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 2: Temple of Love, Noodles, and Oolong Tea

Burning incense with monks in the Temple of Love

It’s Sunday. A day of rest. But not for tea people. (It’s actually November now and forgot to upload this post!)

I kicked started my second full day here in Taipei with a beautiful Asian breakfast (rice, bok choy, eggs)  good conversation and some Oolong tea. It gets better. I decided not to join the group that was going to a eco-garden and instead continue to wander around Taipei. Karen Hartwick joined me. We left the Dong Wu and walked over to where they sell dried herbs, teas, flowers, fruits, Chinese medicine etc… On route we ran into David, the nephew of Jackson Huang and Thomas Shu (2 of our leaders for my 2nd Taiwanese Oolong Study Tour.) David was on his way to find a temple where one of his friends visited last year and told us the story of how only  1 month later his friend met a woman and they were married. Evidently, people go to the temple to pray for love. So, we’ll call it the Temple of Love. We followed him to see what it was like.

With David Huang, Karen Hartwick and our love charms

So many people in and out of the temple, burning incense and praying. Karen and I were snapping tons of photos. David asked us if wanted to participate in a ceremony. We were game. David was our translater to our guide, who walks you through this elaborate process which involved chatting with 5 different Gods, introducing yourself (ie: Hi. My name is… and Im looking for…) burning some incense and then eating some candy to seal the deal. We were given these special amulets to keep with us so that the “energy of the Gods” could work its magic. We shall see. Of the 3 of us, one is seeing someone, one is seeing someone but may want someone new, and one has no interest at the moment in seeing anyone.  I’ll let you figure out who is who. One of the nicest parts of the experience was being in the temple at the right time while monks chanting with their melodic voices. Incense burning. People praying. It was really quite magical. I felt I was in the right place at the right time.

One of the oldest street in Taipei

Once we left the temple, we meandered the streets, peeking into windows taking in all visual and aromatic sensations that is Asia. We stumbled upon what David said was one of the oldest roads in Taipei. Simply charming! David happened to be standing in front of a building with an open door that turned out to be an art gallery. We decided to go in. Quite spectacular to see the modern art just inside the oldest part of Taipei. Afterward, he takes us to the oldest and apparently Best Noodle Shop in Taiwan. We enjoy a local lunch in a hot spot for a mere USD$1.

Noodles for lunch. For $1.00

Karen and I then hopped in a taxi and headed over to Wisteria Tea House to sit, relax and talk tea. Wisteria is where director Ang Lee shot “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman” and I could see why. It’s gorgeous. We enjoyed the spectacular entrance into this private little world of tea and then found some of our own teapeeps sitting on mats in the back room dining and sipping. Karen and I enjoyed 2 oolongs that were on the menu. One was an aged oolong. Tasty, but admittedly my 1980 Aged Oolong that I purchased last year trumped theirs. We also shared a pot of milk oolong.

A page in the menu at Wisteria

I noticed on my way out of the tea house that there was the teapot and burner set that Ive been searching for all year! Tempted, I almost broke down and purchased it retail.  Im glad I held my fire because I would end up finding a much better, higher quality version later in the trip.

I look back at these last 2 days prior to beginning TOST and realize what a good idea it was to come a few days early. We officially kickstart the tour this evening with a welcome ceremony at TTMA. That means that tomorrow all systems are GO! and we’ll be moving at the speed of light as we wind our way through the Alishan Mountains and make Classic Tung Ting Tea. Tung Ting is also known as Jade Oolong and is one of my favorites.

I’m sipping tea in Taiwan. I’m happy!

Taipei Day 2: Temple of Love, Noodles, and Oolong Tea

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

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.

IMG_0134.(indoorwither)
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.

IMG_0036.(pressedtea)
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.

IMG_0216.(thomas-elise)
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

Plucking Tea Leaves in Taiwan (Step #1)

Greetings, TeaPeeps. As many of you know I just spent the last 10 days in Taiwan on what was called a Oolong Tea Study Tour, sponsored by TTMA (Taiwan Tea Manufacturers Association). Quite frankly it was more a bootcamp than a tour – which was fabulous! It was an intense learning experience along with some time to purchase new teas for our 2009 collection.

Studying with Thomas Shu, Norman Shu, Jackson Huang and other notable Tea Masters was more than just a treat. It was the opportunity of a lifetime!

I’m still gathering my thoughts, going through hundreds of photos and video and will write and share in the days to come.

In the meantime, I thought it would be nice to share a bit of video of a woman plucking leaves for us to prepare Oriental Beauty (White Tip Oolong). This is STEP #1 in the tea making process. Have a look…

Plucking Tea Leaves in Taiwan (Step #1)

The Chief Leaf Gets Another Title (or vice versa)

pearl_AD
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.

IMG_0041
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. 🙂

img_lg_jadeoolong
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)