Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Cool Cover...and a Moment of Gratitude

I received a link from my daughter, who is currently studying in New York. I never told anyone how difficult it was for me to close the door to her dorm for the first time and fly home without her, knowing that I won't be able to be mad at her for coming home late and a million of other things I managed to be mad about. I only knew that she wasn't coming home with me and that she's grown up and soon won't be coming home at all!

This is the link she sent.

I've never seen anyone sing that classic, "Stand By Me," with more soul and pizzazz, and it moved me deeply. I played the same clip over and over again, all of a sudden realizing how many have "stood by" me! All of you who read this blog, those who believed in a small tea company that said "yes we can!" and all those little farmers who said yes without any certainty of financial rewards, and just on my say-so sent out 200 tea pickers, for example! I have so much to be thankful for, you all are certainly included...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Live Music at Imperial Tea Court

Come down to our shop at the Epicurious Garden in Berkeley every Thursday and Sunday and enjoy some of the Bay Area's best musicians performing jazz, bluegrass, classical chamber music, and more.
Every Thursday 5:30-8:30pm
Every Sunday 2pm-5pm

Past guests have included:
Mountain music from James Touzel and Danny Morris of The Earl Brothers
Jazz and funk grooves from Lincoln Adler and Greg Sankovich of Times 4
Latin American guitar of Rafael Manríquez

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sad End to a Bold Adventure

We were sorry to read the news that the Princess Taiping, a replica Ming Dynasty Chinese junk, sank near Taiwan on Sunday. We visited the Princess Taiping when it was docked in San Francisco last fall and shared some gong fu tie guan yin on deck with the crew.

After sailing from China to North America and most of the way back with little in the way of modern technology outside of safety gear, the Taiping's quixotic, tea-fueled adventure was only 30 miles from completion in Taiwan when its destiny intersected with a threat unfamiliar to Ming-era predecessors: an enormous freighter. It's a relief to know that although the ship was lost, the Taiping's crew survived the collision without serious injuries.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Taiwan, a Final Round of Cupping and Teaware, Then Home At Last!

I arrived in Taipei with a rather serious sore throat and the beginnings of a cough. I was barely able to make it out of the terminal and was grateful to see my friend Mr. Chang, who supplies all of our teaware in Taiwan. He took me to the local pharmacy to get some cold medicine and I blacked out for the night. The next morning I had arranged for our Imperial Green Oolong samples to be delivered to Mr. Chang's office for cupping. Thankfully, in Taiwan as well as in China, I have friends to lean on. Knowing that I would not have time (or energy) to make it up to the tea farms, I asked my friend Mr. Liao to gather up samples from the three farms I do business with and deliver them to me in Taipei.

I woke up with a blinding headache and was secretly hoping no one would show up so I could sleep until I went to the airport. Luckily my friends know me too well. Mr. Liao showed up with the samples right at 9:00 AM and they called my hotel room to get me out of bed and over to the office by 9:30. We began to look at the latest teaware samples, go over orders I had placed, and record the changes I wanted. Some of the most exciting items are the floral gaiwans, which I asked to be remade with thinner porcelain bone china and improved floral prints. The samples reflected those changes and I hope to offer them for sale within a month or two. When we finally got to the tea my headache had gone away and I felt much better. We started cupping all of the samples available. The following is a list of the regions we sampled:

  • Shan Lin Xi (杉林溪)
  • Li Shan (梨山)
  • La La Shan (拉拉山)
  • Da Yu Ling (大禹岭)
  • Fu Shou Shan (福寿山)
  • Qi Lin Shan
  • Alishan (阿里山)

All are noted regions producing high-grown oolongs. I selected an 18-kilo batch from the famed Shan Lin Xi region. I find the tea to have full flavor and a nice finish. The texture is smooth with just the right touch of chewiness. The leaf appearance is dark green with a gentle sheen, an indication of good quality and good production methods. I was very happy with this tea; it beat selections from Li Shan and Fu Shou Shan. Oolongs from these areas generally demand high prices, but I was glad to find good value and quality without having to pay more. Mr. Liao rushed back to his factory in Nantou to sieve out the broken leaves, hand-remove any yellow leaves he could find, gently vacuum the tea into .5 kilo bags, and rush it back to me before I departed for the airport. I am not sure why people do all these favors for me but I am thankful always.

I am now at home, trying to fight off the flu and get over jet lag. The spring green oolongs will be offered for sale soon. If you're in San Francisco or Berkeley, give me a jingle and I'll try to meet you for tea!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last Glimpses of West Lake


I used to hire dragon boats like this one to tour my tea groups around West Lake. While traditional music was performed by artists in traditional clothing, we would sip dragon well tea produced by the group the previous day. Life just doesn't get much better than that!



The famous Hupanju Teahouse from afar


Locals gathering around a lakeside pavillion


One last look at West Lake

After a Tranquil Goodbye to West Lake, Travel Hell

This morning I got up early to pack and check out of my hotel. I asked my driver to deposit me at Hangzhou's West Lake. I strolled along with the early crowd and took mental notes of how the area and the people have changed. I remembered my first visit in the early 1980s: the water was dirty and stinky and the area was full of people. The area around the lake is still full of people, but the water no long stinks. The Hangzhou government has done a good job diverting water from the Qian Tong Jiang river to keep the lake clean.

After taking in the scenery one more time, I quietly said goodbye and started my drive toward Shanghai's Pudong International Airport, where I would take a flight to Hong Kong and transit to Taiwan. On the way to the airport we got into a fender bender and it took a good hour, with the help of a traffic cop, to get everyone back on the road. By the time I arrived at the terminal it was getting close. After dismissing the driver I rushed into the terminal, only to find that it was the wrong terminal! With two big suitcases I couldn't get on the shuttle bus to Terminal One, where my flight was checking in, so I ran with the luggage cart and barely made it on time to Terminal One and China Eastern Airlines.

I ran up to the counter and was told matter of factly by the young woman there that the flight had been canceled! I stood there sweaty and tired and wasn't in any condition to put up any kind of fight, so I got on the next plane, rearranged my flight from Hong Kong to Taipei, and after a full day of travel, finally got to my hotel. I now have a sore throat and my nose is dripping. I am not sure if it was the running around and air conditioning that gave me this pounding headache or if it is just that I am no longer near any tea or in China, where I always feel grounded.

