Tuesday, November 27, 2012

地 "Di" Earth, Soil, Terrior

Here we will discuss the Di factors that bring about good tea. The French word “terroir” is the best match for describing the use of the Chinese word Di in the context of Tian Di Ren. In On Food and Cooking The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee describes terrior as the following factors: “the entire physical environment where the plant (tea) is, the soil and its structural and mineral content, the amount of water retained in the soil, the plant’s elevation, the slope, orientation, the microclimate, the pattern of temperature, sunlight, humidity, and rainfall.”

We know that temperature varies from one elevation to another. What can be sweltering hot at sea level can simultaneously be briskly cold at the elevation of one mile. Regarding soil content, because of 岩茶 “Yen Cha,” we know that rock vs. earth is one aspect that contributes to good tea. Yen is a cool character. The character illustrates a mountain over a stone, indicating soil that is rocky. Any of the Di factors can vary greatly, even over small distances, such as from one tea farm to the neighboring farm. Different degrees of slope will determine the amount of sunlight as well as the amount of water absorbed by the plants.

In Taiwan, the influences of terroir are enjoyed by tea aficionados. Tea from Ah Li Shan, Li Shan , Shan Lin Xi, Dong Ding, Wen Shan, and Miao Li all express different sets of characteristics that appear year after year. Each of these areas have their own Di, which is reflected in the innate characteristics of that area’s tea.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Drinking Tea for Health

Recently I had an experience that reminded me about health benefits of tea drinking. I was sitting by the campfire preparing the cooking fire. As I anticipated drinking tea, the water started to make noise... it is starting to boil. I have been anticipating this tea since earlier in the afternoon and am ready for some tea drinking. As the tea steeps, it evolves--infusion after infusion, the first infusion light, and by the second infusion and the third, I am in the thick of it. Delving into the rich textures, the tea washes over me. The tea strikes a tone and I feel a chord struck in my heart. I am surprised by the strength. The feeling is profound yet small and passed quickly. It was fleeting; it was one instant. Small and strong, creating the sensation of peace and stillness.

This message regarding the health benefits of tea is sponsored by J-TEA.  

Monday, November 12, 2012


天, or Tian, literally means heaven but in the case of Tian Di Ren, Tian means weather, as in 天氣 tian qi (first tone, fourth tone). Weather is up to the gods and the season, which generally is correlated with specific weather patterns and significant changes in temperature. This is also derived from Tian.

How does weather influence tea? What weather conditions bring about good tea? Below is a list of weather conditions that slow a tea plants ability to put forth leaf:
Thick fog, reduces sunlight
Lengthy cold spells and consistent cold weather
The right amount of rain at the right time

Weather conditions that should be avoided:
Heavy snow
Excessive rain
Rain at harvest or during processing

Tian, as in heaven, as it relates to Di can mean hazards to tea fields, such as monsoons that lead to landslides.

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Universe

Within Tian Di Ren is the universe. Let's look at the definition of Tian Di. It means Heaven and Earth / World / Universe; doesn't that cover almost everything? Almost. In this case, it doesn’t cover people. When mentioning all that influences finished tea that is ready to brew, we have to look to the people (Ren) as well as to Heaven and Earth / World / Universe (Tian Di).

So if we look at just Tian Di's influence on tea, how does Tian Di make great tea? A pampered leaf will not make the best tea. One of my favorite tea master quotes is: “Give me three cups of tea that are like sweet nectar and I, the drinker, will grow bored and become sick of it. Tea has to be bitter and astringent as well.” But it's a question of how much bitterness and how much astringency and at what point after the tea is tasted and for how long?

Plant stress created by Tian Di is beneficial as long as it slows leaf growth, but not so much that no leaves grow. The plant that has to struggle to put forth leaves has a special character. This is much like a tree that grows just below the tree line is often gnarled, strong, and visually striking when compared to those that grow in the supportive environment of the Willamette Valley. It’s almost as if the plant has to look within in order to be able to grow. When we look at the tree, we see the outward expression of its inner experience; as we taste the tea, we experience its bitterness, its sweetness, and its character. The tea strikes a deep chord within, resonating as we connect to nature and to the universe over the course of a few sips.

On the other hand, if the plant has an easy life, the leaves grow very easily. When looking at factors that lead to plant stress which result in slower growing tea, we see that these are factors resulting from Tian Di. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What does it take to make great tea?

It's just a question of TDR: Tian, Di, Ren or heaven, earth, people. Is it a noun? A person, place or thing? Tian means day / sky / heaven. Di means Earth / land / soil. Ren means human being / person, people. Tian Di together means heaven and earth; world; universe. Add Ren and we have TDR. It’s everything that we concern ourselves with. Mostly I'm concerned about how TDR can bring about good tea.

Heaven, Earth, People

It is said that the synergy of these three elements (heaven, earth, and people) are what lead to the highest quality teas.

The possibilities combine into an infinite number of outcomes, giving us a multitude of combinations. It is no wonder, then, that the variety of tea available is so wide.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tea Friend 茶友 (cha you)

New tea friends at U of O!
I am so excited because I've met so many tea friends here in Eugene. After participating in the ASUO Street Fair at the University of Oregon. It happens twice per year, in the Fall and the Spring, on 13th Street in the heart of campus. I say all of this because I feel that, as far as fairs go, to this point (October 12, 2012), it is poorly marketed. Why? It actually doesn't have to be well marketed due to its location. It actually blocks students path, distracting some and feeding more than a few, as they try to get to class.  But still, as a business person, who enjoys the concept of marketing, it seems like an oversite.

