Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taiwan Oolong Tea Study 2010 - The Journey Begins

Tonight is the official welcome of our study group to Taiwan by the TTMA in Taipei. It signifies the beginning of 8 days of intense study of Taiwan oolong teas. We will spend time with tea masters, farmers and tea professionals throughout several major tea producing areas in the mountains of Taiwan. We will experience how oolong tea is steeped in its long history from the earth to the leaf then to the cup.

Board members of the TTMA - Taiwan Tea Manufacturers Association

Norman Shu and Jackson Huang are two members of TTMA that will travel with us. They are members of families that have been in tea for generations. We were introduced to six varietals of the Camellia Sinensis tea plant. Examples of the plants had been potted for us to examine. We compared the shape, size, colour and thickness of the leaves. Two in particular Ruby 18 and Gin Suan #12 (Pictured in order below) we will see and experience throughout the journey.

An interesting part of the TTMA office was a display of 8 miniature tea processing machines made to scale. We will be using these machines throughout our processing time when we make our own tea.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tasting great tea in Taiwan

The streets of old Taiwan are lined with tea shops. Many of these are family owned businesses that have been there for many generations. During an evening stroll I checked out one that seemed interesting. The shelves were lined with tea containers, the floors with rows of three foot tall silver tea tins and the family had smiles that were irresistible. The daughter Julia motioned for us to sit down at the tea tray. She prepared us a high mountain Oolong that had good character, cup colour and depth. The fresh taste of the mountains lingered in my mouth. I learned that Julia had gone to World Tea Expo in Las Vegas this year with the Taiwanese Tea reps and had helped at the booth on the trade floor educating North America on Taiwan Oolongs. She introduced us to her mother, Mei, and her father who didn't seem to have an English name for translation.

We asked about the stacks of Pu-erh on the shelves and she indicated that they had a 20yr Pu-erh from Yunnan. She brought down a brick of tea wrapped in paper and proceeded to prepare a pot of rich dark peaty tea. After a first rinse which she discarded, she brewed a 30 second steep in a small pot. Pouring it in small wide cups we were presented with a very smooth, gently earthy brew that refreshed your pallate.

This was the tea that I bought. I knew that there were days ahead with opportunities to pickup Oolongs right from the tea gardens as we visited. But this Pu-erh was special. Mostly for personal consumption there will be a small amount available at the tea bar. Pu-erh is the only tea that the government allows to be imported into Taiwan. Beside the high quality teas of Taiwan this Pu-erh definitely had a place.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Walking the Streets of Old Taipei

The old streets and alleys are easy and safe to navigate in Taipei. I found the area was filled with like businesses. One street was all carpentry creating wooden doors, another had shops lined with bolts of fabric or lace and trim and of course Chinese herb stalls and shops were abundant.

Taiwan’s original market with butchers, fruit and veggie vendors was colourful and interesting with its intense smells and sights. You could buy clothing and purses or rice wraps made right before your eyes. Elise Scott and I bought passion fruit which was incredibly fresh and juicy. The top of the fruit was cut off and we drank the insides and crunchy edible seeds up with straws. Another treat was a sweet rice pocket that was formed in a mold with either a bean or custard center.

Temples are located amongst the businesses; each temple honoured a different god or purpose. This picture shows me thanking the business gods for the opportunity to be in business and for continued prosperity.

Dinner was on the street from an open counter featuring Japanese sashimi and sushi. I tried a roll with shiso leaf and umeboshi plum, salmon sashimi and a bowl of miso soup. A woman off the street helped put the order in as she spoke a little English. Edamame was nowhere to be seen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Da'dao'cheng, Taipei

Da'dao'cheng is the oldest part of the city of Taipei. That is where the tea trade was started by Mr. John Dodd, an Englishman who brought tea seedlings in 1865 from Anxi, Mainland China. Our hotel Dong Wu is located here. It is comfortable and clean. Around the hotel are many thriving tea businesses – both wholesale and retail.

