Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Taiwan Oolongs Study Tour (TOST) is an intensive week long tea sojourn, which includes visit Taiwan’s tea gardens, factories, museums, tea-houses, farms and farmers, scientists, and tea enthusiasts alike. Every possible minute is packed with educational tea information.
This year is the 4th year of our TOST program and to be organized by Taiwan Tea Institute with the assistance from the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers' Association (TTMA) and the Tea Research & Extension Station (TRES). This year, besides our instructor Master Steve Huang will guide our members hands on tea making, we also have two volunteers from Tea Talks Group, Tommy and Sunny Tang, so nice to be in our staff and work closely with Josephine and myself.
On our Opening Ceremony night, we have the great honor to have the following guests and friends to be there to support us:
Norman Shu, the Chairman of TTMA;
Jackson Huang, senior adviser to TTMA and Taiwan Tea Institute;
CS Lou, senior advisor to TTMA and Taiwan Tea Institute;
Professor Lynn Lin, adviser to Taiwan Tea Institute;
Ambassador Rex Wang, Taiwan's former Ambassador to Switzerland
These are 2011 TOST members:
Lisa Baughman - Take Thyme Today, LLC
Danielle Beaudette - The Cozy Tea Cart
John Benson - Song Dynasty, LLC
Lynn Benson - Song Dynasty, LLC
Kirsten Kristensen - Tea4U
Michael Lannier - TeaSource
Jeannie Liu - Miro Tea
Linda Louie - Bana Tea Company
Maurice Sardella - The G.S. Haly Company
Angela Strach-Gottardt - Secret tea Society
Paula Winchester - Twelve Winds Tea Company
During the ceremony, Norman also presents on behalf of TTMA, a plaque of appreciation to Kirsten for her publishing "The World of Tea, Focus on Taiwan" (based on her trip study of 2009 TOST). The magazine now often used by TTMA as an introduction of Taiwan tea and culture to foreign visitors.
The evening happily concluded with a birthday cake cutting. It is a good day to open our 2011 TOST program alright, as it happens to be Josephine's forever 38 birthday.
Day 1. Beginning at 8am, we departed from our "official home" - Dongwu Hotel, head for Wenshan Farm. All members are requested to wear Taiwan Tea aprons – our special TOST ‘uniform’.
In the bus, we first studied on a map of Taiwan with special points of interests for tea enthusiastic travelers. (*We shall give Kirsten and Tea4U team a big credit to initiate the Taiwn tea map.)
At the Wenshan Farm, our old friend, Mr. Yen, who we have made a special request to get him as our designated guide greeted all of us eagerly. Right away, he geared us up and showed us a number of cultivars growing on the farm grounds. Everyone strapped on a tea-leaf collecting bamboo basket and hat. (This is a request form last year's group - so we all be able to dress up for fun and photos.)
Cupping and discussion concluded our time at Wenshan Farm, we had total five different teas (3 grades of Pouchong, a Jade Oolong and one Brandy Oolong FB 27) for our cupping there.
We like the idea, and we respect the effort that Tse-Xin Foundation has been working on their Pure Spring Reservoir Protecting Project - to educate the tea farmers of the importance of growing tea organically, not only to get better and purer quality tea, but also to preserve the water in the Feitsui reservoir which is polluted by the chemicals and pesticides farmers use in their tea gardens that surround the reservoir. Apparently, here in Taiwan, Tse-Xin's project is beyond going organic for the sake of health and sustainability.
It takes a good amount of education to convince tea farmers to convert to organic farming. The Foundation realizes that it takes about at least 3 years to convert the whole Eco-system and they offer the funds to help the farmers to support the project. One of the volunteers in this Foundation is my college classmate, so two years in a row, we have included Tse-Xin in our program. We believe with our members here to eye-witness the project will eventually help their organic tea to be marketed on the other side of Pacific when timing is right. Actually, I was shocked to see the new construction, and learn that they are getting close have their NOP Orcganic Certified.
After the presentation, we were provided the most delicious and healthy organic vegetarian lunch – almost all dishes made with tea in one way or the other. (rice prepared in tea, tea powder for topping, and oolong tea jello...) Tommy did take great photos on those dishes.
We got opportunity to cup ad taste 3 organic teas from their farm: organic Pouchong, organic Jade Oolong and Organic Ruby 18, before we were led to tea fields to see the conventional tea gardens and transitional tea gardens... Our members were dressed up again in the field. (What a day...twice in a row to be dressed up...on only the first day of our 2011 TOST. This is very unusual.)
