Sunday, July 25, 2010

Roy's Thoughts on Taiwanese Oolong and Yi Xing Teapots

After a disappointing brewing experience, I asked Roy's advice on yi xing teapots and Taiwanese green oolong tea. He replied:

"It is more difficult to use an yi xing teapot with this tea. Often, you get more concentration with yi xing, which dampens the floral aspects. You would have to use a pot that is less porous and carefully select the right combination of tea and temperature in order to do well. On the other hand, with a gaiwan you have a larger opening, which makes it easier to detect the florals. It also provides better temperature control."

Aha, now I know why so much Taiwanese teaware is either glazed or porcelain. Bottom line, for carefree brewing and best results, go with a gaiwan when you prepare these popular, fragrant oolongs.  

Roy Returns from China

Roy touched down in San Francisco last week, after an eventful trip to Taiwan and China. Word is, his luggage was full of interesting new yan cha, Taiwanese green oolong, jasmine, and black tea from the 2010 harvest. We'll be posting details here on the blog and adding new tea to the web site soon.

Meanwhile, Grace has been busy at the tea farm setting up a tea shop in the large, lofted garage. She says it could open to the public this fall. Then we can throw open the gates to the farm and invite tea lovers everywhere to enjoy this beautiful patch of land where Roy is on track to put the first tea plants in the ground before the end of the year.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Roy Strolls Down Memory Lane...With His Camera (Part 2)

A look of distaste on the face of the woman who has to pack food for others to take away!
Typical HK store selling expensive dried goods
It's a tough job but someone's got to do it, right? Had to eat dim sum in HK all by my lonesome
Ahhh, the famous Milk Tea! No respectable HK resident can go without it for long
24-hour noodle and porridge shop, waiting to do business whenever you're hungry
An herbal jelly made with turtle shells and herbs is reputed to remove all "poisons" from your body
Temple Street's famous Gui Ling Gao. I ate at this herbal tea shop some 25 years ago...

Roy Strolls Down Memory Lane...With His Camera (Part 1)

Coiled incense lit on behalf of the person whose name is written on the bottom
A street fortune teller uses small birds to predict your fate
Tin Hou Temple was built in the 1800s. These paintings are showing their age!
Multitudes of coiled incense hanging from the roof of Tin Hou Temple
Pilgrims are busy praying and asking for fortunes in front of the temple's main hall
Tears run down your eyes when it seems like half of HK's residents are burning incense
An alley on the way to Wong Tai Sin Temple where everything from incense to lanterns are on display
On the way to Temple Street, one of HK's sudden downpours
A traditional pawn shop still looks the same as when I was a kid, over 40 years ago!

A Nostalgic Stop in HK Before Heading Home

After Beijing I arrived in Hong Kong to pick up my HK ID card, which will allow me much easier access when I travel to China in the future. I also like to pause before going home to revisit the entire trip in my mind and cover whatever loose ends I may have left along the way. As it turned out, I was stuck in HK awhile, as I was not able to get on my scheduled flight to Taipei and the oolong teas of Taiwan.

I used to live within walking distance of the famed Temple Street, where vendors sell everything from underwear to phony Rolexes. Some of the best meals Grace and I ever had were here, where street vendors and small eateries abound. Temple Street was named for Tin Hou (Queen of the Heavens) temple. During the 1800s, this area was near the shoreline and Tin Hou was known to protect fishermen and sailors. Eventually a temple was built and Tin Hou has resided here for over a century. While Temple Street has grown and changed, her temple has not. I also visited a medicinal herbal tea shop. They don't sell real tea, only bitter herbal formulas. I always say that if you can drink these bitter beverages with gusto, you deserve to get better!

I also visited the famous Wong Tai Sin (Great Immortal Wong) temple. In Chinese mythology Wong Tai Sin is not one of the most noted immortals, however, in Hong Kong, he reigns supreme! Young and old alike flock to his temple to pay respect and pray for fortune and to have their prayers answered. The evening before the first day of the lunar year, hundreds of pilgrims gather. As soon as the door opens, the rush is on! Everyone fights to put the first joss sticks of the year in the temple urn for good luck.

During this trip I marveled at how fast the world has changed and the breakneck speed at which China has changed. Young DJs on Beijing's radio stations switch back and forth between flawless English and Mandarin. Chinese and English pop songs play on the radio and everyone takes it for the norm, which it now is. Now I'm in Hong Kong, known for its modern ways, yet I find Temple Street virtually unchanged. Amazing...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Exciting New Wu Yi Yan Cha

I returned to Beijing for another visit with my ailing friend Yang Wu. I feel like each visit with him may be the last. Mr. Yang somehow fights off every prediction from the doctors and continues to soldier on for another day, each and every day. Despite having lots of tumors inside him, he always receives me in good spirits. I stayed with him for three days, chit-chatting whenever he was able. As I prepared to leave for Hong Kong, Mr. Yang insisted on making dinner and, with a little help from his housekeeper, he did a fine job! We toasted each other for health and prosperity and talked about old times, recalling the time he insisted on traveling with me to Wu Yi Shan to "protect" me from the "tea vultures." His fondness for me keeps him from thinking about me as one of the "vultures!”

