Thursday, January 27, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-Farewell Taiwan Hello Japan

Our Final day in Taiwan, we had a closing ceremony where each participant was able to get up and tell the group what the trip meant to them.  Although I had many favorite things, making tea and getting to know the farmers was high on my list.  We were treated to a wonderful vegetarian buffet lunch afterwards.  After lunch, we prepared for our trip to Japan.  It was suggested that we pack our smaller bag for Japan and leave the other stored in the airport upon arrival.  Boy, was that ever a good suggestion!

We had a 6:15 a.m. departure time.  Four member of our group weren't coming with us to Japan.  As you can see below, I don't think our bus could have fit one more person or one more bag on it. 

You can just barely see my head peering out from all the luggage behind my friends Lynayn and Elise.  I am glad there were no quick stops on our way to the airport!  This was the first mode of transportation for the day.  I have labeled this the automobile part of the trip!
We got to the Taiwan airport without any luggage falling!  We then checked in for the second mode of transportation of the day-planes.  Not all of us were on the same flight to Japan.  We had our designated spot to meet in the Tokyo/Narita airport.  There were six of us flying Delta.  We arrived in Japan late as our plane didn't take off on time.  We quickly found where to store our luggage, exchange our money, and go meet our group.  There was a little mix up, but we managed to make it just in time to get on our first train which left from the airport.

The train part of our journey was two-part and the third mode of transportation of the day.  After about an hour long train ride, we got off at the Shingansen station to switch trains.  This time we would be traveling on Japan's high speed train known as the "bullet train."  We only had about 15 minutes to figure out how to find our next train.  The train station was very crowded as it was the beginning of evening rush hour and many commuters ride the train to and from work.  We got on the train in just the nick of time and we were off.  The ride is so smooth, you don't really realize how fast you are going. 

We arrived on time and our hosts were there to greet us at the train station.  We walked from the station to our hotel across the street and down just a bit.  As we dropped off our luggage in the lobby, we had been traveling about 12 hours by this time.  It occurred to me how grateful I was for the suggestion to leave our large piece of luggage at the airport. 

Here are our hosts for the Japan part of our trip.  
Mr. Yamanashi, his daughter who interpreted for us Kazuko Kirita and her husband
After a lovely introduction, we sat down to a wonderful Japanese meal.  We cooked our food on the table.  We were treated to a wonderful assortment of vegetables and Kobe beef.  Some of us even had some cold Saki!

Here is the view from our hotel door as I greeted Japan hello and said goodnight!  I couldn't wait to wake up and see it in the daylight.  I hope you enjoyed my version of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!  Has you ever been on a high speed train before?  I would love to hear about your adventures!

Come discover Japan green tea with me in the next few blogs! 

Happy Sipping, Lisa

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Taiwan Day 7 & 8 Shopping, Making Snacks, and the Tea Leaf Hopper

Happy New Year, please join me as I continue my blog of my wonderful tea adventure to Taiwan and Japan!

After returning to Taipei about 11:00 p.m. from the our journey to the tea fields of central Taiwan, checking back into our hotel, and gathering our luggage that we left behind, we were all pretty tired.  Our next day started a little later as we were traveling close by.  Our first stop was this lovely little town just about an hour away.  The town had a scenic river running right through it.

We toured of factory that supplies tea for an international company that is known around the world.  Due to confidentiality, I cannot share the name of the company which is disappointing! What struck me was how immaculately clean the facility was.  Can you see the floors are stainless steel?  I hadn't ever seen that before and was wondering how I might install that somewhere in my house!  Some tea was in the baskets to the right withering and to the left were bags full of tea ready to be sent off.

After touring the plant, we walked out to see some of the gardens.  Here is Jackson Huang talking with one of the tea farmers.  I would have brought back one of those straw hats if I could have figured out how to get it back without crushing it.  I think it would have been fun to hang it in my office!
The rest of the day was for shopping in Yinge, which is a ceramic town that specializes in tea sets that harmonize well with Taiwan oolongs.  Some of group shopped for their stores, but since I don't owe a tea shop, I was shopping just for myself and gifts for others.  Here is my Christmas present to myself.  It is a handmade piece that over time will take on a crackled look.  I LOVE it!

Our next day was filled with more learning experiences.  We headed to the Oriental Beauty district. Our first stop was to a museum to learn about this area and tea farming.  This part of Taiwan was settled by the Hakka people which is a subgroup of the Chinese with their own linguistic dialect.  Our guides Thomas and Josephine happen to be Hakka, so it was fun at the end of our museum tour to make a traditional Hakka snack.  

It starts with sesame seeds, black and white peanuts, and pumpkin seeds that are ground up into a paste.  We were shown how to use this large "mortal and pestle" type system for grinding it all up.  It required some elbow grease for sure.  It tasted quite good all on its own.
After it was all ground up into a paste, we spooned it into cups that contained green tea powder and puffed rice. Hot water was added to it for a Hakka "protein/energy" drink! There were also a few other snacks as you can see!

Probably the most intriguing thing to this area is the Fancy Formosa Silver Tip tea.  Its wonderful and unique flavor is contributed to the leaf hopper.  It is a small little bug that eats the leaves of the tea plant during a specific period in the summer. Seen below on a Camellia Sinensis plant, this small bug has a huge impact on flavor! 

While the farmers are busy with their other crops, this bug infests the tea plants. This attack makes the plant respond with a chemical defense to help it repel the insect and protect itself. As I learned in my last Specialty Tea Institute Level 4 Technology of Tea class, that this stress to the tea plant is known as a physical biotic stress. The compound that the plant produces to rid itself of the bugs actually changes the flavor of the leaves to a wonderfully unique brew. Now how cool is that?   

Our next stop was to visit Mr. Lou who is the head of The Formosa Black Tea Company.  We all felt famous as we stepped off the bus to a camera crew filming our visit. 


We watched an informative film and toured the facility which has a lovely display of the history of the company.  What I thought was very interesting is the way Mr. Lou and his company has kept up with the demand for tea and changed its ways depending on what the market is demanding.  His company is now a large supplier of green tea powder to Japan for beauty and cosmetic products. If you have beauty products that contain green tea-it might just be from The Formosa Black Tea Company!  I was honored to meet Mr. Lou seen below. 


Our final event of the day was the Grand Cupping.  It was set up by Norman Shu of ABC Tea Company.  We cupped (professional way to taste tea) about 30 different type of teas.  It was the biggest cupping I had ever done at one time. 

Join me for the next blog as I take you to our closing ceremony.  Then I have my own Planes, Trains, and Automobiles experience to Japan!  I hope you can keep journeying with me to Japan. 

Is there anything new you learned through my blog?  I would love to hear!

Happy Sharing Taiwan and Sipping Oolong, Lisa