The last stop of our first day to Wenshan tea district is TRES / Wenshan Branch. I remember our 2009 TOST had spent one long day here to experience the Pouchong tea's solar/indoor withering, fluffing and oxidation... all the way to panning and drying. Kirsten in her "The World of Tea" focus on Taiwan has a full details report on that one. This station has installed a very new pilot tea factory for training and research. The current in charge there, Director Tsai Hsien-Tsung is an old friend of our TOST program. He impressed many of our 2009 TOST members while guiding us in the tea field and nursery room inside the Wenshan Branch. This time, beside showing us the new plant there, he also gave our members a chance to have comparison cupping on Pouchong tea that made from Chinsin, Jin Suang, Tsui Yu, Evergreen, and TTES 19.
By the end of the first day's course, most our members are fully aware that along this trip in Taiwan, they will have plenty of cupping and tasting... Have the cupping logs handy, memo down the conversations... All the information plus the photos, video clips...will be your priceless assets for your future marketing and story telling.
Visiting a tea nursery is a new adventure for our TOST program. It is indeed very exciting to see how the new tea plants are cloned. There are a few different methods of having new tea plants... by seedling (which might give the plantation some sorts of managing problem of inconsistency), by layering, or propagation by branch cutting... The nursery we are visitng - Hong-Hsin Tea Nursery in Mingjian, Nantou is one of the largest suppliers for tea plants with cutting propagation. This is our first stop to the central Taiwan, a long bus ride from Taipei. Steve Huang is waiting for us there, and he has a big laugh after he heard through the "rice wine bottled water" joke from our bus...
Mr. Kang is the owner of this nursery, a very nice gentleman. He and his family are working hard and happily there... how could you be not to see many new plants are growing... He explains to our members how the process and what kind of soil...also which cultivars are more popular... This is my first visit to the tea nursery, too.
After our stop by Hong-Hsin Tea Nursery, we then come to see one of domestic certified organic tea garden in Mingjian, Nantou. The owner is our good friend, Mr. Cheng Cheng-Ching. (He helps us to produce a slideshow for demonstration on the traditional Oolong Hand Rolling ) Mr. Chen and his wife greet us at the road side, and we have to take a distant walk to a far corner land and it is isolated from other tea fields and surrounded with natural forest. We can tell how the environment there is protected ecologically. Mr. Chen has developed a few different cultivars on this organic tea garden and he got high demand for his tea with very limited supply. This is a great experience for all of us. I finally got to meet and see the Big Spider that was told to be drawn to catch the green leaf hoppers during the season.
Here we come, one of the most important research stations for Taiwan tea - TRES / Yuchih Branch. We were told this place actually owns the best look-out for the famous Sun Moon Lake, plus very beautiful surrounding view. Besides many experimental gardens at various altitude, and several pilot production rooms for research...here got one unique and old building resembled the Ceylon black tea factory (probably the only one existing in Taiwan), built by Japanese back in 1937. The new exhibition hall is very nicely displayed with up-to-date tea information.
We had our hands on tea making Tung-Ting Oolong here last year with our 2010 TOST group. This time, we picked another site in Alishan for our tea making session with hands on making High Mountain Jade Oolong. So, this time we simply pay our visit and take a series of tea cupping that guided by Master Steve Huang.
There are many more exciting new tea cultivars are under developed here. Maybe one day you are enjoying some new Taiwan teas and you will be able to share with your customers and friends, exactly where these new cultivars from...
Yesterday, we were in Wenshan Branch, and now here is Yuchih Branch...Salute to many great scientists' continuous efforts for giving us new cultivars, new concepts of plantation, harvesting, manufacturing... It is all about team-work., luckily Taiwan tea has a strong R&D team - TRES is there backing us up, always.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
This stop is for our members to hands on rolling on the Ruby 18 - what a surprise! Tung-Feng has a new facility and was selected by Steve and me during our scouting trip in March. We thought of adding this facility to show how the Brandy Oolong is processed plus one small session of hand rolling on the withered leaves will be fun-filled experience. Honestly speaking, that ain't easy at all... While the rolled leaves were set on tray with each member's name then to be sent in oxidation room, we all guessed that the tea we rolled will be a mess. (* It turns out we did make good tea, our Ruby 18 is excellent...Till now still are wondering whether Taiwan Bear had enhanced with his magic touch on our teas...)
