Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gui Fei Mei Ren Oolong 貴妃烏龍茶

This tea is from Nantou County, Lugu Township. In 1999, following the devestating earthquake in this area, many of the tea farmers in the area used an excessive amount of nitrogenous fertilizer which in turn attracted many of the aphid type leaf hoppers. The Flavor of this tea depends on the transfer of pollen from nearby flowers to the tea leaves, giving the tea its unusually sweet flavor. My favorite varietal of Gui Fei Mei Ren is made Qing Xing Oolong, but it can also be made with Jin Xuan Oolong and possibly other variatals as well.
Gui Fei Mei Ren is named after one of China's four famous beauties, Yang Gui Fei. She represents a sexy juicy version of beauty due to her plump nature. Gui Fei is a title given to a kings wife that is his favorite wife just after the queen, indicating a second tier wife position. Yang Gui Fei lived in the Tang dynasty and was the wife of Tang Ming Huang. There are many stories about Gui Fei. I will convey the ones that I know. It is said that she bathed in milk. She was one of the king's favorite wives. Her favorite fruit was Li Zhi (I am not sure of the English name), a fruit that grows in the south of China. Gui Fei lived in central China. The king assigned the fastest horse to transport his beloved wives favorite fruit so that it would not spoil before it arrived. Eventually she brought great turmoil to the kingdom as her jealous boyfriend, An Lu Shan, took it upon himself to kill the king, although he never did. Another name for this tea is "Noble Concubine".

Shan Lin Xi Oolong Tea 杉林溪茶

Shan Lin Xi Oolong Tea 杉林溪茶
Both of these Shan Lin Xi Oolongs were hand picked and hand crafted, in the Shan Lin Xi mountain range. Shan Lin Xi is in Zhushan township of Nantou county. Oolong tea has been grown in Shan Lin Xi for the past 50 years, but it was only since 1981 that the area's oolong tea production increased to meet an ever growing national demand. All of the tea grown in this area is "Qing Xing" Oolong, the most sought after varietal for high mountain oolong. These High Mountain Oolong Teas were grown at about 5,900 feet (1800 meters). The quality of the tea cannot be graded on the altitude alone. Other factors such as tea type, area of growth, production and crafts person's skill all contribute to these tea's amazing substance and aroma.
These Shan Lin Xi Oolongs were produced by a small family farm. This farm is the home of a master tea craftsman who has produced "special winning" Oolong in the past. The area is a beautiful array of cedar forests and running brooks in the area that enhance the environment for tea production. The temperate climate is cool. The sun shows for only a very brief time throughout the day. Fog coats the hills and fields of tea the rest of the time. These conditions ensure that the tea will grow slowly, struggling for life, and eventually produce a heartier plant with leaves that are robust, thick, and soft, which inevitably results in a more elevated tea experience.
In Taiwan, Taiwanese oolong is almost always made in a small gong fu tea pot or a guy wan. This is especially true when brewing a tea of considerable value such as these Shan Lin Xi Oolongs. Suggested water temp is around 194 degrees Fahrenheit. Tea should fill the kung fu tea device to 1/3 full of tea for a strong brew of tea and 1/4th full for a moderate strength. Brew the tea for 45 seconds and pour out for drinking. Repeat for eight to ten infusions.
Recommended brew device: White Guy wan or an unglazed clay teapot fired at extremely high temperature so that the clay can sustain a very thin wall.