Tomorrow morning I plan to meet with my Taiwan teaware supplier and have a cupping session with my farmer from Nantou County. He is bringing the early harvested Imperial Green Oolong for a look-see. I hope I can bring some home, it will undoubtedly make me feel better. I hope to spare enough time to visit Ying Ko Old Town, where beautiful teawares are always on display. I have a late flight and will be back home after 11 hours of flying. Grace and, I hope, my daughter Emily will meet me at the airport. Although China and tea whisper in my ears, there is no place like home and family. With this I sign off for the night.

By the way, if the nice stewardess asks if you would like a serving of fish and noodles, pinch yourself so you can still smile and say thank you, but hand it right back to her! Fish and noodles just don't work in airplanes! That would be my don't say yuk moment, just hand it back and hope she goes away...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Something to Read Over Your Next Cup of Tea

We always enjoy Jeff Yang's shrewd cross-cultural commentary in his Asian Pop column. Today we were excited to see that he turned his keyboard toward the Bay Area tea scene, calling out Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong as one of the "tea luminaries in San Francisco."

"He imports his tea directly from China, and has a huge hand in the actual processing! He's incredibly knowledgeable, probably one of the nation's foremost experts on Puer tea," Jeff quoted "tea sommelier" and blogger Lindsey Goodwin. Jeff also observed, "The tea devotees I spoke with reiterated again and again that the Bay Area has increasingly become the tea capital of the United States."

Photos from Hangzhou


Lunch at the Crystal Garden in Hangzhou, where we "big shots" eat on the third floor, looking down on the "normal" folks.


Samples of traditional tea snacks served at the Hupanju Teahouse


The latest round of teapots I approved during my recent visit to Yi Xing. The pots were posted to Ms. Qian's office so that I could see and approve them for production.


Hand-painted gaiwan from Jingdezhen, China's porcelain capital, displayed in the Hupanju Teahouse. This is going to lead me to visit Jingdezhen on my next trip. Anyone want to come along?

Dinner at a Famous Teahouse is a Fitting Farewell to the Homeland of Tea

There's a Chinese saying that rings true always: At home (when you're young), you rely on family; away from home (when you grow up), you rely on friends. I certainly am thankful for friends like Eden, who sends me clippings of articles from newspaper and magazines whenever he finds something interesting or related to my health. His assistant, Ju, called all the way from Thailand to make my doctor's appointment (those of you who know me know how I can make excuses not to see the old doctor), or like Mr. Chang Jin Qiang, who has virtually never uttered the word "no" to me.

Another friend is Ms. Qian Xiao Ling, whom I met some 16 years ago, when she was employed with the Zhejiang Tea Import and Export Corporation. Ms. Qian has helped me on numerous occasions, from supplying tea, to helping consolidate and export my small orders, to arranging hotels and drivers. I have relied on her help often and am thankful for her friendship. Last night, when I arrived here in Hangzhou, she picked me up from the airport and deposited me at the hotel. This morning she took me from the hotel to her office, where various samples of tea and yi xing teapots have been forwarded for my review. Ms. Qian and her staff set up the cupping for review and recorded all my requests. Her help certainly made my life easier in many ways.

When I mentioned that I have not visited Hangzhou's famed Hupanju Teahouse recently, Ms. Qian offered to take me there for tea and dinner. I immediately seized the opportunity and said yes before she could change her mind! Years ago, I was invited to the Hupanju Teahouse for a formal dinner (formal or informal dinner or just tea can be had in this great teahouse) and I have never forgotten this place. Whenever I do a tea tour to Hangzhou, I arrange a Tea Dinner in the Hupanju Teahouse, where 16 courses of food are served and every one of them includes some element of tea. I have also taken my family there for lunch and tea, and have visited on numerous occasions just for tea, alone and with friends.

Tonight I sat with Ms. Qian in Hupanju's outside balcony overlooking West Lake, sipping newly harvested green tea and munching on some 18 different snack items. The night view of the famed West Lake is beautiful beyond words. West Lake is like one of those glamorous movie stars, beautiful, sophisticated, and elegant, something you just know right off that you will always love and admire. Hangzhou and its West Lake have been celebrated by poets and songwriters for eons, and the love for and attachment to this exceptional locale are not likely to end soon.

With this thought I am signing off so I can wake up in time for the ride to the Shanghai airport, where I will depart for Taiwan, but I promise you that I will take one more look at my West Lake before saying goodbye to China, the Homeland of Tea. You know, this is two days in a row that I don't have anything to add to my "don't say yuk" list!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lijiang in Pictures


View of the Jade Snow Mountain from my hotel room


View from the hotel restaurant: I ate breakfast and looked at this every morning


Entrance to the Banyan Tree Hotel



My humble hotel villa, with its own courtyard, private entrance, and hot tub. Tea merchanting is a tough job!


My private hot tub, just in case you are still not jealous...


A street in Shu He old town



Buildings in Shu He old town


Puerh Noodles and Unexpected Tea Lessons in a Magical Mountain Paradise

My friend Eden and I began a ritual of tea and wine drinking in the Far East a few years ago. This year Eden chose Yunnan's Lijiang as our meeting spot. Eden generously put me up in the luxurious Banyan Tree Hotel. The view is stunning and the company is obviously more amazing. I've said many times that I am not one to sit on my hands, well, I sat on my hands for almost three days!

Lijiang is one of those magical places that offers non-stop amazement. I experienced three different weather conditions in three days there! The first time I arrived in Lijiang, tired and unhappy, my driver did not greet me as promised and I was ready to be upset and just about to chew someone's head off. I walked out of the small airport terminal waiting for my driver, then all of a sudden I felt like someone had taken about 50 pounds off my shoulders. I was no longer upset and tired, just in a different state of mind that I didn't really understand, but I felt pretty good! Little did I know that the people of Lijiang are never in a hurry. You wouldn't be either if you've ever spent any time in this magical mountain town.

I have come to love this little land of magical serenity. Last year I took a small group of fellow tea lovers to Yunnan and of course to this land of wonder, Lijiang. I think I can safely speak for the folks in the group that this place subtly changed all of our lives. The Banyan Tree Hotel is as magical as the town itself. It is more beautiful than I have any right to expect; for that I only have my friend Eden to thank. Without his generous offer I would be staying in a fine hotel, but nothing like this! The Banyan Tree, however, offers maddeningly slow internet connection, so the likes of me has no choice but to stop blogging and just let the magic seep in. I spent the three days drinking wine and cupping all of Eden's tea collection, as well as this year's Lotus Heart Dragon Well.