Taiwan Bear (Mr. Liang) leads us to see an old bush tea field that he and his family manage. Those Assam bushes average over 56 years old... the plantation was given up when domestic market for Oolong was rising back in 70's. These old bushes were buried by Beatles nuts trees or other plants...totally forgotten. About 3 years ago, Liang and his family started to search for old tea fields and tried to get these tea gardens back. Apparently, they have done a great job and those old bushes seem to grow very happily. The leaves plucked from these old Assam bushes - recognized by tea connoisseurs, high demand with limited supply. This could be a piece of great tea story.
Our drivers (total 3 vans) told us that they have made at least 36 sharp turns all the way to climb to this small village - Ruili in Meishan Hsiang, Chiayi County right located in a fairly matured Alishan tea district. This area known for Jin Suang cultivars since Taiwan's Gaoshan Cha (high grown Oolong) developed. Many tea farmers here and they work as Co-Op team. After checked in Teapot "hotel" - some of our members decided to rest early... a few followed Steve and me to walk over to Wang-Ting to have teas and chat.
Early in the morning, we arrived Wang-Ting where we will have our tea making sessions...But all of a sudden, Steve asked every one back in vans to see how the fresh tea leaves to be plucked and those will be used for our hands on study. This truly is a great idea to begin with observing how our tea leaves began with. A few skillful ladies were there waiting for us and our members are so excited to take photos and ask questions... The cultivar there is Jin Suang (TTES 12), known also as Milk Oolong in the US. On our way walking (instead of riding the vans) back to Wang-Ting, Paula and Shane entertained all of us with a great pose on a road side "coffee table". Good to have a sunny day here in Alishan. (*More precisely, we are in Meishan Hsiang, Chiayi County.)
It is indeed very generous for Mr. Hong-Cheng Wang to open his tea factory, tea garden to our 2011 TOST members, in addition to that, the young couple are always so pleasant and so willing to share their knowledge and expertise on all things tea. I did my scouting trip back on March 2011 with Steve, and right away we all agreed on selecting this place as our camp-ground for our 2011 TOST hands on making tea. Mr. Wang guided us through his plant and explained to us for each equipment and set up... We will have a long day here...and we are waiting for our fresh leaves to be delivered from the tea field that we visited earlier. That tea garden belongs to Mr. Wang's uncle at a lower altitude, so we can have our early winter leaves to be plucked and processed at about one week earlier. Follow our slideshow to see this ISO-22000 approved tea plant in Alishan.
The fresh leaves we saw earlier, plucked by those skillful ladies in uncle of Wang's tea field delivered to the plant...Our members are getting ready to hands on working on these leaves...
Wang-Ting tea plant has installed shades to adjust the sunlight...also with transparent vinyl as optional for raining days. In addition to the shades over the top, Wang also installed net screen from the surrounding sides to prevent the strong wind or avoid the contaminated air/smoke or naughty birds' visit. All these screens and shades are remote controlled and can instantly react to the weather changes in the high mountain area.
Our leaves are spread on the trays to be handled by each member with name tagged...and Mr. Wang's team are using large canvas sheets for big volume of tea leaves to rest and enjoy solar withering...
By looking at these photos now, I believe you will be able to feel the passion of our members. (Wang's relatives and neighbors were there to see and wonder why these foreign friends come all the way from US and Canada to "play" with the leaves?)
How long the solar withering process should be? It is all subject to tea masters on site to make the decision. There is a good way of saying that - you don't follow the book to make tea, you will have to deal with different leaves with the weather condition and make the adjustment from time to time... Morning leaves, noon leaves, afternoon leaves, all subject to change... When the leaves are ready to move indoor... it could be a 911 call... we all have to listen to the order.
In martial art, we get used to the word - "Gongfu", actually all these craftsmanship involved in making good tea requires great efforts, concentration, patience and many years of practice. This is our first step, only. A lot more to learn.
After the solar withered, the leaves were moved indoor. We have to listen to the masters on site to judge by the leaves' status, subject to the climate condition... every certain period of time, we must go take care of the leaves by moving out the trays and follow the instruction to fluff tea leaves gently... See these tea enthusiasts...everyone is very serious and concentrating on the leaves... Tell me how could you not fall in love with these leaves when you touch and hold them with your hands... While we were doing these by hands...Mr. Wang and his assistants were use the big sheet to shuffle the leaves on the big tray... each tray can be remote controlled to move from the rack up and down... We are competing, TOST team led by Master Steve Huang and Wang-Ting team led by Mr. Wang.