I graduated from the U of O in the Summer of 199? Wow, that's a bad sign. But, here I am, back on campus, just outside of Friendly Hall. After all of my education, I turned out to be the street vendor that students can boss around if they don't understand manners. And I am here to tell you, if you really make it in life, you will be a street vendor, right here on this very campus, where you currently go to school. Well, I guess that's what success meant to me because there I was...a campus street vendor of tea. Actually that has a nice ring to it.

What does it mean to have a tea friend? Is a tea friend someone who you sit around drinking tea with all day or night? It might be, but here is one version of a tea friend. It can be compared with poet friend or, 詩友 (shi you). A poetry friend is one who you take turns sharing poems with. A common interaction between poet friends might be that one of them would read or recite a poem that had a particular theme. Then you would continue on that theme or expand upon it, leading to something else. Tea friends share infusion after infusion of tea. There are no rules about sharing, and this is not a normal way of drinking tea with friends. I see behavior most like this when I drink tea with other tea vendors. It is almost as if we are taking turns sharing the tea and sometimes it is relaxing, but sometimes it is competitive, as if to see who has the better tea. Some play to win, others play to participate and share. It is usually with the aim of a mutual enjoyment of life. Say one person has a nice Yunnan black tea 滇紅 (dian hong), there are many quality levels available (see Tea Matrix 1A) and some are harder to find than others. So part of the fun is if you have one or someone else has one that is of exceptional quality, it is almost as if the game is called to a halt and everyone just takes part in fully enjoying that tea. Like a tasting format, going from lower quality to higher quality is more enjoyable.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What's your favorite kind of tea?

Some Answers to an Impossible Question by Josh Chamberlain

People often ask me, “What is your favorite tea?” When I look puzzled, sometimes the question is rephrased as, “If you could only have one kind of tea for the rest of your life, what would it be?” I always thought that was a hard question to answer. But recently, I
have figured out a way to answer this somewhat impossible question: I would choose only the good kind (see the Tea Matrix 1A comparing tea type and quality below). 

I've noticed that quality and type can often be confused. There are so many types of tea.  Even excluding herbals, which I often do, we are left with thousands of choices. The type of tea is not so important, but the quality of the tea leaf is of upmost importance.  Do you like bad iron goddess oolong?  Hardly. Do you like good, great, or amazing iron goddess oolong?  Yes, of course. I love it! Teas of high quality have a common thread even if they are different types.  

I definitely get on tea kicks and become obsessed with a particular tea for a period of time. It is like I cannot get something about that tea out of my head and find myself compelled to brew it again and again. This is not unlike having a favorite song and wanting to hear it over and over again. Making that tea again is the only logical choice because its characteristics are what I am relating to at that particular moment. It is not unlike choosing a person to discuss an important matter with. You choose that person based on what you know of them already, what you think they are going to say, availability, closeness and so on. You could say that the same is true for tea.  

Imagine this: If you could only talk to one person for the rest of your life, who would it be? Now we have the answer. If I could only talk to one person for the rest of my life, it would be a person of high quality. When deciding on favorites, I focus on quality over type. 

That being said, I don't mind the question. Let's talk about tea. Know tea types and subtypes; know the seasonal variations; know farms, regions and elevations; know processing methods; learn how to properly brew tea. Tea is an agricultural product; all of these factors affect the quality of the final product, each creating subtle variations. After you know about this and more... you’ll discover that there really is no favorite. I love you tea!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Oregon Grown: Introducing Minto Island Growers' Tea Project

Minto Island Growers is situated southwest of Salem, Oregon on the edges of Minto Brown Island Park. Summers bring ruby-red strawberries, bright bunches of rainbow chard, and sunny orange-blossom tomatoes. Co-owned and operated by Elizabeth Miller and Chris Jenkins since 2007, produce grown on this 40-acre farm is certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

A surprising crop occupies two acres of this bountiful organic vegetable farm—tea. More than 200 varietals of Camellia sinensis thrive in a mature block that stretches north, up a gentle hill.

This agricultural anomaly arrived in Salem as the result of a collaborative venture between Rob Miller, Elizabeth’s father and tea expert John Vendeland. Miller purchased the Salem in the 1970s, as part of Mt. Jefferson Farms, a family farm and nursery operation that included forestry, large-scale mint production, and research plots. In 1988, Mt. Jefferson Farms partnered with Vendeland to research the cultivation of Camellia sinensis in Oregon.  They selected a wide range of cultivars to evaluate both growing and flavor characteristics with the goal of establishing an Oregon grown tea product.

Miller and Jenkins inherited this project when they took over the farm 5 years ago. The now-mature tea block presents both a challenge and an opportunity: Is Oregon-grown tea a viable product?  Miller is optimistic, “The Tea Project really fits into our business plan, which is direct marketing of local agricultural products. We really feel like there’s a market for tea here.”

To this end, Minto Island hosts tea classes in conjunction with fall and summer tea harvests. On the hottest day of the year, 15 enthusiasts fanned out across the tea plot, gently plucking tender tea leaves under the sweltering August sun.

