2011 Winter Taiwan High Mountain Tea

High mountain oolongs or gao shan are Taiwan’s most distinctive teas. These teas yield rich, juicy, full-flavored and high-fragrance teas. Gao shan teas are hand-plucked and grow in high-elevation tea gardens (4,000 to 8,000 feet ) located in the mountains of central Taiwan.

There are two seasons for gao shan tea: spring and winter (winter plucking begins in October). Tea from each season brings its own delicious characteristics to the cup; spring begins the new harvest year and winter tea brings it to an end. Spring teas possess the vigor of renewed growth at the time of bud-break and winter teas reflect the rich maturity and high-fragrance of the final crop of the season.

The yield for gao shan is small, due to the high elevation, thin air at high altitudes, and the small size of the tea gardens (under 5 acres). Also, each pluck is comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 leaves attached. This style of plucking effectively eliminates the ability to pluck a greater yield or to use different leaf plucks to make other teas. This combination of factors, coupled with the difficulties of farming on nearly vertical, steeply-sloped land, and the challenges of a short growing season is not conducive for large outputs of tea.

But happily these conditions are conducive for crafting small-batch teas from tea bushes that are well-adapted to their environment. While gao shan does not have a long growing season, it does have, more importantly, a long dormant period. Dormancy, or winter hibernation, provides essential rest for the tea bushes. Rest is necessary for the plants to adequately absorb minerals and nutrient from the soil, and to gather plentiful energy before the growing season begins anew in the spring.

Careful cultivation, and an enviable terroir ( the effects of soil composition, weather and micro-climates on flavor and aroma ) yields teas brimming with concentrated, abundant, sweet flavors and intoxicating, floral aromas.

The Signature of a Good Gao Shan

These teas are comprised of the complete stem end of the branch with 3 or 4 connecting leaves attached. These clusters can be strikingly large, and the presence of stem and their connectivity is one of the signatures of a good gao shan (do not remove the stem!). Our teas are clean and whole, and do not contain broken bits. The amino content of this leaf is high, giving each tea a rich, chewy mouth-feel and a persistent, pure, clean vegetal taste.

Winter gao shan is believed by many to be the finest, purest, most concentrated expression of this style of oolong.

 

Comparing the Flavor Characteristics

Comparing different gao shans from these famous tea mountains is an astonishing way to understand the effects of terroir.While gao shans have much in common one to another, each region and each tea mountain produces a unique tea.

We are thrilled to offer our tea enthusiast customers the opportunity to taste a well-chosen selection of gao shans from Taiwan’s famous tea mountains:

  • Ali Shan
  • Li Shan
  • Li Shan, Da Yu Ling   ( a region of Li Shan)
  •  Shan Lin Xi .
  • and a delicious new Tung Ting, too, for good measure.

Please also note, a comparative tasting of these teas will give you a very true picture of their flavor characteristics and personalities as the tea is all from the same plucking season. Also, we have asked for un-roasted, or modern style teas, which allows the fresh, natural vibrancy of the flavor and aroma to be savored. This also keeps the comparison within the same parameters.

It is not often that such a choice selection of gao shan is found in the US – even in Taiwan a selection of gao shans can be difficult to source. Despite the small production and the high cost, many tea farmers have waiting lists comprised of tea lovers hoping for a small quantity from the next seasonal batch. Sometimes people wait several years before someone drops out and they are able to purchase some tea.

We suggest purchasing a 10-gram pack of each tea ( or a larger quantity if you wish! ) and share the tea drinking experience with your most enthusiastic tea loving friends.

Each 10 gram sample will yield multiple pots of tea, in quantities varying depending on the size of the teapot and the amount of leaf and water used. But essentially, each 10 gram packet, re-steeped accordingly, will yield about 90 ounces of tea. See the detail page for each gao shan for steeping instructions.

Visit www.teatrekker.com to view our selection of gao shan and to order from our limited supply.

