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.