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

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