Here in Lijiang, there is more magic that removes a mere mortal like me from the daily rat race and offers tea lessons at the same time. The 2,400-meter altitude makes water boil at around 85 degrees C. Surprisingly, that seems to give better texture and mouth feel to the puerh we cupped, especially the Purple Tip Puerh cake. The Lotus Heart Dragon Well turned out spectacular also. The Lijiang glacier water makes everything better and Lotus Heart was cupped at low temperature and performed as expected.

Yesterday was my last day in Lijiang and amazingly, it turned out to be the special tea day. We decided to visit the Shu He old town. Walking among the marble stone trails and ancient buildings we happened upon the former home of the "Tea Horse King," allegedly the former home of the man who started the Tea Silk Road caravans. There I met Mr. Wang, whose business card named him as the fifth-generation head of the Tea Caravan. I spoke with him about the home, which is now part home, part museum, and part teahouse. We had to run take care of some business, so I told Mr. Wang that we'd be back to have tea and perhaps a bit of food before returning to the hotel for more wine.

Upon our return, Mr. Wang had been called away. Disappointed and ready to leave, we found his cousin, Ms. Wang, who graciously offered us tea and a bowl of Puerh Noodles. The noodles were made by using flour and puerh tea instead of water. The simple vegetables were picked right from the fields next door and the noodles were delicious. The quality of the puerh tea offered was at best ordinary, but nonetheless the tea tasted sweet with smooth and thick viscosity. I asked for a fresh cup of water from the spring running literally a few feet away and found the water cool, sweet, and refreshing. It made an ordinary tea extraordinary and simple noodles fabulous.

Combining this great water with a low boiling point due to the high altitude, I've learned why Lu Yu spoke so highly of the importance of water, including finding great water and learning to boil it at the correct temperature (Lu Yu said overboiled water is not usable). I came back to the hotel room with lighter steps and was again energized by the mystical powers of Lijiang.

This morning I regretfully said goodbye to Lijiang and after a full day of travel, returned to Hangzhou. Tomorrow, a full session of cupping awaits; the day after concludes my tea run into China. I am off to Taiwan to take a look at the early harvested Imperial Green Oolong and finally, home sweet home.

By the way, there are no "don't say yuk" moments in Lijiang! The flies, slow internet, not so great food, all are taken in stride. The only yucky thing is having to split town!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

2009 Green Tea Coming Soon to the Teahouse

The 2009 green tea Roy is sending from China is starting to arrive and will soon be available in our teahouses. 2009 Imperial Dragon Well is already for sale in the Ferry Building. Organic Putuo Compassion and Organic Purple Bamboo have cleared Customs and should be in stock within a couple of days (call ahead to check before making a special trip). The eagerly awaited 2009 Imperial Green is in Customs now and should be available in about a week.

Meanwhile, Roy will be returning from his long Spring Harvest trip late next week, bringing more new tea. If you're a fan of new spring tea, stay tuned. You can start tasting all the exciting 2009 selections very shortly!

In Lijiang, a Break from Tea Hunting

I got up early today for one more round of cupping before departing for the airport, bound for Lijiang, an ancient city around 500 years old. I am meeting up with my friend Eden for a few rounds of wine and tea drinking. Eden is certainly one of the few friends that I am always thankful for. I always enjoy our get togethers: the wine is excellent, the conversation stimulating.

I am taking a few days off from tea hunting to take a break both physically and mentally. I've been doing this for the last few years; I find that taking a few days off towards the end of the trip to reflect helps organize my thoughts. I will be re-cupping every single tea I have acquired as well as the ones I initially rejected, to confirm the reasons for rejection or confirmation. I find this process very helpful in my growth as a tea person.

I am staying in the famed Banyan Tree Hotel in Lijiang. Tea merchanting is a tough job, but someone has got to do it...

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Day of Disappointments Ends With a Good Meal

They say that you can't win em all, well today I didn't win any! The day started wrong when I got to the exhibition hall where the Puerh Exhibition was supposed to be held, just to find out that Mr. Chang and I both made a mistake. The show was over 2 days ago! I sucked it up and said lets just go to the tea factory to take a look at our Yunnan Green tea and hopefully I can take some home right now. Well, I was so disappointed that I can hardly put this in words: the tea that I have been selling for 16 years is not even a shadow of what it used to be. Mr. Zhang, the factory manager, has retired, and now his son is in charge of production. Let's just say that the young Mr. Zhang has a lot to learn! I found the quality and appearance totally unacceptable. I had to reach deep inside to remind myself that this is a "don't say yuk moment." The elder and younger Mr. Zhang did turn out a nice lunch spread; food is certainly easier than tea in this case!

During moments like this I have to remind myself that you can't win them all, and sometimes you can't win at all! I have had a good run so far and should be thankful--but then again, I am only human and we're allowed to moan and bitch a bit just to keep life interesting, right? I am happy with this year's selection of puerh tea material for our production of bing cha (cake tea). I've been selecting our own material to be pressed into cakes for years now, and this practice continues. I look at collecting puerh as a duty, where tea merchants keep and care for their selections and pass on the knowledge and treasure to the next generation: a son, a daughter, a student, etc. I will carry this tradition on for as long as I am able.

More "no yuk" moments: Never say yuk when someone presents you with the head of the chicken (true story). That may be the only chicken they had! Never say yuk when a farmer runs into his field and picks you a fresh cucumber because you said you like cucumbers (this is also a true story!), although the cucumber has not been washed and his hand looks disgustingly dirty. He did it because he wants to please you, so just smile and tell yourself (and him) that this is the crunchiest and freshest cucumber you've ever had, and that is likely a true story too...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Breathtaking Hike at an Ancient Temple, Then off to Yunnan

Mr. Chen, my jasmine tea partner, challenged me to walk up the 1,800 meters worth of steps to the Yong Quan Temple and then drive to our destination from the temple parking lot. I should have known better; older is certainly not wiser in my case. Anyway, after much huffing I made it to the top without passing out. We sat at one of the tea stands and had some tea while we waited for our driver to show up. We showed up at our destination at about 1pm. Stopped and had lunch in one of those roadside restaurants. I always remind myself of the "don't say yuk" list I made up: don't say yuk when your host offers you food that is unusual, for example; don't say yuk at roadside bathrooms, just be thankful...etc.

After another "don't say yuk" moment we drove on and got to the destination where the local officials would like me to take a look and invest some money: tea farms, recreational hotels, whatever. This plot of land is completely wild with its own several-acre-size pond. It would have made a lovely tea farm with work, but unfortunately, some local folks dug a freshly made grave site there! Out of respect I did not take a picture of the site but let's just say it ain't gonna work! After the inspection, I took off for the airport to fly to Kunming, Yunnan, where my best friend in tea resides.

