Monday, February 15, 2010

Tea with Penny

Last month I spent an incredible afternoon at Taipei's Bi Hu Cun (碧湖村) tea shop. The proprietress, Penny Yang, served me many wonderful Taiwanese teas while generously teaching me about professional tea preparation and evaluation. In the course of 4 unforgettable hours I had tasted fourteen teas, eaten some spicy noodles, watched a DVD about tea, and met a handful of friendly regulars.

Round one was devoted to these six high mountain oolongs: Shan Lin Xi Long Feng Xia (杉林溪龍鳳峽), Da Yu Ling (大禹嶺), Alishan Zhang Shu Hu (阿里山樟樹湖), Hua Gang Lishan (華剛梨山), Meishan (梅山), Alishan Jin Xuen (阿里山金萱) and one low mountain tea from Nantou county.

Penny prepares "round one"

Penny coached me through her cupping process. First we evaluated the aroma on the spoon three times for each tea. Next she showed me how to scoop out all of the leaves on to the spoon for a closer look and smell. Then we used the spoon to ladle the broth into small cups and sip the tea. Care was taken to always rinse the spoon between teas and the broth was slurped quickly to aerate it and spread it all around the palate.


An important fourth step was to wait about five more minutes for the tea to cool (with the leaves still steeping in the bowl). Then we tasted the resulting strong, room-temperature tea.

High quality oolong teas can usually soak for long periods of time without becoming unpleasant. They may get stronger than one might prefer to drink... but this concentrated tea can really help a professional during the judging process.

Round two featured: Competition Lishan (比賽梨山), Mei Shan Bei Huo (梅山焙火), Roasted Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音), and 18 year old aged tea (老茶).

The aged tea was a major stand out. It presented a nice hint of berry flavor and was wonderfully sweet and smooth. Penny's opinion was that real aged tea should not be roasted. Too dark, she said, and it will not have "sparkle or shine." I am by no means qualified to make claims such as that... but this particular aged tea was a real treasure and did not taste roasty at all.

Round three was a breathtaking Fu Shou Shan Farm Lishan (福壽山農場梨山) served in this cute little white and blue teapot. Penny said that this was "real Fu Shou Shan farm tea" and that meant it was "government tea" (but I'm not too sure what that means). All I can say is that it was incredible, and the flavor still lingers with me to this day.

Round four was our dessert tea. It was a delicious Sun Moon Lake black tea. (The same one that I blogged about on February 8th.) Penny steeped this in a small clay teapot, and while she did she gave me a few more tips for brewing great tea. She recommends pouring the boiling water from one's kettle with a little altitude about a foot or so. Not only does it look cool, but it can give the water a bit more energy and oxygen. Interestingly, she does not recommend doing this when pouring from a teapot into cups or decanters. In which case she holds the pot close, or lets it rest inside the decanter.

Pouring the Sun Moon Lake black tea

Wow. What a great tea day! When I left Penny's shop at around 8:00 pm, my head was filled with knowledge, my tea journal was filled with notes, my stomach was filled with tea, my arms were filled with bags of bulk tea and my soul was filled with joy.

...but oddly enough... it wasn't too easy to fall asleep that night. Go figure?

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