Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Qu'y a-t-il de mieux qu'un Dong Ding Oolong?

Plantation à Feng Huang, Dong Ding en hiver

Top Hung Shui Jinxuan
Mieux qu'un Dong Ding? La réponse est simple: 2 Dong Ding!! Et comme j'adore les Hung Shui Oolong, qui le nom technique des Oolongs torréfiés de Dong Ding, je suis particulièrement heureux de vous annoncer cette nouvelle.

A part deux exemplaires de compétition, je n'en avais pas dans ma sélection en 2015, ni en 2016. Et ce printemps, je ne trouvai qu'une version non torréfiée (très bonne et intéressante à comparer avec ces versions-ci)! Et pourtant, c'est un de mes Oolongs préférés pour de nombreuses raisons:

1. Il est complexe car il a à la fois des notes fraiches et torréfiées qui en font un cousin des Yan Cha de Wuyi

2. Sa torréfaction intensifie les arômes. (Une étude d'un étudiant de Penn State montra que parmi un échantillon large de dégustateurs lambda, plus un thé est torréfié, plus il est apprécié).

3. C'est un thé qui se bonifie avec le temps (si on le conserve bien). Il ne cause pas d'angoisse dans un inventaire, car il gagne en valeur contrairement à la plupart des thés frais à faible oxydation.

4. En hiver, ses arômes gourmands et torréfiés nous font beaucoup de bien. Leur longueur en bouche phénoménale nous accompagne encore longtemps après la dégustation.

Comment se fait-il que je trouve 2 top Hung Shui Oolong cet hiver? La raison vient de cet élément imprédictible: une météo plus chaude que d'habitude. A cause d'elle, il n'est pas aisé de faire de bons Oolongs frais peu oxydés (même en haute montagne, d'ailleurs!) Par contre, si on transforme les feuilles de thé selon la technique Hung Shui, on obtient de bons résultats, surtout si le fermier de Dong Ding est aussi un maitre de la torréfaction!
Commençons par le top Hung Shui Jinxuan dans cet article. Au nez, les feuilles sèches font penser à du riz soufflé au miel comme on en trouve dans les céréales du petit déjeuner. Mais en regardant de plus près on remarque que la couleur des feuilles n'est pas si brune, mais garde un éclat de vert foncé. Les feuilles sont un peu grandes et on pourrait les faire passer pour des feuilles de haute montagne, mais la raison pour cette plus grande taille est le cultivar Jinxuan qui produit des feuilles plus larges que celles du qingxin Oolong.
L'infusion a une belle couleur orange avec une très bonne transparence. Le goût est doux, sucré même, et plus léger que lorsqu'il s'agit de qingxin Oolong. Au niveau des arômes, la torréfaction a su sublimer le thé et le rapprocher d'un Dong Ding Oolong des plus harmonieux. Et les feuilles ouvertes nous montrent le grand art du producteur: les feuilles sont tendres et s'ouvrent avec une belle couleur verte.
Deux nouveaux top Hung Shui de Dong Ding, c'est un double bonheur qui se boit chaud!
Note: profitons juste de cette occasion pour rappeler que le village de Feng Huang est le plus haut placé dans la région de l'appelation de Dong Ding!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Taiwan tea house

When there's good weather, I often take my visitors to a wonderful spot in the mountains of Tucheng, half an hour drive from my place in Banciao. Last Saturday, the weather was dark and cloudy, so I opted for this old style tea house located a 10 minutes' walk near my house. (Taiwan is most convenient when it comes to tea!) I brought my own teas and tea ware, except the kettle.
This meeting with 2 tea friends from the Czech Republic turned into a High Mountain Oolong tea class. We started brewing the top Shan Lin Xi spring 2017 Qingxin Oolong. I showed how it helps to open up the lid with the finger, at the end of the pour, to get the last drop out of the teapot. Because if there's liquid that remains in the teapot between 2 brews, it will over brew and it's like adding a few drops of bitter tea to your next cups.
It's not easy to hold the teapot with 1 hand and open the lid with the index while pouring without dripping any tea next to the cups. Because it can happen, I taught my guests that it's better to wait until the cups are filled with tea before placing them on the Cha Tuo (saucer). This way, there won't be any tea spilled on the Cha Tuo.
The second High mountain Oolong we tasted is this winter zhuo yan Oolong from Ali Shan.
It has a slightly higher oxidation due to the jassid bites. Being from a different season and mountain, it also felt different from the first. But these differences are not enormous and are less caused by quality than by character. That's when personal preferences play an important role in determining which tea you like best. My guests were split between the two teas. The biggest fan of Japanese green teas liked the lighter oxidized Shan Lin Xi the most, which made very much sense.
Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong
It was a dark afternoon, but the fresh Oolongs lifted our moods!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hung Shui Oolong class

