Monday, June 30, 2014

Lin Tai Ping, Are You Dead Yet?

I met Lin Tai Ping about ten years and the man struck me as a nut. He was crazy, crazy about joking. On my last trip, I was sitting in a local tea shop when I looked over and saw this old guy ordering a drink. He had a hat on pulled down, so it was hard to make out his features, but his voice was familiar.

“Lin Tai Ping,” I called out his name. He walked toward me saying, “I am Lin Tai Ping.”
“I know,” I answered.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am that foreigner friend,” I answered.
“Oh, that is you! You are more handsome than before. I didn't recognize you.”

He sat down with his tea and asked me if I wanted one. “I've got one,” I said, showing him mine. In our greetings, since I know he is a big fan of photography, I showed him the six physical photographs of Elijah that I carried with me everywhere I went. He was pleased, laughing and cajoling as if Elijah were there in person.

“He looks just like you! It is amazing. Look, look,” he said holding the photo up for Uncle Ray to see. “This baby is this man's child,” he said pointing at me.
“There is no way that kid is his. I've met his wife. There is no way that the two of them made this baby.” Uncle Ray said skeptically.
“You are an idiot!” he says to Uncle Ray. He turns to me, “That man is stupid,” he says.
“He's jealous,” I reply.
“You are an idiot, Uncle Ray! Look at how much this child looks like him.” He gives me back the pictures and starts talking to me.

“Do you know, I just had the funniest thing happen to me. The newspaper reported that a man from Taiwan was traveling in Mainland China and was the unfortunate victim of a bus accident. His name was Lin Tai Ping, the same as mine, and he was the same age as me.” I'd heard about this story, and it was fun to hear it straight from the man himself.

“I tell you, my Auntie is 90. She saw the news at midnight. She didn't want to call so late, but she was so worried. She waited as long as she could, but when she couldn't take it anymore, she called me at 4:30 in the morning. My phone was on, but when I answered, I was still half asleep and my voice was very horse. “Who is this?” she asked. “Lin Tai Ping,” I answered. “No, really. Who is this?” “I am Lin Tai Ping.”

After she knew it was me, she started crying and told me that she was so worried. In the end, 83 people called in after hearing the news story, enough people for Tai Ping to start to have some fun with it. When a good friend would call, Tai Ping would answer, “This is Lin Tai Ping, I am dead.” When his religious cousin called, he answered, “I am sitting next to God now. Is there anything you want to ask him?” Tai Ping describes his sense of humor as a contagion. “Maybe you are in a bad mood and don't feel like joking. But by the time I am done with you, you will be joking right along.”

I ask this man what he is doing out and about. He is a professional photographer by trade and as luck would have it, he is in the neighborhood to take some pictures. At first he played it cool and humble, “Oh you know, I'm just on a walk about with my old friend the Nikon here. You know about this kind of Nikon? These things take amazing pictures.” He has some Nikon S2 Range Finder from about 50 years ago in mint condition.

“You know, a funny story about these kind of cameras,” he starts “I was in France taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and I see a French man with the same camera. But he didn't have the original lens like I do. He said he couldn't afford it. So I told him that in Taiwan, only poor people buy these cameras. The guy was shocked and he was wondering how it could be true. I told him it was absolutely true, because after you buy one, you are in the poor house. The man said, well all be damned, I had no idea everyone in Taiwan is so funny.”

Now that I got him talking, he gives me a copy of a postcard that his photo was featured on. “I was recently in this photo exhibition. The exhibition featured some carving, some calligraphy, and some photography. You know, calligraphy is a very important part of Chinese art and culture. Hey, I have something I want to give you. I'll be right back.”
“No, no, Taiping don't worry about it,” I protest. “Come on, take it easy.”
“Will you be here?”
“Yes, I'll be here writing my journal, but don't worry about it. You go on with your day.”

He could see that in earnest, I didn't want to accept his gift. In order to circumvent any attempt at politeness he rebutted, “I'm not giving it to you, I'm giving it to your son. Now, you say, I'll be ready for you when you come back, like we are going to fight, and then I'll say, I'll be back to settle the score with you. That way it sounds like we are getting ready to scrap and it makes us sound cool and tough.”