Mr. Chang Jin Qiang picked me up at the Kunming airport at around 8:45pm or so, took me to the hotel, and we immediately started to cup the newly harvested puerh he has collected for me. Mr. Chang and I have been friends for over 20 years. Our friendship has endured many ups and downs for both of us, and when he visited me in the US, I dropped everything so I could take him wherever he wanted to go. Whenever I get to China, one phone call will bring Mr. Chang to me within 24 hours, no exceptions! In fact, Mr. Chang held a special tea tasting in Kunming for my tea tour group last September. The selections were so awesome that they brought some of the group to tears! Anyway, after cupping late into the night, that puerh cleaned up my system so well that I needed food! Let me tell ya, sometimes this tea merchant stuff is sure good for the soul (not to mention your stomach). He took me to a restaurant that serves dim sum all day, and what is more natural than dim sum and puerh tea? This restaurant has a lineup of carts ready for viewing and ordering at any second. The dim sum is only partially cooked; when you order, they finish cooking it. That is very cool compared to your friendly Chinatown dim sum houses. I finally got back to the hotel well past midnight. Exhausted and really feeling my age, I went to bed.

Today I am attending the Seventh International Puerh Exhibition in Kunming. After the show I am off to Yi Lang Tea Factory to look at our Yunnan Green production. We've been selling Yunnan Green since the beginning of Imperial Tea Court. There is definitely a fan base for this tea and we have been sold out for well over six months. The Yunnan Green in reality is a Dragon Well varietal that is transplanted in Yunnan; the Yunnan climate and soil changed it into something entirely different. I look forward to meeting with one of my first "friends in tea" again soon.

Walking up to Yong Quan Temple. It is much tougher than this looks. As you can see, even the young folks are huffing and puffing.

Dim sum in Yunnan

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some Photos from Fujian


A tea field, plowed and ready to plant in the fall. This technique allows microbes to grow before planting.


A manicured tea field in Fujian



Healthy-looking tea fields


The mayor of Gu Ling shows off his town's ISO-standard tea factory



A farm where people are cutting instead of picking tea. They use a small hand cutter to cut off fresh leaves instead of picking them. This keeps the bushes well manicured and is more precise than motorized cutting and faster than hand-picking. However, cutting is not good enough for ultra-high quality tea production.


A roadside lunch. Tea merchants don't always dine like royalty.

When a Tea Merchant Wakes Up Early, Opportunities Knock

I was asked to meet with the vice-mayor of a small township called Gu Ling (Drum Hill) on the outskirts of Fuzhou. On the other side of the hill is the famous Gu Shan (Drum Mountain), where the famed Yong Quan Temple resides. I have taken many people to visit the Yong Quan Temple to listen to the evening prayers, and drums and gongs after the prayers. The temple shuts down after the evening prayers, with all the monks returning to their meditation and rest. All the other tourists except our group have long gone. We dine in the temple’s vegetarian restaurant with a meal arranged exclusively for us. After dinner we try to make it back to our bus in pitch darkness. It is always one of the most enjoyable moments in the trip for me. If you are one of those who joined me for this experience, let me know if you feel as I do!

Anyway, I left my hotel room early this morning and made it to the mayor’s office. It turned out that one of the people I know told him about me and he wanted to know if I would consider growing tea and building my base there. I was flattered, but as always, had many reservations. I voiced the reservations to him and he simply said, "Let’s go up and take a look!"

We went up the hill and let me tell you, I’ve seen many tea farms in my time; these are some of the best manicured and managed ones I’ve ever seen. The tea from there ain’t bad either. They make a green tea called Mei Zhen and a Min Hong (Fujian black/red tea) that needs work but obviously has potential. The mayor has land already plowed and ready to plant and he has a whole bunch of idea and thoughts that were just tremendously attractive. I talked to Grace (my wife, boss, and leader at all times) and told her that I wished she could be here (OK, I missed her anyway).

Just before I was going to take a deep breath and tell him we should look at some numbers, someone else called! I had to go to another area where there is another beautiful hilltop with its own water source and ready-to-grow farm that can be had for cheap! What is a poor tea merchant to do but wake up early again to see what life brings?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tai Chi View

I took this picture from the rooftop of my hotel while I was doing tai chi in the morning. Where else but in China can you see this!

Cupping Tie Guan Yin at the Fuzhou Wholesale Tea Market

After cupping at the factory today I forbade anyone from following me and went to lunch by myself (what a luxury!). Then I went to the wholesale tea market. Business is slow and everyone wants to make me some tea! In the words of my daughter, I said, "Whatever, lets do it!"

A Day in the Life of a Tea Merchant

This picture shows two samples of silver needles tea. I approved one of them for purchase. I picked out unqualified leaves (see in front of the box on the left) so they can see how the tea should look after final firing and sorting. Just a day in the life of a tea merchant.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jasmine Tea and Tea City in Beijing, Then to Fuzhou to Taste More Tea

I have just arrived my hotel in Fuzhou, it is now 12:15am. I am bone tired but by now, I have developed the habit of sending my report before I knock off so here it is:

This morning, I again took the two-hour drive to see my friend Mr. Yang Wu and share a cup of delicious Jasmine Pearl tea in his hospital room. The tea seemed to pick both of us up. After chit-chatting until he got tired I took off to the famous Beijing wholesale tea market and spent the day cupping tea store to store. Not to pat myself on the back but really, we are at a different level!

Another two hours of driving got me to the airport. Beijing traffic is not to be believed. You just can't go anywhere in less than an hour; it seems to take that much time to drive around the block! Two-and-a-half hours of flying got me to Fuzhou; one more hour of driving got me here. Tomorrow morning Mr. Chen will set up this year's green tea to be scented into jasmine for me to approve or disapprove. That means another round of marathon cupping. I know that I sound like I am complaining, that is only because I am complaining! Even though I know that some of you folks out there will gladly take my job, unfortunately for you, I got here FIRST!

Taking a shower now and hopefully I can sleep until tomorrow morning...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Staff Picks: Wilai Kumpiranon

Wilai has worked in the Ferry Building teahouse since 2007. Her hometown is Bangkok, Thailand. Wilai's pick is Orchid Oolong, a tie guan yin scented with yu lan orchid blossoms. In her words:

For me, this is a really soothing, calming tea. It's perfect when we're having a busy day at the teahouse. I like it because it's not super-scented like jasmine tea, which is a little too intense for me. This tea is also scented, but it's more subtle.