Mu Za Tie Guan Yin 木柵鐵觀音茶

Mu Za Tie Guan Yin 木柵鐵觀音茶
Provence: Taipei
Taipei City, Mu Za Area

AKA Iron Goddess
The Mu Za tea plantations are from the time of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The beginning of Tie Guan Yin in Taiwan was when two brothers were sent by the Mu Za Tea Company to China to bring back a Tie Guan Yin (TGY) plant. The brothers made the journey to An Xi County in Fu Jian Provence where they were able to aquire to correct strain of Iron Goddess. The conditions in Mu Za area were ideal for this kind of tea so the transfer was very successful. The Mu Za area grows Tie Guan Yin tea exclusively and it is known as "Zheng Chong Tie Guan Yin" 正欉鐵觀音" The difference between this kind of Tie Guan Yin and other TGY's is the tea plant's ecology. This kind of TGY also grows out a bit more to the sides, the leaf surface is wrinkled, and the pith of the leaf does not run directly down the middle of the leaf. Thus, the tea leaf that comes from Mu Za Area has a naturally curved shape as it grows on the tea plant. It is often compared with a piece of fruit. The leaf teeth are of all different sizes. In these ways, this Zhen Chong TGY is completely different from any other kind of TGY. Zhen Chong TGY is much dryer than other TGY and the width of the plant is wider and fatter. Zhen Chong TGY has a stronger flavor with a darker color as well as a stronger scent when compared with other TGY.
The altitude of the Mu Za growing area is 300-350 meters (984-1148 feet). The tea there can be harvested between 4 and 5 times a year, although the spring and winter harvests are the best. It has east and west exposure, resulting in long days in the sun. Therefor, the tea when harvested has a tendancy to be very bitter, but after a period of oxidation, and a baking process, the bitter flavor dissipates, the tea's alkali changes during the baking process, so that the end result is a tea that is good for older people, or those with delicate stomachs.
The amount of tea when brewing should be one third of a gung fu tea pot or less. The temp should be around 203 degrees and the infusion time should be quick from 20 to 30 seconds. If the tea amount is less, one should extend the brew time. From the second to the fifth brew the temp should be from 176 to 194, and the brew time should be from 10-20 seconds.
Oriental Beauty also known as Bai Hao Oolong 白毫烏龍茶 also known as Dong Fang Mei Ren 東方美人茶
The name Oriental Beauty is said to come from Queen Elizabeth I of England who reportedly remarked, "What an oriental beauty?" upon first tasting the tea. This is a summer harvest tea that relays on a tea leaf eating aphid that transfers pollen from nearby flowers to the tea leaves, resulting in the classic Oriental Beauty honey taste. This is a heavily oxidized tea leaf that results in a reddish liquor that is especially sweet and intoxicating. In Southern Taiwan, where I lived in Taiwan, most if not all of the rain would happen in the summer. The summer rains were part of the course when a typhoon that was passing through the area. I always welcomed the typhoon's ability to cool the area considerably, but later I learned that typhoons can wreak havoc on the tea growing mountains as landslides cover plantations and viliages under their massive rubble. The tea fields are in part to blame but often more heavily criticized are the bing lang plantations that cover vast hillsides, providing only the most shallow of roots. It was on these rainy days that I loved drinking Dong Fang Mei Ren. Production of this tea is in Xin Zhu County's Bei Pu.
Dong Ding Oolong Tea 凍頂烏龍茶
It was in 1855 that tea from Mainland China was planted on Dong Ding Mountain. This is a very famous Oolong tea from Taiwan. The name "Dong Ding" or Frozen Tip/Frozen Summit is a play on words because the old stories of picking tea on this mountain tell of numb fingertips and tips of toes that went along with harvesting the tea in this area. The mountain is located in Lugu "Deer Valley" Township which is in Nantou County. Traditionally, this tea will be oxidized about 30%, it is then baked over a high temperature for a long period of time. This baking adds to the rich texture and aroma of this tea.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Competition Tea in Taiwan

