Monday, November 09, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Brew Your Own

1. It is fun!
2. It is way economical, roughly the same price per serving as tea bags.
3. You will get a much higher quality drink. You get the whole leaf vs. crumbs.
4. Taste the soil (terroir) of different lands.
5. Taste the magic of master craftspeople.
6. Experience the joy of learning a skill.
7. Take time for yourself.
8. You get to collect a variety of pretty tea ware.
9. Brewing tea makes you feel cool.
10. You know what goes into it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Floating Leaves

I love going to Seattle for drinking tea. I think of it as a city with an extensive tea culture, and on this trip I have taken some time to ask questions from Seattle tea industry insiders. Seattle has such an amazing story as an economic trading port on the Pacific Rim. Though, not as popular as San Francisco or its neighbor to the North, Vancouver BC, Seattle is a leader in imports of coffee and tea. I bet Seattle has a pretty high per capita tea drinking population when compared to other cities.
First, I went to Floating Leaves and had an amazing brew session with the owner, Shiuwen, and some of her friends. Shiuwen’s window faces west, so we were able to bask in some of the days last rays of light. The windows are big, so there is a nice amount of natural light. She has her strong Jade plant that enjoys its spot in the window. “It brings in the money.” she chimes in as I take pictures of her plants. This is just after she told me that I was not allowed to take pictures in her shop. So, if you want to exhibit some basic courtesy, don’t just blast into Shiuwen’s shop taking pictures, as I did. It might be nice to ask her permission, before taking all the pictures you want.
Before I met Shiuwen, in 2002, she was working for Seattle’s Best Tea. She wanted to do more to promote tea. She began visiting tea houses on the west coast at which time she met Roy Fong (owner of Imperial Tea Court) and Frank Miller former owner of Blue Willow Tea House (which no longer exists). Shiuwen was inspired by these tea teachers and her thirst for knowledge grew. She and her former husband did some tastings in Seattle and people were skeptical that the small pot would make enough tea. “Let’s make some tea, and you can tell me if it is enough.” Shiuwen suggested. And sure enough by the third infusion everyone was very impressed. People were ready to place their orders. Shiuwen made a call to Taiwan and asked a relative to send her some tea. She opened a 10 by 10 space in a covered outdoor market. In the mornings she would work as a barista at Starbucks and then she would walk to the tea stand where she would take naps in the lull between customers. “Business was slow, because the open market was never filled.” Shiuwen recalls.
Shiuwen, David Weinman, Michael J. Coffey, Rich Tao and I drink tea at Floating Leaves.

Her next venue was The Freemont Sunday Market, which was a flea market. Each place she went she would meet customer and develop a bit of a following. It was in these early building days that she met groups of loyal customers that, to this day, still buy from Floating Leaves tea.
I met Shiuwen and Rob, her former husband, in the Spring of 2005 when they came to Taiwan for a buying trip. I was living in Taiwan at the time and we spent a couple of days drinking a great deal of tea. We shared several tea buying stories and drank tea until we were tea drunk. In July of 2005, Floating Leaves opened its first full service tea room in Ballard, but after struggling to keep it open and after making some life changes, Shiuwen moved Floating Leaves to its current location which is smaller and more tailored to Shiuwen’s ideal shop.
The top selling teas of Floating Leaves are: first, Dong Ding oolong tea, because it has the taste of a high mountain tea, but it costs less money; second, Wen Shan Bao Zhong oolong tea, because it is delicate and beautiful, so it is easy to grasp its greatness. It is a great starting point when one wants to get into oolongs. And third, High Mountain Tea, everyone likes high mountain tea right? I am thinking that the price is the determining factor that makes High Mountain Oolong Tea the number three seller.

This is the tasting table at Floating Leaves, after spending an afternoon with Shiuwen and tea friends.

After hearing the Floating Leaves saga, all I could say was, “Wow, you truly are Floating Leaves.” Shiuwen admits that the name is bad fong shui and might have had an influence on the business. She thought about changing the name to Floating Fragrance, but says that too many people know her by the original name.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Quatro de Mayo Tea Tasting

From right to left we will be tasting:

1. Competition Winner Wen Shan Bao Zhong (First Tier) - winter harvest 2008

2. Li Shan Da Yu Ling - winter harvest 2007

3. Shan Lin Xi - Spring 2008

4. Mount Ah Li Baked 1000 Mile - Spring 2006

5. Competition Winner Mu Za Iron Goddess (Honorable Mention) - Winter 2007

The book shown in the picture is Wine Lover's Companion - Comprehensive Definitions for More Than 3500 Wine-Related Terms by Herbst & Herbst. In the lower right-hand corner is a list of wine terms shown below. The list and the book were loaned to me by a local wine expert / tea enthusiast.

Parameters: we will use 5 g of each tea, three minute infusions. We are using charcoal filtered water 210 to 212°F.
A note on the tasters: I am Taster 1. Taster 2 is a chef trained in Aryuvedic food pairing and Gong fu tea service.