Suggestions for Cupping

I want to address the issue where cupping results are different, for example, when Grace and Virginia cupped the Lotus Heart Dragon Well in the US, they had a very different result compared to my cupping here in China. I think I know why: first off, the amount of tea used per volume of water is vastly different. I used a tall glass with may be 3-4 grams of tea and used rather hot water for this tea, I guessed around 70 degrees C for a quick cupping test in the farm. Grace and Virgina used 5 grams or more in a cupping set with 3-4 ounces of water. In truth, the volume of water is even less due to the space taken up by the tea and the fact that the cup is not filled completely to the rim, therefore, the volume of water is much more with my cupping here in China. I merely mention the temperature as a reference.

I also cupped the tea later in a professional cupping set using 3 grams of tea with around 3-4 ounces of water and cupped with near boiling water for 5 minutes (usual cupping technique employed by professionals) and find it not excessively bitter under the circumstances. However, it is understandable Grace and Virginia had results of a much more aggressive cupping, as the volume of water is far less with more tea used. In the scenario of 5 grams in a standard 6 ounce gaiwan you would want to use low temperature water to avoid excessive astringency and to bring out the sweetness. In fact, I cupped it today in a small gaiwan using water that is just starting to steam. I used a short steeping for the first two cups (less than a minute), and prolonged the steeping time over the next 4 cuppings (ranging from 1-2 minutes to 2-3 minutes) and found the tea sweet and flavorful with no excessive astringency and good finish and mouth feel.

Another issue they asked about is a dark coloration of the liquor after it cools. This can be due to over aggressive brewing (although unintentional but that was exactly what would have happened in the cuppings description above), water quality (water with excessive metal or mineral content can darken the liquor) and finally, the light source can cause the liquor to look dark. In fact, this morning my cupping results of white teas had to be discarded because I did them in my hotel room and the lights in the room made everything look dirty. I redid my cupping under natural light and poof, perfectly bright and clear liquor!

This is another lesson where measuring and timing don't always work if you are not sensitive to what the tea is doing. One should look deeply and respond to the activities created by the tea. Look at how it is developing (color of liquor, speed of the rising steam from hot water--faster steam = hotter temperature) and react accordingly. Use a measuring technique to get a reference point, then go with your instinct works best for me.

Visiting a Famous Beijing Teahouse, Planning an Organic Jasmine Farm

I want to file a report of my activities in Beijing. Never one to sit on my hands, I arrived in Beijing yesterday, checked into my hotel, and went out scouting the best-known teahouse in Beijing. Yuan Chang Hou Teahouse (元长厚茶庄) has a long and illustrious history and they sell the most authentic jasmine tea I know here in Beijing. I then met with my jasmine tea partner, Mr. Chen Qin Di, who flew in from Fuzhou for the meeting. Mr. Chen and I have been working together since 1993, when he owned a teashop in Beijing and wholesaled out of his store the jasmine tea he produced in his own factory in Fuzhou. I started by buying a few pounds of tea at a time, slowly moved up to a few cases, and at the height of our cooperation I ordered over 15 metric tons of tea from him for my wholesale customers here in the US and Europe. I invested in Mr. Chen's factory and we became partners; he now makes his entire production for us only. He gave up his store in Beijing, returning to Fuzhou to work in the factory full time. We met in Beijing to discuss issues with this year's production.

Thanks to our loyal customers Imperial Tea Court is doing ok, but our wholesale orders have fallen in the last two years, largely due to the economy. Although Mr. Chen and I both worked hard on our jasmine tea production, the result is just not what I remember that excellent jasmine should be. We discussed a range of issues and found that we agreed on one most important aspect of production that is out of our control: the jasmine blossoms! Since we purchase jasmine flowers from wholesale markets like everyone else, we don't have total control over the flowers. The fact is, the use of chemical fertilization lowers the quality of the flower. The blossoms look good, but the fragrance is just not what it used to be. More scenting is not an answer; excessive scenting causes the tea to go dark and in fact doesn't add more fragrance. Finally, I took the plunge and told Mr. Chen to look into getting some land to grow our own flowers organically, the way it should be done! It is too late to get started this year but we'll lay the groundwork. With support from our friends we should be able to pull this off!

Also today, I finalized the redesign of the outer box for our digital tea kettle. The kettle has been very popular. We worked on making it possible for over three years, from a concept I had since 1993! I was so happy to finally receive UL approval and final production that I neglected the packaging, thinking how bad can it be? Oh well, lets just say I don't like it, so we've redesigned it and it will be printed and on the way with the main shipment next month.

If you think I am busy, I did more. Today I drove for over two hours in Beijing traffic to visit my friend Mr. Yang Wu, who is battling cancer. I couldn't sleep all last night thinking about my visit, worrying about Mr. Yang, who is a relative as well as a friend. In fact, Yang traveled with me to various tea farms where he deemed the trip too difficult or dangerous. He came along to keep an eye on me so I didn't get in trouble and acted literally as my bodyguard! We shared many moments of tea and wine drinking. Mr. Yang and Mr. Chen, my jasmine partner, also became friends and Mr. Yang would order his personal tea from Mr. Chen. Anyway, I found him in the hospital in remarkably good spirits. He said jokingly, "Hell, if I could walk I'd be out chasing those young nurses around the hospital. I guess it'll take a few more days before they find out how fast I am!" We laughed and spoke about old times. He promised to get well and come to the US to eat noodles with me. I felt energized by him at the end of the day and ready to tackle the world. I am going to the tea market here in Beijing tomorrow to have a look see and will report. After that I am going to Fuzhou to meet up with Mr. Chen to look for possible sites and hopefully we can afford to move forward with our plans and to bring back the glory days of yesteryear's jasmine tea!

After Fuzhou, I am off to Yunnan for a few days, after Yunnan I will return to Hangzhou for one more look at this year's green tea harvest. Then I am coming HOME!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

2009 Imperial Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well Are Here!

The first green teas of 2009 have arrived! The fantastic and rare Imperial Lotus Heart Dragon Well (lian rui) is available online or in our teahouses for $680 per pound or $50 for a one-ounce sample. Our signature Imperial Dragon Well is offered at $480 per pound or $35 for a one-ounce sample. Due to adverse weather in China, quantities of both are extremely limited, so order early to make sure you don't miss this long-awaited taste of spring.

Roy is excited about the quality of this year's first dragon wells. He emailed us, "I can safely say that we have the best tea this year will produce and I am very proud of all the folks involved to make it happen."

