Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Wishes and Recipe for Giving

Growing up in South Florida meant the "Winter Wonderland" at Christmas time was sand going between your toes while you walked barefoot on the beach. The closest we got to chestnuts roasting on an open fire was the crackle and pop the LP made as our treasured Nat King Cole Christmas album played the tune on our record player. My dad is a huge Nat fan and has collected his albums for years. In fact, I often wondered if that was why his album was the only holiday music we owned growing up-nobody could out do Nat King Cole.  

My dad was also a singer himself. For several years, my father was asked to be a part of a Living Christmas Tree production in St. Petersburg, Florida. When I was around 8 or so, I was asked to be a part of the production. My role was to just sit still on my dad's lap as he sang the old favorite that I had heard every year-The Christmas Song better known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. The night of the performance I was so nervous that my mom kept having to take me to the ladies room. I was afraid I was going to miss my stage debut due to a nervous bladder!

Alas, my time had come to go on stage. I remember getting up onto my dad's lap and nervously looking out into the audience when I realized I couldn't even see them. The lights on stage were so bright that all I could see was their bright beams . So, I just looked at my dad as he sang my favorite Christmas song to me and I forgot all about the audience. I have to say his rendition that night of The Christmas Song was the best I had ever heard-even Nat King Cole couldn't out sing my dad!

My South Florida upbringing didn't allow me to experiment with recipes for roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but here is my Microwave Chocolate Truffle Recipe instead. Some of my readers have emailed me that it has become their "new favorite" Holiday Recipe-so good and so easy. I think the best gifts are those from the heart that you make. It is such a great gift for this time of year! 

Easy Microwave Chocolate Truffles
from Tea with a Twist - All About Chocolate Tea Party

½ cup heavy cream
3 Tablespoon butter cut into chunks
2 Tablespoon sugar 
1 Tablespoon vanilla
10 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (60%) I like Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips* (If not using chip, break up chocolate into small pieces)
½ teaspoon salt

Cocoa Mixture
Mix 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa and 1/3 cup powder sugar together. For a saltier taste add 1/8 teaspoon fine salt.

Microwave cream, butter and sugar in 2 quart microwavable glass bowl on high for 1 ½ minutes. Stir well; heat an additional 1 minute longer or until mixture comes to full boil. Stir in vanilla and chocolate into cream mixture until chocolate is completely melted. Add salt and blend. Chill until firm enough to shape into balls about 3 hours. Shape into 1-inch balls. If desired roll truffles in Cocoa Mixture. Another option is to roll in finely ground nuts and salt. Store covered in refrigerator. Makes about 2 dozen.

Happy Christmas, Sipping, and Giving, Lisa

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taiwan Day 6 Head in the Clouds

The view from my hotel was once again beautiful.  I knew I was in for a treat as I woke up to this stunning view seen below.  We packed up our stuff again and loaded into our vans.  This was our third hotel to stay in since I had come to Taiwan.  It was lots of packing and unpacking, but totally worth the effort.  That morning we were to visit one tea district and then in the afternoon we could visit another.

The first tea district was Shan-Lin-Si.  It is in the mountains about 4,000 feet high.  According to the tea master, his tea garden was the most photographed of all the tea fields in Taiwan.  He says he built the garden according to the lay of the land which gave him this "Baqua" shape.  If you are not familiar with "Baqua" as I was not, it is a Feng Shui term used to describe a shape that means there are 8 sides going in 4 directions in a circular fashion.  I think the picture of the tea garden best describes it.

The tea master told us the people visit from all over to study the garden and try to recreate it, but they can't. Since the world is a unique place and no two people are just alike, I guess no two tea gardens can be the same either! But we all enjoyed a taste of the wonderful teas from this garden. He had interesting cups for us to sip our tea from. They were small white porcelain cups with two small blue fish painted on the bottom of the cup. As the tea swirled in my cup, it almost made the little fish look like they were swimming!