How the grade of Competition Tea is determined
There is a saying in Taiwan that The expert looks at the door and the dabbler watches the commotion. In this case the door is the expertise and skill necessary to create a tea of such high standards. The commotion is represented by the noise created over some of the very high prices given to these teas. Many people heard about a spring tea competition for Taiwan's Oolong Tea resulting in one unit (approximately 1.3 lbs) winning tea priced at 80,000 USD. At the same time a TV shopping network in Taiwan sold a tea with the same name for roughly 16 USD for the same amount of tea with a gift item of a full kung fu brewing tea set.
How is the quality decided? How is the price decided?
Competition tea can be divided into two camps. There are those that judge the process of making tea and then there are those that will judge the tea based solely on flavor. Usually the later is used to judge a tea. The focus is on the flavor to determin the tea's quality.
Are the most important factors in determining a tea's value 1) the people who sponsor the tea's competition? 2) the ability of the judges and 3) how many tea's are entered into the competition? All of these factors have an influence on the tea's value.
The most reputable sponsor in Taiwan today is the Agricultural Dept of Taiwan. The most reputable judges come from the tea improvement investigation department, which was developed in part during Japan's occupation of Taiwan under Japanese supervision.
Local specialty tea competitions are held locally and sponsored by the agricultural division in each tea growing region of Taiwan, such as the Ping Lin Aggricultural division and the Mu Za Aggricultural Division. An example of how the grade is divided as so (2005 data), 4822 farmers entered, the special winner is awarded to one farmer and first place
(Tou Deng Jiang) is awarded to 97 farmers which makes up 2% of the contestants. Seconed is awarded to 240 farmers consisting of 5% of the entrants. Third place (San Deng Jiang) is given to 8.5% of the entrants. No award was given to 32% of the contestants.
There are competitions every season.
This is done in part to do an analysis of the year's tea situation. For Wen Shan Bao Zhong and Mu Za Tie Guan Yin, there are only Winter and Spring competitions. Another way to distinguish tea grade; the impact of packaging is mentioned. As an end user, it is very important that the tea comes well packaged. As a buyer, one is not allowed to taste the tea before it is bought. One must base their decision to buy on the reputation and the quality of the competition event sponsor and the quality of the judges. Overall, the system is set up so that consumers will not be disappointed in the tea quality.
One should be wary of tea competitions that are held by organizations or people that hold their own competition. It is best to go with competitions such as these two teas. The Mu Za and the Ping Lin Oolongs are both certified under the department of agriculture, which is known to be the best.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Health Benefits of Tea

· polyphenols, or flavonoids, are antioxidants in tea that are 30 times more potent than Vitamin C and E
· they are said to inhibit cancer by blocking the formation of cancer-causing compounds and suppressing the activation of carinogens
· oolong teas protect from a wider range of assaults to the health due to their extreme variety, in which the entire range of polyphenols occur
· tea drinking reduces risk of cancers such as colon, oral bladder, colorectal, prostate, lung, stomach, esophageal, breast, skin and kidney

Alzheimer’s Disease
· tea helps to improve memory and possibly protect against Alzheimer’s disease
· tea inhibits the activity of enzymes in the brain associated with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease

Bone Density
· tea contains both fluoride and phytoestrogens, which are known to increase bone density and strength
Heart Disease
· tea drinking helps prevent heart disease by interfering
with plaque forming in the heart’s arteries and increasing the function of blood vessels
post heart attack heavy tea drinkers (14 or more cups per week) had a 44% reduced risk of dying of heart attacks compared with non-tea drinkers

· consumption of pu er tea (a special bacteria fermented Chinese tea) results in a significant drop in cholesterol levels

· a serving of tea contains about 40 milligrams of caffeine, less than half as much as is found in a serving of coffee

· tea delays the appearance of ageing, enhancing the skin so that new wrinkles take a longer time to appear
· drinking tea reduces the risk of chronic gastritis

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tea Culture?