To celebrate the beginning of "Tea New Year" and help you enjoy your favorite green tea we're also offering a great deal through the end of this month, only in our online store: 10% off all gaiwans and glass teapots. We recommend these types of thin-bodied teaware for delicate and highly temperature-sensitive green tea. To receive the discount you must enter the coupon code TWARE10 during the online checkout process.

Employee Picks: Markie


I compliment my pre-noon work week with a little of the Everyday White. It's like drinking the delicate nectar of fruits and vegetables. After a late Chinese family style lunch I'm ready for a session of Aged Puerh. Ahhh...Big leaf country. It's grounding and focusing attributes is just the tea for playful multitasking, while aslo aiding in digestion. As for the food, our sweet and hard working ladies in the kitchen make the most amazing hand pulled noodles and green onion pancakes I've ever had. See you in Berkeley and may your gaiwan be filled. Have fun!
- Markie

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rare Spring Treat: Lotus Heart Wontons

After a couple of hours tasting the 2009 spring harvest Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well, Grace, Shirley, and I had an impressive pile of lightly used ultrapremium green tea leaves. Thrifty Chinese know better than to discard this treasure. These teas are picked so early they're as tender as young vegetables. Shirley and I scooped up the moist leaves and headed to Chinatown to get the other ingredients for exotic Lotus Heart Wontons!

Shirley is known around the teahouse as a good cook, especially of Northern Chinese specialties in the dumpling family. She took the lead in the lotus heart wonton experiment. I just tagged along making pictures, asking questions...and of course evaluating the outcome! Here's Shirley's recipe:

1 lb ground pork, not too lean
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp tea oil (or you can substitute canola oil)
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
1 tbsp Shao Xing Chinese cooking wine (or you can substitute sherry)
1 tsp light soy sauce + 2 more tsp per serving for broth
1 green onion, diced
Salt to taste
1/2 cup of previously brewed dragon well tea leaves (Note: use more or less as available. Don't use the leaves of other types of tea, such as oolong or puerh. They're too large and tough. No need to chop up the leaves, they're very tender.)
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
1 package medium-sized square wonton wrappers
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Place the ground pork in a large bowl. Stir in the dark soy sauce and tea oil (try Shirley's technique of stirring the ingredients into the meat with chopsticks). Add the minced ginger and then the Shao Xing and 1 tsp of the light soy sauce. Stir in the diced green onion and add salt to taste. Next, stir in the tea leaves, then add the dark sesame oil.

Now it's time to make the wontons. There are different techniques for wonton-folding. Shirley's yields small pouches that resemble Chinese ingot coins. In addition to the ingredients you'll need a small bowl of water to moisten the wrappers and glue them together.

Take one wrapper and place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Moisten a finger and run it around the perimeter of the upturned wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half, making a rectangle with a bulge of filling in the middle. Now bring the two ends of the rectangle together and glue them together with a bit more water (see illustration below). Place completed wontons on a sheet of waxed paper.

When you're ready to cook the wontons, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil (about 1 liter of water per dozen wontons). Add wontons, return to boil, and cook briefly, about three minutes, until the wrappers begin to look slightly translucent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer wontons to a large bowl.

Place 2 tsp of light soy sauce in the bottom of each serving bowl, then add a few ladles of the cooking liquid. Add wontons, garnish with chopped cilantro, and enjoy!

Place filling on wonton wrapper
Fold wrapper in half, making a rectangle
Bring the ends together
Finished wontons await boiling

Tasting the 2009 Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well

The eagerly awaited call from Grace came yesterday: the 2009 Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well have arrived! Shirley and I headed to the warehouse for the first taste of the 2009 spring green tea harvest.

We didn't have much luck with Roy's electronic tasting accoutrements. The batteries on his tea scale, timer, and digital thermometer were all dead. An iPhone filled in nicely as a stopwatch and to convert metric to English units. As to tea quantities, we used a dinner spoon, so let's just say amounts are approximate.

At last we were set to start brewing tea. First we fired up the digital kettle to 70 degrees C (158 F) and brewed about 5 grams of tea for 90 seconds. We all agreed that at this temperature the tea develops a disagreeable astringency. These 2009 teas were picked early and are really delicate. They need extra-cool water to bring out their sweet, mild character.

Next we brewed fresh leaves, still about 5 grams of each variety, at 60 degrees C (140 F) for about 1 minute 45 seconds. In this infusion the nutty, chestnutty character of the lotus heart began to assert itself, while the dragon well was notably sweeter. The moist leaves even smelled sweeter. The lotus heart had a rich, creamy texture that coated the palate with a crisp, fresh flavor and provided a long, mild finish.

There was still a hint of astringency, though so we tried a third brew, again with fresh leaves, at only 50 degrees C (122 F). This time we let the leaves marinate in their tepid bath for three and a half minutes. In this iteration both teas were very sweet. The dragon well was more vegetal, while the lotus heart had distinctly more viscosity. We tried second steepings in the cool water, but didn't extract much flavor.

Here are the tasting notes Roy sent on these two teas from China:

The lotus heart is extraordinarily rich with thick viscosity and texture. It has highly fragrant aromatics with slight hints of chestnuts, and an intense and long, refreshing finish. I find this year's Imperial Dragon Well refreshingly sweet with lighter texture and viscosity. The finish is mild but persistent. The nose is delightfully fresh and fragrant.

By mid-afternoon we all felt like we knew the new tea a little better. Grace urged Shirley to scoop up the lightly used leaves and use them in wontons. I volunteered my kitchen as the testing ground. In the next post I'll share Shirley's recipe for exotic lotus heart wontons and let you know how they came out.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Roy Tries His Hand Making Mao Feng on Snow Peak Mountain

Roy reports on his experiments with probiotic fertilizer and green-tea-making in Hunan:

Yesterday, after a bone-jarring four-hour ride, I got to the Xue Feng Shan (Snow Peak Mountain) area in Hunan. We tested a plot of tea with the probiotic fertilizer provided by my friend Conrad. The test plot looks good, with clear indications of better growth, better-sized tips, and thicker leaves. Comparing the test plot and the rest of the farm you see clear signs of improvement. Due to the colder weather and high altitude the full harvest won't happen for another day, but that didn't stop me from trying my own hand in making some Mao Feng tea by hand. It is less challenging than making Dragon Well but boy am I glad I already have a day job! I don't think I would want to share my handiwork with anyone anytime soon.