Here is this 64 year old man acting like he wants to fight with me. So I'm writing and writing, and guess who pops back...Tai Ping. He grabs an manila envelope, opens it, and unfolds a series of words. “Long Fei Fong Wu,” he states. It means “Dragon Flies, Phoenix Dances.” I actually came here to take a picture of this tree. He points to the tree across the street. The funny thing about Tai Ping is that he is always observing. He is always looking at the changes in patterns and mostly, I think, the changes in light. He had noticed it, the moment he was waiting for, and he went out in the street to get a photograph of the tree. I could hardly pick up my phone and chase after him fast enough to get a couple of photos of him taking pictures of the tree. Then I went to the exact spot where he was crouching and assumed the same position and took a photo. I took it back and showed him.
 “Pretty good,” he said. “But my picture doesn't have this post and this building, just the tree and the sun.”

He showed me where the sun was through the clouds. So I went back and retook this photo according to his instructions. I proudly showed him and he said, “Now you are getting it.”
Then we got a group shot together, and when he is getting up to go, I thank him for the calligraphy. “When I die, that will be worth a lot of money. When you come back, come visit me. You can come to my house. Bring your son and he and I can box each other.” The image of this man in his sixties or seventies boxing with my toddler pops into my head and we both start laughing.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sun Moon Lake Solstice Tasting Recap – Anna V. Smith & Josh Chamberlain

photo by Anna Smith 
Saturday's tasting of Sun Moon Lake tea for the summer solstice yielded a great group of people eager to explore new tea and thought. Here are a few of their descriptions of the tea itself:

"Nice vermilion color. Hints of mint, menthol, and prunes. Astringent." - John

"The tea is bold and at first shocking, but then almost instantly refreshing. The flavor was a taste unrecognizable but is very calming. I think besides the flavor the tea was unusually intense/striking. As the tea unfolds, it softens and it seems as if it matches the flavor." - Darren

"The perfect Solstice Celebration tea. Slight minty flavor, feels smooth on the tongue. Can taste hints of traditional Assam." - Eileen.

photo by Anna Smith
Notes by Josh Chamberlain:
The tea was brewed in glass tea ware and it was brewed a little bit light. The two factors might have something to do with each other. One participant noted that the overall body feeling was distinct. He was describing the feeling in his own body, no

t the body of the tea. He mentioned that checking in with the feeling in his body and had a sense of lightness and euphoria, and an overall sense of well being. He asked us to check in ourselves with this feeling. I did notice the feeling and he asked me to talk about this, but I was a bit shy on the subject. "I feel it, but I don't like to talk about it because I'm not sure how much of it is the power of suggestion." "Yes, but do you feel what I am talking about?" "Yes." And I did. It was the feeling of ultimate tea euphoria, in which somehow by just drinking a tea, we are buzzing with contentedness. It's as if the feeling is created in the room. People realize that the feeling is there and they cherish that feeling. It almost amplifies the power of the feeling.

What a wonderful tea experience! I feel so grateful having shared the day with fun tea loving people.
I was also able to share my summer solstice poem with the group. It’s still under revision because it isn't done, but nonetheless stands as:

Have you ever felt the sun and the moon at the same time?
In the dead of winter, this feeling is sublime
Shuffle the deck, let your heart decide
We enter the world alone, with nothing to hide
On the moons face burns the sun
The longest day! The longest day calls for celebration!
The sun says, “Moon, I don't need your help today.”
The moon says, “Sun, today is your day.”
Evolving as we revolve around the sun
Soon to become that which was once undone.

It was 5:18 pm when the light started to seem a bit dark. Anna flipped the light switch. The hue had textural value. Because of its crowd pleasing nature, it hung around for the rest of the party.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Winter Solstice Poem

On the eve of summer solstice, I've decided to post last years winter solstice poem. Just a reminder of how far we've come, and where we are headed.

Teahouse 6/1/2010

Dark, as we move from the depths of the
Warm beams transform us with rays of energetic light,
As decay manifests, taking hold...
When it seems things just can't get any worse, but then they do, because anything is possible.
With the unfolding of life's cycle, with something as simple as the knees of bees.
It starts with a giggle, gurgling warm until a full boiled laughter takes hold.

Until darkness peaks, and there is nothing else but... light.