J-Tea is excited to have the opportunity to visit Minto Island during the Fall Harvest

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Oolong Tea in the United States

Tea Farm, Minto Island Growers, Salem, Oregon 
Truth be told, we Americans love tea. Intertwined with America’s history from the beginning, tea consumption has evolved in pace with the nation’s cultural climate. We went from hopped up rhetoricists drawing the concentrate from a samavar to microwaving water and adding a teabag, and sipping sweetened iced tea. Tracing the roots of America's tea culture, inevitably leads to the Boston Tea Party.
However, tea culture in America has evolved considerably since the Colonial and wartime eras and now embraces a wide spectrum of cultural traditions, including those of Taiwan and China. What are the marketing barriers for high end tea such as Taiwanese oolongs in the US? Are you excited about growing and producing tea in the US?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Puer class in session at J-TEA
Tea Education: Summer Classes at J-TEA 
by Mical Lewis

In the last month we've had three classes at J-Tea: Tea 101, Puer Class, and Oolong Class. They have all been great successes, not to mention a lot of fun. We would like to extend a huge thank you to all of the customers who attended these classes. This is the first time we've attempted to streamline our curriculum and we appreciate your assistance as we refine our methods. Our classes can only get better from here.

With all of our classes thus far, our goal is to demystify the process of making tea by sharing our one easy method to make a great cup of tea anytime and with any tea. We're also dedicated to teaching you skills to help you navigate the tea world in general, so that no matter where you are you can find and make yourself a good cup of tea. Bottom line: we want to help you discover your own personal likes and dislikes about tea and to give you a real feel for this amazing beverage. After all, taste is a personal thing that you develop over time. And the only way to develop a taste for tea is to drink more of it.

There are more classes headed your way so stay tuned.

Coming up in July and August:

Dong Ding Class: Learn what makes tea grown on this Taiwanese mountain so awe inspiring

Formosa Class: Discover how leaf-hoppers make this tea so amazing and why

Tea Stories: Learn the fascinating histories behind the names of our teas

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tea on the Road: Reuniting with the Guywan
On a recent road trip I was happy to reunite with an old friend, the guywan. I hadn’t planned to be reunited with this vessel in such a way. In fact, I didn't have much of a plan for how I would be drinking tea on this particular trip. I was making a solo journey of about 1,660 miles and I brought a minimal selection of tea tools: a guy wan, a thermos, and some tea. Somehow, I knew that this would be enough. Yet, I didn't connect the dots that I would be drinking straight from the guywan. Or I guess what I didn't imagine is the positive impact that this reunification would have on the trip.

I enjoyed many simple elements about this process. First on the list: how well the guywan fit into the vehicle’s cup holder. This particular cup holder was thoughtfully placed on the end of the wide central console armrest. I never thought I would refer to a car’s cup holder and a guywan in the same sentence, but this just reminds me that life is never actually how we think it is going to be. But let's not digress. After a few practice brew sessions, I had it down. I was drinking brew after brew, switching the leaves by scooping them out of the little bowl, tossing them on the floor mat, doing a quick rinse using as little water as possible, and then using that to water the leaves I had just dumped on the floor mat. Then I added a different type of leaf and started again. In this way, I would brew tea for hours at a time.

Lessons from Brewing on the Open Road
Use less tea; about 5 grams is enough. If the tea starts to get too strong, you have two choices. Drink strong tea or add hot water for a milder version. Sip the hot infusion and as it cools a bit, drinking will become easier. I find I can take sips from very hot things and if you feel comfortable doing this, I totally recommend it. Sipping away, I noticed that the tea cooled as time went by. Eventually I was down to the last drops. Sometimes this would be very strong. For the first couple of brews, I didn't relax enough to realize that instead of drinking such a strong infusion, I could just add water. But eventually I did have this revolution. Then I could choose. I could either drink the strong stuff if I was feeling tired and needed a boost, or I could add a bit of water and keep it going.

I have a large thermos with a tight seal because I feel that this is one of the tools that really helps me enjoy tea on the go. Regarding the thermos, I recommend purchasing a brand new thermos and using it for hot water only. Never put anything other than water in this thermos. I filled it up before I left and the hot water flowed for a full 24 hours following. In fact, I found that I enjoyed the tea for the second 12 hours even more. By then, the water temperature had dropped and it was more tolerable for drinking (tea) and driving.

Speaking of hot beverages on the road, there is some danger involved in brewing and driving. If possible, train members of your travel team to assist in driver's tea preparation. Added risk aside, I felt as though I benefited greatly from this miraculous tea rediscovery. Instead of feeling bored as miles loomed ahead of me, I felt both alert and relaxed. The miles faded away as I enjoyed whole leaf oolong tea of various types and strengths. Really, tea is the perfect driving companion.  
Leaves sit dry in cup, hot water is added, leaves unfurl and open and are happy to be in water, as if coming back to life.   

Friday, June 22, 2012

Contemplating Gold-Medal Tea at the Olympic Trials: Go for the Gold

Five cups of tea

On my recent trip, I learned about a new gold-medal tea coming out of Taiwan—just in time for the commencement of the Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon, aptly known as “Track Town USA.” Does tea really make you run faster, jump higher, or throw further? It just might.

Competitive theories aside, the release of this new tea is due in large part to China's demand for Taiwan's competition-winning tea. China's economy is strong and China has a gift giving culture; tea is one of the most common gifts given in China. Taiwan has revolutionized its relationship with China, creating direct flights, postal service and new shipping routes between Taiwan and the mainland. With China's new found wealth, the trend in gifting is that it should be big and it should be the best, making Taiwanese competition winning tea an ideal choice. But this recent trend has people in Taiwan's tea industry talking.

