Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Among 33 Cups of Yan Cha, One Interesting Find

I thought I'd get away from Beijing's sweltering heat and humidity by coming to Wu Yi Shan. I arrived at night and it was raining, so the temperature was relatively cool, around 26 degrees C. I checked into my nice hotel overlooking the river and settled in for the night. I was reminded of what a city boy I am by the frogs that serenaded all night long! I was awakened by Mrs. Jiang Feng a full hour earlier than expected. Country folks don't believe in sleeping in until 7:00 AM! Anyway, we had breakfast and drove over to their tea factory to cup ALL of their production and see to the teas I had ordered.

This is the kind of opportunity where you can check if you still have what it takes to be a tea man/girl. Mrs. Jiang's truck's airconditioning was not working and the factory has an ancient fan that was kind of working. The temperature was inching toward 38 degrees C with high humidity as we started to cup all 33 varieties of Wu Yi yan cha grown by her family. Sometimes I wish I would just keep my mouth shut! When she asked if I wanted to see all their selections I should have had enough intelligence to be a bit less enthusiastic when I said yes! After cupping everything, I only approved one purchase from the list of teas I was considering. This is a unique yan cha called Yan Ru, reputed to be one of the original ancient varieties that was virtually extinct but is now being brought back. I found that it has a distinctive kind of floral that I find interesting. I'll talk about it further after the tea arrives in California and I have a chance to finish firing it at our Oakland facilities.

After the humidity and the cuppings, even the beautiful Wu Yi Shan cannot keep me there another moment. I hopped the next plane to Fuzhou to see my jasmine tea partner, Mr. Chen Qin Di, to firm up my commitment to start growing our own jasmine flowers next year. I'll assure Mr. Chen that I will support him financially until the jasmine farm is up and running. I am excited and looking forward to producing the best jasmine tea known to mankind (ok, I am an optimist!).

3 comments:

Jason Witt said...

What an exciting account of the globetrotting lifestyle of a tea exec! Except, I guess, for the gritty reality of the tough weather conditions. --Jason

--------------------------------------- said...

One of my jobs is to help plan assessments of student writing, and we worry about reader bias on factors as small as handwritten vs computer produced.

Also, I know from my experience grading that after ten or so papers, the student writing can start norming me rather than my grading it. In other words, I start comparing the papers I'm reading to the other papers rather than comparing each paper to the conventions of the genre in which the paper is written. When I start to be normed, it's a good indication that it's time to do something besides comment on student papers.

How do you factor in outside influences, like heat, humidity, and being up early into your cupping?

How do you sample 33 varieties and not have them run together or end up just picking the best of what you are sampling in one particular session?

I suspect you're going to have to tell me, this is where a lifetime's experience comes in, but I'm hoping there's something I can learn for your cupping technique and mindset which will help me grade my student's writing better. Oh, and I already use the uck factor and try to keep a sense of humor.

Thanks. I have always wondered how a professional does their cupping.

Roy Fong said...

I agree with you that cupping a bunch of tea together does create a problem for some. For the longest time I tried to keep my cupping to 10 or 15 max and then take a break. However, there are times when you simply don't have the luxury of breaking and you'll have to call on experience and objectivity. I also employ techniques that are commonly used by all professionals. We don't drink the tea, we slurp and spit it out and go to the next one. In addition, I use a trick that nobody else uses (at least that I am aware of). I gargle with a bit of carbonated soda water and then room-temperature non-carbonated water when I feel that I am starting not to be objective with my cupping.

Now 33 seems a lot to you but it is not uncommon to cup as much as 100 in a day for some professionals; look at the Lipton people. I rarely cup that much in one sitting because I not only slurp, but I "feel" the tea, meaning the tea stays in my mouth longer, therefore, I have to do more to ensure that I can taste each one for what it is.

Again, experience plays a big part. Looking at the leaf (typically, the tea is strained out and the now-open leaves are displayed for inspection), the color of the liquor, and a sniff of the cupping lid already gives me a pretty good picture. A quick slurp to confirm and off to the next one. It is not as difficult as you think once you build up a "library" of knowledge. Grading your papers seems impossible to the likes of me, but you know what problems lie ahead and you work at it.

I hope this helps answer your questions.

Roy