Monday, June 22, 2009

Floating Leaves' Shan Lin Xi

In addition to the new Shui Xian tea I bought on my last trip to Floating Leaves, I also treated myself to an ounce of new spring 2009 Shan Lin Xi High Mountain Oolong Tea (杉林溪高山烏龍茶).

Shan Lin Xi (fir forest creek) is an alpine region in Nantou County (南投縣), Taiwan. The oolong tea produced in this area is grown around 1800 meters elevation. Although I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting this part of Taiwan, I have heard from many sources that it is a natural wonderland of beautiful forests and mountains.


I've been steeping this tea all day using a small clay teapot named Sam. I filled the pot about one-third full of dry leaf and infused the tea 15 times with boiling water. Using this method I enjoyed many strong, hot, flavorful cups. Some people may call this "Taiwan-style tea brewing." It is a method I often use to enjoy high mountain tea.

Although five hours have passed since I finished drinking this tea, its flavor still lingers in the back of my throat. It delivered a golden liquor that was incredibly aromatic. I was delighted by its piquant fruitiness and sparkling clean taste.

Nine years ago my wife and I were hiking to Marymere falls in the winter. On our way back down from the falls it began to snow heavily. The dark green forest quickly turned white as the snow muffled all sounds. The smell of the old, wet, northwest pines mixed with newly fallen snow is a smell I will never forget. I have only experienced this smell two times since that magical hike, and both were in Shan Lin Xi tea. The first time was during my first trip to Taiwan (2005) when I bought a 100-gram bag of new winter tea from an upscale retail tea shop. That tea came packed in a beautiful cardboard box with a picture of a butterfly printed on it (butterflies are a common mascot for Shan Lin Xi). The second time was in this delicious oolong!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Floating Leaves' Taiwan Shui Xian

My daughter and I went over to Floating Leaves last week to try some of Shiuwen's new spring oolongs. We were treated to an amazing Dong Ding oolong and Lishan high mountain oolong, while enjoying the cozy and serene atmosphere of the tea shop.

One of the teas I purchased was a new Spring '09 Shui Xian oolong. This tea uses the famous Shui Xian (水仙) varietal from China's Wuyi mountains, but the tea itself was grown in Pinglin, Taiwan, (坪林,台灣) a place that is famous for producing Wenshan Baozhong tea (文山包種茶).

This Shui Xian seems slightly greener than others I have had, but it is still a very smooth and balanced oolong. The lightly baked leaves yielded many delightful flavor notes such as raw honey and stone fruit. I was also pleased with this tea after it had cooled. At room temperature the broth was very silky in my mouth with a brisk apricot note.

The dry leaves

Pouring this Shui Xian (video)

Enjoying fine tea on a Sunday morning

The spent leaves

This tea was a great buy. I would recommend it to any other tea lovers who wish to explore the flavor profiles of distinctive tea plants and to experience how they change from place to place.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tea Catering in Seattle

Over the last four years B.D.T.B. has hosted about 25 wonderful public and private tea events in and around Seattle, WA. For more information on my Chinese style tea catering services, please check out this link or email me.

Last month I was hired to serve tea for a small group on Seattle's Queen Anne hill. My friend/client took some wonderful photos and wrote this nice endorsement for my tea service:

"Our friends had spent 5 years building a tea house and Brett inaugurated it with a beautiful Gong Fu tea ceremony. His love of teas is infectious and his knowledge of the tea history and technique is superb. And then there are the teas themselves: Brett knows them all and probably know the actual tea growers of many. Our friends will always remember Brett and the ceremony as well as the teas which were amazing!"
- Larry J.

Thank you so much Larry!

Brewing a delicious aged puer cake
using a pot named Vortex:

(photo by Larry J.)

If any of my readers have ever had a memorable or inspirational experience drinking tea with me, I'd love to hear from you in a blog comment or if you email me one I can add it below. Namaste.

"I have known Brett from his first days at the Teacup and have been thrilled to see how he has embraced the world of tea and become extremely knowledgeable. It is always a delight to have tea with Brett. He is not only very well versed in the world of tea, but is charming and fun to be around. I can't think of anyone with whom I would rather "take tea" ~Michael M.