I brought out all the samples of Wu Yi oolongs that I collected in Fuzhou. My friend Mr. Wang drove all the way from Wu Yi Shan to deliver them because I didn’t have time on this trip to run up to see him. The list includes this year's Da Hong Pao, Bai Ji Guan, Yan Ru, Old Bush Shui Xian, and several others that I am not too keen about. I set up and cupped each one while Mr. Yang watched. He finally got tired and went to bed, but I kept going.

Although severe spring frost damaged Wu Yi Shan's tea (along with most of the spring 2010 tea crop from the East to the South), there are still good teas around if you look hard enough. This year's Bai Ji Guan will be up to our standard and the Yan Ru is simply amazing. The Da Hong Pao continues to impress and the Old Bush is delicious. After carefully cupping them several different ways, I called Mr. Wang with the final firing instructions and called it a day.

My body is telling me that moving towards home is probably a good idea now, however, I still have to go to Taiwan to attempt yet again to make frozen tea.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Photos from Shaanxi

Description of photos, from top:

New tea factory building in Ning Qiang County, Shaanxi Province

A green tea production line is being installed

Another view of the green tea production line

My tea farm property in Ning Qiang County, Shaanxi Province

The moon gate in a tiny local temple dedicated to the Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor's temple







Documents Are Signed for the Shaanxi Tea Farm and Factory

I staggered into Hangzhou yesterday, thoroughly exhausted. After four hard days of drinking, eating (the photo is only the appetizer course), and negotiating, we signed the final agreement to go forward with our tea factory in Ning Qiang County of Shaanxi Province. The last little thing that needs to happen is called money. Once you pay the deposit the contract becomes binding and, obviously, you lose your money if you don't come up with the rest.

As I've said so often before, China moves at amazing speed! What was a big dirt lot just a few months ago is quickly taking shape. Four brand-new factories have been built and two companies have already moved in. Ning Qiang County is starting a 150,000-square-meter industrial park for processing "green food," situated a kilometer away from the future station for a high-speed train that will be activated in about two years. Roads are going in right before our eyes.

I also signed a letter of intent to take over about 35 acres of beautiful tea farmland, pending soil studies and, again, that little thing called money, which always gets in the way!

The possibilities are enormous and exciting, but given the way I feel now, I'm not sure I could start a boxing match with an ant, much less a big undertaking like the opportunity in Shaanxi. The reality dawned on me as I was signing papers and drinking with the mayor (no, we weren't drinking tea). I'll have to get home and take a few days off before finalizing all the commitments. I still have a California tea farm to get started! if anyone wants to volunteer to pick almonds and plant tea in October, raise you hand now...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Single and Multiple Trunk Tea Trees

Two types of tea trees: the kind found in Yunnan, where multiple stalks emerge directly from the ground (top) and the kind found in Guangdong, where a single stalk grows up and branches out above ground (bottom). The famous dan cong variety is this latter type. Both of the plants pictured here grow in Mr. Wang's forest on Gu Dou Shan in Guangdong Province. The top plant is an import from Yunnan, while the one pictured below is the native bai yun cha.




Thursday, July 8, 2010

King of the Mountain: More on My Visit with the Eccentric Mr. Wang

Bai yun cha can be made into green, yellow, or black tea. Mr. Wang made it very light in a glass teapot and he recommends cold brewing (using room temperature water and infusing the tea for a long time) or brewing it with only a few leaves and serving it after it cools. He feels that hot tea is not good for the esophagus. He said that people of Chao Zhou who drink a lot of hot gong fu tea tend to have esophageal damage or cancer, so he wants everyone to throw away their yi xing pots! Obviously, some of his views are rather ridiculous. If his statistics are even correct, those problems might easily have other causes, such as smoking.

In any case, I made the tea for him and his employees using lower temperature water, but stronger than his preference. I thought it tasted fine, but he is entrenched in his own ideas. He didn't say anything, but obviously he didn't agree with me, so both of us wisely left it there. The tea brewed by my method tasted good, with nice flavor and texture, however, it isn't very refined. Mr. Wang could improve it with better production techniques, but he isn't someone you can persuade. After having built one of the largest construction companies in his area he feels like a king, and perhaps rightly so since everyone around agrees with whatever he says and does.

No matter, his efforts are admirable. According to Mr. Wang, Gu Dou Shan means Old Mountain and bai yun cha only grows here. Similar to dan cong and Yunnan tea, bai yun cha can grow into a big tree. He is also growing some Yunnan varietals. All of his tea trees are thriving.

Now I've moved on to Ning Qiang, in Shaanxi Province. Yesterday I visited the tea farm here and fell and almost broke my back. I also visited the site of our future tea factory. It is very exciting. The site is being developed as a "green food production campus" only a kilometer from the future high-speed train station targeted for completion in 1-2 years. On the campus, four people have already built processing factories and two have started production. One facility belongs to the biggest tea producer in the area, who has a 200-acre tea farm and 25,000-square-foot factory and brand new production line.