 

 

Mindful Tea Drinking as Food for Thought

An interesting article by Jeff Gordinier appeared in today’s Dining & Wine section of the New York Times. It is titled: Mindful Eating as Food for Thought.

It presents the benefits of mindful eating – that is, eating slowly ( not hoovering in the chow ) while paying attention to the food on your plate. Without the distraction of watching television or being connected to various electonica while eating.

For those who gobble their food in order to move on to the next thing, this notion may come as a surprise. Mindful eating is about focusing on the qualities and attributes of our food: the taste, the textures, and the interplay of flavors between the foods on your plate. Aromas and colors, too, are there to be appreciated, and who knows, such mindfulness might start many thinking about what the food on their plate actually is and where it came from.


According to the author, this concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently chewing.

“The rhythm of life is becoming faster and faster, so we really don’t have the same awareness and the same ability to check into ourselves,” said Dr. Cheung, who, with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, co-wrote “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” “That’s why mindful eating is becoming more important. We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: ‘Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I’m so sad and stressed out?’ ”

I was interested to see  such an article in the go-go New York Times. Not so long ago the Times was filled with reports and stories about the latest ‘here-today- gone-tomorrow ‘pop-up store, or roaming bar. So this article comes as a pleasant surprise.

We stress this same type of mindfulness about tea in our tea classes and whenever we are speaking with a tea customer who we think will listen.

Why? Because we are obsessed with the qualities that make premium artisan tea so special, and much of the appreciation of the flavor of the tea begins with the appreciation of the appearance of the tea itself. After all, one of the reasons that artisan tea is so great is because of the careful handling and hand-skills of the tea makers who made the tea.

So if you drink tea for the deliciousness of it, or for it’s cultural importance or its social opportunities ( and not just for a cafffeine jagg), perhaps you already look at the beauty of the leaves in the tea that you are purchasing or will be drinking. Do you ever wonder why certain leaf shapes are the way they are, or consider all of the different shade of color that tea can be?  Have you learned enough about the characteristics of some teas that you can  identify them just by looking at the shape and color? By the aroma?

This is our mantra about steeping and drinking a delicious cup of tea:  See, touch, hear, smell, taste.

We put that simple phrase, repeated below, on one of the handouts for our tea classes. We explain it, and some in attendance listen to us, and some don’t. Nevertheless, those who pay attention to their tea will, we believe, ultimately,  have a richer tea drinking experience, and gain a deeper appreciation for the craft of making and steeping.

Mindful tea drinking – food for thought, indeed!

Tea Drinking Feeds All Five Senses

See: observe the color, shape, and size of the dried tea leaves, and then the color of the tea liquor in your cup

Smell: the aroma of the dried tea leaves before steeping and the aroma of the tea liquor in your cup

Hear: listen to the sound of the water being poured into the teapot and the tea liquor being poured into the cups

Touch: feel the smoothness or roughness of the teacup in your hand and against your lips. Admire the thin-ness of the lip and the curve at the base of the cup.

Taste: savor the sweetness or the bitterness of the tea liquor

Here is a link to the article in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html?ref=dining

Meeting the Dragons in Japan

On our last visit to Japan in 2010 we arrived the week of spring school break. The weather was glorious but our carefully devised plan to visit the top temples in Kyoto was thwarted by hoards of happy ( albeit sometimes bored ) school children engulfing each place. Parking lots were jammed with buses, and viewing (and moving about the temple gardens in general) was difficult due to the crowds.

Since Kyoto has hundreds of temples and shrines to visit, we quickly shifted gears  and headed off to visit a temple that has a significant history  involving tea and the development of tea drinking in Japan. As compelling as this fact is to us, this temple is NOT prominently featured in the tourist circuit, so we looked forward to a more serene visit.

A few bus rides and a short walk later we arrived at Kennin-ji Temple 建仁寺. This is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, and we were delighted to see only a handful of people wandering around.