The probiotic fertilizer was provided by my friend Conrad Kulik, who owns a patent in this technology. The idea is to use an all-vegetable-based fertilizer to entice healthful bacteria growth in the soil, attracting useful creatures such as earthworms to feed on the soil, essentially making the soil alive with its own ecosystem. It is very exciting and seems to work. We have tested three plots and will have samples from all of them at the end of the month. Maybe we can invite people to come taste the first probiotic tea ever made!

I am off to Beijing to see a relative and then will return to Hangzhou again for more tea...

Young Hunan tea lover inspecting probiotically fertilized tea plants

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts on the Gaiwan

When I sit down for tea and imbibe in all that the leaf has to offer, I grab my gaiwan. By brewing and drinking from the same cup, the essence (cha qi) of the tea is never lost. Unlike a teabag or strainer, no foreign object stands between me and the tea. With a teapot, there is always a transfer to pitcher or teacup. In which case, energy is always lost or transferred (simple physics). There is a reason the gaiwan continues to remain relevant over time. Give it a try and you'll see.

-Michael
A Brother in Tea

Teapot Talk: The Smell of a (Well Seasoned) Teapot

Waiting impatiently for the new spring green tea to arrive, I've switched from my winter preference for puerh back to oolong. Last night as I was brewing Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin in my favorite zhu ni (red clay) pot that I use for tie guan yin, I stuck my nose inside and was delighted to find that it has a crisp, floral oolong aroma. The gradual process of teapot seasoning is well underway!

Aficionados say a well seasoned pot doesn't need leaves to brew tea. The affinity the pot develops for its habitual tea variety is one reason that many prefer to make only one type of tea in a given pot. I've been using this pot for about a year and a half; the oolong fragrance is a recent development.

Good teapot maintenance is important to proper seasoning. Never wash the pot in anything except hot water or tea. Don't dry, wipe, or try to clean the dark tea residue from the inside of the pot or lid...it's a good thing! After use rinse the pot, buff the outside dry with a soft cotton cloth or tea towel, and invert it on a rack (I use a leaky old bamboo tea tray) until it thoroughly air dries. Use the pot regularly and be patient. Eventually it will evolve into a treasure!

High on a Tea Mountain, Roy Discovers Some Rustic Purple Bamboo Tea

Roy continues to send updates about his tea-harvest exploits in China. The latest report:

I went hunting up on the mountain last night and found a lot of outstanding Organic Purple Bamboo. I purchased the entire lot of around 40 pounds. The price is high, but it'll have to do. This is the best tea I've seen since our dragon well, so here's what's coming: 5 kilos of Organic Putuo Compassion to be shipped by express mail, 10 kilos more by ocean later. Mild, smooth with a gentle malty sweetness. The texture is light but silky, a bit of mild nutty chewiness in the mid-palate. Easy to prepare with mid-range-temperature water.

5 kilos of Organic Purple Bamboo by express, balance by ocean. One word describes this tea perfectly--SWEET! This farm fertilized only with organic compost and has chickens running around all over. The chickens loosen the soil looking for bugs and insects and deposit their own fertilizer naturally. The farm is moderately managed but nature has been kind to it. Combined with natural compost, it also grows the original varietal of Zi Xun cha (purple bamboo). Almost all other farms have gone on to newer hybrids and "improved" varietals that yield earlier with prettier leaves. This is clearly a case of man vs. nature, where man alters nature for financial gains (early harvest and good looking leaf fetch higher prices) and not necessarily for the better. This original varietal yields less leaf and a later harvest, which is perfectly fine this year due to the cold weather. The later harvest allows the plants to store more nutrients and the result is just Great Taste! Nature took hundreds and sometimes thousands of years to work out what's best and this is a perfect example. The remote location of the farm and the not-so-fast-learner farmer worked out great for us this time!

This Organic Purple Bamboo is sweet, nicely textured and without a hint of aggressiveness. Feel free to brew with a mid- to high-temperature range to bring out more flavor. Allow the liquor to cool a bit before drinking if you brewed with higher temp to enjoy the silky texture.

I am going off hunting again today. Wish me luck!

Later Roy followed up again with a brief note about his next stop:

Got to Hunan. Will try to make a little tea myself tomorrow. I am getting old and frisky...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Roy's Trip to Yi Xing

Great news from Roy in Yi Xing: he's talking to two top potters about commissioning new teapots. One is the same artist who, in the past, has made our series of small, classic zhu ni (red clay) teapots. With a thinner, harder body than some other varieties of yi xing ware, a round belly to accomodate expanding leaves, and a tall domed top to capture aroma, this pot is ideal for fragrant oolongs from Taiwan or Anxi in China, including our famed Monkey-picked Tie Guan Yin or our popular Imperial Green Oolong.

The other artist is the Zhou Xiao Qin, who has studied with renowned potters and is destined for fame in her own right. In the past she has created several beautiful pots for us, including the one Roy has chosen as his personal puerh pot, the Wu Jing Handle-Style Teapot.

Here's Roy's update from Yi Xing:

Good news: the guy who made our Final Edition Zhu Ni teapot has dramatically improved his workmanship and after meeting with me over tea in his workshop, he is ready to produce a upgraded edition for us! The bad news is that he wants twice as much money! I am asking for samples to be made and will take it from there.

Zhou Xiao Qin is producing the lineup of pots for us again, but will give me an update on prices before production. I am afraid to find what the price is but she is good! The average price she charges is 5,000 yuan (about US$730) per pot!

Someone forgot to tell the Chinese there is a recession going on around the world. I went to lunch and couldn't find seats in two different restaurants. After finally finding someplace to eat, I couldn't find a taxi to go back to the hotel to rest my tired old bones; had to walk 35 minutes just to get back to the hotel to chill.

Going to a new tea farm tomorrow. I promised myself that I will do three new "things" each harvest. I think I went over that the first day! If I can only sleep at night I will be a better person in the morning. Hey, that sounds kind of cool...

News from the Tea Harvest in China

In terms of Dragon Well this year, never has the saying "pick three days early and it is treasure, three days late, it's worth just as much as grass" been so true! I've just finished cupping every Dragon Well and early harvested green tea I can get my hands on. I lost count after a couple of hours, I am only thankful that much younger people are making life easier for an old dude like me. I cupped like royalty here. People set up the tea for review, weight, cup, and time. When it's ready I try to walk up to the cupping table and act like I know what I am doing: slurp, spit, make mental notes, and move on.

