Friday, October 13, 2017

La quête universelle de la beauté du thé

Exceptionnellement, j'ai mis cet article sur mon blog photo afin de vous montrer les superbes photos de Stéphane Bardery en grand.
Bonne lecture!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Echoes of autumn in music and tea

 A French reader invited me to concert of guqin in Taipei's Qin Hall, a Japanese era house that exudes a timeless, classic spirit. It's not concert hall, but rather a few big room with tatami where a dozen visitors can listen to guqin performers. The main guqin master was in China for some concerts. That's why several students of varying levels performed during this event. The player above, Bo Han, was clearly the most experienced and proficient in this art that evening. He played with his eyes closed and seemed in total control of the music and his instrument. The other players were not as skilled and kept looking at their hands.

At first, I felt a little bit disappointed to notice so much hesitation and lack of grace in the performance of the younger players. But this let me appreciate how hard it is to play this ancient instrument and I admire their courage.
The range of emotions that can be expressed with a guqin is very broad. This stringed instrument can be played from crazy like Jimmy Hendrix to totally relaxed with long pauses between each note. The beauty lies in finding the right tone, rhythm and letting the music resonate with both body and soul. The way each note resonates and lingers reminds me of how tea's aftertaste long echoes in the throat and mouth.
Drinking tea or listening to guqin implies a calm state of mind. That's another reason why they go so well together. With both tea and guqin, I enjoy the purity and power of single notes. Unblended leaves, coming from the same harvest, produce unique and pure aromas (when they are well produced and selected). And in the same way there are different quality levels in the playing of music on a guqin, the act of brewing itself also impacts the quality of the brew. You may have great tea (the score), a wonderful instrument (teapot and cups), but if you don't play (brew) well, the beauty of the notes will be lost. 
Spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong (new plantation)
The best way to produce a relaxing and beautiful cup in autumn is to make fall part of your Chaxi. Here is how I brewed some of my teas at home this last week. I share them to inspire you to be creative. It starts with a spring 2016 Wenshan Baozhong, because fall is a mirror of spring and it's a good idea to see how a tea is evolving when it's starting to loose some of its freshness.
Top OB from 2000
An Oriental Beauty from Hsin Chu is also a nice match for fall thanks to its warm summer aromas, since fall is the season we mourn the end of summer. Or, with a more positive attitude, fall is the time we celebrate the remains of summer with the best things that season has produced!
OB and mooncake

DYL 95K
The sweet power of high mountain Oolong is also a nice treat on a bright autumn day. And Da Yu Ling rarely disappoints. This tea is very refined and still very fresh. That's why I used a green chabu on top of a bamboo mat to add the element of dry wood that is associated with fall. And instead of using light celadon cups that would have colored the brew green, these ivory white cups turn the Oolong brew slightly golden. This sunny hue marks the early turning point from summer to fall.
When nature turns red and woody, puerh is also a great tea to echo the autumn season. Below, I brewed my 1995 raw wild brick on a new Chabu.
Raw puerh brick from 1995
I started this article with guqin and thought I'd finish with Chinese calligraphy. Like for tea or music, you don't have to be a Chinese scholar to appreciate the beauty, rhythm and harmony of calligraphy. It takes hard work, skill and practice to be made well, but the enjoyment is much easier. Mastery is when you make something difficult look easy! So, practice producing beautiful Chaxi, practice brewing tea the best you can, practice finding harmony between the season and the tea, practice concentration and you'll enjoy your teas even more!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A la recherche de la pleine lune d'automne


 La beauté de la pleine lune d'automne fut, une fois de plus, éclipsée par d'épais nuages. Qu'à cela ne tienne, je ferai mon lever de pleine lune moi-même, sur mon Chaxi!

Et comme c'est la fête chinoise de la pleine lune, j'en profite pour représenter l'astre par un Baisha bing, un petit gateau traditionnel blanc et rond comme la lune. C'est une spécialité locale de Banciao d'un magasin ouvert depuis 1903! Sa pâte est feuilletée et contient une pâte de soja sucrée. C'est donc plutôt lourd, mais les arômes sont légers. C'est pourquoi je choisis mon excellent puerh cru de ce printemps pour accompagner ce 4 heures.
 Infusé dans ma théière dorée, je sers le puerh dans des anciennes coupes qinghua de la fin de la dynastie Qing. On obtient un effet 'time lapse' d'un lever de lune sur un paysage chinois de bambou et de pins dans le noir.
 La clarté de l'infusion est formidable. Et les odeurs sont d'une pureté et d'une clarté qui éclairent comme la lune dans la nuit!
Le bol noir de Michel François aux reflets de comète ou de lointaine galaxie ne saurait manqué à ce Chaxi lunaire...
Je vous souhaite une belle fête de pleine lune d'automne!
Célébrez cette saison avec de très bons thés comme ceux que vous trouvez dans ma sélection et profitez des nouvelles réductions de prix.

Ajout du lendemain. J'ai retrouvé la lune ce soir:

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The 2 most common green tea brewing mistakes

Last week, I gave a new tea class to my Spanish student Antonio. The weather was so hot that temperatures reached 38.6 degrees Celcius in Taipei, a record high for this year. With such conditions, I didn't feel like doing a class about roasted Oolongs, but switched to green tea instead. Green tea is made of leaves that didn't oxidize before they were dried. We can distinguish 3 types of green tea: dried in a wok, dried in an oven, and steamed (mostly in Japan). What I write applies mostly to the the first 2 categories and to a lesser extent to Japanese greens.
Jasmine scented green tea (my brew)
Mistake number 1 is the temperature. Most people tend to agree that green teas have to be brewed at lower temperatures. This is incorrect. My best green tea experiences have happened with water that had just reached the boiling point!! Top quality green tea is made of tea buds, which are very small leaves that haven't opened up yet. A high water temperature is necessary to penetrate the buds and extract their finest aromas. However, such buds are so small and thin that they can be quite fragile. They don't need much energy in terms of water flow to open and they don't need much time to brew. That's why it's even possible to first fill the tea vessel by half with boiling water before adding the leaves and then the remaining water. 
Jasmin scented green tea (brewed by Antonio)
The quality of the green tea is always key to the quality of your brew. The reason why so many vendors recommend a low temperature is that:
- It's safe. There are fewer risks of over brewing.
- The quality of the tea leaves is low. Such green tea doesn't take the heat well.

Low quality green tea tends to become bitter and rougher in taste when it's brewed at a high temperature. We got this a little bit with the daily jasmine, but not with the imperial version. But the advantage of the jasmine scenting is that the tea's fragrances were not negatively impacted by the high temperature, even with the cheaper version.
Imperial Jasmine green tea
The second most common mistake is the amount of green tea leaves used. This is a mistake I often see on my Instagram feed! Even very experienced tea drinkers make this mistake, because they are too used to brewing Oolong or puerh. They use too many leaves!! Due to its unoxidized nature, green tea is supposed to be drunk much lighter than other teas. For instance, for a gaiwan, approximately 1 gram of jasmine tea is sufficient.
Spring 2017 San Hsia BiLuoChun
For an unscented green tea like Biluochun, the brew has to look even lighter.
The 2 mistakes, low water temperature and many leaves, are linked together. The lower water temperature means that fewer aromas come out from the leaves, which is why more are needed.
The better solution is to use better, fewer leaves and brew them with hotter water. This is especially true if you are brewing 'gongfu', with skills, and are paying attention. The result is then both light and intense, refreshing and easy on the stomach.
Learning tea means practicing it!