Thursday, August 24, 2017

The 2017 Chinese Porcelain Exhibition of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Day 4 (celadon)

On a beautiful Sunday in Pennsylvania, we learned more about Qing, celadon ware from China. Celadon was a major progress from earthenware on the way to porcelain. Proto-porcelain actually appeared very early, during the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC) at roughly the same time as proto-celadon. But it's celadon ware that matured first, before porcelain. Celadon is made with high firing temperatures and refined stonweare clay. And The glazes of celadon ware have a broad range of colors: from yellow to olive green and to reddish brown. Later, during the Song dynasty, there would even be shades of blue. That's why it's better to use the broad term celadon (qingci) rather than green ware.
Yaozhou ware fish tea bowl, Northern Song (British Museum)
Celadon is a very natural hue, which we find on jade and on leaves. It's also the most relaxing color to look at for the eyes, scientists have found. Celadon was therefore hugely popular in Chinese culture. It's mentioned in many Tang poems. Kilns from different regions tried to surpass each other. During Tang dynasty (618-917), the most famous was the Misi ci, secret ware. This secret ware actually came from the Yue kilns, praised by Lu Yu as making the best bowls for tea.
 Ru celadon bowl stand, Northern Sung dynasty (British museum)
But the most highly regarded celadons ever produced during China's history came from the Ru kilns during the northern Song dynasty (960-1126). There bluish green color is simply exquisite. Shards show that the glossy glaze is often thicker than the body! Agate dust was used to make this special glaze and these Ru celadon wares were reserved for imperial use.
Small celadon tea cups (Tea Institute)
The color of the celadon glaze varies a lot with the firing. That's why it can be sometimes misleading to guess the origin of a celadon ware simply by its color. There's another element that gives a more stable indication: the clay. And the best place to see the clay is at the foot of the ware, because there's always a part that isn't covered with glaze. Historically, most celadon kilns in China were located in the south while white ware came mostly from the north.
Celadon tea cup (Tea Institute)
Celadon bowls and ware are well suited to drink green teas or lightly oxidized Oolong or young raw puerh. The celadon hue adds a natural freshness and transparency to the color of the brew.
This last day was concluded with a gift of a Yuan dynasty qinghua cup with stand reproduction by Teaparker's association, Cha Ren Ya Xin, to the Tea Institute.
Thank you for inviting us to Penn State this year again. We're looking forward to the next successful tea event! Click here for Day 3, Day 2 and Day 1 of the Porcelain Exhibition.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Soirée vins et fromages, et thés aussi!

 Jean-Luc Lanoix est un caviste passionné à Haguenau, en Alsace. Il y a 4 ans, il m'avait fait découvrir les vins naturels et de nombreuses informations pratiques pour bien déguster du vin. Cette dégustation vins et fromage fut un tel succès dans ma famille que nous en faisons une à chacun de mes retours en France.

Lors de la première session, un grand nombre de vins nous avait été proposé par M. Lanoix avec un fromage par bouteille et nous avions trouvé les accords entre les deux de très grande qualité. Chaque vin se mariait particulièrement bien avec le fromage proposé pour l'accompagner. C'est à cette occasion que nous découvrîmes l'excellent Fleur de maquis, fromage de brebis Corse, malheureusement introuvable sur l'autre ile de beauté nommée Formose!... Nous fîmes honneur aux excellents produits des terroirs de France dans un repas qui faisait écho aux festins de Pantagruel ou de Porthos!
Ravis par ces voyages gustatifs en pays de Loire, de Languedoc et de Provence, nous finîmes la soirée un peu étourdis et chancelants lorsqu'il fallut abandonner nos chaises pour affronter le tangage de la terre peu ferme sous nos pas. L'alcool qui grise ne reste un plaisir que si il est consommé avec une modération qui variera d'une personne à une autre. Connais-toi toi-même (et tes limites) est l'adage de philosophie pratique de tout dégustateur de vin!
Pour cette édition de 2017, M. Lanoix nous propose une découverte des blancs de Bourgogne! Connaissant surtout les blancs d'Alsace, je trouve le thème fort bien choisi. Cette fois, au lieu d'avoir 1 fromage par bouteille, il y en a eu 2. Ce changement fut intéressant, car il permit de constater quel fromage allait le mieux avec le vin proposé.
En dernière minute, j'ai l'idée d'essayer de compléter cette dégustation vins et fromages par du thé! A chaque bouteille, je demande le profil gustatif du vin et des fromages et essaie de trouver un thé qui puisse s'accorder.
La dégustation de vins et de thés partagent cette même règle: aller du plus léger au plus lourd. Aussi, comme M. Lanoix commence souvent par des 'bulles' (crémant ou Champagne), je choisis mon thé blanc le plus simple pour lui répondre. Je n'ai malheureusement pas une bonne mémoire des fromages et ne saurait vous dire quels accords fonctionnèrent le mieux ou le nom exact des fromages. Mais, avec 2 fromages par vin, il y en avait toujours un qui fonctionnait mieux que l'autre avec le vin et/ou le thé.
Le bon accord, c'est quand les 2 produits, vin et fromage ou thé et fromage se répondent et se complètent. Chacun est bon, mais les deux ensemble donnent des sensations qui vont au-delà de la simple somme des 2. Un mauvais accord, c'est quand la combinaison des deux est moins satisfaisante que la consommation d'un seul.
En second thé, je pris mon top Lishan Oolong. Puis, pour le troisième round, j'infusai mon top puerh cru sauvage de 2017. J'ai la satisfaction que ce thé impressionna notre caviste, M. Lanoix, par l'expression de sensations de terroir et la longueur en bouche de cette infusion. Je l'avais infusé plutôt fort afin que les arômes du thé ne soient pas écrasés par ceux du fromage. Et comme il fonctionna si bien, je le réinfusai pour le prochain tour.
Pour accompagner les fromages destinés au vin rouge, je choisis un Hung Shui Oolong avec quelques tannins et bien structuré. Infusé de manière concentrée, c'est un festival d'arômes maltés, mielleux et grillés. Très différent d'un vin rouge, tout de même, ce thé accompagnait bien le fromage qui allait le moins bien avec ce vin.