 Yesterday I gave another tea class to Antonio. Thanks to the cooler weather, we felt like brewing roasting Oolong! So, I set up 2 dark Chaxi for him and for me to match the mood of the teas.
 We're using porcelain gaiwans to brew all our tea(ching materials)! It's affordable, neutral to the aromas, stylish, easy to clean, requires skill to handle... In short, it's a great tool!
Hung Shui Dong Pian
 We start the lesson with some historical and technical background on Hung Shui Oolong. They are inspired by Wuyi Yan Cha and made popular thanks to the Dong Ding Oolong competition... And we start with my Hung Shui Dong Pian Oolong using SiJiChun leaves from Mingjian (January 2017 harvest). -By the way, this is now the 25 gr sample that I give FREE OF CHARGE for any 60 USD or more order on tea-masters.com, excl. shipping -. 
 Antonio is facing me and we're brewing the same tea. I start and he tries to do it in a similar way as me. My brew opened up a little better than his, but he's making a lot of progress compared to our first lesson! We see below that the leaves are still green when they open up. The Hung Shui roasting is not supposed to be too strong. The lower the oxidation of the leaves, the finer their fragrances, the lighter the roast usually is. This one shows a nice balance of freshness and roast.
Hung Shui Dong Pian
 We then move to a roasted Wenshan Baozhong. The shape is very similar to that of a roasted Wuyi Yancha, the grandfather of all Oolong teas.
Roasted Wenshan Baozhong
 The color of the brew is an orange that looks slightly lighter, but the open leaves are still very green and unfolding well (see below). This shows that the roasting was lighter than for the SiJiChun. In this case, the roasting was done to preserve the freshness of the leaves for a longer time. And indeed, this tea is approximately 4 years old and doesn't feel old or not fresh at all, just a little bit more mellow due to its initial roasting. It also feels very different from the first tea, because it's made from qingxin oolong cultivar and comes from the Wenshan area.
Roasted Wenshan Baozhong
 We continued with my top Hung Shui Oolong from Alishan (spring 2016). Here we have an example of a Hung Shui Oolong with a more powerful roast. The duality of the dark, sweet malty roatsing notes and the fresh high mountain feel is simply amazing! It's no wonder that high mountain Oolongs win the Dong Ding Oolong competition these days... They are rich, complex, full of energy and feel like a warm scotch!
Top Hung Shui Oolong from Alishan
 We finished the class with an 18 years old aged Hung Shui Oolong. This time we discovered aromas that are only generated by time. The roasting is both gone and still there. The leaves haven't been re-roasted. It doesn't feel old, but aged. Puerh isn't the only tea that can be kept for a long time. Oolong may be more fragile (it's afraid of air and moisture), but its transformation is just as delicious!

Choisir le thé qui fait vibrer ses emotions

Le thé ne fait pas le bonheur, mais il peut y contribuer! Le thé est comme l'argent et toutes les choses matérielles. En soit, ce n'est qu'un produit inerte qui ne prend un sens pour nous que si on le désire. Donnez une coupe de votre meilleur thé le matin à un buveur de café et il y a fort à parier qu'il éprouvera du déplaisir avec cette même coupe qui nous donne tant de satisfaction! C'est comme donner un vélo de course à un poisson ou me donner un Stradivarius. Sans besoin ni désir, aucun objet ne crée du bonheur. L'émotion vient de l'intérieur, de l'adéquation entre notre désir et sa satisfaction.