They don't want toudeng first through tenth, they want regular toudeng,” said He Lao, an artist and tea culture expert. He and many other Taiwan tea industry insiders are surprised by this because everyone in Taiwan's tea world knows that tedeng is first place. Toudeng first through tenth come next (ranking second through eleventh) and then comes toudeng, the remaining teas in the first-tier. “In the mainland, they don't like 1-10 because it implies that there is something else, or there could be something better. They just want the one that says 'the best',” he explained. Toudeng is still considered excellent tea by tea experts in Taiwan and throughout the world.

Traditionally, teas ranking below toudeng are categorized as erdeng, or second-tier. Second-tier is by no means inferior tea. It is still considered to be some of the best, and ranked in the top three. Such high quality tea rarely makes it to the U.S. and is only handled by very specialized vendors. Due to the overwhelming demand for tea that is considered “the best” some competitive ranking organizations have taken the leap, changing what was formerly known as second-tier ranked tea, to “jing pai” or gold- medal winning tea. Let's face it, “gold medal winner” sounds a lot better than “second-tier.”

The organizations that oversee and hold the competitions to rank teas are fighting it out—for sales. And, this is not the first time the organizations have changed the naming system. Two well respected organizations based in Nan Tou, known as He Zuo Shi and Lugu Nong Hui, battled it out years ago—in plum flowers. One organization boasted three plum flowers on their packaging, as an indicator of high quality; not be outdone in floral decorations, the other added five plum flowers to their packaging. Thus, we dissolve into the minutia of Taiwan's Olympic rings of tea. This all reminds me of what my amazing grandmother, Lisl Waechter, used to say, “I just don't understand...why everyone is trying to be the best?” In fact, these teas are quite spectacular on their own, gold medals and plum flowers aside.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Calligraphy and Haikuesday by Josh Chamberlain

One of the greatest things about my most recent trip was my exposure to and experience with calligraphy. This age-old art form is still very much alive in modern Taiwanese culture. Though entirely unplanned, calligraphy proved to be a recurrent theme during this trip. I've been thinking of practicing calligraphy for some time now, but never have found a teacher. On this trip, I was encouraged to learn on my own, and by chance, I met a teacher that was willing to give me a few pointers.
One of the reasons that Chinese has English beat for cool language category is that the Chinese character is an image. Thus, the words in Chinese and Chinese writing can be considered art. This might be true with English too, but it is much more accepted as a current form of art in China, Taiwan, and whereever Chinese is spoken.

I was encouraged to write some poems in Chinese, and I felt free to do so. Something about writing a poem in this language that I have studied for a number of years now seems somewhat less intimidating than writing one in English. I am drawn to poetry, but have been intimidated by it. That is why writing Haikus has been great. They are a playful way to write poetry, that is mostly just a lot of fun. Haikus are also popular in Taiwan. My friends there were excited to hear about our haiku writing Tuesdays at the teabar.

Below are the two haikus that I wrote for this week’s Haikuesday:

Haiku 1 translation:

Filial American
Most Americans are not considered to be filial, so this presents a contradiction.

After returning from the mountain, you return to your hometown
Coming down the mountain refers to “leaving the monestary” or leaving a school after some great learning has been achieved, in this case, leaving Taiwan and moving back to Eugene, Oregon.

Tea leaf many bridges
We do not know the course that life will lead us down. There are many possibilities, but in my case, I have followed my nose, and tea has openned up a world of possibilities.

Continuing the tea bridge theme, Haiku 2 translation:

Tea is like a bridge
Tea is a great tool for communication and enhanced creativity.

Training in order to pass through the loneliness.
Accomplishing goals can sometimes take a long time. Once the die is cast, sometimes we have to wait until we get the things we need. This period of waiting can be painful in the moment, often experienced as loneliness or hunger.

Seeking the joy that lives in the moment
The last four words refer to the joy of doing. Even though the process might be arduous, one looses oneself in the joy of doing, and is fullfilled with a meaningful life.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Haikuesday May 1st, 2012

Tea can change your mind
sipping it with intention
inside and outside
  • Zach Krebs
The ox pulls its weight
tea allows it to be free
then back to the pen
  • Zach Krebs

Two bucks for great tea
some cost more, also worth it,
After Party Cart
  • Janet

In the library
nothing cool—bad furniture
talk, tea, study, drool.
  • Annie Z-K

Smiling at my cup,
The first of May winks and asks:
“Will you share your tea?”
--Mical Lewis

Tea likes heart, no sound,
no thoughts, only feelings heard,
one cup, ne'er enough
--A Humble Leaf Blowing in the Wind...
(Michael Vasquez)

The puer has arrived,
It surprised me; there were two.
I like both of them.
  • Maddie Norman

Mint tea just won't do
Camelia Sinensis brew
and everything's fine.
  • Josh Chamberlain

Sip 3 cups of tea
mind settles, heart opening
J-Tea, a refuge
  • Lucy Kingsly
Herbs, white, green, red, black
J-Tea warm and welcoming
Tea to satisfy
  • Lucy Kingsly

Spring rains bring lilacs
May Day with Iron Goddess
Everything settles
  • Lucy Kingsly

A cycle of haikus by Jonathan Manly, Josh Chamberlain, and Lucy Kingsly

Sweet taste on the tip
Oolong gently fills my mouth
Bitter down my throat

Sweet taste returning
Red and green or in between
Happiness happens

Sweet taste calms the mind
Blossoming heart opening
cup of tea fulfills

A cycle of haikus by Mical Lewis, Lucy Kingsly and Josh Chamberlain

Say Happy May Day
Spring rains, blossoming flowers
A good time for tea

A good time for tea:
Zhang Shu Hu brings quiet thoughts
and a sweet haiku

And a sweet haiku
offers opportuni-Tea
for friendly playing

For friendly playing
drink J-Tea together and
run through fields of green.