After our lovely visit and tasting at the "Baqua" tea garden, we headed to our next destination, but not before a wonderful lunch.  I just loved the way the meals in Taiwan are served family style.  I have to say I got quite adept at using chopsticks after using them for every meal!

Our drive in the mountains was quite interesting.  The picture below shows our vans enroute to the tea garden.  We are not on a one way road as it may appear.  This road is two-way traffic winding up and around the mountains-sometimes with full 180 degree turns.  There was a three-way radio being used so that the drivers could communicate between each other.  Since I was in the last van, we would be alerted to oncoming vehicles and we would pull over.  It appeared many times that there wasn't enough room for the sometimes large vehicles to get by, but they always seemed to manage.

In addition to the narrow two-way roads winding up and down the mountain, there were many places that the road had been washed out due to typhoons and storms.  If you can see beyond the fog (yes, it was foggy too) in the picture below, the road has been washed out with no guard rails either.  To make it just a little bit more interesting, it was raining on and off due to the typhoon that was edging its way along Taiwan.  I have to say, it made for a very exciting drive and I was very glad for the beautiful scenery to turn my attention away from our travel conditions!

Our vans got us safely to our next stop which was in the Ali Shan Tea District.  Tea Master Steve surprised us by showing up at the tea garden.  The garden is run by one of the farmers he has been working with to help make his tea production more modern.  It amused me to see that it doesn't matter where you are in the world, men love their toys and remotes.  Below is a picture of how the solar panel (black covering) and the rain protective panel (white covering) can cover the withering tea leaves which would be laying on the a canvas on the concrete.  But, the cool thing is, it can all be done by one click of a button from a remote control!  We saw many other automated things that Steve has helped the farmer with and then we were off to his tea fields!

A short trip from the factory was a beautiful tea garden.  To top it off, the sun came out and the sky turned blue.


The garden was literally in the clouds.  I always wonder when I fly and look out the window of the plane, what it would be like to be in the clouds.  Now, I know.  The tea fields were lush and green. The contrast between the vibrant green leaves of the Camellia Sinensis, the white billowy clouds, and the blue sky took my breath away. Talk about feeling like you were on top of the world.

We managed to get down the mountain safely without incident, even though we added darkness into the other problematic road conditions.  After a wonderful dinner, we then transferred from our vans into the larger bus and headed back to Taipei for our next adventure.  Below is our group enjoying their dinner and thankful for arriving safely out of the mountains. 

This day was so amazing. How I wish all of you could "be on top of the world."  I am looking forward to sharing with you the rest of my tea trip in the next few blogs. 

What part of my trip has been your favorite to read about?  Do you feel like I am taking you there virtually?  I do hope so.

Happy Travels and Sipping, Lisa  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taiwan Day 5 Finish Hands On Tea Making

After processing tea all night, we arrived at our hotel around 2:30 a.m. I knew we were staying around the Sun Moon Lake area, but since we had checked it so late, I had no idea we were right on the lake.  Here is the peaceful view I woke up to the next morning.  It was almost magical looking as the fog was lifting off the lake and the sun was just peaking over the mountains.  Although I could have enjoyed many cups of tea while watching the sun come up, I still had tea of my own to finish processing.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, our group was back to TRES to finish our tea. Although I was tired, I was anxious to finish my hands-on experience in making oolong.  When we got there, a worker was already busy finishing the next step of the processing.  Each one in the group got a chance to "bag" the tea.  Below are some of my highlights.  After the tea comes out of the steamer, it is wrapped in a canvas bag.  The fragrant aroma of the freshly steamed tea leaves was lovely. 

It was fascinating to see how the tea was tied up in the canvas into a ball. You can see me tightening the tea ball above on a machine that twist the canvas bag into a tight ball. Then the canvas wrapped tea was placed on a rolling machine and allowed to roll around which is seen below. This process of steaming, bagging, and rolling happens repeatedly.