In my twenty-some years in the tea business, I can't remember an instance where inferior quality can fetch such high prices. Chinese consumers are buying Qing Ming green teas at record prices. Our Putuo Compassion Green sells well and it's a good quality tea, but this year they were asking 4,000 yuan (about US$585) per kilogram! After spitting out as much of the bad tea as fast as I can, I approved a 15 kg lot of Putuo Compassion. After much back-patting and arm-twisting I was able to get my tea at same price as last year. Once they agreed, I gave them the bad news: now I want them to finish and sort the tea to my standard! You'd think they'd know me by now, but then again, maybe they're just letting me think I am ahead a bit today.

Due to the cold weather and rain, most of the high-grown greens that we need are not ready yet. What little has been harvested does not meet my standard and has been rejected. I don't remember the last time I had to say no so many times. This just makes me mad as hell and more determined. I am staying until I am done!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Preorder 2009 Imperial Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well

According to Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong, the quality of 2009 Lotus Heart (lian rui) and Imperial Dragon Well (que she) is outstanding, but because of adverse weather conditions we picked early, so supplies are extremely limited. Therefore, we're taking preorders on our web site. We expect the tea to arrive in San Francisco in the next couple of weeks. We'll be updating details on the site after we receive tasting samples within a few days.

Preorder 2009 Harvest Imperial Lotus Heart Dragon Well

Preorder 2009 Harvest Imperial Dragon Well

Saturday, April 4, 2009

More News from Roy in the Tea Fields

Spring green tea is so delicate and temperamental that harvest time is hectic, as teams rush to pick and process the fast-growing leaves while they're at their peak. Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong is currently in the tea fields near Hangzhou, overseeing our dragon well harvest. Later during his month-long stay in China he'll move on to other green tea areas.

Despite the fast pace, Roy is providing brief updates as time permits. Immediately after our top-quality Lotus Heart and Imperial Dragon Well teas were picked, the weather turned cold and rainy, threatening the quality of the lesser grades. Here's the news Roy sent last night:

I feel alive and energetic, I guess due to the good dragon well harvest. Everyone is having a hell of a time, but the rest of the tea hasn't come in due to the cold and rain. I am sitting on my hands today as samples can't come down from the mountain and I can't get up there.

Today Roy sent word that, impatient with the bad weather, he was heading to Yi Xing, a couple of hours away. In the home of the famous teaware he plans to meet with the master potter Zhou Xiao Qin, who has made teapots for us on special commission in the past. The heads up that Zhou Xiao Qin may agree to create some new pots for us is truly exciting news for anyone who loves fine yi xing ware. Here's what Roy said about the trip to Yi Xing. You can sense the enthusiasm he's feeling during this year's harvest:

I am off to Yixing for a few days to talk with Zhou Xiao Qin. Since I am on a roll, the rain and cold weather ain't gonna stop me!

Yi Xing is near Tai Hu (Lake Tai), the growing region for some well known green teas such as bi luo chun. I wouldn't be surprised if Roy checks out the Tai Hu harvest while he's in the area.

By the way, today, April 4, is Qing Ming, the traditional end date for harvesting the finest dragon well. Luckily, thanks to Roy's efforts, our best dragon wells were put away well in advance of the deadline. Grace expects to receive the first samples Monday, so we'll finally get to taste the tea Roy is so excited about. The spring tea situation is evolving quickly, so stay tuned for more updates!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our 2009 Imperial Dragon Well and Lotus Heart Are Harvested!

Saturday is Qing Ming, the Chinese holiday for appreciating the arrival of spring and honoring ancestors. Unlike many Chinese holidays based on the lunar cycle, Qing Ming arrives 15 days after the vernal equinox. But Qing Ming is all-important to tea lovers for a different reason: by tradition, it's the date before which the best spring dragon well tea is picked. The finest and rarest dragon wells that command the highest prices must be picked before Qing Ming. Tea picked afterward is more mature and probably diluted by abundant spring rain that usually arrives around Qing Ming.

You'll be pleased to know that Roy is in the Hangzhou region (home of the finest dragon wells) and he just sent word that our 2009 harvest of Imperial Dragon Well (que she, or sparrow tongue grade) and Lotus Heart Dragon Well is complete! He's excited about the quality, particularly of the Imperial Dragon Well, which he says is nearly as good as the Lotus Heart this year. Here's his report:

We have another bad weather harvest this year, with an extended period of rain (around 20 straight days!). Right after the rain, the temperature warmed up quickly to as much as 20 degrees C in a one week window. However, due to our experience from the last 5-6 years, we were well prepared. Fortunately, our tea bushes are well maintained and managed. We brought in 200 skilled pickers to cover over 50 acres of bushes. We prepared for two days, inspecting the tea bushes to identify the best areas; allowing the tea to grow a bit; and getting all the wok firing equipment ready, with 30 skilled pan-firing technicians. Then we attacked the harvest and finished our entire yield of this year's Lotus Heart (total yield around 9 kg after sorting) and Imperial Dragon Well (around 20 kg after sorting).

Right after we finished, the temperature dropped to an average of 6-13 degrees C with limited sunshine. I can safely say that we have the best tea this year will produce and I am very proud of all the folks involved to make it happen. I just returned from the factory after supervising the final sorting and packaging. We used a blowing and rough-sorting machine to remove fuzz and broken leaves, then 50 hard-working women helped sort the tea by hand. Then we stored it in urns lined with lime packets to further remove moisture.

I don't have the proper equipment here to do a real cupping with temperature control, but I did cup it with water at around 70 degrees C or so and find the lotus heart extraordinarily rich with thick viscosity and texture. It has highly fragrant aromatics with slight hints of chestnuts, and an intense and long, refreshing finish. The Imperial Dragon Well compares well with this year's Lotus Heart size- and color-wise. If you didn't compare it carefully side by side, you'd be challenged to think any less of the Imperial Grade as compared to the Lotus Heart. I find this year's Imperial Dragon Well refreshingly sweet with lighter texture and viscosity. The finish is mild but persistent. The nose is delightfully fresh and fragrant. I would recommend setting the digital kettle to 55-60 degrees C and brewing 5 grams of tea in a 6-ounce Standard White Gaiwan.

The first tea should be arriving in our teahouses within the next two weeks. Due to the extremely limited quantities of 2009 Imperial Dragon Well and Lotus Heart we will accept advance reservations for these teas, with a maximum quantity of 1 pound per customer. Pricing to be determined. Email customerservice@imperialtea.com to reserve your order.

Stay tuned for more details on the 2009 spring tea harvest and pricing and availability of all the new tea.