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

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.

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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

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)