Simon made his way to Taipei for an exclusive tea exhibition. It was so exclusive; it turns out, that he could not get in. Having made the trip, he decided to spend his time sipping the day away in one of Taiwan’s most ornate tea houses. Dang Fong “Block the wind”, the winner of the 1990 Taiwan’s National Tea Brewing Competition, opened a tea shop just off of Taipei city’s Da An Street in one of Taipei’s more upscale areas. He runs the tea house out of the first floor of his four story house. This tea shop differs from most because it does not sell tea by the glass nor does it sell food. As far as selling tea leaves, it also does this in a different way than most tea shops. Upon entering the large wooden doors that lead into the garden courtyard one is overcome with a feeling of calm, a great contrast to the thriving hustle bustle of Taipei’s nonstop hectic pulse.
Upon glancing at a book in the tea house of his younger brother, San Fong “Dodge the wind” could not help but laugh. "Tea Culture," he smirked referring to the books title, "Who would dare be so bold?" He said while picking up the book for further inspection. "Oh, Puer Tea Culture, that is more like it." He continued on, rattling off a monologue for the better part of an hour. San Fong was not a lonely man in the physical sense. There were always people around him that loved to listen to what he had to say.
With relatively little encouragement San Fong has been known to head into a monologue for the better part of an afternoon. So on this day, as he began, nobody dared to interrupt him, “What it is that I am interested in is promoting the sale of Taiwan’s tea culture. This is much more profitable than the sale of some arbitrary amount of tea leaves. By just selling the leaves we are left with profit of course, but it is such a small amount of money that it is hardly worth mentioning. When we sell tea culture, the profit is greater and the economy of Taiwan will benefit on a larger scale. People that come to Taiwan with the intention of experiencing tea culture will purchase an airplane ticket, a hotel room, transportation around the island, tea leaves, tea ware, books, tea shop fees and more. In this way all of the people involved with tea culture will benefit.”
What Simon learned from San Fong’s monologue is that the culture of tea is simply too big to put in just one category. There are so many different schools of tea drinking even within Taiwan alone, that by making such a broad and overriding statement such as defining “tea culture” one is really saying nothing. Simon observed tea culture in Taiwan to be very broad. In fact, it permeates all levels of society and all aspects of life from what Simon called “everyday tea” to those individuals who see themselves as the representatives of tea culture itself; i.e. the tea teachers, the tea artists (including the potters) and the tea culture promoters to name a few. Everyday tea is an expression that Simon used to describe the way tea is used by most people in Taiwan. It is the old men brewing and drinking tea in the park, it is the dirty tea sets that have been stained through day after day use. These sets seem to be free from owner, and at the end of an afternoon of tea making, they are replaced into a cart, made for this purpose and pushed over to the side, against a wall, beside a bench, out of the way. No particular value is given to these sets, other than their function. Those that belong to the everyday tea cultural segment don’t necessarily live their life for tea, but they sure would find it difficult to keep on living without it.
San Fong, Dang Fong and Lunar to name a few, are examples of people who live there life for tea. It has surpassed the importance of an everyday activity and passed into the realm of a lifetime obsession. They dedicate their lives to researching, understanding and appreciating tea. The individuals mentioned above have a combined knowledge of 118 years of tea experience.

Friday, May 12, 2006

 Posted by Picasa

Black and white kung fu

This picture was taken by Simon at Dang Fong's Tea House. I love the simplicity and the contrast of this set. Posted by Picasa

