Issue #10     November 2009


by Daniel Reid danreid.org

Brought to you by Oolong-Tea.Org

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Welcome to Tea Tidings Edition 10

        As I sit here in Old Dali  Town, drinking tea and composing this tenth issue of Tea Tidings, a broad swath of dense white mist crawls over the ridge of Evergreen Mountain,  curling down the rocky cliffs  like a dollop of whipped cream spilling over the brim of a bowl, then rolling on down to furl the pine groves in fleece.

Dali Yunnan China Panorama Traditional Chinese Old Dali Town

It’s Autumn here in China, the favorite season of Chinese poets and peasants alike.  The harvest is in, the hearth is warm, and all is well.

        All is not so well in Taiwan, after one of the fiercest typhoons in memory pounced on the island and lashed it to shreds on August 8, 2009,  crippling  some of Taiwan’s best tea plantations and doing untold damage to the highland regions where Taiwan’s High Mountain Tea is grown.  Over 400 people lost their lives during those 48 hours of fury, and entire villages were buried by mudslides, as tens of thousands of tea plants were torn by their roots from the soil and  scattered like leaves  in the wind.  

        One of our favorite producers,  Cedar Lake Plantation, lost over 80% of its production capacity, and the old master who’s fired the tea to perfection there for decades had to hide inside one of  his big  iron tea ovens in order to save his aging bones from getting blown off the mountain along with his precious bushes.  We still have some stock of Cedar Lake, so if this is your favorite leaf, or you'd like to try it for yourself, you’d better hurry and order some before it’s gone.

        Fortunately, a few of Taiwan’s best tea producting areas were not seriously damaged, so we're now offering some new vintages on our menu, starting with San Lin Hsi  (“Pine Grove Stream”),  introduced below,  which has always been one of my own favorite Taiwan labels.  I highly recommend that all of our regular customers order a bag and give it a try.  For many of you, the first sip that passes your lip will instantly announce it as your favorite tea.

San Lin Hsi:  “Pine Grove Stream”

        Clinging to  steep pine studded slopes high up in a remote mountain region of Nantou County in central Taiwan lie the High Mountain Tea plantations of San Lin Hsi—“Pine Grove Stream”-- one of  Taiwan’s oldest and most beautiful tea growing areas.   Known for the rich sweet taste and fresh fruity fragrance of its tea,  the tea bush of San Lin Hsi winds through green groves of tall pines that lend their brisk alpine aroma to the blanket  of mountain mist which settles softly over the sleeping plants each night.

chinese calligraphy shan lan mountain mist        Mountain mist (shan lan) nourishes growing tea leaves like mama’s milk nourishes a growing baby, and the fertile mountains of Shan Lin Hsi are shrouded in mist year round.  It’s the mist that carries the minerals and trace elements  rising in fog from the surrounding ocean  into the tea leaves, and it’s the mist that drips the essential aromas of pine, cedar, camphor, bamboo, and other mountain flora onto the tea bush at night.

Lan (“mist, vapor, haze”) is a classically constructed Chinese ideogram:  on top we find the symbol for “mountain” (shan) and below the symbol for “wind” (feng).   Written in combination with the ideogram for “mountain” before it, we get shan lan, “mountain mist.” 

San Lin Hsi Mountain Mist Taiwan Oolong        The plantations of Pine Grove Stream range from altitudes of 1,200 meters up to 1,800 meters, and the higher they lie, the denser the mist, and the higher the price for the tea that grows there.  The San Lin Hsi  tea on our menu is harvested from bush that grows at 1,500 meters and up, and thanks to a personal introduction to one of the most reputable plantations there, we managed to get a supply at favorable cost, as reflected in the price of this fine tea on our menu. At $40 for 300 g (half catty), this is probably the best buy on our menu now.  I just bought five catties, and I’m drinking it as I write.   

