I remember a third generation tea farmer from Nantou once taught me what to look for in High Mountain oolong. "Anything lower than 700M is not considered as High Mountain," He begins. "The harsher and more extreme the growing environment, the tastier the tea is..... and it's all about the sheen, the oil on the surfaces of each pallets." He concluded.
All good quality tea should have shine and glossy liveliness visually. Like the eye of fresh fish. Even a 50 years aged sheung puerh should have the light beaming off it's surface. The oil on the surface of an aged high fired oolong might get semi-matte in 5 years, but once you pour hot water over it, the leaves and the brew should have this clear, bright lively shine to it. These are some of my basic rules when judging oolong.
A Winter 2009 Dong Ding oolong, roasted and grown by one of the most celebrated 5th generation master in Dong Ding mountain. Traditional medium roasted with lonyan charcoal. The pallets are dark hunter green, heavy on the palm and with good oily surface. Chiseled and Structured aroma of grain, lilac, dried peach, sweet katsuo-bushi on the nose. And fresh mountain breeze after the rinse.
Vendor: The Tea Gallery. NYC
Brewing Parameter: 100ml '70s Gaiwan / 6 grams of tea / full boiled fresh polandspring water. Flush rinse / sit 30 s. /1st - flush/ 2nd - 10s / 3rd - 20s / sit 1 mins / 4th - 30s / 5th - 60s. All boiling crab-eye temp.
Liquor Color and Aroma: Golden orange yellow. Clear and glossy. Steep color gets darker orange till the 5th brew. Roasted barley, flower, nectar, bushy, seaweed, fruity and wet moss. Clear refreshing character of clean and thick mouth feel followed with long lasting sweet fruit/peach aftertaste after 30 sec. on the palate.
Ending Notes: Calming and robust of high mountain Taiwanese oolong quality. Clean and refreshing, the astringent character quickly changed from bitter/pungent to sweet and savory after 3 sec. These changes are comfortable and rewarding, unlike most of the lower grade tea, which tends to stay astringent/bitter for a long time and the pleasant surprise never delivers.
It was a great holiday season for me. Wonderful Family time, food, gifts, tea gatherings and great company filled up the festive month.
Chinese New Year is around the corner, so before that, I wish to taste most of the newly collected. Over this weekend, I got to taste an amazing brandy, some good aged smoke and a special tea from Michael Wong.
Vendor: The Tea Gallery. NYC
Origin: Er Mei Mountain is around Dong Ding area South of Nantou, Taiwan. This tea was harvested in Fall 2009, from old bushes around 1000 meter elevation. They renovate the tree every 2 years and let it regrow to intensify the flavor and characters.
Trimming/pruning in such technique is common in wine and olive harvesting. Also choicest Wuyi Yan Chai or Feng Huang Old bushes are harvested once every 2 years instead of normal 2 seasons per year.
Dry Leaves and Aroma: Strong white buds, with 5 different hues. Meaty and robust, with sweet honeysuckle, orchid, muscat, faint walnut and dry late winter foliage.
Brewing Parameter: 150ml Yixing Kyusu '70s / 6 grams of tea / full boiled fresh polandspring water. Flush rinse / sit 30 s. /1st - flush/ 2nd - 20s / sit 2 mins / 3rd - 10s / 4th - 30s / 5th - 60s. All boiling crab-eye temp.
Liquor Color and Aroma: Pale golden yellow. Clear and with tiny white hair (from the buds). Steep color gets darker reddish yellow till the 5th brew. Honey, nutty, wine grapes, floral and Darjeeling FF on the nose. Character of smooth and thick mouth feel. Long lasting sweet floral aftertaste after 1 min.
Ending Notes: Not a regular Eastern Beauty with delicate feminine and high perfumy notes. More body and robust like a Ella Fitzgerald song. Could be aged and developed into fuller/thicker body and sandalwood character, if vacuum-sealed in cold storage.
Being a Yixing enthusiast for over 15 years now, I still remember the moment that the spell was casted.
The display shelves were full of yixings, big and small. Back in those days when Jiang Rong and Gu Jing Zhou's pots were still available for a price not as hefty as today. I am not a big fan of 'Flower pot' style, but once in a while those refined details on such a piece do captivate my attention. My father pulled out a large (500ml?) dark blue pot from the top shelf and handed it to me. "Son, try not to drop it..." I still remember his gentle reminder. "Jiang Rong spent more than 10 years to create and study that little frog, before she completed this pot." He left me alone and looked for another Gu's pot.
I held it with my both hands, just like using my hands to fetch water from a spring. I had it in my palm for more than a min... not saying anything, not looking or thinking about other thing, just drawn by the piece. The dark matte blue color started to turn bright and oily sheen like jade, the piece seemed to melt in front of my eyes. And the tiny frog on top....
Back in high school, my favorite class besides Art was Science class, specially lab time. And I have to confess I had nightmare from cutting up frogs or putting them into liquid nitrogen....
I took a closer look at the tiny frog sitting on the lotus lid, perhaps it was my body warmth or my breathing? The frog seemed to melt out from the blue clay and became alive. Just like when I pulled out a frog in the lab from the nitrogen tank, after a couple of minutes, it melted back to live. The details, workmanship, proportion, the curves and the spirit of the piece transpired life and living energy. It was magical.... That was the spell, one of my benchmark experience ever since.
Artists, young or old, has to give their soul and dedication to their work. Breath, a drop of sweat or his or her own love. This precious energy will continue to change and remain within the piece and transfer to people who are lucky enough to hold or encounter them. At least, this is what I believe.
Tea gathering, to me, is for sharing of mind and sincerity. Learning from each other is the most fulfilling moment.
Very different than traditional tea fights, the tea presented is merely a fresh air to feed the mind. It's become a talking point to allure out ones humble and unpretentious self. I had the greatest pleasure over the last year to have tea with 4 admiring mandarins in the red room. My deepest thanks to MarshalN, The Tea Gallery, Brian and Will for taking their time for these gathering.
And I am excited beyond words to be part of the New York Tea Gathering Group formed by Michael Vincent and Brandon Hale. Although it's only our 3rd gathering, the results in my opinion were indulging. I am looking forward to having more such grouping in the city, or perhaps we could soon be joined with the West-Coast tea group? That again might need the power and charm of Will to organize such event.
The last weekend of 2009, Will and Louise were kind enough to drop by with wonderful wonderful gifts. Although, this is the first time we finally met after many online chats and facebook's time, I didn't feel any distance or barrier from the lovely couple. Like kids on the beach, we jumped right into the waves of tea, starting with Taiwanese red, a couple of Yixing reds, 8582, and couple of High fired Wuyis. A total of less than 6 hrs submerged into the tea sea.
William has a personal preference on Yixing red, a rare varitial which people in the West don't usually encounter. He brought over a really nice sample of his favorite, with golden buds and fine wiry leaves, it tastes like Swedish semi-sweet chocolate. A very memorable brew indeed. We parted after a small pot of an aged '80s Anxi TGY which I acquired from my recent trip, using a 70's Shuiping. Heavy handed Chaozhou King Fu Cha style left us all tipsy and light headed. Although I miss the chance of saying good bye before they return to LA, due to a cold right after.... I am looking forward to seeing them again somewhere in the middle states.
Once again, Salute to Mr. Yardley and Louise for their generosity, gifts and company.