Gettin' to Know Tea... With Anna V. by Anna V. Smith

J-TEA impacts people in a lot of different ways when first coming into the teahouse. Some are excited to find such a vast treasure trove of hard-to-find teas. Some are awed at the selection, and can't wait to explore each category. Others are overwhelmed by the choices, since they feel that they don't know "enough." I was certainly the latter, when I came into J-TEA a few years ago for the first time. I didn't know anything about tea, and had essentially nixed it off my list of beverages since all the teas I had drank thus far were either watery and tasteless, or too fruity or bitter.

The first time I came in, Josh gave me a puer to try and I was shocked at the fullness of flavor; it tasted like sweet soil and minerals, and made me think of a damp forest floor covered in pine needles, the scene of so many Willamette Valley hikes. I was surprised how a flavor I'd never tasted could so easily transport me to another place.

Since then, I've explored green oolongs, roasted oolongs, formosas and puers, though still shying away from the herbals and strong black teas like Lapsang Suchong. At this writing, a few of my favorites are the Bee's Knees Bird's Nest Puer, and the Dong Ding Triple Blossom Roasted Oolong. A big reason why I was overwhelmed when I first came in was a feeling of intimidation, and knowing that I had a big hole in the section of my brain marked "Tea Knowledge." The good news is that it's not hard to start learning about it, you just have to be willing to start drinking lots of cups tea, and have the patience to try, try again.

I also discovered that my initial disregard for tea was based off of generic low-grade teas; it wasn't that I didn't like tea overall, I just hadn't been exposed to the teas that I like. So, if you come in and have no idea where to start, Josh, Andrew and I will do our best to get you started on the path to finding right tea for you. It'll be fun, I promise!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oolong Rise Up!

Chinese is a fun and interesting language, albeit a difficult language. What other language would call an airplane a flying machine, or a computer an electric brain, or a kind of tea, black dragon? One of the cool things about Chinese is that there are infinite possibilities for those who enjoy word play. But sometimes, even for those who have been studying Chinese for decades are taken aback by learning about just how much there is to know.

Just on this last trip to Taiwan, I learned a new word play joke, that I might have said before, but didn't grasp its full meaning until this trip. When people would ask me, “What are you doing in Taiwan?” and I would answer, “我來找茶” or “I came to look for tea.” One person with a good sense of humor thought I was saying “我來找碴” or “I come looking for trouble.” You see, 找茶 (look for tea) and 找碴 (to pick fault with/to nitpick/ to pick a quarrel) have the exact same pronunciation and the exact same tone. This joke evolved into the following sentence: 在台灣當時找茶,跟美國茶界找碴。“While I'm in Taiwan looking for tea, I find a fault with the U.S. tea world.” My quarrel is over the term blue tea. As I stated in my previous post “The Color of Oolong is Never Blue,” calling qing cha “blue tea” is a mistranslation. Qing cha is, in fact, a category of oolong tea that is less oxidized and closer to the green end of the oolong spectrum.

This term “blue tea” was really getting to me. It's as if one source started calling oolong blue, and everyone follows. Now it is as if everyone is copying everyone else. Oolong is not blue tea. Oolong has never been blue and it never will be. Given the difficulty of this beautiful language, it is no wonder that when presented with a word, like “qing,” that can be translated both as green and blue, there is some confusion. I knew that there was some confusion, so I decided to get to the bottom of it.

I asked a tea teacher in Taiwan, “What color is qing?” He showed me a color very close to the blue on this pouring pitcher shown above. My heart sank. Maybe they are right in translating qing cha as blue tea, I thought. He went on, “But when we are talking about tea, this is not the color. When we are talking about tea, qing cha is green. In fact it is supposed to be the color of a frog's back. It includes green, red, and even white. This is qing's color when it comes to tea.” In this case 青色 “qing se” or the color of qing, and 青蛙 “qing wa” or frog use the same first word, 青”qing.” Like I mentioned in my previous post, I think most Americans can learn to call oolong simply “oolong” and don't need to rely on an arbitrary color code.

