Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Flavor of Mucha - 木柵的味道

On January 22, 2010, my two new friends and I spent a wonderful day hiking and drinking tea in the hills southeast of Taipei. We were either at Maokong (貓空) or Mucha (木柵)*. These two tea producing areas are very close to one another and I'm not actually sure how they differ. (Maybe some of my readers could tell me?)

The weather was cool and misty and everything was wet, green and sweet smelling. It definitely reminded us all of the Pacific Northwest. After we got off the bus, we took a deep full breath of clean air and began our search for some good tea.

While poking around one of several abandoned outdoor tea houses all with incredible views, an old man spotted us and called us over to his pretty little tea shop. It seemed to be the only one around that was opened for business at the time. We greeted the man and asked to sit outside and brew tea. He brought us a menu, but I didn't need it, I knew that only one tea would suit us on this crisp, drizzly morning so I said "We would like to drink your best Mucha Tie Guanyin tea (木柵鐵觀音)." He sounded pleased, seated us, and rushed off to set up the tea service. When he returned he asked who would be making the tea and if they knew how. I told him I'd be brewing the tea and I confidently assured him that I knew how to pao cha (泡茶) (brew tea).

I can brew tea.

The dry leaf looked and smelled very nice and the steel kettle was steaming hot so I began to brew the tea. It was OK, but not great. The taste was weak and lacking complexity. I kept trying to make it taste better but I was blinded by my own cockiness. The truth is that I did not know how to brew Mucha Tie Guanyin correctly. Luckily when our host returned to check on our hot water supply he spotted my problem and set everything straight.

He told me that I was using far too few leaves! Although, I had covered the bottom of my teapot, he explained that I needed about double that amount of dry tea for Mucha Tieguanyin. Also, my water temperature was not hot enough. He explained that the cold air was cooling the water in our big steel kettle very quickly and that I needed to keep it at a full boil if we wanted to experience the, as he put it, "木柵的味道" (flavor of Mucha).

Boiling water and more leaf is needed!

I started over and followed my teacher's instructions. The tea soup changed from a dull orange-yellow to to dark reddish brown. The aroma went from common and nutty to rich, fruity and spicy. The taste went from lack-luster to assertive and satisfying. We were all pleasantly stunned and many wonderful cups of this dark and flavorful tea followed. We sipped our tea throughout the morning as we enjoyed the beautiful view, chatted about life and travel and practiced saying many useful Chinese phrases together. The good tea and fresh air had helped our minds to become clear and our bodies to feel comfortable.

Now we're happy!

After tea, we started to explore our lovely surroundings. This area is home to many little gardens (both tea and veggies), lovely graves, and bamboo groves. Nothing is more sublime then standing perfectly still in a bamboo grove and listening to the gentle sound as it rustles in the breeze.

It was very cool to explore with my new friends because one is a trail builder and one is an organic garden manager. So they provided me with some interesting information about what we were experiencing.

The area felt very clean and fresh with many bugs, spiders and even a few butterflies. Some of the tea gardens had rows of a nitrogen fixing cover crop planted to help improve the soil for the next season.

We ate a filling lunch of wild greens with ginger, fried tofu and tea oil noodles at a gorgeous tea shop/restaurant located adjacent to the (currently closed) Maokong gondola station. Here is a video I took walking around inside this place:

Someday I want my house to look like this...
and yes the koi can actually swim under those
glass bottomed private tea rooms!

After lunched we enjoyed a 2 km downhill stroll to a school where we could get a bus back to Taipei. It was a very fun and memorable day.

*I also explored this beautiful area five years ago (you can click here to read about that day).


Anonymous said...

I am enjoying the path your on.

Anonymous said...

Great photo!! Good job!!


CindyW said... Thanks for sharing your experience, and for sharing the video clip. What a beautiful and relaxing place to take tea!