        The main varietal grown on these precipitous plantations is Classic Oolong, along with some Golden Lilly.  San Lin Hsi tea is known for its  “smooth thick” foretaste and “cold mineral” aftertaste.  The tea introduces  itself on the palate with an intensely sweet flourish that carries a rich fruity bouquet, then dissolves and leaves a dry alkaline aftertaste lingering in the mouth.  Its fresh floral flavor makes it a very good  choice first thing in the morning,  on an empty stomach, when it can transform even a grey winter dawn into the first day of spring.   If I had to pick one tea to introduce the quintessential taste of tip-top Taiwan High Mountain Tea to someone who’d never tasted it before, I’d pick a tea from San Lin Hsi…

“Have Tea, Will Travel:”  Travel Tea Kits

        I’ve often left home on a long trip and forgotten to bring my passport, money, toothbrush, or other  basic travel items, but since 1987,  I have never departed on a journey  anywere without bringing along my travel tea kit.   If there is one thing a tea person should never leave home without, it’s his travel tea kit.

        While travel tea kits may be purchased as a “set,” with matching pot and cups and a pouch to carry them, and we indeed have such "entry level" tea travel sets for sale on our online tea menu, we prefer to construct our own travel kits by selecting each item individually from various categories on the menu,  & combining them according to our own personal tastes & travel requirements.  Since Snow and I drink several liters of our best tea every single morning in our hotel room wherever in the world we travel, we find  that most  travel tea kit sets cramp  our style of  tea drinking,  so instead we build our own kits, such as the one pictured here in action at a small local lodge in Sha Hsi,  a bucolic valley near a sacred mountain a few hours drive from Dali. Note that we even have a  “travelling tea friend (cha yo)” perched on the tray—in our case a little Rat, like Snow and me.

Chinese Travel Tea Set

        For a High Mountain Oolong Tea drinker, a travel tea kit can make all the difference in the world between a tiresome, annoying trip and a pleasant, interesting experience on the road.   With a good kit and a big stash of your favorite vintage leaf, you can start your day the High Mountain Tea Way wherever you roam in the world, regardless of whether you’re staying in a suite at a five-star hotel in Paris or Shanghai, or in a tent by a mountain stream high up in the Himalaya or Alps.  You’ll be amazed what a difference this makes in the way you feel, think, and respond to the world while traveling.   A travel tea kit is an intimate piece of  home that you can take with you anywhere in the world, and it transforms even the most mundane hotel room into an extension of your own tea room.

      While we do offer basic tea travel sets on our menu for those
with simple requirements, for people who take their 'tea trip'
seriously and spare no expense feeding their habit, we suggest composing your own travel tea kits, according to your own personal tastes and travel requirements, from the various categories of tea utensils on our current OolongOz tea menu.

        A final tip:  always carry your travel tea kit in your carry-on bag, not in checked-in luggage.  It seems that baggage handlers at airports these days are recruited from herds of unemployed gorillas, and that they handle luggage much the same way that infants handle delicate china. We’ve lost more than one tea pot this way, so now we always carry our precious tea treasures on our backs whenever we travel.

Fall Has Fallen…

chinese calligraphy for autumn / fall        Autumn has always been the favorite season of the year in  China, a time of rest and recreation after the hard labors of  Spring and Summer, when “every grain of rice costs a drop of bitter sweat” (yi li bai fan, yi di ku han) in the fields.   The ideogram for Autumn (chiou)  tells the story:  on the left is the symbol for “grain” and on the right is “fire,” indicating that the grain has been harvested and the chaff is burning in the fields.

        Dryness and wind govern the energetics of the Autumn season, and these factors tend to dehydrate the body, which means that you need to increase your  intake of fluids during this time of year.   Metaphysically, the Chinese say that Autumn is  the time of year when the mind, like the leaves on the trees,  sheds the vibrant green glow of youth and growth, and turns inward to reflect on the warm golden tones of maturity and fruition which Autumn brings.

        In the seasonal cycles of tea drinking, Chinese tea lore suggests that Classic Oolong is the most suitable choice in High Mountain Tea for Autumn.  Classic Oolong counteracts the dehydrating effects of  dryness and wind,  and the more mature, restrained, complex tones displayed in the flavor and fragrance of Classic Oolong, compared with the fresh sunny taste of a Golden Lily or Four Seasons Spring,  harmonizes better with the introspective, mellow moods of Autumn.