Oolong Qing Cha is the color of a frog's back. Frog's Back Oolong... An oolong by any other name would taste as sweet. Let's just not call it blue.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Oolong Curiosity

As we get to know oolong tea, curiosity is a great mindset to have. This mindset of experimentation allows us to be open to all of the flavors that oolong has to offer. Brewing oolong is a constant experience in trial and error. In the beginning, it is common to brew the tea too weak or too strong. If the tea is too strong, the tea is bitter. But with high quality tea, even bitter tea has something to offer. This bitter flavor is less familiar to the American palate, but in Asia, bitter is a flavor that is also appreciated. Bitter flavor has the ability to remove heat from the liver. The heat of summer is the best time of year to go for bitter. When high quality tea brewed too strong, a string of deep rich floral and fruit undertones delightful to the senses can follow the initial bitter flavor. A pleasant surprise.

Industry practice for comparing tea:

When we compare two teas it is important to use the exact same standards for each tea. To compare teas fairly, it is important to use the same amount of tea. Often professional tasters will use 3g or 5g of tea. The same temperature water. For most oolong teas, tea masters in Taiwan will use water that has just boiled. Use multiple sets of the same tea ware. This way, differences in tea ware will not cause any unfair advantage to either of the teas. My favorite tea ware for comparing teas is the Jian Ding Bei, or professional tea tasting set. By using the same tea ware, it is easier to use the same amount of water. This is important, because the tea-to-water ratio should be the same for each tea. Finally, brew each tea for the same amount of time. Often, professionals will brew multiple teas at the same time. This is tricky at first, but gets easier with practice. This is a good practice because it is also important to taste the teas side by side at similar temperatures. Our senses are always in flux. Slurping is a technique used to enjoy a tea's entire breadth, as well as replace what was previously on the palate. By slurping the tea deep into the sinuses, through the roof of the palate it is possible to go through a line of several teas and make decisions and not become overwhelmed or confused about the flavors.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Blue Tea

The first time I heard the term “blue tea”, I thought it was totally bogus. A UO professor asked me if I'd ever heard of this kind of tea before. When I said that I hadn't, he offered to bring me a copy of a book that he had just brought back from Mainland China. Flipping through the book, I was shocked to see that the tea the author classified as blue tea was oolong. I dismissed it as a fluke and hoped I would never come across the term again. If only I had been so lucky...

I have one request of the tea world. Let's agree not to call oolong blue tea. More and more, I see books and magazine articles referring to oolong as blue tea. We have to put a stop to this. I am slightly color blind, and maybe for that reason, I want things that are called blue to really be blue, or sad, and oolong is neither of the two. 青 or “qing” is one type of oolong. Qing can be translated as either green or blue. This category of oolong is what we at J-TEA refer to as “green oolong.” We call it green oolong, well, because it is green. But maybe, because qing can be translated as either green or blue, then maybe it could be called blue tea. But in my mind, for the reason stated above, and because qing is only one type of oolong, it should not be called blue. To leap from this one mistranslation, to calling the entire category of oolong “blue tea” is absurd.
An example of qing oolong tea

When I was trying to make sense of this nonsense, I reached out to the online tea community. “Tea enthusiasts, what is this nonsense about calling oolong blue tea?” It was here that I learned that there was some genius who thought, because other tea categories were named by color, that all teas should be named by color. This makes sense right? I mean white tea is not white, and black tea is not black, unless it is Lipton, which uses food coloring, so why can't oolong be blue? I guess we could if we really want it to be.

But do we? Do we want to be this lazy in our approach to classifying tea? Are we really going to call roasted oolongs, amber in color, the traditional color of oolong, are we going to call this blue? Formosa oolong's or eastern beauties; intoxicatingly translucent red, are we going to call this blue? Traditional iron goddess of mercy, a dark rich ruby red, should we call this blue? I must protest. I must find a way to put a stop to this. There is such a wide range of oolong teas, and it makes no sense to give them the color code blue. Classifying all oolong as blue is too lazy, and classifying qing as blue is a mistranslation. So it looks as though I have another fight with the tea world's status quo. Let it be known that I am fighting for transparency, not obfuscation. We can all say oolong, weather you spell it oolong or wu long. So say oolong like you mean it, like you are proud, and it won't be too long before everyone knows this amazing category of tea by its proper name.  

