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

NEWS: Making Tea History in Taiwan

D.C.’s Chief Leaf  was 1 of 10 Tea Professionals from the United States and Canada to have completed a week-long intensive study of oolong teas from withering to final product in Taiwan from June 20-28, 2009. Ms. Scott was part of this exclusive first group of foreigners to produce tea at the prestigious East Coast Taitung Branch, Tea Research and Extension Station – an unusual and rare opportunity for anyone other than Taiwanese tea growers.

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Indoor withering process of Wen Shan Baozhong

The group was lead and organized by Thomas Shu, ABC Teas & 3rd generation Tea Master, Josephine Pan, Organic Teas Only, and the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers Association (TTMA).

Notable Tea Masters Norman Shu, current Chairman of TTMA; Jackson Huang, Senior Advisor to TTMA; Ted Fan, Secretary General of TTMA and on-sight instructor David Liao worked side-by-side guiding the group during processing, cupping sessions and tea tastings. On average, their days were 12-15 hours of intensive study of 6 cultivars:

1. Tai Cha #12/Chin Sin Oolong
2. Da-Yeh Oolong
3. Wuyi
4. Tai Cha #18
5. Tai Cha #8
6. Taiwan’s Wild Tea Tree

The week kicked-off the with hands-on processing of Baozhong Tea (Wen Shan Tea District) which took approximately 13 hours to complete.

Their second day was highlighted by a visit to the Shan-Ben Tea Garden, producer of the 1st Place Winner for Green Oolong Tea at the World Tea Championship in Las Vegas earlier this year. Winner Ken Rudee, incoming Chairman of STI and Board Member of the Tea Association of the US, returned to Taiwan to present 82-year-old Mr. Wu with the prestigious award.

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Making pressed oolong tea (with some help from a Master)

By day three, they had processed Pressed Oolong (Hua-Tung Tea District) and completed the “bootcamp” with the hand processing of Formosa White Tip Oolong Tea/Oriental Beauty (Ta-Chiang-Wu/Long Tan, Touyan)-Taiwan’s most precious tea.

“This was the most intense and rewarding tea experience I’ve had to date. To be able to actually hand-make tea was a rare opportunity, said Ms. Scott. “I have an even greater appreciation of the work and craftsmanship that goes into a single cup of tea. It’s not easy and is truly an art.”

By weeks end, the group had cupped and tasted over 60+ teas from Bai Mu Dan to Aged Oolong along with some that have not been sampled outside of Taiwan. A Master Cupping session was held at the ABC Teas Factory and was led by Norman Shu.

Mid-way through the week they were able to take a short break at the Luminous Mountain Spring Resort & Spa and enjoy the natural hot springs. Their week culminated with a Grand Tea Tasting at TTMA, a 10-course farewell dinner and closing ceremony on Saturday, June 27th. Certificates of completion were given.

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The totally wonderful Thomas Shu and Elise on the slopes of a tea garden in Yilan, Taiwan

Taiwan Public Television (the equivalent of PBS) was there to interview and film events earlier in the week and was scheduled to cover the closing ceremony to gather more footage for a 15 minute television special on their oolong study tour. Ms. Scott granted an interview to the TV Station.

“I was thrilled to offer my thoughts and opinions on the value of Taiwanese oolongs in the US Tea Market. We are big fans and huge supporters. Their teas are outstanding,” she said. “I used this week to not only learn from revered tea masters, but to also connect with the growers, develop relationships and purchase teas directly from the gardens, said Ms. Scott. “Our fall collection of Taiwanese oolong tea is really quite special.

Many of the teas purchased will be available this fall in time for the Holidays.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please consider sharing with a friend. We look forward to your comments! Happy Sipping!

NEWS: Making Tea History in Taiwan