I have to admit that we cheated just a bit in our hands on tea making experience.  For sake of time, our group left the rest of the rolling and the final baking up to Tea Master Steve and his team of workers.  However, the opportunity to get to be a part of making tea with all of the steps and to work with Tea Master Steve Huang, was UNFORGETABLE. 

We bid farewell to our new friend Steve and headed out to our next learning adventures.  We were treated to a wonderful film at Lugu Farmers Association and Visitors Center.  There they also had a museum that we toured.  Inside the museum they had a typical tea farmers house.  Our host/guide Thomas Shu told us that he grew up in a house very similar to the replica at the museum. 

After a wonderful taste of their teas, we were off to the Ling Ji Tea Garden.  It was there we were introduced to this interesting way of brewing their tea through ice.  The ice is at the top and it drips down into the tea leaves which is in the second chamber.  It then is collected at the bottom and put into containers to drink.  I have never seen this before and wonder if it is done here in the US at all????

The owner of this tea shop had set up a cupping for us on the most exquisite table.  Her unique approach to tea was based on a 1-10 baking of oolongs.  The flavors were wonderful and I was enticed to buy her #8 which I thought was floral and delicious!
After a lovely dinner, we headed to a new hotel for some much needed rest.  The next day was going to be a treat as we headed to the Shan-Lin-Si Tea District and the AliShan Tea District.  The views and the tea fields were breathtaking.  I was literally "in the clouds" on top of a mountain. 

I hope you are enjoying my trip to Taiwan virtually!  Does anyone want to go to Taiwan now?  How about trying your hand at making your own tea?

Happy Sipping, Lisa

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taiwan Day 4-Organic Tea Farming & Hands On Tea Making

This was the beginning of an exciting day for me.  Our group headed out on a bus to the area in central Taiwan known as Sun Moon Lake.  It was there we were to work with Tea Master Steve Huang at the TRES/Yuchi Branch to make our very own classic Tung Ting Oolong sometimes known as Amber Oolong. TRES stands for Taiwan Research and Experiment Station.  It is a governement run agency to support the tea industry and farming in Taiwan. 

Along the way we stopped off to see some tea fields in Minjiem to learn a little more about organic tea farming practices.  The organic tea fields were beautiful and surrounded by other plants such as palm trees and pineapple. This was a first for me to see a pineapple farm!


Some of what we saw being used was large plastic sticky yellow cylinders to catch unwanted bugs. This helps to keep the "healthy bugs" alive. The "healthy bugs" are those that kill off the predator bugs that eat the leaves of the tea plants and in organic fields they are one of things used in lieu of pesticides. 

Another practice we saw being used is fluorescent lights used at night to keep the bugs at bay.

I learned so much on this trip about how farmers are implementing organic practices into growing tea.  I am amazed at the dedication of farmers to give us pesticide-free tea.  I had to bid farewell to these tea fields and head on to one of the most exciting adventures of the trip for me.  We were off to make tea (below).  We exchanged our large bus for three smaller vans to allow us to get around in the mountains.  As we approached our destination, we looked out the window at Sun Moon Lake (. It was beautiful and we would see it again from our hotel, but not before our long night of tea making was done.

We pulled up into the TRES which was surrounded by beautiful tea fields seen below.

Then we walked over to the tea leaves that had been plucked for us. They had already started their outdoor solar withering process.  These are the leaves that we would spend the next 14 hours working with to process them into tea. 

While the leaves were withering outdoors, we had an opportunity to visit a black tea processing plant on the same facility and eat a quick lunch.  Then it was off to tend to our tea leaves to bring them in for the indoor withering time.   

 Upon moving the teas indoors we put them on large baskets and laid them out on racks. The tea leaves would sit for a while and then we would need to go back and "hand fluff the tea" 3 times; each time with a little more intensity.

Here is our Tea Master Steve showing our group how to "fluff."