Aged 1986 Dong Ding Oolong, looking anything but blue.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Psychology of Tea – Laughter and Appreciation

The psychology of tea is stuck in my head. On reflection, I have a lot to say about this subject. This is a huge topic simply because there are so many psychological benefits of tea. There is no doubt in my mind that tea has many subtle benefits to health, both physical and psychological. Just today, taking my first sip of tea, I am revived. “I can make it. I will overcome my obstacles. I will achieve my goals. Life is good. Gratitude.” All of this came to mind the moment the tea touched my lips. This is the profound impact of tea.

Psychology in a nutshell... our interpersonal relations, who we get along with, why we get along with them, how we get along with ourselves. Why do we dislike the people we dislike? What are our obstacles? How do we overcome them? What is our outlook? People are difficult to understand. Even understanding ourselves is difficult, let alone understanding others.

Tea has an introspective energy, shedding light on the essence of who we are. This provides the opportunity for personal growth.

Many people have described before how, for example, by setting aside a time for tea for the whole family, when the whole family comes together to drink tea, improves familial relations. This is akin to eating meals together as a family. It is a way to spend time together. On multiple occasions, more than I can count, and more than I am even aware of, tea has facilitated with a feeling of togetherness, bringing people together, establishing connection, and a sense of well being.

“If I've taught you one thing, it's how to pivot.” Martin told me this after I conveyed to him the following experience. I was conducting a tea tasting at The Kiva. Several teas were in the line up, steeping in the Jian Ding Bei, professional cupping set, and decanting into colorful teapots. One steep at a time, doling out the samples, until that infusion is used up. Then I steep the leaves again. This process is repeated several times until the leaves have lost most of their luster. I only brew one infusion at a time, so there is just a little bit of tea sitting in the colorful teapots at any given time. I do this, so that when I pour the sample into the porcelain sample cup, the tea is hot. This works pretty good, but on this particular day, business must have been slow. I'd been there a couple of hours, steeping and re-steeping, and my mind was starting to wander. A man approached and I cordially offered him a taste of tea. Upon tasting the tea, the man complained, “This tea is cold.” Something about his attitude, maybe it was his lack of appreciation, was less than endearing. So I answered, “No, the tea isn't cold. You are late.”

As soon as the words left me lips, my core was vibrating with a sound and sensation similar to that felt when sitting at the base of a huge waterfall. This was Martin's laughter. Uncontainable and wild, not in bursts, but more like a lion's roar.

I remember feeling afraid that I would forget things about Martin, but I can hear it as clear as the day we were sitting on his sailboat and I told him this story. He liked my story. “That is a pivot!” he exclaimed. This is the psychology of tea. And it is true, the pivot, he taught me well.


Monday, June 09, 2014

Tea House Takeover - Josh Answers Questions About Tea

We recently had a group of special visitors from So Delicious Dairy Free take over the tea house for a private tea class. This was fun for several reasons, but one of the fun things was hosting a class for seventeen enthusiastic food people. They were very interested in learning about tea.
I asked the group to give us a list of questions at the beginning of the class so that I could address the questions as we went. Below, I've included a list of the questions and some answers.

What are the temperatures and times for brewing different teas?
Let it be known that my favorite way to make tea is in the small unglazed Yi Xing tea pots. This brew method is commonly known as “gong fu cha”. I use these pots for oolong and puer. This brew method is outside the scope addressed in this class. We used what I refer to as a benchmark brew method. The teas brewed are: Green Spring, Charcoal Dawn, Eugene Breakfast, Scholar's Mountain, Cooked Kilo Brick, Iron Goddess of Mercy, Eastern Beauty Twisted Leaf, and Starry Night.

We used the same brew method for each tea. Four grams of tea, water right off the boil (210 degrees Fahrenheit), steeped for two minutes in ten ounces of water. We used the Forlife infuser and a twelve ounce glass teapot to steep these teas. At the time of this blog post, almost all of the teas we sell at J-TEA can be brewed this way. We wouldn't want to brew Japanese green tea this way, but we do not currently have Japanese green tea on hand. Using the same method for each tea simplifies the process. One of our goals is to make tea brewing easy for people new to tea. After tasting the tea, you have a benchmark, or a general idea of the teas characteristics. Depending on how you like this infusion, you can adjust make some adjustments the next time you brew. If you like the taste of this infusion, great! If it is too bitter, you can either reduce the water temperature, or reduce the steep time. If the tea is too strong you can either reduce the amount of tea used, reduce the brew temperature, or reduce the brew time. If the tea is too weak, you can either increase the brew time by one or two minutes, or increase the amount of tea used. After brewing for two minutes, we steeped the tea again for four minutes. Remember, with high quality tea it is possible to steep the tea several times for multiple infusions.

