Issue #3   November/December 2007

by Daniel Reid    danreid.org

Brought to you by Oolong-Tea.Org

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Welcome to TT3!

"What's your favorite tea?"

       We get asked this question quite often, so I'm going to reply to it here and now.  By "favorite tea" we of course mean our current favorite, the one that is most in favor now at our tea table, not a past favorite that's long gone but still lingers in memory (we have a few of those too...) Tasting  tea is, in this way, like a  sexual encounter: you can only enjoy its true living essence when it's actually happening.  Later, you may recall a particularly good session in your mind, maybe even talk about it with friends, but you can never again feel it in your body. That's why people who love tea, who, I daresay, "make love with tea," do it again and again, every day, just to get that special feeling...

       OK, so our current favorite is the luscious High Mountain Tea from Cedar Lake plantation, spring harvest.  Three years ago, I actually went to the bank and borrowed some money just so I could grab the twelve catties of this tea that the growers offered us that year--all the rest had already been bought up, and customers were clamoring at the gate for more.   By now we've managed to cultivate a good relationship with this small family-run plantation, so we're able to include it on our online tea shop menu (click here to view) --AND keep it on our tea table!

       Cedar Lake Tea, which is processed by an old tea master,
is a beautiful blend of two oolong varietals:  "Golden Lily" and "Tender Heart," combining the nutty smooth taste of the former with the fresh alpine flavor of the latter.   That's as much as I can say about it; you'll have to try it yourself, several times at least, and see how it suits your own taste. (The first time you try it, neither you nor the tea give their best performance, but the first time is usually enough to find out if you like each other...)

       An old Chinese adage applies here, ching-ren yen-li chu shi-shih, which means, "In the eyes of the lover, the beloved always looks beautiful."   If you love a particular tea, it always tastes beautiful, no matter what anyone else says about it.

       In closing this topic, I'd like to quote my translation of the words we found printed on the label of our favorite Cedar Mountain Tea, which describe the plantation's bucolic setting high up in Taiwan's misty mountains, and which speak quite eloquently for the tea itself.

       Of particular interest are the words at the top, which succinctly express the heart of the matter:

The way of tasting tea
is found in the form,

in the color,
in the fragrance,
in the flavor.

The beauty of tasting tea
lies in the person

in the foundation,
in the knowledge,
in the setting.

The Unique Nature of the Cedar Lake Tea Region

Cedar Lake High Mountain Tea comes from the High Mountain Tea growing region of Greater Mount Ali, near the scenic foothills around Lake Fen Chi. Our plantation lies at an altitude of 1,300-1,400 meters above sea level, and is shrouded throughout the year with dense mountain mist, with temperatures that vary greatly between day and night.

In this setting, the tea leaves assimilate the pure essential elements of sun, moon, and mountain mist, as well as mineral-rich mist from the ocean, producing a fragrance and flavor that are completely unique, and a tea that is famous for the sweet aroma and taste that it releases in the mouth. In order to magnify our tea's finest qualities and special character, and maintain a consistently high standard, all Cedar Mountain tea is picked entirely by hand to insure that only the tender buds and new leaves are collected at precisely the right time. The tea is then processed with our own special methods in order to bring out its very best traits.

oolong tea

As the leaves unfold in the pot while steeping in hot water, the dark green pellets open up and release their essence into the water, creating a beautiful emerald color that pleases the eye and delights the heart.  If you drink Cedar Lake tea every day, it will not only protect your health and prolong your life, it will also allow you to experience the true meaning of  "refined elegance"  and "complete contentment," and know the real definition of a "happy heart" and a "free spirit."


"Good Tidings of Brugh Joy..."

brugh joy       Brugh Joy, who sponsored the journey to Mount Kailash that I mentioned in Tea Tidings 2, and kindly invited me along, had his first taste of High Mountain Tea with me and our guides Ian and Cristy in the highlands of Tibet, and since his return to his own mountain retreat in California, he has ordered his own tea pot and kit, along with an assortment of our best teas, and has embarked on his own way to tea personhood. Teacher, healer, and author (his flagship book is Joy's Way), Brugh (pronounced "brew") sent us an email a few weeks ago, in which he describes the subtle beauty in the art of High Mountain Tea as arising naturally from:

                  "...the experience that comes from uniting
                  plant chemistry, touch through the eyes, nose,
                  taste buds, and fingers, orchestrated through
                  ritual, and steeped into its essence in silence."

       This insight accords very well with the tea wisdom in the quatrain quoted above, and indicates, at least to me, that Brugh was surely a devoted tea person in China in a previous lifetime... Thanks for sharing that with us, Brugh, your words really "touch the heart" of the art...

"To Wash or Not to Wash...?"

       That is indeed a very good question.   The traditional method for preparing oolong tea in small clay pots calls for a preliminary washing of the dry leaves in the pot, in order to wash away dust, mildew, and the residues of pesticides and fumigants that are commonly used in tea production today.  This pre-wash is done by pouring hot water over the leaves in the pot, replacing the lid, then immediately pouring the water out and discarding it.

       Some tea people insist that this preliminary washing of the leaves should be done each and every time you prepare oolong tea, regardless of how good the quality of the tea, and others say that you should never pre-wash a good oolong tea, because  the first infusion carries some special qualities that should be savored.  As Taoists, we take the "Middle Path" in this debate, and find the right way somewhere in between the two extremes of "always wash" and "never wash."