The shelf life of Oolong

Green or Black? Now there is white. What about Oolong? What’s the point? Well black tea is called black tea in Mandarin, so I often find myself explaining just what it is westerners are doing by calling red tea black. “Black tea” sounds so bad when stated in Mandarin. It gives one an impression of immanent badness. So they call it “red” instead. There is some very remarkable red tea in Taiwan called Number 18, and it is grown near Sun Moon Lake
Green Tea is referring to tea that has not been allowed to oxidize. Oolong is semi-oxidized and black tea is fully oxidized. Typically, the greener the tea, the shorter the shelf life. In tea processing, the point at which oxidation is called to a halt, is the point that determines just how red your black tea will be. In Taiwan, they have taken the process of tea processing past the normal standard of transforming a tea leaf into a consumable product to an art form.
Green Tea is best is consumed within 3 months of production. This time can be extended if refrigeration is used. Green tea should be consumed within the year of its production regardless.
Oolong, the partially oxidized tea comes in a wide range of flavors and shades of green and red. The range and quality of oolongs produced in Taiwan is startling. From Wen Shan Bao Zhong, to Formosa oolong, from Dong ding roasted oolong to the Shan lin xi greens. And never should we leave of the favorite green of all, the li shan green.
Li Shan is an area that is very well known for its agriculture. In Fact, Li Shan means Pear Mountain. In order to give the newly retired soldiers something to do, the KMT allocated land in the Li Shan area. The result was great produce. Not only did the area produce tremendous fruits and vegetables, it also grew some pretty outstanding tea.
Oolongs production resembles an art more than a science. There is no “best way” that will work in all situations. Many adjustments must be made depending on the tea at the moment of picking. Just as a great chef starts with raw ingredients, tea artisans in Taiwan start with a waxy, shiny, thick stem robust camellia sinensis leaf. Through the oolong making process, step by step, moisture is removed from the tea leaf. The steps of production include; 1) picking, 2) sun drying, 3) indoor drying / withering / tossing and bruising, 4) oven drying (sha qing / killing the green), 5) rolling, 6) baking and 7) packaging.
Oxidation happens in step three. Nowadays letting the tea oxidize is less common than in the old days. There are a few reasons for this. One is the improvement of packaging equipment such as aluminum coated bags and vacuum seal machines. These devices add to the shelf life of a greener oolong, making oxidation less essential than before. In the absence of these devices, oolong, the finished product, was often wrapped in paper. There was no air tight seal added to preserve the tea, so tea artisans had to depend on oxidation if they hoped to create an oolong that would be able to hold its flavor long enough to reach the end user and be consumed. Another reason that nicely oxidized teas are harder to find is that consumers are buying lightly oxidized oolongs at top dollar. This is a trend that started in Taiwan. Letting a tea oxidize is a risky and time consuming process that requires a good amount of experience and very keen senses. It is risky because if all conditions are not right, the entire batch of tea will be less than desirable and thus difficult to sell. Since consumers are happy to pay top dollar for tea that has only been lightly oxidized, many tea producers are choosing to minimize this step in the process.
Baking is a very important step in an oolongs production and is also one that increases an oolongs shelf life. Oolong can be lightly baked or heavily baked. Usually very high elevation green teas that are produced in optimal conditions will be baked very lightly. This tea is often best when oxidized and baked just enough to seal the flavors in. Often, teas that are harvested at non optimal times, such as fall harvest are given a heavier bake. When done well, baking can immensely improve an oolongs flavor. Baking covers up some of a tea’s less desirable characteristics by bring out some flavors that are buried deeper inside the tea. These flavors are citric in nature. Often I notice that my favorite oolongs leave a nice dusty coat of flavor particles in my mouth that lead my sense of taste on a wild adventure, trying to keep up with its constant evolution.
A heavy bake extracts more moisture from the tea. With less moisture in the tea, the tea is less likely to change. Therefore, a heavy bake will ensure the stability of a teas flavor for a greater time span.
In review, there are three steps in the oolong production process that ensure stability of flavor over time. These include oxidation, baking, and packaging. In addition to these three steps, there is also the issue of storage. Tea, properly stored will last much longer than tea that is not. Proper storage means, no exposure to sunlight, minimal changes in humidity and temperature, and relatively low temperatures.
When referring to an oolongs shelf life, there are many factors to consider. There is a certain amount of moisture still in the tea leaf, more with lightly oxidized lightly baked oolongs and less for the opposite. This moisture content will cause the tea to change over time. Teas that have been given a finish that will extend the natural shelf life should develop more slowly into an old tea. Regardless, a tea changes over time. The only way to know is take it out and drink it, now it might not be the right time, but it will continue to change. Constantly changing ever so slowly, we may take a tea out every five years and give it a try. It will certainly be different, but will it be ready? There is always the chance that the tea will change in a bad way. If this happens, there is no choice but to wait another 3 to 5 years to try the tea again, with the hope that it has taken a change for the better. Thus, when we find a appropriate flavor, it is best to drink it up rather than waiting for it to become even older.