Do / can you grow tea plants here?
The answer is yes. Many of you have tried our Minto Island Farm tea. This is all grown in Salem, Oregon, just one hour north of J-TEA. We also have several tea plants living at the J-TEA tea house that survived the great freeze of 2014. These plants are hearty and are growing in popularity.

What is the process of processing tea, from plant to package?
This will vary greatly from region to region. It will also vary greatly depending on what tea the farm is trying to produce. This subject is a bit dry and there are a variety of books and articles devoted to it. I'd say that the main flaw with everything written about this that I have seen is that they often do not cover the extensive amount of variation in that can occur within any particular process. Imagine a wine master making a pinot noir. There are infinite variations in the process that can occur depending on the variations that exist within any agricultural product. If you want to learn more about this you might check out Wikipedia's tea processing page.

What are functional teas?
Functional teas are teas that are meant to cure. These teas are generally herbal and have specific medicinal benefits. A good example of a company that produces functional teas is Traditional Medicinals.

What causes tea euphoria?
L-Theanine combined with caffeine. This is what Geoffrey Norman has referred to as “happy juice.” Tea makes you happy, there is no doubt about it, and the better the tea, the happier it can make you. Another common tea term is “tea drunk.” Tea drunk or “Cha Zui” is the result of drinking too much tea. It really has a euphoric overtone and has a similar feeling to being a bit high. But generally this over consumption of tea is not viewed as healthy and from my experience, it's fun to experience when you first start getting into to tea, but over time, as one gets further and further down the road of their tea existence, this feeling becomes less and less appealing. Tea is a good thing, but like all things, moderation is key. The amount of tea one can drink in a day will vary from day to day. I find that if I have enough rest and eat three good meals, then I can drink more tea. If I am not taking care of myself, then I often feel like drinking less tea. You can pay attention to the way you feel regarding tea. If you feel like drinking more, it is ok to drink more. If you feel like drinking less, just drink less. 

What is tea culture in other countries vs. US tea culture?
US tea culture is in its infancy, but it is growing fast. One of the main differences is that in countries where tea culture is strong, such as Taiwan, China, India, and Japan to name a few, tea culture is very old. Having been around for an extended period of time creates depth. There is a popular saying in Taiwan, “If I am not in the tea house, I am on the road to the teahouse.” The people that say this are basically saying that they live within tea culture. They don't have to be drinking tea at any given moment, but they have tea in their heart and they are living in a way that is profoundly impacted by tea. Tea is on the mind all of the time.

Much of US tea culture is very commercial. Much of the tea sold in the US has perfume added. Pick up a package of tea in your local super market. Read the ingredients. If you see “natural flavors” listed, don't buy it. These flavors are not good for us. Natural flavors are chemically synthesized in a laboratory. They are artificial; not real food. The only reason to add anything to a tea is that the tea quality is lacking. Much of the US tea culture is focused on selling tea regardless of quality.

We'd like to thank So Delicious Dairy Free for creating this private tea class. We would also would like to thank them for their great questions. It is was a good time drinking several types of tea. I will now start boiling water to brew up a pot of oolong tea to help me think of the topic of our next blog post. Until then, keep sipping great tea!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

What is oolong?

Widely defined, oolong is the range of tea between green tea and black tea. This is a broad range of tea. Ranging from 11% oxidization for the greenest oolongs, such as Wen Shan Bao Zhong, and then going all the way to 70% oxidized, for the eastern beauties and some iron goddesses. There is also aged oolong, which is further oxidized after processing, so it is often referred to as “post oxidized tea.”
Oolong is complicated and, for the most part, is not well represented in the U.S. Generally a tea shop will carry one or two oolongs generally not of very high quality. So, as a predominantly oolong focused tea purveyor, one of our constant objectives has been to redefine oolong to the consumer. We do this by getting people to taste high quality oolong.

Sometimes we even go so far as using stall tactics when offering samples. When asked about what kind of tea we are offering as a sample, we wait until the person has tasted the tea. That way they can come to their own conclusion about the tea, rather than judging it based on a name. Then we say... It's an oolong. Surprise! You like oolong! It is true, we are confident that you like oolong tea, you just might not know it yet.