Meilleure est cette adéquation, plus on sera heureux. Et qui juge si le désir est bien satisfait ou non? C'est nous-même, grâce à  nos attentes et notre expérience de ce qui constitue un bon thé. Ainsi, moins on a d'expérience, moins la qualité d'un thé impacte l'intensité des émotions. C'est toujours touchant de voir qu'un débutant peut s'enthousiasmer pour un thé parfumé, voire même en sachet! Est-ce vraiment lui rendre service que de lui faire goûter la pomme de la connaissance que sont les bons thés en vrac sans ajouts naturels? En fait, cela dépend des envies de chacun. Comme la plupart des lecteurs de ce blog, je pense qu'il n'est pas possible de revenir en arrière vers le thé bas de gamme une fois qu'on a goûté à ce qui se fait de meilleur. Mais ceux qui n'ont pas cette sensibilité ne développent pas ce désir quelque soit le thé auquel ils goûtent.
Notre expérience nous met donc la barre toujours plus haut. Jamais assez, chercher toujours mieux est dans la nature de l'homme. Je vois deux manières complémentaires pour satisfaire ce désir toujours plus exigeant. D'un côté, il s'agit de trouver des thés qui soient vraiment de qualité afin de ne pas insulter son intelligence et ses sensations en jouant au faux ingénu face à des feuilles médiocres. Mais le plus important c'est de se connaitre, de savoir dans quelle humeur on est et quel est le thé qui correspond le mieux à cette humeur du moment. Il ne s'agit alors plus de trouver le meilleur thé dans l'absolu, mais de trouver le thé qui nous fasse le plus plaisir selon l'heure de la journée, la saison, le temps dont on dispose, si on l'accompagne d'un mets ou non, si on est fatigué ou en forme...
Ainsi, pour moi, une journée ensoleillée est un appel aux Oolongs de haute montagne! Ici, j'ai infusé mon Qingxin Oolong de Qilai du printemps 2017. C'est une vague de fraicheur et d'énergie qui est excellente le matin! Les arômes du thé font vibrer mon âme à la même fréquence que les rayons du soleil, on dirait! Le plaisir vient de cette adéquation, de cette harmonie, entre les émotions générées par cet Oolong et celles dont j'avais envie face à ce soleil matinal. Voici pourquoi on peut aimer le même thé un jour et ne pas en avoir envie le lendemain.
Connais ton humeur et choisis le thé qui fera le mieux vibrer tes émotions.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ryan's comment of my spring 2017 wild top puerh


I took these 2 pictures below during a recent session with my wonderful young puerh of spring 2017. I wanted to write another article about it, but you'll find Ryan's perspective much more interesting and refreshing:

"The depth and subtlety of expression present in this tea can easily be overlooked by its raw young power. I believe this tea's most endearing attributes are not the flavors in any given snapshot of time, but in the way they present themselves - even when drinking a single sip - "what it tastes like when".

The first thing that strikes you about this tea is it's power. A wall of gentle bitterness, structure-forming tannins, and an unmistakable herbal-earthy quality - specifically Petrichor. Petrichor is the earthy fresh aroma that comes after a light rain. There is some speculation in the scientific community that this smell is considered so pleasurable because our ancestors depended on rain for survival. 


The initial power of this tea is not necessarily that of complexity (like a young modern factory cake), but of a few harmonious attributes that actually make the flavor taste elegantly simple once you identify each individual taste. 
After the 'power' comes the finesse. There is a subtle aroma-driven flowery and honey-like sweetness that persists for minutes after the initial sip. The structure also starts to change from a frontal bitterness to more of a tannic backbone making it almost feel crisp. This also makes way for a delicate effervescence, especially in later brews.

Even a half-hour after my session with this tea I still taste it and it leaves a fresh, clean feeling in the retronasal passage. Truly a remarkable tea! I can’t wait to see how it transforms with age!"

Thank you, Ryan, for these powerful words!

