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

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

REVIEW: Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

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Sign with menu

I’m late with this review. I know it. But better late then never I suppose so here goes. Why not go grab a cup of tea and settle in to read…

Earlier this year (May) after the World Tea Expo, and graduating from the Specialty Tea Institutes (STI) Level 3 certification, I headed to Colorado to visit with my family for a few days. As you probably already know, my nieces and sister-in-law and I visit a different tea room each time I am out there. This time, I went to Dushanbe Teahouse alone so that I could properly taste a few different teas and make some notes.

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Outside seating under the pergola

I’ve wanted to visit Dushanbe for the longest, but never seemed to have enough time. Now was my chance and I’m so very glad I did.

The story of this special Teahouse can be found on their website (I encourage you to read it) but in short the story goes like this: it was in 1987 when Mayor Maksud Ikramov announced that the city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan was going to present Boulder with a Teahouse to honor and celebrate it as a sister city. It took about 3 years to build with the help of over 40 artisans. Teahouses in Central Asia serve as gathering places for friends and family to meet, play chess and talk over a cup of tea. The Master woodcarvers carved their names in the ceiling and the painters wrote their names on the green painted area above the entry to the kitchen. There is a message carved in the ceiling that says: “…artisans of ancient Khojand whose works are magical.

Isn’t that just lovely? The place is magical from front door to last sip.

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Entryway into the Teahouse

Anyway, I drove to up to Boulder on that really clear, sparkly day in May, parked the car and found my way to the front of the Teahouse. I was welcomed with this beautiful sign carved out of wood with the Teahouse menu behind glass. I was already mesmerized.

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Inside the Teahouse

I walked around their front garden for a bit taking it all in. Since it was early spring their rose bushes weren’t in bloom. But I could tell that in just a few weeks the grounds would be bursting with color! The whole entry is so welcoming, peaceful and serene. I contemplated sitting outside but quickly ruled that out since there was a chill in the air. Anything below 72˚ is chilly to me.

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Detail of the ceiling

So I made my way to the front door, and walked in. The smell of spices greeted me immediately. The decor was lush and overwhelmingly beautiful. I was in trouble. I knew this wasnt going to be a one cup of tea visit. Instead of waiting for a table I headed for the bar to sit. It was graduation day (UC Boulder) and so many families were there celebrating and I didn’t want to take up valuable real estate (ie: table for one).

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The menu and my first cup of tea

The bar was perfect. I found a seat, spread out and was ready to attack the menu. Very nice tea selections. Hard to choose. I went to the back page where they had specials, limited-edition teas and some rarities. I started with an oolong. No surprise there. I ended up tasting 7 different teas including: white, green, oolong, black and a flowering tea. In some cases I did not get the time, temp and tea weight info from Peter the bartender. He was overloaded with orders and I just had to go with the flow. I believe I steeped many of them at around 1.5 minutes except for the black teas. Here are my notes in order:

1. Sijichun Oolong: Formosa. Early Spring with a floral style aroma. Steeped at 175˚ for 1.5 minutes. They used 1 tablespoon of tea. The liquor was light, very pale actually almost white. Strong floral notes (just what I like) and the taste was smooth. No detection of bitterness. It reminded me of a classic Jade Oolong.

2. Fancy Formosa Silver Tip Oolong: Same temp, time and amount. This was an exquisitely handcrafted oolong. Very sweet and aromatic with rich mellow flavor and a mild, gentle aftertaste that was a bit nutty and creamy. This tea was richer than the first tea. Highly reccomended.

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Gopaldhara White Peony Rosette

3. Gopaldhara White Peony Rosettes (India): I didn’t get the time, temp amount info from Peter (my waiter/bartender) for this one. I didn’t actually realize I was ordering a blooming tea. For some reason the word Rosette didn’t register. They are not typically my favorite but I gave it a shot.  The flavor was very much like a white darjeeling and was quite frankly, amazing. The very light hints of sweetness was most unexpected.  A most unusual tea.

4. Cloud Darjeeling Green: What a treat! Very light liquid. The wet leaf was a mixture of green and brown. There was a slightly vegetal taste but it wasn’t over powering. Floral notes lingered with its very clean finish. It reminded me of an oolong.

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Plum Oolong

5. Plum Oolong: Tart, naturally fruity, aromatic with a pink infusion that I found very interesting! Slight hints of spice and of course a plum-y finish. I would sip this one again!

