Taiwan Day 3: Oolong Bootcamp, Buddhist Lunch and a Typhoon

Tzu-Xin Tea Farm in Pouchong Tea District

Don’t let the photos of the upcoming week fool you. This is not a tea tour. This is oolong bootcamp. Proper shoes, dress, electronic equipment, notebooks, hats, bug spray, extra vitamins, (and for me… dramamine) is in order.

We officially kicked off the 3rd Annual TOST: Taiwanese Oolong Study Tour (my 2nd time) last night with a welcome ceremony by the TTMA and it fearless tea leaders: Jackson Huang, Norman Shu, Ted Fan, and Thomas Shu. We all introduced ourselves and talked about our passion for tea and why we signed up for this kind of adventure. (Little do these TOST: Rookies know, but the week ahead will be filled with long bus rides, mounds of information and late nights processing tea.) After introductions and a look at the different cultivars we are studying, we headed out to our welcome dinner, which will be one of the many enormous, sometimes lavish meals we will have during the week. Of the 17 of us in the group this year, only 3 of us are TOST: veterans: me, Bob Krul and my pal Ken Rudee, Chairman of STI.

In the garden learning from Thomas and Mr. Yang

So this lovely Monday morning begins (for me) with a little hotel room yoga, High Mountain Oolong tea and a hot bubble bath. It gets better… Breakfast is next and includes rice, bok choy, eggs, apple banana’s and miso soup. It gets even better…

As we pile into our giant rock-star sized bus, our first stop is: Tzu-Xin Tea Farm in Pouchong Tea District which I believe is managed by the Taipei County Tea Farmers Association. Basically, the association makes sure to promote and educate the public about Pouchong Teas and the benefits of organics in tea.  As we arrive, it’s a bit misty and there are sprinkles of rain from the approaching typhoon – which means its time to pull out the umbrella. (Because an umbrella always works in a typhoon, right?)

Buddha's Palm Leaf

We were greeted by the friendly and knowledgeable Mr. Yang and spent the morning in the garden learning about proper tea bush propagation and looking at different types of cultivars. One of my favorites (because of the size) is called Buddha’s palm. Did Siddhartha have giant hands? I wonder…

Tasting organic teas during the presentation

After further exploration and working up an appetite, we were invited to lunch. It was heartwarming to be greated by volunteers of a Buddhist organization working with the Tzu-Xin (mercy heart) Tea Farm who worked to create wonderful vegetarian dishes, many of which were prepared with tea. It was hard to control myself and not go back for 2nds and 3rds!  “Mercy Heart” encourages members to promote the benefits of a healthy environment (ie: organic teas) and live a life that is happy, healthy and promotes charity in line with their mission. They support local tea farmers and conversion to organic practices. I loved the spirit, energy and overwhelming generosity of these people.

As we sat and listened to their presentation about how all of this is accomplished, we were greeted with building wind and rain. Yes, the first typhoon was heading our way. The sound of the rain coming down onto the trees and leaves was soothing to me. Yes, the danger of a typhoon loomed, but the magic and mystery of an afternoon exploring tea fields, dining on a glorious vegetarian lunch prepared by Buddhists and sipping organic tea trumps the rain.

Saying "XieXie" and goodbye to one of the lovely volunteers

That very rain is what caused us to skip our scheduled walk through a converted organic tea garden, but quite frankly, I didn’t mind. I never tire of far away tea gardens. I never tire of meeting new TeaPeople in far away places. And I never take for granted the good fortune that lead me into this weird, wonderful world of tea.

Sip tea, people. And feel the love and happiness from the people who made it… just for you.

Taiwan Day 3: Oolong Bootcamp, Buddhist Lunch and a Typhoon

Taipei Day 1: Tea and Friends

My first official 24 consecutive hours in Taiwan. I feel like Ive been here a week.