Our future tea farm looks more awesome each time I visit, although it isn't being maintained because the farmers there know the farm is going to us, so they are not doing any upkeep. The opportunity is amazing. At around 1,000 meters elevation with fresh running spring water, I think we can grow some great teas! I'll post pictures and more details soon.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Photos of Wild Bai Yun Cha





















Photos of bai yun cha near Tai Shan. Top: tender seedlings get their start in the shade. Bottom: with Guangdong's hot, humid climate and fertile soil, tea plants quickly adapt to the environment and flourish. Note the "single trunk" similar to dan cong: the plant emerges from the ground in one trunk that branches off higher up the stalk.

On a Trip to Rediscover His Heritage, Roy Finds Some Tea Plants Doing the Same

Days and hours seem to flash by at breakneck speed. I am not even sure how long I have been here in China! Every day seems to end with a big meal and I waddle back to my hotel room, check email, and get some work done online. Then I wake up early the next morning and start the whole cycle again.

A few days ago I went to Hong Kong. In addition to taking a break, because I was born there I can apply for a Hong Kong resident's ID card, which allows me to move in and out of China without a visa. The application process was fast and painless. Then I met up with my friend Joe Kong and we decided to visit our parents’ home towns, Kaiping and Tai Shan.

Tai Shan actually has a reputation for tea unknown to most of the Western world, a "miracle" tea called bai yun cha that is said to reduce blood sugar levels. Joe swears by it, claiming his sugar level dropped some 20 points after drinking the tea. I’m not one who worries too much about the health effects of tea, although it is undisputed that tea offers many health benefits. However, the fact that wild tea abounds in Tai Shan does pique my interest, so we made the five-hour bus journey.

Several big meals later, after meeting with Joe's government official friends, we found Mr. Wang, who acquired rights to rehabilitate the Gu Duo Shan area with wild grown C. sinensis. I found it fascinating and arranged to accompany him on a trip to his mountain hideaway. Mr. Wang (pictured above with me) has been planting seedlings all over the mountaintop, where wild tea used to grow. The original wild tea trees were pretty much decimated by people who chopped them up and brought them home for their medicinal properties. Mr. Wang also produces tea from wild tea orchards, which he farms organically. He has been doing this for over five years. Since he is a rich man and doesn't need the money, it’s a perfect project for him.

Although I don't agree with some of his opinions on tea (such as, all puerh is fake), I do admire his actions. We exchanged addresses and agreed to meet up again next time I visit. I didn't buy any tea from him due to his small quantity. Secretly, I feel that he needs to work on the production techniques a bit, but I wouldn't dare to express this to a proud tea farmer like Mr. Wang.

Monday, July 5, 2010

All-American July 4 at the California Tea Farm

Although Roy’s still in China, Grace convened a gathering of friends, family, and teahouse staff to observe July 4 with the California tea farm’s first barbeque. Originating from China, the US, Germany, and Vietnam, the group was the perfect mix to commemorate the birth of a nation that flourishes on diversity and big meals.

We arrived in triple-digit afternoon heat that typifies summer in California’s agricultural areas. It was a full 30 degrees hotter than the weather back in San Francisco. Spring’s green hills have turned a shimmering gold and crops are flourishing in the fields. Even on a holiday, roadside produce stands overflowed with fresh fruit, vegetables, and local honey. Other than the jackrabbit that raced the car down the driveway, most of the farm’s abundant wildlife seemed to be on siesta. Half a dozen of Roy’s large koi huddled in the slim shadow of the pond’s footbridge. Not a single hawk circled in the cloudless sky. Following their example, we dragged some chairs into a shady nook with a pleasant breeze, brewed two family-sized pots of green tea (known for its cooling properties), and spent the next two hours leisurely drinking tea and eating watermelon slices.

As the shadows slowly lengthened, the farm returned to life. Bullfrogs began to croak and a few birds dotted the sky. An expedition set out exploring and returned with an armful of ripe red plums plucked from a single tree. After awhile Grace and daughter Emily fired up the grill.

It was a simple yet satisfying feast celebrating midsummer’s bounty, an all-American July 4 cookout with some distinctive Asian touches. Along with the requisite watermelon and grilled corn on the cob we snacked on boiled mao dou (soybeans). Instead of iced in tumblers the tea was served warm in small cups; the tumblers held fresh coconut milk. The steaks on the grill were all-American, while the chicken wings had a succulent barbeque sauce enhanced with soy sauce and passion fruit. The juicy grilled chicken legs were basted in Grace’s special green tea marinade. To observe the holiday properly, we all ate until we were bursting.

When the sky began to darken, Venus glinted above the horizon like a beacon. Later, a thousand stars came out, quite a treat for us city dwellers who rarely see the heavens. When we strolled to the solitary cottonwood tree near the farm’s summit, we could make out three separate fireworks spectacles in the distance. We all agreed that come September, there couldn’t be a finer place east of West Lake to celebrate the Moon Festival by drinking tea, eating moon cakes, and admiring the reflection of the Harvest Moon on the scenic little pond. That’s an experience we can’t wait to share with all of you when the tea farm opens to the public in a year or two.