The teas will be tasted in the order listed above. I arranged the teas in this order, not as an arrangement from least desirable to most desirable, rather so that the previous tea would not interfere with the following tea. As we can see in the photo below, this arrangement is consistent with the color progression as the teas change from greener the darker.

The results are in.

1. Competition Winner Wen Shan Bao Zhong (First Tier) - winter harvest 2008

Taster 1
Honey syrup hummingbird nectar followed by aftertaste of Hummingbird sage. Salvia. Green floral honeysuckle lingering sweet, sunflower in the sun, peanut. Mist covered sloping hillsides. Rolling green contrast stone that the steps are carved out of climbing higher eventually disappearing into the mist. A slight astringency gives it a weight and substance. Rocks and soil aftertaste, a sweet mouth feel that is long lasting.

Taster 2
Fresh, citrus, melon, honey. Invokes images of sitting on a beach at sunrise. Scent: baby breath.

2. Li Shan Da Yu Ling - winter harvest 2007

Taster 1
Brilliant fruit composition like a virtual fruit platter mango pineapple soft pillow clouds of fruit sugars. Pure sweetness the whole way through. I'm getting one of those, I can't believe tea moments. The sugars are so intense, almost as if sugar was extracted from fruit and in the process of attaining a bit of fruit scent. This is one of the teas my teacher said could be stored, meaning that the quality is high enough that it will change, as all teas do, the only change for the good. This is because it has enough sweetness along with of the soil and the earth. The oceanic crust that was pushed from the ocean floor to become one of Taiwan's highest mountains towering at 11,000 feet. This tea has staying power.

Taster 2
Scent: So sweet! Baklava.
A little leathery, some musk and sawdust. And almond without skin.

3. Shan Lin Xi - Spring 2008

Taster 1
Tannins are almost too bright initial aroma, this tea does not hide. It is the blackberry pie on the window still cooling for all to see, followed by a sweetness that carries an umph. Brings a lot with the change of sweet on the end there is almost too much going on to wrap one's mind around. The flavor continues to change and ends up as a under ripe watermelon.

Taster 2
Bohemian; sweet, bitter, soul, dry on the tongue, warm on the throat. Interacts with the stomach well. Almost unripe.

4. Mount Ah Li Baked 1000 Mile - Spring 2006

Taster 1
Walk up mist covered mountains steps in the fog enveloped you beckoning you for calling your direct line and letting you know it will nurture and envelop your soul. Creamy smooth amaretto, crushed hemp seed texture, swirling flavor complexity, cocoa.
Slightly citric bright finish. And applesauce presence and some doughyness.
Food complement: lamb chops. This tea would go amazing with barbecued lamb chops.

Taster 2
Comforting, ginger bread/cinnamon. Stir fry, amaranth, rich.

5. Competition Winner Mu Za Iron Goddess (Honorable Mention) - Winter 2007

Taster 1
Kimchi! Inhaling the aroma in one long breath, the scent slowly builds. It seems to start from the earth, travel into the roots heading up into the wood transitioning into almond creamy textures. Continuing the nose seems to travel up and out the branches of the plant out to the tips for the brilliant fruit bouquet. Eventually reaching a high pitched citric crescendo that pours over and over asking the question, will this scent ever stop peeking? A little bit of leather some tobacco and sweet floral to fruit how very so many flavors could come to mind his point to describe this teas taste. Because on and on it just keeps changing, almost intense hummingbird sage. Caramelized fruit bread crusts, just the caramelized part. The rest of this teas flavor is almost as broad as your imagination, there are a lot of flavors present and all of them are good.

Taster 2
Caramelized pecan and onion. Not so much water, yet cooling in the stomach, stew, bread, carrots, SMORES, sauna, mineral very mild clove or nutmeg. Raisin.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tai He Oolong Packaging

Here are some shots of the competition winning Tai He oolong packaging. Tai he is located on Plum Mountain in the Mt. Ah Li tea growing region. It is known as Tai He Yi Zhan or 太和驛站 or Tai He Courier Station (where couriers changed horses or rested). I have bought Tai He Competition winning tea in the past and was very pleased with the quality. It was the kind of tea that I would pull out when business is not so good. After making the tea for myself, I would always remember why I am in the tea business. Having tea like this to drink makes it all worth it. 梅山鄉公所 "Mei Shan Xiang Gong Suo" and 梅山鄉農會 "Mei Shan Xiang Nong Hui" oversee the competition.
Recently one of my customers brought to my attention the wonderfull juxtaposition of "this mortal world of chaos" with "simply having a good cup of tea". The great part of the text reads, "When one comes in need of getting away from this mortal world of chaos, seeking calmness in onesself, or simply having a good cup of tea, Taihe Mind-Soothing Vintage Tea