Then it was up to us to fluff our own.  You need to maneuver your basket so all the tea leaves are towards the center.  Once the tea leaves are in the middle you then go back and forth with your hands to fluff.  This was easier said than done as these baskets are quite large.  Below are some pictures of me trying to follow Tea Master Steve's fluffing instructions!

After each fluffing, the tea leaves were allowed to rest on the bamboo baskets on the racks.  I wish you could smell how wonderful the room was where we were processing our tea.  It reminded me of my days growing up in Florida and walking through orange groves when all the orange blossoms were blooming.  It was amazing to me how floral-smelling just leaves can be. 

For the fourth and fifth fluffing of the leaves, it would be done in a large bamboo tumbler pictured above.  The first time in the tumbler it would be a slower and shorter time.  Our Tea Master Steve tells us that he judges how long the tea is in the tumbler based on smell.  Then the tea goes back to the bamboo baskets for another rest.  The next time it would go into the tumbler it would be double the speed and for a longer period of time.  Steve lets us know the time is done with fluffing in the tumbler when the aroma is at its high point and the grassy smell is at its low point.  The leaves were then left to oxidize in the bamboo baskets for a time. 

In between each session of processing our tea leaves, we went back to the classroom for more training on tea processing.  It was there that we also cupped teas (professional way of tasting teas).  I felt honored to be learning from the Head Tea Master in Taiwan.  There is a five year wait for farmers to get into the training facility to learn from him!  We also were able to sneak in a quick dinner in town during one of our wait times.

During one of our learning sessions, Steve presented each of us with a gift.  It is our name written in Chinese down the center with the date to the left and in small letters to the right, "I am happy to make this for you."  I took several pictures of it and would love to make a pillow using a photo transfer to remember Steve and my time making tea!
After the tea was allowed to oxidize for about 3 hours roughly 12 1/2 hours had passed since we had begun working with the tea leaves.  It was past midnight when we started the next phase of processing which was panning and drying.  To the left is the panning machine. 
Here are the tea leaves that have come out of the panning machine and are now being rolled. The worker is twisting the lever at the top which adjusts the tension placed on the tea leaves.
After the leaves are done with pan firing they go into the dryer.  When the leaves were put into the drying machines, they were still quite clumped up.  Here I am below "unclumping" the leaves as they are on the go on the conveyor belt into the drying machine.

We were all so excited to see our leaves come out the of dryer as that meant we were finished for the night.  However, we were not finished with the tea, as we would need to come back the next morning for the next steps.   


After studying tea for over ten years, working hands-on to actually make oolong tea myself was an amazing experience.  Understanding all the leaf goes through physically and chemically, as well as, how much effort is put into it by the tea master, makes me appreciate what is in my cup each day so much more.  I was told that by the time a consumer makes a pot of specialty tea,
880 people have handled and put effort into getting it into your cup

As this post is going up on Thanksgiving week, I thought it would be important to express my gratitude for having the opportunity to go on this trip and for all those that helped put it together, especially Thomas Shu, Josephine Pan, and Jackson Huang. Their dedication to teaching others about tea is unwavering!  I hope my blog has helped those of you that love tea like I do, to appreciate all those who work so hard to give you something special to drink everyday. 
Did you have any idea the effort it took for you to drink good cup of tea? 

On a personal level, I am so grateful to my family, especially my husband Joe, for supporting my career.  He encouraged me to go on this trip even though it coincided with our 20-year wedding anniversary.  We just celebrated our special day last weekend-one month late, but none the less special! 

In my next couple of blogs, I will finish making the tea and then off to the Ali Shan Mountains to show you some of the most beautiful tea fields in the world! 

Happy Thanksgiving and Sipping, Lisa

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Taiwan Day 3-Tea Fields Here We Come

Today was the day our group began our study of the tea fields in Taiwan.  We headed out to the WenShan Tea District which is famous for its Pouchong teas.  It wasn't a far drive from Taipei toWenShan, so we arrived fresh and ready to learn. Although we arrived fresh, the weather prevented any of us from having good hair days!  We were blessed to only have intermittent rain as typhoons seemed to be on our heals the whole time we were in Taiwan and Japan. 