Let me use this occasion to invite all those of you who brew my teas to share your comments on the respective product page in order to help others choose their teas wisely. You don't have to write a lot or comment every tea you've ordered. We always prefer quality over quantity!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What is there to learn about tea?

Tea is not just a complex plant, camellia sinensis, that has hundreds of different cultivars and that can be processed into 6 ways (white, yellow, green, Oolong, red and black). Its taste will further vary with the season it is harvested, the way the leaves are picked, the soil the trees are grown on, how the plantations are managed... All this has an impact on the aromas of the leaves and the genius of Lu Yu  is that he already recognized most of this in his Book of Tea during the Tang dynasty (618-907). (Note: at his time only the green tea process had been invented).
 But the complexity of tea doesn't stop there. It's not just a product you need to study from a farmer's perspective. Equally important is to know how to store and prepare it yourself, because the leaves are a semi-finished product. The end product is the brew. And here we are adding again a lot of complexity with what is the right brewing vessel, the fitting cups, the water, the jar... After 1200 years of evolution since Lu Yu, new teas and new methods have been invented, some lost and a few preserved and reinvented. Different countries have added their contribution to how tea is made (India, Japan, England, North Africa...) so that tea has become a global drink prepared in countless ways.
In Taiwan, starting in the 1980s, the Cha Yi (tea art) movement has combined classic Qing dynasty Chaozhou gongfu cha with the elegance of Japanese (green) tea ceremonies (which have Chinese origins). Traditional gongfu cha was all about making the perfect cup of (roasted) Oolong while the Japanese ceremonies were pursuing more aesthetic and principled goals that are mostly remotely connected to tea . My understanding of this Taiwanese movement (according to my now 15 years of studies with Teaparker) is that making a Chaxi (a beautiful set up) is not about adding an additional layer of complexity to an already very complex product and process. The beauty we are trying to create should not be disconnected from the tea. It should go to the heart of the aromas we are trying to brew. It builds on the knowledge of the leaves, the knowledge of the brewing process and all this is integrated in the Chaxi with a touch of personal creativity and beauty. It is more about finding and restoring harmony between the leaves and the accessories than simply creating beauty per se.
In the above Chaxi, for instance, I brewed my 1980s Jingua Gongcha, a shu puerh from the Menghai Tea Factory. Gongcha means tea tribute, leaves that are offered to a higher authority. In the 1980s, this meant a higher quality grade of leaves than most cooked puerhs. Thanks to several decades of aging, this shu puerh has developed camphor and incense like fragrances that are similar to very old sheng puerh, but the taste is sweeter and smoother. The character of the tea is dark and has many layers. This is reflected in the dark quilt like Chabu I'm using. An Yixing jar is a fine storage accessory for shu puerh. Using a porcelain gaiwan helps me to have a very precise opinion about this tea's outstanding quality. (The gaiwan is from the same 80s era as the tea.) I find there are indeed many similarities in terms of scents with a real aged Tongqing Hao! The color of the brew becomes lighter after each brew. Ivory porcelain cups bring this color to shine brightly. And the copper chatuo shines like gold, just like this aged shu puerh could have passed as an even older sheng. (The reason we use copper instead of gold is the same: it's more affordable and looks pretty close!) 

I hope that this example clarifies what a Chaxi is all about. Everything is linked and the result will always depend on the strength of the weakest link. A bad tea, an accessory that doesn't fit the leaves, bad water, a messy setup... anything could mess up the beauty of taste, scent and sight of your Chaxi. And I haven't mentioned the brewing skills that require time and practice to pour well without making stains!