        To enhance your enjoyment of the Autumn season, we suggest you try our GABA Tea and our Oriental Beauty, both of which are made from organic High Mountain Oolong leaf that has been fermented (oxidized) to a greater degree of maturity than the younger, more robust  “Three Daughters of Taiwan*" varietals. Both of these mature  teas manifest the depth and complexity of character which Autumn represents.

* Some of you may wish to read my article: “Classic Oolong & The Three Daughters of Taiwan"

 

Health Tips

        Many tea people like to drink tea as a digestive after dinner, especially after a meal rich in animal protein and fat, such as meat and fish.  This is a very good way to help the stomach break down molecules of fat and protein, thereby assisting digestion & rendering the essential nutrients in food far more easy to assimilate.  However, it’s important not to drink your tea too  strong after dinner,  because  strong tea taken on a belly full of food rich in fat and protein  can interfere with rather than assist digestion.  So be sure to brew your after dinner tea  “medium-rare,”  especially if, like me, you tend to like your tea on the strong side in the morning and afternoon.

        It’s also important, at all times, not to leave High Mountain Tea leaves steeping in the pot for too long. These are potent teas, with potent therapeutic properties that  become counterproductive when the leaves are left soaking in hot water longer than necessary.  This is particularly true of high-grade Oolongs, which contain mores potent therapeutic factors than common quality teas.  Excessively steeped,  for example,  High Mountain Oolong may result in constipation the next day, rather than smooth digestion.  As a general guideline, High Mountain Oolong leaf should not be left to steep in the pot  for more than five minutes, even on the last infusion.

canned oolong tea low quality oolong tea        We also want to alert our entire flock of  cha ren (tea people) regarding a most egregious product found today in many soft-drink vending machines: so-called “canned oolong tea.” Let it be known, here and now: “There ain’t no such thing!” 

        The definition of  “tea” is “a broth extracted from tea leaves [or other plants]  steeped in hot water.”   Moreover, the precise procedure for steeping  tea  and extracting its therapeutic properties is every bit as important as the quality of the leaf itself, and the resulting elixir must be drunk immediately in order to savor its sublime aesthetic qualities and obtain its potent therapeutic benefits.  This beverage cannot be canned any more than the aromatic delicacy of a freshly flambed Crepe Suzette or Souffle au Grand Marnier can be packaged and sold in a box dispensed from a machine.

        So don’t be fooled by all the jibberish on the label regarding canned “oolong” as a “health drink.”  It’s not.  Canned “oolong” is just another soft drink made by machines in a factory.  It may contain a small measure of very dilute oolong, but it is not, by any definition, “oolong tea.”  Oolong tea is meant to be consumed piping hot, not ice cold, and freshly prepared, not canned in a factory and chilled in an icebox.   Like all soft drinks, the canned stuff is bad for the belly:  it spills cold, stale energy into the Chi Hai  (“Sea of Energy”),  the second chakra field located just below the navel, thereby impairing digestion and disrupting the functional balance of the vital organs.

        Consumer beware!

 

Tail Piece


        Last month, while sampling an autumn pluck of Mr. Chiou’s High Mountain Oolong at his Hermitage tasting room here in Dali,
I noticed a small scroll of fine calligraphy hanging on the wall.  A second glance prompted me to pick up a pen and copy it down, so that I could share it with you as a tail piece to this issue of Tea Tidings. The couplet states:

Hu jung tien di

Cha li ren sheng

This couplet reflects a sentiment I’ve often felt on long leisurely days when  I drink my favorite High Mountain Tea all morning long and throughout the afternoon as well.  It means:  

There’s a whole world in the teapot

There’s a whole life in the tea…

 

        Snow recently expressed a similar sentiment with her own tea version of an old Chinese saying that orginally applied to drinking wine with close friends, and she’d like to share it with you:

Cha feng jih-ji chien bei shao

Hu-jung gung pao yi pien shin

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When drinking tea with intimate friends,

A thousand cups is not enough,

As we steep our hearts together

In a single pot…

                     

         

 

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