Our first stop was to a school for tea farmers called WenShan Pouchong Farm that is owned and managed by the Taipei County Farmers' Association. For me, this was so exciting because it was my first chance to see tea fields outside the US.  The school is for consumer education and also for Pouchong tea promotion.  Mr. Yang (pictured on the left with our host Thomas Shu on the right) graciously showed us around the farm.  He was excited to share with us their growing and propagation techniques including their efforts to be organic.  We tasted some wonderful Pouchongs and left for our next adventure, but not before stopping by for some wishes for good fortune.  This statue below was built to celebrate the year of the tiger.  It is the Chinese god of prosperity riding on the golden tiger to bring good fortune to all!

After leaving the tea farm with much fortune on our side, we headed to Bopiliao Culture Village.  What a treat for our group as we unloaded the bus and walked down the hill, to be greeted by the group singing and clapping for us. This will always be a special memory for me and this was not the only treat the group had in store for us.

Volunteers from all over the area had been working for over a week to prepare a wonderful vegetarian feast with all the food having tea as an ingredient in it!  If you know how passionate I am about cooking with tea, you know how exciting this was for me and I am sure it was for the rest of our group as well. This table was filled with a wonderful assortment of entrees.

This was our dessert table below.

After having a wonderful lunch and some tea, we settled in to learn about the center, the group that supports it, and their mission to train farmers about organic farming methods. I thought you might think it was funny for me to post my feet after talking about food, but I was so impressed with how clean this center was.  We were all required to take off our street shoes and wear slippers!  Not only did we have good hygiene, but I do think it was quite the fashion statement too!

The group is a Buddhist organization working with the Tse-Xin Foundation which means "mercy heart." Their mission is to promote religion, culture and life, and charity. They do this by hoping every member will have a happy and healthy life, help the environment to remain healthy, and also to promote charity with their mission. The charity work is done through their foundation that supports local tea farmers to take up organic practices in their farming. They work to help teach the farmers how to introduce organic methods such as using bean sugarcane for fertilizer instead of chemical ones. To put their charity mission into practice, the foundation will pick up 50% of the loss the farmers will sustain as they convert their farms over to organic. They had a wonderful PowerPoint for us in addition to their presentation. I believe our group learned quite a bit.

We were supposed to walk through some of the tea fields that had been converted to organic, but due to the rains caused by the ever impending typhoon, we just toured them by bus.  We then headed back to Taipei to get ready for our next adventure.  We needed to pack for two nights away as we were heading out to the Sun Moon Lake area.  We would need plenty of sleep because the next night we all would be up very late making our VERY OWN Classic Tung Ting Oolong.

In my next blog, I will tell you all about my exciting TEA-MAKING ADVENTURE!

Happy Sipping, Lisa 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Taiwan Day 2

My Taiwan experience continued on day 2 after some much needed rest!  I was amazed how fast I acclimated to my new time! After a delicious breakfast at the DongWu Hotel where our group was staying, some friends and I headed out to our first Taiwan department store adventure called Carrefour. It isn't like any other department store I have been to.  The street level is actually the top floor of the store.  On that level is clothing, kitchenware, and cosmetics.  It also had a few small restaurants as well.  I thought the advertisement for the noodle restaurant was interesting. The large plastic noodles actually go up and down on the chopsticks and into the big red bowl to attract customers!

The next level down is a full fledged grocery store which was amazing.  My friends Lynayn, Hoda, and I walked around wide-eyed at all the intriguing foods.  I know the locals thought we were crazy as we all began taking pictures of the seafood.  It was different than what we were familiar with in North America.  My picture isn't the best as I had to rush to take it because they told us we couldn't take anymore photos of the fish.  I am not sure why that was, but we obeyed and moved on as there was so much more to look at!