6. Puttabong Estate, 1st Flush Darjeeling, 2008: Full gold color in the cup, brighter on the palate. Herbaceous floral and a bit winey. The wet leaf was very green! There was an astringent aftertaste with hints of pepper that really livened it up. The steep was 2-3 minutes on this one.

7. Ceylon Nuwara Eliya: A high mountain ceylon. Classic and bright in the cup and in taste. Very smooth with no astringency or bitterness in the finish. A lovely cup of tea.

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Mediterranean Salad

Drinking all this tea made me hungry so I decided to order food from the menu. Everything looked amazing and it was hard to choose. I ended up with a simple Mediterranean Salad
which consisted of: Mixed greens, hummus, dolmas, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, olives, herb vinaigrette, house flat bread for a mere $9.00. It was outstanding!

I’m looking forward to going back to the Teahouse on Aug 1 & 2 to attend the 10th Annual Rocky Mountain Tea Festival. My dear friend Pam will be joining me on Saturday night for their special Tea Dinner (click here for a sample menu). Everything on the menu is made with tea in some sort of way.

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My 7 teas

I’ll be attending some of the classes as well. I noticed that Donna Fellman will be teaching Tea 101. Donna is one of my STI instructors, the director of the Tea Education Alliance (T∙E∙A), and she is wonderful. For those of you interested in tea and want to learn the basics, I highly recommend Donna. You’ll get her for 2 hours for $15.00. Take her class at STI and its well over $500.

For more info on the Festival, click here!

Hope you enjoyed the review. If so, we would love for you to pass it on!

Happy Sipping!

REVIEW: Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

The Chief Leaf Gets Another Title (or vice versa)

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Our Ad in the July Issue of Yoga Magazine

First of all, I have to find more time to blog. This is crazy.

Between writing articles, (Fresh Cup), writing press releases, writing ads (see above), writing the blurbs on our website, updating Facebook, Tweeting… I can barely write my own name anymore. Which by the way, seems to compel people to ask the question,“Is that really your title? Chief Leaf?”

Yep. It is. And I had no idea so many people would respond to it the way they have:  a great big smile and, “I LOVE THAT!” BTW… guess who asked me that question? Go on.. Guess?!!! Carla Hall Lyons! The fabulous TOP CHEF, who we ALL know should have won! (I’m getting ahead of myself.)

So… when I was making up my business cards I went through the typical list of titles: President, Owner, CEO, Tea Specialist etc etc etc. Nothing seemed to fit. I kinda liked the “Chief” in Chief Executive Officer but it just sounded way too serious, and ominous. Not me. So I kept Chief (which I am since I own the company) and Leaf just made sense. I’m the Chief of all Leafs for Pearl Fine Teas.

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Ariane Duarte, Carla Hall Lyons, David and me

2 weekends ago at the Food & Wine Festival at National Harbor (which I hope many of you visited – the food was out of control delish, and the Beer Garden was even better. AND, Carla and Adriane were there). Tangent. Sorry. Anyway, I’m at the FWFest and Jon Arundel, editor from Local Kicks stops by my booth along with  Kirsten Marie Obadal, a wine writer. (Who wouldn’t want that job?)

They seemed to like what they saw and hopefully tasted (free tea to the press) and decided we were worthy of a write up, especially since I’ve been awarded the title of Certified Tea Specialist — The 1st in DC and 1 of 23 Nationally.

Local Kicks ran a story, and then NBC Washington and Washington Home and Garden picked it up. Yippee!

So now I hold 2 interesting titles: Chief Leaf and Certified Tea Specialist (isn’t that more fun than CEO?) and hope to one day call myself a “Tea Master” – maybe even “Tea Sommelier” as  they referenced in the article, but honestly, there are others who deserve that title more than I do.  I’m fine with the 2 I have now. For now. I hope in this lifetime I will have the honor of being called “Master.”  And I don’t mean by my staff or loved ones. 🙂

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Jade Oolong

My quest for the “Tea Master” title begins on Friday, June 19th as I take an extraordinary long flight to Taiwan to spend a week processing, cupping, discussing and learning about Oolong Teas. from a 3rd Generation Tea Master! You know I’m crazy for Oolongs so this is like… a dream come true!

I’ll be bringing back some limited-edition oolongs processed by yours truly. I may even be persuaded to sell some.

I wonder how much weight I’ll from sheer dehydration? It is Taiwan in June. They better make me an iced tea.

Happy Sipping!

The Chief Leaf Gets Another Title (or vice versa)