Run through fields of green
selecting words like flowers
laughter fills tea cups

Laughter fills tea cups
even if you feel so-so
say Happy May Day.

A Second Cycle of Haikus by ML, LK, and JC

Reading chicken auras
scratch grains fall like harvest rains
sipping cups of tea

Quietly sitting
scratch grains fall like harvest rains
tea, chickens bring peace

Bitter cups this season
scratch grains fall like harvest rains
All the chicks gather  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Channeling Compassion; Iron Goddess of Mercy by Mical Lewis

I have a very personal relationship with the Iron Goddess of Mercy. She was one of the first teas that I liked immediately when I came to work at J-Tea and thus one of the first I could recognize by color and taste. I've always enjoyed strong flavors, so it made sense that I would appreciate Iron Goddess tea. But she really earned my respect and reverence when she helped me overcome a bad case of misanthropy one morning as I was opening the shop.

I don't know why I was drawn to that particular tea that morning as I grumpily swept the floor and wiped down the counters. Maybe it was because I usually drink strong black tea in the mornings or maybe I received a gentle nudge from the universe. As soon as I inhaled the beautiful, fruity fragrance and took my first sip, I felt my heart open and my misanthropy began to melt away.

I later learned that this tea is named after the Chinese Buddhist Goddess of compassion, Kwan Yin. Kwan Yin is a Bodhisattva, which means that she is a being who chose to help humanity even though she had achieved enlightenment and could have ascended into nirvana. She chose to stay with us until every last being had also achieved enlightenment. Another name for her is “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.”

This theme of compassion appears in the original story of the Tie Guan Yin tea varietal. The story goes like this: Every day on his journey to his fields, a farmer would pass by an old, dilapidated temple that contained an iron statue of Kwan Yin. Day after day he passed this temple, thinking to himself how sad it was that there was no one to care for it. On his way to he fields each day he began to stop and sweep out the temple and make sure that the correct offerings were available. After some time Kwan Yin came to the farmer in a dream and told him that when he came to the temple the next day he would find a plant growing near the foot of her statue. She told him to put the leaves in boiling water and that the liquid produced would be of great value to him. And so the Tie Guan Yin varietal of tea was born out of an act of kindness and compassion.

And indeed I feel like I can taste a little bit of an iron tang in and amongst the fruity overtones and the caramel-without-the-sweet flavors. Though this version it is a dark oolong tea, it is quite low in caffeine because it has been heavily roasted. Hot or cold, this is an excellent tea to sip to help you open your heart. So the next time you're enjoying a cup of Iron Goddess, think about Kwan Yin and feel your heart start to open.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Travel Notes from Taiwan: Serendipity and Tea in Jiu Fen 九份 (Part 1) by Josh and Katie

Portrait of Jiu Fen by Ch'ng Kiah Kiean 
Serendipity led us to Jiu Fen, an old gold mining town at the base of Keelung Mountain north of Taipei. Our trip began in Tainan, but we quickly realized our friends were consumed with preparations for the Oolong Conference the following week. We decided that the best thing to do might be to leave town. Later that day, a new tea friend invited us to brewing demonstration in Taipei. I found a name card for an old teahouse in Jiu Fen that someone had previously recommended to me. I am not sure precisely where or when this name card came into my possession. But, nonetheless, it was there and the teahouse manager’s name scribbled on top. I showed the card to a tea friend who said, “Ah, she is a very friendly person. If you choose to go, be sure and let me know so that I can contact this person. She will be a good host.” In this way, our trip north unfolded, one piece at a time.

The next morning we boarded a bus bound for Taipei, which is actually quite comfortable and almost as quiet as traveling in Switzerland. A few hours later, we pulled into the Taipei bus station, which is now part of a multi story intricate transportation hub connecting the high speed rail, local trains, buses, and subway system. This sleek system leaves one wondering where America has gone wrong with its public transportation options. As soon as we arrived at the bus station, we took a short walking tour of the station, including an underground mall that extends six floors below ground. (In Taipei, space is extremely limited. As a result, one can either go down or up. For an entire semester, I attended a Mandarin Chinese class on the seventh floor, underground. This is not recommended for the claustrophobic.)
Creative food cart in the Creative Park
We boarded a local train to take us to the Creative Park. It was here that we planned to attend a free tea service, fashioned after the tea events of old. The Creative Park pulsed with activity: families meandered through outdoor art exhibits and teenagers restlessly waited in line for a rock concert. The tea tasting, however, proved to be a very low key affair in a secluded pavillion. We were introduced to an authentic Dong Ding tea and enjoyed sipping tea with new friends. The hosts brewed the tea light so that it was sweet; which makes tea more appealing to a wide audience. 

Later, we ventured to another section of town and enjoyed dumplings and cucumber salad from one of Taiwan's most famous dumpling houses. Here, the multi-lingual staff cheerfully hosts guests from all over the world. At least 15 chefs, all clad in white, bustled about in the steam-filled kitchen preparing the dumplings. They were soft and light--little pillows filled with a burst ginger and delicate greens. The food here is truly outstanding and it’s a shame that I did not get more pictures to drool over. 