We all bought some snacks for our extended stay in Taiwan.  We then wandered down the escalator to the third floor.  This escalator was different than any I had been on before.  It wasn't made of stairs, but a large moving ramp so that you could accommodate a shopping cart on it if you desired.  This level was full of electronics, small appliances, and what became of utmost important to some in our group, LUGGAGE!  Several from our group returned later to buy more luggage so that they could take home all their new purchases from Taiwan.  I was close to buying luggage, but ended up okay and within my international weight limits with my one large bag and my carry on!    We then left to get ready to go to Wistaria Tea House...

 As we pulled up in our taxi on the busy Xinsheng South Road in Taipei, we almost missed the tea house. It was very unassuming from the street, but as you can see, once you enter through the gates you feel transformed. There was a beautiful fountain and pond full of fish on the left side, to the back was a quiet place to sit, and to the right was our entrance. I was surprised to see that it was a mixture of Japanese and Taiwanese styles. We were required to take off our shoes and sit on pillows on the floor for our tea at low tables.

As I opened the menu, I couldn't help but notice this lovely saying on the inside. It says, "The Fortuitous Meeting of Strangers Destined to Be Friends." For most of those that are deeply in love with tea, I believe this saying is so true. Tea is a connection to the world and new friends! This rings true with my trip as I traveled with some I knew, some I knew a little, and some I didn't know at all, but all became friends through our tea journey and learning!

I had a wonderful time drinking tea and eating with friends at the tea house.  The generic house tea is served throughout the meal.  I ordered the chicken cooked with tea which came with many wonderful sides as you can see. You could taste the tea in the chicken as well as it sprinkled on the top.  The vegetable mixture up at the top was delicious in a ginger/soy dressing.  The salad to the top right was also a favorite!

Lynayn Mielke, East West Tea Emporium, Hoda Paripoush, Sloane Tea Company, and Newman Johnston, Teas Etc

After we finished our meal, we ordered tea from their menu. We selected three teas that were served in the gongfu style. Two of our teas were oolongs-one the house special and the other was a 30 year-aged one! We also ordered a 1960's puerh as well. After our waitress served our initial infusion of our first tea, we each took a turn steeping additional infusions. We infused each tea at least three times. The 30 year-aged oolong and the puerh were delicious. 

Gongfu is a wonderful way to serve tea.  The teapot they served the tea in was a yixing style one.  With each new tea that we ordered, they brought out a new teapot to use.  If you would like to read more about the gongfu way of making tea or yixing teapots, I wrote about it in the China chapter in my book, The World in Your Teacup.   Oh how I wish you could have smelled the teas as they infused.  The were intoxicating.  We enjoyed a full afternoon of eating, talking, laughing, and drinking tea.  Isn't that what going to a tea house is all about?

We returned to our hotel, to prepared for our registration and opening ceremony for the 2010 Taiwan Oolong Study Tour. Our group received our welcome bags which were full of goodies such as our itinerary, cupping sets,  and chopsticks (We were asked to use our chopsticks for our entire trip-I proceeded to lose them immediatly on the first night.  Thank goodness they were found as I didn't want to be the problem group member.)


We then proceeded to walk over to the offices of the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers' Association.  They were the sponsors of our trip.  We all introduced ourselves and made a brief statement as to why we decided to come on the trip.  We then studied the six Camellia Sinensis cultivars that we would be seeing over the next week. I am not sure if I could identify them in a blind test, but I did get to be quite familiar with several. We then had a lovely dinner at a Japanese restaurant as we all became more aquainted with each other.  We all walked back to our hotel excited about discovering the tea fields of Taiwan.  A BIG thank you goes out to Josephine Pan and Thomas Shu who were our lead guides/hosts for the entire trip!

In my next few blogs, I will take you to the tea fields of Taiwan! I hope you can join me.

Happy Sipping Taiwan Oolongs, Lisa