrait tourner autour de 60 Euros la journée (repas de midi compris) et comprendre des thés mémorables. Contactez-moi par e-mail:
Le stage de 2015 avait été un grand succès. Nous avions pu alterner les infusions au calme à l'intérieur et au vert dans le jardin!

A bientôt! (Et comme je ne serai pas à Taiwan durant le mois de juillet, le mieux est de me passer vos commandes d'Oolongs de printemps avant la fin de ce mois.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

At the top of the world in NYC

Everybody who goes to New York can feel the energy in the city that never sleeps. It's a tough place where you may feel small next to the tall buildings. But it's also a place where people come to give their best to aim for a brief moment at the top.

That's what I did in New York last spring. And I did with my way, with tea!!

Yep, we were 5 for a very special tea afternoon in a penthouse close the the Metropolitan Museum. The view from this apartment gives you the feeling that you've made it, that you're at the top.

That's why I wanted to brew some of my best teas in order to experience this quintessential NYC feeling with tea.
Ryan practices brewing with a thin gaiwan and full attention
My biggest concern was my tea line up. Usually, we start from light and go to the heaviest, from the youngest to oldest, from the good to the best. So, it was a pretty bold move to start with my 1989 8582 puerh! But NYC is bold and there's no time to hold back!
I was able to top this first puerh with my 1960s loose raw puerh! It felt even finer and still full of incredible energy! Everybody was even more amazed.
But how do you top aged puerh? With genuine teas that are so rare and expensive that I can't sell them on my site: Yan cha! First a BaiJiGuan and then a ShuiXian. My New York friends said that these WuYi teas tasted like no other Yan Cha they've had before. The roasting was not overwhelming, but just right to underline and magnify the mineral flowery scents of the teas. This was such a new, long lasting experience that it provided a new top to the afternoon.
Then, someone wanted to taste this spring's top Shan Lin Xi Oolong. I had not planned this and was a little bit afraid that it would not hold its own compared to Yan Cha, but it did. This was a great evidence that Taiwan's high mountain Oolongs deliver a lot of value and are still reasonably priced.

1989 spring Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding
Then came the time to wrap our busy tea tasting afternoon with one last tea. Would I be able to top all the other teas with something even more special?

I chose to brew a 1989 Hung Shui Dong Ding Oolong (similar in quality to this one). This tea allows me to go back to the same year we started this event, 1989 with the 8582 puerh. It marked the end of the cold war. It was also the start of my student life that led me from France to the USA, to Israel and finally Taiwan. (And what I like is that our group reflected these international horizons!)

On the picture above you can see some of the 1989 Dong Ding leaves, those that I didn't put in the teapot. You can see that the dry leaves are not tightly rolled anymore. This unfurling is a sign of aging.
Well, this tea simply blew us away with its complex aged fragrances and, at the same time, its extreme purity, thickness in taste, sweetness, viscosity, energy and aftertaste. The brew is transparent and shining its golden brown colors. What a great tea!
It is like a monumental old tall building in the New York skyline. It has simple lines, strong character and aims for the top. This was a fabulous ending for one of my most luxurious and extravagant tea tasting, ever. It's easy to write about it, even over a month after it happened, because the exceptional teas created a lasting memory. I really felt at the top of the world in NYC!
These teas have helped us better understand the common characteristics of exceptional teas: purity of aromas, energy, lively aftertaste that unfolds like a story. Indeed, the real teacher at this event was the tea. I was just guy carefully pouring the water on the leaves!

And a big "thank you" to Marian for hosting us in her wonderful apartment!

Monday, June 05, 2017

The right color of a brew of fresh high mountain Oolong

2016 spring Da Yu Ling brewed in spring 2017
Top Shan Lin Xi Oolong, spring 2017
Now that summer is approaching and that high mountain Oolongs are available, it's the best moment to enjoy these fresh, sweet and powerful teas! Let me give you some advice on how to brew these Oolongs well. Look at the color of the brew!
The color in the cups above would too yellow if this were a 2017 spring high mountain Oolong. But since it's from 2016, this is just shows that the the leaves have a little bit continued to oxidize with time.
The color of your high mountain brew will naturally vary with the oxidation level of your leaves. In general, high mountain Oolongs are very lightly oxidized in order to capture the light aromas of the spring mountains. But there are varying degrees of lightness. If it's too light, there's a risk of being too 'green' (raw), fragrant for only a short period of time and unable to age beyond a few weeks. Only the best meat (fish) can be eaten raw, which is why only the best high mountain leaves are suitable for very light oxidation. (Two of my lightest Oolong this year are from BiLuXi and Da Yu Ling).

A slight additional oxidation adds fruitiness, sweetness and a thickness to the aromas. This is particularly the case for this year's FuSHou Shan. This tea is brilliantly done thanks to the skills of the maker and the quality of this plantation. But most of the good high mountain Oolongs are oxidized somewhere in between these 2 oxidation levels.

The resulting brew color of such an oxidation level is between green and yellow. The color of the brew will also depend on the color of your cup of course. Here is my Shan Lin Xi Oolong poured in 2 light celadon singing cups, an ivory white cup and 2 old qinghua cups.
This should give you an idea of the color we're looking to achieve with fresh high mountain Oolong.
Here are my tricks to obtain the perfect cup:
1. Good pre-heating of your gaiwan/teapot. Tightly rolled Oolong requires a high temperature to open up.

2. Quantity: Tightly rolled high mountain Oolong leaves will unfold and amaze you with their size. The general rule is: the better the quality, the less is required to be enjoyed. When the leaves are super fresh, the taste is most potent. So, I recommend to use just 1 layer of leaves on the bottom of your gaiwan/teapot. (A little bit more or less depending your own taste preference).

3. Good quality water that has just reached its boiling point. Pour on the side of your vessel in order to make the leaves swirl and dance. Cover. Don't rinse.
Why not rinse? Because the lightest aromas come out first and would be wasted. Because if you think that your fresh tea is 'dirty', you shouldn't drink it at all. And the third reason is an appeal to authority: Zhang Tian Fu, the legendary Chinese tea master, didn't rinse his Oolong leaves (according to a question Teaparker asked him once) ; master Zhang passed away yesterday but he managed to reach a remarkable 108 years! 

4. Brewing time: the fewer the leaves, the longer the brew. But I recommend to wait at least 1 minute for the first brew. Tightly rolled high mountain Oolong requires time to unfold and release its aromas. The leaves need to be well opened after the first brew. However, it's also important not to over brew the leaves. The concentration level of the tea should still look rather light, between green and yellow (see picture above).
This is the tough job of the brewer. The same way the tea maker has to find the right balance in terms of oxidation level, the brewer must find the right brewing time for a good balance of aromas. They must be both light, fresh and sweet and deep. Too short and you only have lightness, too long and you have so much power that the finesse is missing.

5. Experience: each time you brew your Oolong, remember if you got it weak, right or too strong and adapt you next brewing accordingly.
6. A good cup is water, technique and good leaves. Now that we've revisited the technique, all you need are top quality spring 2017 leaves selected from Taiwan's famous tea mountains by someone who has done (and shared) his homework and has some of the best connections in the tea world! (Best is to place your order here before I leave for Europe at the end of June. Thanks!).