Tout à la fin de la dégustation, M. Lanoix nous fit découvrir un vin blanc d'Alsace tellement particulier que nous pensions tous qu'il s'agissait d'un vin jaune jurassien! Aussi, j'infusai un vieux puerh '7542' de 1999 pour rester dans la complexité, les arômes riches et exceptionnels de ce vin.

Nous passâmes de superbes moments raffinés au sommet de ce que la terre, le ciel, les animaux et les hommes produisent de mieux! Cette soirée n'aurait pas été possible sans mon beau frère bourguignon, Jérome et je tenais à le remercier pour sa généreuse amitié.

L'ajout de thé à cette dégustation fut bénéfique aussi pour nos sens, moins grisés et mieux conscients que lors des sessions précédentes. Le thé semblait avoir aidé à la digestion et à atténuer les effets de l'alcool, à moins que boire du thé ne réduise simplement la consommation de vin... Mais l'important est d'avoir su passer une excellente soirée à partager plaisirs, passion et amitié!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

How tea saved my life

 As a kid, my favorite beverage wasn't tea but coca-cola! I remember the joy of being allowed 1 can a week for Sunday's lunch! As a teenager, I drank the soft drink in bigger and bigger quantities. Luckily, I also exercised a lot and never became overweight due to this addiction. However, by the time I started to work and had less time for sport, the sugar filled beverage could have become fatal for my waist and my health. That's also the strong opinion of my father, a 70 years old doctor who sees soft drinks and sugar added to food as the major reason for the wave of obesity in the world.
Obesity generates a lot of serious health problems according to my father's experience with his patients. They make life much less enjoyable when you reach a certain age. That's why it was a very serious threat to my health and life to be drinking coca-cola daily in my twenties. Luckily for me, I moved to Taiwan and started to enjoy unsweetened Oolong tea! Little by little, my thirst for a Coke diminished and I started to prefer the delicate taste of natural leaves to the taste of sugar.
I haven't totally stopped eating sweets, but now I prefer my chocolate very black (70% or more) and in moderation. I have also established a lifestyle that allows me to exercise at least 3 times a week.
I wanted to share this testimonial with you, dear readers, as I am celebrating my 46th birthday in excellent health! I believe that good tea helped me develop a better palate for natural and healthy food. Replacing soft drinks with tea really saved my life and I feel I live like in Heaven on earth!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Brothers in tea