I left DC on a Thursday afternoon and my first day here is Saturday? Long trip. But Im rested and ready to roll. Today is the birthday of one of our hosts: Josephine Pan. Our plan to spend the day at a hot spring fell through so we will shop and walk around. We had other tea friends join us for the day: Lisa Bolt-Richardson, Lynayn Mielke, Karen Hartwick, and Bob Bowie.

Our first stop was walking through the old market. We wandered through taking in all the aromas that crashed together. We stopped to watch a man make what I called “taiwanese crepes”. These are made of rice flour which perked me up since Im a gluten-free girl now. It was fun to watch him spin the dough and flatten it out on the hot round pans. We didnt eat any – just watched. The best part of the market was when I spotted the fruit Ive waited a year to eat again: PASSION FRUIT. Last year the hotel had it every day for breakfast. This time it didnt, so I was on a quest to find some. I bought out the ENTIRE amount of fruit the farmer had. For $3.00. Though I was reluctant to share with my peeps, I finally gave in. But it wasnt easy.

After the market we went over to a Taoist Temple. People were milling around, praying, offering fruit to the different Gods and asking questions with what looked like a half moon piece of wood, painted a bright red. The idea is to ask a question to the God of Business and drop the wooden pair. It needs to fall with one upright and one down, three times in a row and that means the answer is yes. I had to try it. I asked my question and I didnt expect the answer I got.  It was an astounding YES. Im keeping the question a secret for now. I enjoy visiting these kinds of temples in Asia. There is just nice  and peaceful atmosphere to it. No one is speaking. Incense are burning and there is a lot of fruit being offered.

Lisa, Lynayn, Josephine, Bob, Karen

After all that shopping and praying, or watching people pray we headed out for lunch. Josephine picked a cute local place were I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the vegetable dumplings were made with rice flour. Happiness. Pure happiness. I ordered them and an interesting soup. No tea was served though. Odd.

After our feast, we continued to walk and shop and taste local street food and just enjoy each others company. In some cases we were making new friends, in others, we were catching up with old friends. Ive known Josephine now for a few years and I was on the TOST 2009 trip last year. Ive known Lynayn and Lisa for a few years now through out training at STI, and Lynayn happens to live in Annapolis which is a short distance from DC. I made 2 new friends that day: Bob from Kansas, who own The Spice Merchant and Karen from Canada who owns Stratford Tea Leaves.

Sushi dinner on the sidewalk

By this time in the day I was in need of a nap but I resisted! We all went back to the hotel and Karen come over to my room and we shared a pot of High Mountain Oolong. There is just something about tea with a friend – especially in a foreign country. Especially the country where the tea came from. Later that night, after giving in to a nap from heaven, Karen and I ventured out for a light dinner and found a cute Japanese place around the corner from the hotel. What was cool about it was that the “restaurant” was open to the sidewalk and you could sit at the sushi bar on the sidewalk or the one table with 2 chairs next to the curb by the cars. We chose the table. The menu arrived in full on mandarin and the waitress spoke not a word of English. It was interesting. Next thing we knew there was this woman at the table translating for us. She didnt work there. She was a customer! It was quite funny. This woman, with her husband and child is standing at our table helping us order. Pure comedy. After our funny meal we headed to CarreFour the local department store thats open until 2am. Its not a department store like in the US. Its got everything from a full grocery store on the bottom level to electronics on the top. She had never been to it before so I dragged her over to it.

One the way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon this little tea shop (Jo Shun Tea Co.) that was still open. It was about 9pm. We went inside, sat down and sampled some oolong teas. The girl who helped was named Janet and she happened to know Thomas Shu! She was in Las Vegas at the World Tea Expo this past spring. Small world. After trying a few oolongs, we spotted some puerh on the shelf. There was a brick that just smelled really good. We asked to sample. Im not a huge fan of puerh, but admittedly, this one was fabulous. It is a 20 year old puerh from Yunnan. I bought it on the spot for $40 USD. Karen did as well. Great find.

The night ended with a little birthday party and cake for Josephine at the DongWu Hotel.
Great day.
Great people.
Great tea.
I’m happy.

