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

Friday, November 5, 2010

Taiwan Tea Trip Day 1

Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to tour the tea fields and factories of Japan and Taiwan. Through my blog, I want to take you on my tea journey. Each country has its own feel, food, tea, and people and I enjoyed both equally well. Oh how I wish the computer offered you the chance to smell the wonderful food and tea of these countries.For now, however the best I can do is try to describe my senses through my words.

Well after a grueling 22 hour flight plus wait times in Atlanta and San Francisco, I finally reached Taiwan! I landed at 6 a.m. Taiwan time.  I crossed over the International Date Line so that meant I jumped ahead 12 hours missing a whole half a day. With just a few hours sleep on the plane, my roommate Lynayn and I decided to shower and hit the streets to acclimate to our new 12 hour time change!

Taiwan is a beautiful country full of friendly people.  I had a couple free days before our Tea Study Tour 2010 started. Our hotel was in the historic tea district of Taipei.  Immediately I sensed I was in a foreign country with all kinds of new sights and smells.

This part of the city is full of tea shops, street markets, and bustling with what seems like more scooters than cars!

Temples are in abundance there and are built with ornate, colorful designs reflecting the ancient heritage of this proud land.

The street food was interesting as well and the smells were almost intoxicating!

Some smells we savory while others were sweet. Still others I could not identify and were as mysterious to me as the Orient itself.

Our first day ended with all the excitment and enthusiam that our physical exhaustion would allow. But for now we are off to the hotel for some much needed rest.

In the next blog is Day 2, when we visited an interesting tea house which was a mixture of Taiwanese and Japanese style of taking tea.

Happy Sipping and thinking of Taiwan, Lisa