As evening approached, we decided to spend the night in Jiu Fen. Luckily the manager of the tea shop, Miss Zhang, was able to secure us a room for the night. This was no small feat, given our late notice and the fact it was a holiday. We were lucky!  

Our host instructed us to take the bus to Jiu Fen and then call the hotel owner as soon as we arrived at the local 7-11. This seemed straightforward, but soon it became obvious that not that many locals travel to Jiu Fen by bus. After finding the right bus, which was a small trick, we were off. It was an old bus, bearing little resemblance to the modern vehicle that carried us swiftly to Taipei earlier that day. Every time we hit a small bump, the shocks would screetch and shimmy. It was like riding on an old boxspring mattress. We bounced through road improvement: Screetch, Screetch, Screetch. We hit potholes: SCREETCH, SCREETCH, SCREETCH. This went on for a while at which point I realized that some nostalgic part of me has grown fond of such experiences over the years. We inched slowly out of Taipei, making stops seemingly every 50 feet. Clearly, this was an incremental journey, and suddenly it occurred to us that neither one of us knew where we were going or how long it would take. 

Finally at one stop, the driver refused to take any more passengers. “No more local service,” he said, explaining that we were heading onto the freeway. After closing the doors and heading up the freeway on ramp, we were zooming over the nicely paved freeway, and the bus was quiet, except for the occasional grinding of gears and the roaring sound of the aged engine working to catapult the bus at a speed that seemed just a little too fast for this old bus. But this also somehow felt familiar. Going to this place for the first time, with only a vague idea of how far it was, it seemed as though I had lost track of time all together. Although the total travel time was probably around an hour, since I didn't know when we would reach the point marking our final destination, it seemed that minutes were lasting longer, and that time was moving at a slower speed than normal. But it was dark and soon we began passing through cool little towns that had a totally different vibe and culture. One of the great things about Taiwan is that it has maintained a great deal of regional diversity.

Jiu Fen's welcoming committee was ever so thoughtful.

As we climbed into the mountains for the final ascent the excitement continued to build. The bus lurched around tight turns creating an even higher pitch. Climbing the through the curves in the dark, the view unfolded to epic proportions. Misty hills, far away temples set ablaze by lighting and soon Katie questioned the existence of a 7-11 in such a setting.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First Haikuesday

We declare First Haikuesday a success.  One of the problems has been deciding how we are going to spell my favorite new holiday that happens every Tuesday.  I like Haikuesday, because the u e combo transitions like Tuesday to make it a more complete representation of the combination word spawned after haikus became popular on Tuesday at the teahouse.

Mical Lewis created this event, so we are kicking this series of haikus on J-Tea's first Haikuesday off with Mical's submission.  We will then follow with all of the other haikus received today.  Thank you to all of you who participated for your thoughtful choice of words.

Clattering strainers,
unfurling green in white round.
A cup of J-Tea.
-Mical Lewis

Where did my tea go?
I have hidden it from you.
-Mark Lewis

Three empty vessels
awaiting to be filled.
Tea and breath are one.

Silence, tea unfurls
Mind quiets, heart opening
emptiness is full

Hard day of grey clouds.
A tea for stupidity,
red water clarity.
-Lucy Kingsley

In need of a break.
Taking time out of the day.
Tea deliciousnes

Focuses the mind
Envelopes the sense of taste
Experience tea

Best tea bar in town
Twenty-seventh and Friendly
Great staff at J-Tea.

Hiking Spencer's Butte
See the valley creation
Wish I had some tea
-Jeremy Swanburg

Jack Daniels not good...
To keep your mind clear and crisp.
Got to get J-TEA!
-Christine Ratchinsky-Hentze

From far, mounded fields
The leaves surrender to us
Hot tea soothes my soul
-Mark Lewis

Tea has much to say,
Brewing in a gung fu way,
Pleasantly surprised.
-Josh Chamberlain

Puer cake in the mail
A gift good enough to drink
or to age for years.

I had tea today
It is my morning routine
Sometimes at night too.
-Maddie Norman

If you missed it this week, join us next week.  Remember Tuesday is Haikuesday at J-Tea.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tightly Rolled: It's About Expansion

One of the things that I am often explaining to people new to tightly rolled oolong is that the tea expands so much--to about four times the original size after steeping. I often say that a little bit goes a long way.

In Taiwan oolong tea production has evolved over the years. One of the ways I've learned about this is through drinking aged oolongs. With the aged teas the roll is not as tight as the rolled teas of today because innovations in processing equipment have created the ability to make tighter and tighter tea balls. This tea is different than gunpowder tea. In Chinese it is referred to as Qiuo Xing or ball shaped oolong.

Why is tea rolled? The functional aspects for rolling tea are that it travels better and the freshness is sealed in. Not enough can be said about this. The aging process is slowed down and this is what you want to gain from processing. Processing of tea is, in a sense, a chance to capture a particular flavor. By rolling the tea and rolling it tight, and by roasting on the outside, around the outside... this allows for us to experience the freshness as the round bud blooms into the dancing leaf.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Happy Haikusday! - by Resident Literati, Mical Lewis

Teapot by Li You Ren
Calling all poets! Introducing Haikeusday at J-Tea…Bring a tea-themed haiku to the teahouse and get $1 off hot or iced tea by the cup on Tuesdays. We will also post your literary offerings on our Facebook Page.