We learned that Kennin-ji was established in 1202 upon the request of Emperor Tsuchimikado 土御門 (r. 1198–1210) and with the Japanese monk Myoan Yosai (Eisai) 明菴榮西 (1141–1215) serving as the founding abbot. Eisai made the voyage to China twice during his lifetime, visiting Mount Tiantai to learn  more fully about Zen Buddhism. He eventually received recognition of his Zen enlightenment, and as  a result, he introduced Rinzai Zen Buddhism to Japan. He also introduced the tradition of drinking tea to Japan. He is recognized as the founder of the tea ceremony because of his efforts to encourage the cultivation and consumption of tea.

http://zen.rinnou.net/head_temples/12kennin.html

There is much about Kennin-ji that impresses,  but for me the unexpected joy of the  ‘road-less-traveled’  moment came when we entered Nenge-dô, the Dharma Hall. Inside of this grand space, a portion of the ceiling features a bold black ink and wash drawing ( suibokuga) titled – Twin Dragons – painted in 2002 by the contemporary artist Junsaku Koizumi. The drawing was commissioned to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the temple’s founding. Usually, dragons depicted on the ceilings of dharma halls are painted within a circle. But this exuberant ink drawing of two dragons roiling about in the cosmos covers a very large amount of un-bordered space in the center of the ceiling.

The striking image features two dragons who appear to be chasing a pearl. One dragon clasps the pearl in its talons; the other looks longingly at it. It is unclear if they are playing with the pearl or engaging in a battle of wills to possess it. The sheer size, boldness and technical expertise of this colossal drawing is mesmerizing. The fluidity of the scene underscores the grace and ease of movement that dragons possess.  It is easy to imagine these creatures swiftly disappearing from sight back into the cloud-filled cosmos with just a powerful gyration of their bodies.

We craned our necks until they hurt and we got slightly dizzy from gazing upwards. But nevertheless it was difficult to leave and re-enter the world of daylight. I was thrilled to be in the hall, and to experience the humbling feeling of being small and vulnerable beneath this colossal drawing. Perhaps that was just the response intended by the artist. I began to imagine what feelings an image like this would have invoked in people who perhaps believed that the cosmos was indeed filled with such magnificent and powerful beings centuries ago.

This drawing measures 11.4m by 15.7m, the size of 108 tatami mats. (In contrast, a classic Japanese tearoom where Chanoyu is conducted is the width of 8 tatami mats). The image is drawn with the finest quality ink on thick traditional Japanese washi paper.  The artist created it on the floor of a gymnasium in an elementary school in Hokkaido and took him just under two years to complete.

For those who visit, Kennin-ji also houses another wonderful piece of dragon art. Un-ryu 雲 龍, a dragon flying in clouds” is an ink painting on four fusumas (sliding partitions). The image was originally painted in the 16th century by Kaihō Yūshō(海北友松 1533-1615 ).

POSTSCRIPT

As I was writing this post, I discovered that Junsaku Koizumi passed away on January 9th of this year. Perhaps that was why I began to think about him again. This is his obituary as recorded in the Japan Times.

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012

Todaiji painter Koizumi dies at 87

Yokohama — Artist Junsaku Koizumi, who painted 40 paper screens of Todaiji, the renowned Buddhist temple in Nara Prefecture, died Monday his family said. He was 87.

Koizumi studied under the famed Kyujin Yamamoto (1900-1986) while attending Tokyo School of Fine Arts, which later became Tokyo University of the Arts.

He won his first award at a 1954 exhibition of new paintings. After he turned 40, he tended to stay away from painters’ circles and was sometimes described as a noble loner. He produced many ink paintings of magnificent and serene landscapes.

Koizumi’s representative works include ceiling paintings at Kenchoji Temple in his native Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, and at Kenninji Temple in Kyoto Prefecture. In 2010, he completed the 40 paper screens at Todaiji, a World Heritage site.

He also created calligraphy work and pottery.