Meaning that if you do not like oolong, it is probably because you have not had a good one, or it was not prepared well. Either way, this is a sad state of affairs. But, it is also why we will continue to toe the party line, dousing the nation with amazing oolong tea. We've got oolong way to go, but we've made it J-TEA's mission to expose everyone to amazing oolong tea.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Psychology of Tea

The psychology of tea is such a hot topic in Taiwan right now. With psychologists as parents, I've tried to write on this topic previously. He Lao, a friend and tea teacher, mentioned to me that people have written about the psychology of tea, but everything written so far has been a bit shallow. “They just say things like: having a ceremony makes you feel calm, and that this type of tea has this kind of effect and so on,” he begrudgingly remarked. Keep in mind that when He Lao is speaking of tea, he is not talking about herbal tea and he is not suggesting that we achieve some type of altered psychological state by drinking a hallucinogenic tea.

He said, “What we need are some real scientific findings or opinions on the psychological benefits of tea.” I explained that I tried to get some of these answers from my parents, two exceptionally qualified psychologists. Unfortunately, this did not work. Why is a psychologist going to talk about why tea is good, unless they have a vested interest? When Martin was alive, I tried to get him to talk about tea and he wouldn't let me pin him down on anything. This was insightful in of itself because I knew that he would have done practically anything to help me and my tea business. But he wouldn't let me say that he said anything regarding “the psychology of tea.” The message was loud and clear. Any psychologist worth his or her salt would not endorse a product, no matter how good it might be.

So I have decided instead to focus on the psychology of tea as I know it: buying tea, doing tea business, and learning about tea in Taiwan as well as how to live your life. If you want to live well... drink tea.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

If I'm not in the tea house, I'm on the road to the tea house.

Taiwan is a country rich with tea culture. It is a place where it is not difficult to find yourself surrounded by tea and tea paraphernalia. It is a world in of itself, and stepping into this world can be as vast as jumping into the ocean. This world is commonly known as “The Tea World,” and it’s made up of tea people. These are the people that eat, breathe, drink, and live tea. Sometimes they are tea vendors or they sell tea ware, maybe they are artists who have a tea room. Or they are involved in tea production such as growing tea or roasting tea. Nonetheless, tea is very important to them and it plays a major role in their lives.

I remember when I first got close to the precipice that is the divide of the tea world. I was warned...“Be careful.” Many people have thought it would be fun to play with tea, only to fall into the vastness of the tea world. Once you fall in, it is difficult to get out. As I've seen time and time again, people have invested most of their time, energy, and finances into tea. Once they get in deep, they truly are in for life. It is not a bad thing. It is just something that with will change one’s life. It is not something that happens at once, but it is the beginning of a new path. Often, this path leads to many unexpected adventures and opportunities to learn.

The depth of feeling that exists in the tea world of Taiwan is profound and it has been my luck to know it as I have. With this trip, the journey continues. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A story of Mina in Taiwan...

Mina is from Japan. Every day she walks out of her flat into the alley. She sits down for her breakfast and the old women tell her how pretty she is.
“You look very pretty today!” Every day, they tell her. And she wonders why they tell her this. Tomorrow? She thinks, will they say I am pretty again tomorrow? In Japan no one ever told her how pretty she looks. Especially not every day. She wonders if it is because she is Japanese. She wonders if tomorrow they will still think she is pretty. Though she has doubts about their sincerity, she accepts what they say, and secretly, it makes her feel good.
Looking at this cup of tea, I think: “This cup of tea looks delicious.” Before long, I find myself telling each cup of tea that it looks delicious. Every day, I look at the tea and say to it, “You look very delicious. This tea is good. This tea is delicious."

When you look at your cup of tea, tell it how it is. Say, “You are a wonderful cup of tea.” We taste the tea every day, but the taste sometimes differs from what we say. The real flavor, differing from the perceived flavor, is more beautiful because it is real. This connection to reality is more important and resonates with us on a deeper level. So even though, sometimes after telling the tea how wonderful it is, upon tasting the tea we find it to be bitter, or strong, or light, this connection to the reality is more beautiful to us than any perception of tea.