This is what I am aiming to achieve for myself. It's also what I'm trying to share, teach and inspire with this blog, my online tea boutique with its unique selection of outstanding teas and wares, my videos on Youtube and pictures on Instagram... With your orders, you're benefiting from my 15 years of tea experience and are helping me spread the complex Beauty of Tea around the world.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sheng wild puerh of 1995


Sometimes a video is more useful than a long description. I've tried to show you how I've brewed this particular puerh today. Watching the video, I realize that I let it brew 2 minutes on this first brew. This may seem a long time for many of those who think that gongfucha = short brewing times (for the first brews). Or maybe you're wondering why I don't 'wash' or rinse my leaves (see my answers on this point here). Anyway, the result was excellent in terms of aromas, balance and sweetness.
The pictures show the tea several brews later. It has a beautiful color and excellent clarity. The open leaves fill almost half the volume of the gaiwan only. It's a typical instance where less is more.
This Chaxi was made with:
- this 1995 sheng puerh. It is also available in this gift set.
- this Chabu on top of the black side of a (bigger) classic chabu,
- this mini gaiwan,
- three small porcelain cups,
- this JianShui.
- an Anping jar, a tetsubin and a green plant.

Friday, October 13, 2017

La quête universelle de la beauté du thé

Exceptionnellement, j'ai mis cet article sur mon blog photo afin de vous montrer les superbes photos de Stéphane Bardery en grand.
Bonne lecture!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Echoes of autumn in music and tea

 A French reader invited me to concert of guqin in Taipei's Qin Hall, a Japanese era house that exudes a timeless, classic spirit. It's not concert hall, but rather a few big room with tatami where a dozen visitors can listen to guqin performers. The main guqin master was in China for some concerts. That's why several students of varying levels performed during this event. The player above, Bo Han, was clearly the most experienced and proficient in this art that evening. He played with his eyes closed and seemed in total control of the music and his instrument. The other players were not as skilled and kept looking at their hands.

At first, I felt a little bit disappointed to notice so much hesitation and lack of grace in the performance of the younger players. But this let me appreciate how hard it is to play this ancient instrument and I admire their courage.
The range of emotions that can be expressed with a guqin is very broad. This stringed instrument can be played from crazy like Jimmy Hendrix to totally relaxed with long pauses between each note. The beauty lies in finding the right tone, rhythm and letting the music resonate with both body and soul. The way each note resonates and lingers reminds me of how tea's aftertaste long echoes in the throat and mouth.
Drinking tea or listening to guqin implies a calm state of mind. That's another reason why they go so well together. With both tea and guqin, I enjoy the purity and power of single notes. Unblended leaves, coming from the same harvest, produce unique and pure aromas (when they are well produced and selected). And in the same way there are different quality levels in the playing of music on a guqin, the act of brewing itself also impacts the quality of the brew. You may have great tea (the score), a wonderful instrument (teapot and cups), but if you don't play (brew) well, the beauty of the notes will be lost. 
Spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong (new plantation)
The best way to produce a relaxing and beautiful cup in autumn is to make fall part of your Chaxi. Here is how I brewed some of my teas at home this last week. I share them to inspire you to be creative. It starts with a spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong, because fall is a mirror of spring and it's a good idea to see how a tea is evolving when it's starting to loose some of its freshness.
Top OB from 2000
An Oriental Beauty from Hsin Chu is also a nice match for fall thanks to its warm summer aromas, since fall is the season we mourn the end of summer. Or, with a more positive attitude, fall is the time we celebrate the remains of summer with the best things that season has produced!
OB and mooncake

DYL 95K
The sweet power of high mountain Oolong is also a nice treat on a bright autumn day. And Da Yu Ling rarely disappoints. This tea is very refined and still very fresh. That's why I used a green chabu on top of a bamboo mat to add the element of dry wood that is associated with fall. And instead of using light celadon cups that would have colored the brew green, these ivory white cups turn the Oolong brew slightly golden. This sunny hue marks the early turning point from summer to fall.
When nature turns red and woody, puerh is also a great tea to echo the autumn season. Below, I brewed my 1995 raw wild brick on a new Chabu.
Raw puerh brick from 1995
I started this article with guqin and thought I'd finish with Chinese calligraphy. Like for tea or music, you don't have to be a Chinese scholar to appreciate the beauty, rhythm and harmony of calligraphy. It takes hard work, skill and practice to be made well, but the enjoyment is much easier. Mastery is when you make something difficult look easy! So, practice producing beautiful Chaxi, practice brewing tea the best you can, practice finding harmony between the season and the tea, practice concentration and you'll enjoy your teas even more!