The best part of the room is the tea station that is set up featuring a beautiful High Mountain Oolong. Every morning I can brew several pots as i contemplate the day. It is delicate and hauntingly floral, and several infusions give you a different gift each time. The leaf is completely intact and the stem has several leaves and a small bud attached. Off to find adventure today. Be well.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

24-Hour Plus Travel Day

Think - calm attitude and looking for the best in things and people.

International travel can be physically tiring and trying even if the timing of connections seem well planned. Delays will happen, babies will cry and airplane tea is just not great. I decided not to wear a watch, brought good earplugs and my own tea leaves which gave me a small positive emotional edge for endurance. I left Toronto at 1:30 a.m. thursday and arrived into my hotel in Taipei about 25 hours later. Flying Korean Air is always a joy. The skyteam of beautiful, smartly outfitted, smiling young women outdid themselves. Service was consistently excellent. I stretched with a few Qigong moves at the back of the plane to keep relaxed, ate vegan, drank as much liquid as I could, rested and visualized being in the tea gardens soon.

One transfer stop was Incheon International airport, Seoul Korea. This ultra modern airport made it amazingly easy to breeze through a 5 hour layover. When I arrived there I just wanted to sleep but instead an adventure began. Free WiFI, seaweed snacks, a decent cup of tea, an actual 1/2 hour sleep on comfortable benches hidden away and joining in some activities organized by the Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation. I was able to take part in an art activity that was available for visitors. I was instructed by a traditionally dressed lady on how to create an ink print using an ancient stone ceiling tile. The heavy tile was about two inches thick and about 14" by 14". The stone depicted a Korean scene. Water was gently sprayed on the tile to moisten then thick white fibrous paper was pressed onto the tile by hand. Next, black ink was applied with a dabbing motion all over the surface. It recreated the ancient scene on the paper and voila my masterpeice was finished.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Adventures While Tea Trekking October 2010

The adventure will unfold over the next three weeks as I take you along with our small group of tea buyers and students of tea. Travel with me to Taiwan, Korea and Thailand and experience the mystery, adventure and romance that I have with the leaf. I have hands-on tea making, cuppings, judging demonstrations, tea garden and temple visits and more on the agenda. I will be adding every interesting distraction and event that I can find.... I will update as I am able to connect with the internet. Be well. Karen

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Basic Tea Tasting

Whether you are a tea professional or simply a person who enjoys a good cup of tea, you can enhance your experience of drinking tea by following some basic tasting techniques.

As a professional tea cupper and blender, I am conscious of several components of everything I eat and drink.

First of all, paying attention to what you are doing and being in the moment is extremely important. It allows you to focus on fragrance, taste, texture and appearance. All of these add to your experience and enjoyment.

Let’s look at three parts of a tea tasting experience. We can take note of the dry leaf, the infused leaf and the infusion itself.

When analyzing the dry leaf we can look for colour, feel, appearance and fragrance of the leaf. Colours can range from pale yellow to green to deep, dark red. Tea can feel silky or rough to the touch. It can be twisted, short, long or broken. Does it smell floral, vegetative or musky?

The infused wet leaf will be a different experience as it has had water and heat applied to it. Noting the colour, feel and smell of the leaf after it has gone through chemical changes we find different properties than the above step. We can start to differentiate between types of tea, for example, white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh.

After analyzing the dry and wet leaf, your palette will be ready to taste the brewed tea infusion. Smell the tea leaving your mouth open slightly. This readies the taste buds in your mouth. Take a small amount of tea into your mouth and swish it gently around before swallowing. Pay attention to all areas of your mouth: the roof, all sides, your tongue and your throat. What are you experiencing? Bitterness, smoothness, sweetness and silkiness may be some terms to describe what you find. Take note. Continue by taking another small sip of tea and this time draw some air into your mouth and over the tea with a slurping sound. This will add air to the tea and magnify what you taste. Pay attention to colour, fragrance, taste and mouth feel afterwards. You can then make a decision on whether you like this tea.

Keeping notes on your experiences of tea can be valuable as you build a selection to refer to. I suggest tasting as many varieties of tea as you can to build a point of reference for comparison. Tasting teas from different categories and countries of origin for those types will widen your experience.

Most important though is to enjoy every tea for its uniqueness.