Sunday, July 25, 2010
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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.