Antonio and Anton come from 2 very different countries: Spain and Finland! Today, these 2 young tea enthusiasts have met thanks to a little tea event I organized for them. Serious loose leaf brewing is done by very few people in their 2 countries, both told me. They rarely meet fellow tea lovers back home, but it's a very different story in Taiwan! And I'm glad that my blog has helped me and them to connect with so many other tea fellows in sharing the appreciation of everything tea!
I took these 2 brothers in tea to one of my favorite spot in Tucheng, near Taipei. On this day of Assumption, I tried my best to give them a glimpse of Heaven! We started with a light, refreshing green tea harvested less than 10 km away from this place: SanHsia Biluochun. I brewed it very simply in this black glazed porcelain bowl by Michel François. The thick and dark glaze retains the heat well and is well suited to brew loose green in this relaxed way. And, with the other teas, I used it as a beautiful waste water bowl (Jianshui).
Today's heat was so high that Taipei experienced power shortages! So, next, we used a high mountain Oolong to freshen our body and mind. 
I let Anton brew the second and third brews with my silver kettle and a round Yixing zhuni teapot.
He was a little bit nervous and his pour in the teapot wasn't that smooth. However, he did a good job pouring from the teapot in the cups. 
What impressed me most was that he could taste the tiny differences between my brew and his. He could taste that my brew's taste was more clear, pure than his. This made him realize that the difference didn't come from the tea, the water or the kettle. It had to come from the pouring skill. I told him what to improve and to practice often!
These pictures show him in his Nordic cool, but at other times he showed us a face of complete and utter satisfaction. What a fantastic place so near to the city!
Our third tea was more oxidized: this spring 2017 unroasted Hung Shui Oolong from Dong Ding.
For this fruitier and warmer tea, I asked Antonio to brew it with spanish gusto!
For this second session with me, Antonio has been learning quickly. He also shows what a machine will never be able to reproduce: a happy smile during the brewing!
The higher oxidation level combined with the Dong Ding terroir produces very different aromas than the high mountain Oolong. The feeling was warmer and more summer like.
Despite no to very little roasting, the brew's color is close to gold with a bright shine under the sun! The taste also felt long and clean.
We finished our Taiwan Oolong tasting with this top Alishan Hung Shui Oolong. Comparing it the previous one, we could taste what the charcoal roast had added in flavors to the tea.
For the tasting's happy end, I chose my top wild puerh from wild old arbor trees from this spring. The dry leaves smell so sweet on a sunny day! 
I brewed it in my silver teapot with my silver kettle with boiling water! This means the leaves were pushed to the max in terms of heat. Antonio doesn't know puerh well as he drinks mostly Oolong, but he liked this one and could feel its chaqi!
Anton, a regular puerh drinker, was impressed with the purity and power of the aftertaste. He hasn't met many puerhs that can be enjoyed young, but this is definitely one that is excellent right now already, he said!
Top quality tea never ceases to amaze and inspire me. This puerh tastes so flawless that it's a lesson in perfection. The doors of heaven have opened: Hallelujah!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summer tea classes


I'm not sure I've skipped a full month of blogging before, but it happened this July! If you follow me on Instagram or FB, you have seen that I wasn't totally absent from the web. It was a month of vacation, but, at the same time, I was also busy teaching tea. I did 3 classes in Alsace and 2 in London. That were 2 in German, 2 in English and 1 in French!

With Teddy, here, I tried to summarize the 4 days of Porcelain Exhibition event at the Tea Institute in Penn State within 4 hours! (That's because Teddy was attending university overseas and couldn't come to the April event).

Time wouldn't stand still, though, and the afternoon flew away very quickly!
We finished the class with this impressive spring 2017 raw wild puerh, brewed rather lightly in my silver teapot. It felt so pure, so good!

For my class in French, I asked one of my student to bring the best gushu puerh he had purchased this year. We felt it was nice, but my cake tasted even better. It seemed light at first, but the power of the tea's aftertaste slowly increased to everyone's amazement and delight.

We also did an interesting comparison. We started by brewing this tea in a porcelain gaiwan, then in my silver teapot and also in an Yixing zhuni teapot. The silver made the tea particularly clean, pure and hot. The porcelain was more muted. And the Yixing didn't have the same high, clear note of silver, but its taste was thicker, longer. One preferred the zhuni and 2 the silver teapot.
This class lasted a full day. We spent most of it indoors, because that's were you are less distracted. But we enjoyed also enjoyed some English tea time in the garden at 4! This was a good opportunity to remind my students of the principles of brewing in a large teapot.
I'm back in Taiwan now, but the classes continue! The temperatures are 10 degrees Celcius higher than Europe (or more). So, I chose 2 blue chabu to give us a cooling mood!

Today, my student is Antonio, from Spain. This is his first tea class, so we start with the most popular and basic Taiwan Oolong: Si Ji Chun! In this case, it's a Dong Pian version, harvested in January of 2017 when the weather in the low elevations of Mingjian most resembles that of high mountains (warm day and cool nights). This is when this tea is at its best.
We brewed the same tea together, with the same tea ware, same water... I went first and Antonio tried to imitate me. His leaves didn't open up as well my mine, though. This requires more practice on his part. But he learned an important lesson by comparing his brew with mine: the difference between the 2 is telling and much more obvious then he would have imagined.
He'll pay much more attention to how he pours his boiling water in the gaiwan from now on! Then we brewed the same leaves of SiJiChun Dong, but roasted this time. The comparison of these 2 teas allowed Antonio to better understand the impact of the roasting on Oolong.
We finished the class with this Hongxin Baozhong to contast the cultivar and process and cultivar with the SiJiChun. This cultivar is much more refined in aroma and longer in aftertaste.
Here again, we saw that proper brewing is what opens up the leaves the most so that the aromas can be well released. Otherwise, you only get a fraction of what the tea can offer.
Thanks to all of you who could attend these classes this summer! I'm looking forward to my next event this Tuesday!