A haiku is a Japanese poetic form that dates back to the 1600s and has a complex history and detailed technical aspects, but for our purposes this is what you need to know:

Haikus consist of 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively and usually contain a juxtaposition of two images. Here are some examples:

the first cold shower
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw
          – Basho (1644-1694) 

Haikus are short and
sometimes don't make any sense:

They can be serious or funny and they don't have to be masterpieces, but they absolutely must be related to tea. Bring us your Haikus next Haikusday (April 24) and join the fun!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Teapot Love

What is an Yixing teapot, but a direct connection to tea? It’s a vessel within which is infused some of the best tea you've been able to get your hands on. Rinsing the leaves, infusion after infusion, holding onto the knowledge that these leaves are adding to the overall quality of infusions that you will have the opportunity to infuse again and again until, at last, you part with the pot. And, it is in this way that we are all connected to the moment. Again, I get to use this teapot. Oh, how I adore you! You are so good to me. I will take care of you and your walls will enrich my tea. So, the romantic idea of the teapot is born.

What is an Yixing teapot, but the skin of unglazed clay? Fired at high temperatures. My fingerprints will stain you. Wash it off with boiling water. The tea stains it and leaves droplets. Wash it off with boiling water, just for uniformity. Done brewing tea? Make one more infusion, for the pot. Pour it over. Is this staining your pot? My little pot loves this. Do I always do it? No, this is just some playful behavior. Sometimes after heating the pot, and rinsing the leaves, I will use this excess water to wash over the yixing for fun. This teapot will change a lot over time. The more you use it, the better it gets. The more you use it, the more you like it.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

About J-TEA

     Below is part of a blurb created to introduce J-TEA to be a vendor at events. We are looking forward to introducing the mobile tea cart soon. We named the cart "Thea", after the great amino acid in tea known as L-Theanine. L-Theanine's effect is calming and centering.

Originally, the content read:
     "Josh Chamberlain founded J-Tea International in 2004 while he was living in Taiwan as an MBA student at the National Cheng Kung University.  In August 2005, Chamberlain returned to his hometown, Eugene, Oregon, and opened a retail space in the Friendly Street neighborhood in August 2007. He is dedicated to returning to Taiwan frequently to bring his customers the best and freshest teas, imported directly from small farms. Chamberlain’s intimate knowledge of the tea world and his close relationships with Taiwanese tea farmers and purveyors ensure the high quality of his products..."

Upon rereading this intro, I was struck with one thought... Boring. So I changed it to the following.
     J-TEA was nothing but a hope for Josh Chamberlain in 2004 while he was living in Taiwan as a student. Josh had a vision. Spending several years in Taiwan allowed him the opportunity to learn about tea from tea masters and tea experts and brought him into the fold of Taiwanese society. The tea spoke to him and let him know that others would greatly enjoy a similar experience with tea that he was lucky enough to enjoy. And so the story began. In time, J-TEA manifested into a teahouse in Eugene's Friendly Street neighborhood where many weary travelers of this modern world's battered landscape can pull up to the tea bar and feel the relaxing effects of any number of the carefully selected teas that J-TEA provides. Josh frequently visits the tea farms and studies with traditional tea teachers in his continual quest for tea knowledge.

Brewing tea at Jiu Fen's beautiful tea house balcony.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Staff Picks

Inspired by the creative tea descriptions written by our amazing tea staff, I added some photos of the various teas they describe.  In this series, there are three photos per tea.  The first is the dry tea leaf, the second is the tea soup or brewed tea.  For the tea soup we tried to include at least two infusions, if not three.  The final photo is the tea leaf after it was steeped.  All but two photos were taken by Andrew Hess.

Jonathan chose the Li Shan 2008, stating:

"This tea will obliterate your conception of black tea.  It's malty, smoky, slightly fruity, spicy, delicate and terribly smooth. Reminds me of a haunted house!"

The Li Shan Black tea 2008 is made by picking a summer harvest of the high mountain tea and letting it oxidize more fully.  Back in 2008, this was a less common practice than it is today.  As this practice was discovered and improved upon, the popularity of hong oolong began to rise. 
The tea water is rich and red, sweet like fruit. 

and the Twisted Leaf Formosa, stating:
"A great introduction into the world of Formosa. Rose-petal aroma, up front honey sweetness and
nice malty backbone. It's a delicate and multi-layered tea able to conjure up balmy summer feelings even in the darkest winters."  Dark winters indeed, and Eugene, Oregon sure has seen its share of those.   

This Formosa Oolong is processed in the twisted leaf style in which the leaves are rolled, but not in a bag, so that the leaves do not roll into tight balls.  
Possibly, it is this sunny red that calls out like a beacon, lighting the way for the day's next sunrise.
Formosa Oolong... also known as Eastern Beauty, Oriental Beauty, Silver tipped Oolong, Bai Hao Oolong, Dong Fang Mei Ren,  and Pong Hong Te to name a few.  
Of the An Xi Iron Goddess, Mical says, "Drink this when you're cranky and feel your heart open."
This is an example of traditional oxidation and roast for An Xi Goddess.
Heart opening goodness.
We often recommend this tea for people that like heavy flavors, such as coffee.

and of the Li Shan Charcoal Roast Autumn 2009 she writes:
"This tea tastes like fall: hints of wood smoke and sugars like you'd find in roasted root vegetables.  Wrap this tea around you when you're cold."