Taipei Day 1: Tea and Friends

Taiwan Tea Journey: Getting There

Leaving DC on a rainy day

It’s been a long time since I blogged. I think my blogging mojo was on hiatus for a while so I thought it was time to dust off the keyboard and reconnect.

What better way to begin again, then with a spot about my newest tea adventure. I’m back in Taiwan with my fabulous tea friends, participating in the 2010 TOST (Taiwanese Oolong Study Tour).  Yesterday was my first official first full day in Taipei. I will try to post on each days events.

My journey started with my good friend Earl waking up at the crack of dawn to drive me to Dulles Airport. It was raining and in DC that means even more traffic then usual. It took us almost 2 hours to get there. Its normally 40 minutes. After I checked my 2 giant bags in (1 was 50 pounds in weight, the other? Empty in order to bring back tea treasures), I made my way to the gate. I keep forgetting what a boring airport Dulles is. It certainly isnt like Charles De Gaulle/Paris, Hong Kong or even Narita/Tokyo. And the Duty Free Shopping? Disappointing.

I boarded the plane and took my seat: 17J (bulkhead, yay!) and sat next to a very nice woman from N. Potomac named Kathy who is Taiwanese but was born in Japan. Kathy is 71 years old and out travels me. Talk about a dynamic lady! She made the 13:56 hr flight pleasant. We had a lot to talk about, including Taiwanese Oolongs. I made her a little teabag filled with Jasmine Yin Hao. I couldn’t have her sipping junk. She and I sat right behind business class so we got to watch them recline their seats into beds and sleep the whole way. I guess for $5000 USD I could have done the same? Not likely. I tired to upgrade but alas, everyone in business class showed up.

Can I just say that United needs to get it together and upgrade their planes for 14hr flights. They had only 3 or 4 movies playing on a loop and they were old. How many times can you watch The 40 Year Old Virgin anyway???

Found in Duty Free: an electic tea kettle.

When I got to Narita I spent my 3 hour layover looking through the shops at all the cool Japanese “things”.  Everything is just so cute and well designed. What I loved was trying to figure out all the different drinks and foods written in Japanese! There was a fridge that had bottled water, iced green tea and then at the top was a small bottle that said GREEN TEA. When I grabbed it – it was warm! They actually have a heated section for warm tea. Genius! It was a delicious sencha.

Giant plane from Japan to Taiwan

There were just too many cool things to take in during my 3 hour wait — I would have spent a day looking at cute books, teaware, rice bowls, HELLO Kitty… everything. But, my next stop was Taipei and my level of exhaustion was finally catching up to me.

The plane to Taipei was Giant! I think it was a 777? or is it a 747? Its the one with the upper deck. I dont even remember take-off or what food was served; if I even ate. I passed out in my seat and the next thing I knew we were landing in Taipei. The minute the captain turned off the seat belt sign, every single person on the plane jumped out of their seats to grab a bag. Chaotic? An understatement.

I picked up my bags and exited and found a nice man waiting for me with a big sign with my name on it. Traveling with the Taiwanese Tea Manufactures Association (TTMA), Thomas Shu and Josephine Pan is more than a treat. Its a luxury. They think of everything. Right down to having a driver pick you up so that you dont have to scramble to find a taxi.

Oolong Tea at the Dong Wu

I got to the Dong Wu Hotel in Old Taipei about 50 minutes later and was greeted by Ida. A cute Taiwanese girl who I remembered from last years trip, and who remembered me as well! After making my way up to my room, the site of the fluffy comfy bed made me want to leap into it from the door. But instead, I made some High Mountain Oolong and took a much deserved bubble bath. And then… leaped into bed!

I love Taiwan. The Taiwanese people and traveling for tea. Its one the best parts of my job as Chief Leaf at Pearl Fine Teas. Im looking forward to drinking gallons of tea over the next 18 days, making tea and learning even more.

Taiwan Tea Journey: Getting There