       Even with a very good quality High Mountain Tea, unless we are certain that it is organically grown, without poisonous chemicals,
and that it comes from a reputable plantation, we usually give the tea a quick pre-wash in the pot.  This ensures that most, although not all, of the residues from pesticides and fumigants that may have been used in the production process are flushed out of the pot.

       However, we quite agree that a good tea, organically grown and hand-crafted, without application of any toxic chemicals, and properly fired, packed, and stored to prevent dust and mildew, contains some very special flavor factors in the first infusion, and whenever we prepare such a tea at our table, we skip the pre-wash and drink the first infusion. This applies to all the teas on offer on our online tea shop menu, and we will endeavor to continue to only offer organic teas that don't require a pre-wash.  On the other hand, if you buy a new tea in a tea shop, or someone gives you a gift of High Mountain Oolong because they know you like it, we suggest that you include the pre-wash when preparing the tea.

OolongOz Australian Oolong Tea Plantation

oolong tea farm australia       Our “OolongOz” Project aims to bring High Mountain Oolong Tea to Australia -- not just the traditional Chinese culture of High Mountain Tea, and its most elegant expression from Taiwan, as well as all the associated arts and crafts, but also the tea plant itself.  Our idea is to establish a High Mountain Oolong Tea plantation in Australia (hence the name "OolongOz"), using plants bred at the best organic tea plantations in Taiwan, and take advantage of the superior growing conditions here in Australia to produce a superior grade tea, a tea that will one day, if we have our way, win a gold ribbon at a tea tasting festival in Taiwan, and thereby establish OolongOz as one of the top High Mountain Tea producers on earth. This quality of tea, if grown from the real High Mountain Tea lineage plants from Taiwan, would sell for at least A$100/kg bulk wholesale from the plantation, and that would make it the single most valuable agricultural product in Australia.  And we would have a bottomless market for it in Taiwan, Japan, and China.

       When we first moved to Byron Bay, a friend who grows High Mountain Tea in Thailand, from Taiwan plants, came to visit us, and
took a sample of the soil from various places around Byron Bay back
with him, at our request, to see how High Mountain Tea would grow here. He reported that the soil proved to be superior, in fact even better than either Thailand or Taiwan. We also have superior water
here, land that has not been exhausted of essential nutrients by centuries of intensive farming, as well as the key factor: exposure to mist from the ocean, which carries the indispensable sea minerals to the plants by drifting across the plantations mingled with mountain mist of the coastal ranges.

       Most importantly, we can get the very best tea plants from Taiwan. This is not an easy thing to do. The best plantations--the ones with the oldest lineage plants and finest pedigrees--would normally never consider giving or selling any of their plants to anyone, least of all a potential rival, not for any amount of money. However, we at OolongOz have "friends in high places" in the Taiwan tea trade. The high places are the lush green mountains in Taiwan's tea growing regions, and the friends are the owners of the Lin Family Plantation and the Cedar Lake Plantation, which supply our line of organic High Mountain Teas. OolongOz will be the first plantation outside to Taiwan to grow these rare varietals.

       The final product, however, is only as good as the skill of the tea masters who process the freshly picked leaves, and this too is an ancient art that Chinese tea growers in Taiwan guard jealously. Here our good personal relations with the Lin Family Plantation will also help pave the way to success. Mr. Lin has explicitly agreed that, when we are ready for our first harvest, which would be three to five years after we put in the first plants, he will send one of his master tea makers to Australia to show us the entire traditional process, from picking and fermenting all the way through the critical and all-decisive process of "firing" the tea properly to bring out its best qualities.

       So, if any of our tea friends out there is interested in such a project, we are wide open to getting it going. It would require obtaining permission from Australian Quarantine to bring in live cuttings (small plantlings) packed in plastic pots in a synthetic nutrient gel (all soil from Taiwan would be washed off the rootlets), and allowing the plants to be cleared through Customs and taken immediately to the plantation, where they would be kept in what is called "on-site quarantine," so that we can take proper care of them and keep them alive. We already have several pieces of very good land available to get started, with perfect growing conditions, and no major capital investment would be required for 3-5 years, when we're ready for the first harvest.



Anyone interested in "Project OolongOz"
may contact Dave at Oolong-Tea.Org 

Classic China Oolong & The 3 Daughters of Taiwan

       Since the last issue of Tea Tidings, you will have received my exclusive new piece,"Classic China Oolong & The Three Daughters of Taiwan." This was written in order to clarify the situation, and hopefully unravel some of the confusion, regarding the "pedigree" of High Mountain Tea in Taiwan. From time to time, as supplies allow, our online shop will offer a range of the best vintages of the Taiwan oolong teas mentioned in that article.

Tailpiece...

       The Chinese are ancient masters of the pithy proverb, and they seem to have a good one for every situation in life, every kind of human feeling, every taste and proclivity. As one of the "Seven Indispensables" of traditional Chinese life (the other six are firewood, rice, cooking oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar), tea has for thousands of years been a topic for poetry, prose, and proverbs. When  your tea practice reaches the point where the following Chinese proverb makes perfectly good sense to you, and indicates the choice you'd make for yourself in such a situation, then you will truly have become a tea person:

"Better to go three days without food,
than one day without tea."

I've done that, and it’s much better. . .

Daniel Reid.

 

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tea set daniel reid

Here's a view of our tea table at home, on our
 terrace overlooking the pacific coastline of
Byron Bay, Australia where I spend at least three
hours a day--often more-- musing over the
beauties of the Three Daughters of Taiwan...

 

by Daniel Reid    danreid.org

Brought to you by Oolong-Tea.Org

Browse the Tea Tidings Archives Here