There are two bamboo tumblers set ready for our tea leaves to be removed from the trays, then to be placed in the tumblers for them to be repeatedly tumbled - at a slow speed. The purpose is to help the leaves to smoothly bring the moisture content from the center part to the edge...also with leaves in a tumbler can stir leaves evenly...(*all tools were invented to help ease the job...). We noticed that with bamboo meshes so the heat generated from the motion inside the tumbler can be flowed out...The floral aroma is so amazing... The leaves then to be unloaded from the tumbler, and we all help to fluff the leaves lightly on the trays, let them rest on the racks for another session of oxidation. If we were not there the whole time, we can hardly tell the tea leaf's changing from one step to another... The night is long all right...we are still working on our tea.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Finally, after a long day's withering and oxidation, the leaf came to a status that is ready for panning with high temperature to de-enzyme and stop the leaf's continuous oxidation. Mr. Wang and Steve actually were competing each other with two lots of leaves - one in smaller batch that done the solar & indoor withering by our members...and another batch with big sheets to have higher volume, mass production by Mr. Wang and his staff. So, the two masters are more excited than most of our members. While the leaves off the drying machine, they got Mrs. Wang to grab samples for the blind cupping. (Guess which batch has better result? ) For most of members, they are more concerned when Steve will let everyone go to bed... Can you imagine tea farmers and tea masters on site just have to be there from the beginning, all the way to finishing up...step by step with high attention?
One of the important process in making Jade Oolong - wrapped rolling. There are repeated wrapping, opening, breaking, heat-up and softening... to make the tea tightly rolled and all good aroma and flavor sealed in... Mr. Wang led us to his rolling area, and explained carefully to our members during one break. As we are leaving here early the second day, and will leave our tea that has dried over night to be rolled by Mr. Wang and his crews.
Steve planned to have our Baking session at Tang Yuan the next day...yet during one break, he got Mr. Wang to have a brief demo of tea baking. With one bag of raw tea (about 18 kgs) to be spread evenly and placed on the trays and in a oven to be baked... We got chance to compare the tea before and after...
The blooming Lotus maybe symbolizing the enlightenment of our tea study? We have a few breaks in between solar withering and indoor withering and oxidation...till the panning and drying... So, what do we do with these breaks? Besides a trip to the tea garden, we kept our instructor, Steve Huang really busy... discussion after discussion, and cupping after cupping... See the following slideshow to prove that this is indeed a hard working group!
Making tea also requires patience. During the indoor withering... Steve and Mr. Wang took us to visit the famous Wang-Ting tea garden. Tommy was extremely busy to take good shots for our members...enjoy these beautiful photos and share the joy of our TOST members!
After a long day of hands on making Jade Oolong, every one managed to get up early and enjoy a very a big breakfast. We probably is the most naughty bunch in this small village that morning. After a group photo in front of the place we've stayed for the last two nights. We marched over to Wang-Ting to say good bye to our host. What a nice tea making experience Mr. Wang had offered to us. We are on the road again...
Sunday, February 12, 2012
We have actually debated on whether we should make a stop for our friends to see this famous tea garden - Bagua in Shanlinsi. After a vote from the members...and here we come again. After we were told that there is a very similar tea garden in China has duplicated it looks... that makes a very mixed feeling for us. Hard to find that exciting feeling like we were here last year.
Come back to the city from Alishan, Bagua Tea Garden... We found a place that Josephine and I both scouted on our March trip. We like the way they have set up Tea Culture display in a industry park in Chu Shan, where we can also see how the tea packing process. This town is important for tea packages supply and OEM packing service for the neighboring tea farmers in Shanlinsi, Alishan and Meishan... Steve has helped arranged our lunch break here, so our members can take time to enjoy seeing more tea ware collection in Jia Jan.
Finally, we got to see Tommy and Sunny's place - Tang Yuan in Puli, Nantou. Our TOST 2011 licensed cameraman Tommy hires a professional photographer to do the job on his own show. The whole Tang's family and their good friends are giving us a very impressive experience there...just see the slideshow, and you will agree why I am speechless. Enjoy the pictures...