Charcoal roasting adds full body mouth feel that is both bold and delicate.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Short History of Pu’er By Brendan Galipeau

I am sitting in Kunming City, the capital of the Yunnan Province in Southwest China, close to the home of the incredible pu’er teas found at J-Tea. Pu’er tea is unique in its brick and cake format, qualities attributed to a rich history of trade in this region of China. It has been grown for nearly 1,200 years in the tropics of southern Yunnan Province and the areas surrounding the region, aptly known as Pu’er.

Like the rest of Yunnan, this region is incredibly heterogeneous culturally; it’s inhabited by several ethnic minority groups, or what are known in China as nationalities, shaosu minzu (少数民族). The agriculture here is incredibly rich and intertwined with the local forests and ecosystems, including cultivated tea forests with tea trees planted several hundred years ago. Similarly, the different ethnic groups have each developed their own cultural uses of tea. For instance, the Bulang people, who live in the tea growing regions, actually roast and eat pu’er as a food item rather than drinking it. Perhaps the most famous cultural use of pu’er is not by local cultures, but by Tibetans in neighboring high mountain regions. In fact, this historical demand for tea in northern regions was the impetus for pu’er’s brick and cake like form.
Unloading a Tibetan mule caravan, much like those traditionally used to transport pu’er.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡), on the upper Yangtze or Jinsha River, part of the route of the ancient Tea Horse Road.
The ancient Tea Horse Road, one of the oldest trade routes in all of Asia, originates in the subtropical lowlands of Yunnan and extends north to the highlands of the Tibetan plateau. Tibetans, who bred incredibly beautiful, strong, and valuable horses, desired Chinese tea from Yunnan and its neighboring regions to use in butter tea, which is a mixture of hot water, salt, butter, and pu’er or similar brick-like teas. The Tibetans traded horses and medicines for the tea, which was trekked and carried up and through Yunnan onto the Tibetan plateau by large mule caravans. Thus, packing the pu’er into bricks made it easier to load and carry over long distances.

In the cold mountains of Tibet, butter tea provides a great source of energy and warmth. Of course, pu’er tea in and of itself is quite an amazing treat, the flavor of which is actually more or less removed when it is used in Tibetan butter tea. Down in the lowlands of China, I certainly prefer my pu’er on its own, which allows full enjoyment of all its amazing qualities and rich taste.

To learn more about pu’er tea history and the ancient Tea Horse Road of Yunnan, check out the following two books:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Marketing Oolong in the U.S: Difficult But Not Impossible

Translating oolong tea’s long and storied culture in Taiwan and China into U.S. markets presents the issue of context. Bridging this gap of culture and context is difficult—though not impossible. First, the barriers: Several innate characteristics of American culture impede the widespread consumption of oolong tea and the appreciation for traditional culture. Generally, Americans tend to be more concerned with efficiency rather than appreciation of aesthetics hence the popularity of the teabag. Traditional tea culture often struggles to find a place in a society so focused on convenience.

In 1955, Richard L. Jenkins, M.D. made the following astute observations: In America, we are too formal to cultivate or develop the artistically patterned and highly formal grace of the Japanese tea ceremony. Probably our national temperament will not easily lend itself even to the leisurely and graceful patterning of the English tea custom. But even in our striving, restless, overtense pattern of living the American custom of iced tea on a summer afternoon adds something of what we need to maintain balance.”

An Oolong in Disguise. Categorially, the world of oolong is deep and varied, ranging from green to roasted to heavily oxidized teas. The lack of standardized naming system likely decreases recognition of an already foreign product in the American market, and steepens the learning curve for tea novices. For example, Dong Fong Mei Ren’s other monikers bear little resemblance to one another: Eastern and Oriental Beauty, Noble Concubine, Silver Tip Oolong, and Bai Hao Oolong. The use of multiple spellings further confuses neophytes. Consider the following: Dong Ding/Tung Ting, Wen Shan Bao Zhong/Pu Chong, and Oolong/Wulong.

Is it Organic? Is it Local? Strict locavores have trouble swallowing the ambiguity that comes with foreign-grown products like tea. In recent years, the growing market for locally grown and organic products has likely steered some consumers away from foreign-grown tea, and products that cannot be labeled definitively as 'organic' create hesitation.

Competing with the Familiar. Oolong tea competes with many well-established replacement goods in the American beverage market, such as wine, beer, soda, coffee, and more familiar teas: green, black, white, Yerba Mate, herbal, and scented tea. Further, lack of knowledge and tools for brewing tea in more traditional ways impedes widespread loose-leaf tea consumption.

Who is Drinking Loose-Leaf in the U.S.? It’s an eclectic crowd comprised of those seeking an alternative to coffee, people looking for an affordable luxury, individuals motivated by health concerns, as well as hobbyists and devotees who dedicate time to study tea. The growing interest in high-end tea is also fueled by broader trends in food culture towards high-quality specialty foods and beverages and the preservation of traditional culture. Tea also attracts people who are looking for a deeper connection and way to slow down in a fast-paced world.
Hand picked leaves during Spring harvest on Dong Ding Mountain
And, the popularity of traditional Chinese and Taiwanese style gong fu tea brew ceremonies has surged recently thanks to new and old generations of tea enthusiasts. Using social media as a vehicle for sharing gong fu tea brewing techniques, students of brew are spreading traditional tea culture one pot at a time.

Source: Jenkins, R. L. (1955). Psychological Effects of Tea Drinking. Tea: A Symposium on the Pharmacology and the Physiologic and Psychologic Effects of Tea (H.J. Klaunberg, Ed.) Presented at a conference of the New York Academy of Sciences, May 16, 1955.