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Winter Baking

Winter is the time for baking tea. As the temperature drops, there is nothing nicer than roasting oolong. The entire teahouse is filled with a spectacularly sweet aroma. One thing I learned about on this most recent trip to Taiwan is how to create a space for baking oolong tea. I've done my best to create the ideal space here in the teahouse. The size of the room that the tea will be baked is important and is related to the size of the tea roaster. The most preferable ratio for the baking room to the tea roaster is 10 to 1 meaning that one could fit 10 tea bakers on the floor of the tea baking room. In preparing the space, it was thoroughly cleaned, taking special care to remove any substances that might contaminate the tea. Because tea is very sensitive, the area of tea baking should be enclosed. Though the enclosed space is necessary, air circulation is also important, so at both ends of the teahouse the windows are open just a crack to allow a slight stream of air to pass through the baking room. After all conditions are met in the house, it is important to wait for the right weather. Tea cannot be baked if it is raining because of the overall increased humidity. Baking tea is the process of removing moisture from the leaves and therefore dry weather is ideal for baking tea.
Last week, I baked a batch of Gui Fei Mei Ren here in the teahouse. Gui Fei Mei Ren is a tightly rolled summer harvest aphid bitten oolong from Dong Ding Mountain in Taiwan. Baking the tea accentuated its honey flavor as well as added a nice toasted aroma. Yummy!
This week, I am baking a batch of Li Shan high mountain oolong. The aroma is sweet and rich while the flavor is deep and full bodied. Winter time is the best time to drink baked oolong tea. With such a rich flavor is not necessary to drink a lot of tea. The rich roasted flavor brings about a warm toasty feeling.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

All the Tea in China

– a non credit class offered through Lane Community College
J-TEA is starting a new class this spring term through the continuing education department at Lane Community College.
Class title: All the Tea in China
Class number: 42487
Cost: $49
Dates: Wed April 1st, Wed April 8th, Wed April 15th
Duration: 2 hours each (total of 6 hours)
Here is the write up as it appears in the LCC catalogue:
The tea leaf has influenced history, cultures and the world. Learn about the exciting journey of the tea leaf. This course of study will expose you to how tea is appreciated all over the world and how it has influenced and been used by different cultures. The course will offer insight into “The Art of Tea” and “The Way of Tea” as well as tea’s health benefits and medicinal properties. Experience methods for making and taking tea. Cost includes a tea pot, 2 cups, and samples of tea to take home.

To sign up, call 541-463-5252. If you have previously attended Lane, you may use ExpressLane at to register and pay for classes. Space is limited and the class is filling up fast, so be sure and sign up soon if you are interested.
This class is very hands-on. Each person in the class will get to experience brewing tea. We will also drink a lot of tea in the class. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My teacher evaluation is in from the tea course I taught through Lane Community College.

It looks like I passed and I am looking forward to teaching the course again this spring. If you want to sign up, be sure to keep your eye out for the Lane's course catalogue, comming soon...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Great New Years Party-- Winter 2008

First, daffodil carving lessons from St. Daffodil. Every year just at the heart of winter the daffodil bulbs arrive in Taiwan. St. Daffodil is the keeper of a Buddhist temple. He is left alone for the most part so he has devoted a large area of the temple space to his daffodil bulb collection. After storing the bulbs in the dark for about 5 days, the bulbs are ready to carve. Why carve out the flowers of a daffodil? Ordinarily each globe grows only one flower. By carving the flowers out of the daffodil bulb it is possible to make several flowers bloom from one daffodil.

After carving, soak in water for about 5 days or until roots start growing out. When the growth is visible, place the bulb in a small bowl half filled with water and cover the roots with some damp cotton is shown below. Take the bulbs out into the sun everyday and bring them in at night if it is freezing.
Later, Mr. Zeng taught me how to carve the daffodils in a was an article about him in the newspaper. Mr. Zeng is one of the most talented storytellers I've heard in a while. He used to keep close to a dozen people listening attentively to his stories as he chuckled them off as if talking to an old close friend. "I count on my mouth to make a living," He he would admit halfway through the story, "so you shouldn't listen to a word I say." And it just made everyone want to listen carefully to what he was saying.

As we learn to carve the daffodil bulb's we had some first prize winning Sun Moon Lake number 18 Taiwan black tea from Taiwan. Not just competition winning first-tier number 18 black tea. This was 1st place. El numero uno.

Tea with a reported tea value of $156 for the amount shown below.

Some of the older folks in the room were pressing younger folks to name the flavor of this tea. A young girl in the room said, "It has such a cool feeling."

"Yes, it is cool." Said an older man. The flavor is there. I know it and I can name it. I wonder should I say it out of fear of sounding foolish, I cannot help to blurt it out, "it tastes like mint."

"Ahh, he said it." Older men shout out with glee. Again, I am unable to suppress my gut instinct, "Why pay this much for a black tea that tastes like mint tea when I can drink mint tea for $1 a glass?"
The answer: "Because that is the amazing thing about this tea. No mint was added."

Osmanthus in Bloom

臺南桂花 Osmanthus flowers show in the winter in Tainan. These shots were taken in early January 2009. An auspicious sign that the new year would bring these fresh flowers. Osmanthus is one of the more common flowers added to oolongs. When I first started drinking oolong, I was introduced to osmanthus oolong. The scent is so distinct and pleasant. One time I was sitting outside and the scent of osmanthus was on the wind that evening. I was reminded of tea. The scent outside had me crazed for another brew session. Such is the case when tea is on the mind.