" Brett served tea at my dessert parties several times, and always does an excellent job matching various teas to my particularly diverse spread of pastries. He usually ends up selling more product than I do! I would recommend Brett to cater any event." ~Lexington Alexander

"I have had the good fortune to attend numerous tea tastings with Brett, wherein he generously shares his time, knowledge, and experience and passes on his love and devotion of quality teas. Furthermore, I am encouraged by his own research and dedication, for he travels often to the source countries throughout the year, and deals only with trusted sellers so I know I'm getting what I'm paying for. Soon after meeting Brett, I developed a nice little tea drinking hobby myself, and now have several different tea pots to accommodate the various kinds of tea I enjoy daily. Thanks Brett for boiling down (pun intended) this complex and aromatic world so I and my friends can appreciate and share in it. Xiexie" ~Michael Anderson

"As an acupuncturist I consider it my duty and privilege to promote tea drinking to my patients- as a tonic to the body, mind and spirit. I was fortunate enough to know Brett and had him come to my office one evening for an "educational tea party" for my patients. Brett truly embodies the full depth of how to understand and enjoy tea, balancing his presentation with knowledge (food for the mind), experiencing tea with all the senses (food for the spirit), and a well brewed pot of tea to drink (food for the body). Even after more than a year, my patients who enjoyed Brett's tea service still ask about him and recount their experience and what they learned. It was a great evening and I plan on having another event hosted by Black Dragon Tea Bar this year!" ~Leslie Suggett, L.Ac. One Earth Natural Medicine

"Brett brought Black Dragon Tea Catering to my house for a guided tour of tea. We began with something recently picked and ended with an old puer. With Brett, tea assumes its rightful place in our lives. We drink and imagine a green mountain in Yunnan Province or workers processing towers of leaves. I often sit alone and drink my cup without really thinking. Black Dragon brings ritual, reverence and sheer delight to the simultaneously simple and profound experience of drinking tea." ~Karen Ann Chalupnik

"oh wow. holy shit, Brett. you ARE the man." - Kramer

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Cats of Mucha

In the late evening of January 11, 2005, I landed in Taiwan for the very first time. Unfortunately I was told that it was too late to catch a bus, but a nice lady who worked at the airport helped put me on the right track to the Taipei hostel. The first thing I did at the hostel was borrow a stoned Canadian lad's phone card and give my wife a quick call. Then I hit the sack. Due to a mix of jet-lag and pure excitement I really slept terribly that first night.

The following morning, my first full day in Taiwan began. It was a chilly, windy and rainy day, perfect for tea drinking! My goal for the day was to reach the famous Mucha (木柵) tea park in the hills outside of Taipei. I wanted to drink the Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音) oolong that they are famous for producing.

First I hit an ATM and got some breakfast, then I started my journey. Back then (in 2005) my Mandarin Chinese skills were very poor (almost nonexistent) but I didn't struggle too much because the people in Taiwan are always so kind and helpful. Even if somebody could not speak any English, they would usually try to find a way to help me. With the aid of my guidebook and a nice young man at the Taipei metro station's information desk, I was able to find the right bus up to Mucha.

The ride up into the hills was thrilling. We passed temples and schools as we navigated the lush green hills. Most of the passengers on the small bus were old folks or elementary school students. At one stop, about 20 youngsters clambered aboard and the bus instantly became very crowded and loud. I had a good time talking to several of them and even caught a little boy who fell down when the bus lurched forward. He said xiexie (謝謝) (thank you) and I said bu keqi (不客氣) (you're welcome), then everybody on the bus started laughing.

Taken from the bus on the way up to Mucha:

After an hour or so I was at my destination. I've heard that this area can be very busy on the weekends, but on this drizzly Wednesday morning it was dead. I looked around at the view of Taipei down in the valleys but the thick overcast sky made it a little hard to see the city.

See what I mean?

At this point I really really really needed a cup of tea! I hadn't had any tea in over 48 hours and I was so tired from traveling and lack of sleep. I quickly choose an outdoor tea house at random.

Here is a picture of the tea house I choose:

I found a main room where they sold snacks and had a tea menu, but there was no sign of any humans. I called out "Ni Hao" (你好) (hello) in a soft voice. Nothing happened. I looked around a bit more, almost decided to leave, then called out "Ni Hao" again (this time a little bit louder). A groggy old woman rose from behind the counter, right in front of me. She had been sleeping, and as you can imagine, she was very surprised to see a laowai (老外) (foreigner) in her tea shop on a Wednesday morning.

She said ni hao and then we began that wonderful process of communicating with few common words. She sold me a 100 gram tin of what I think was her "finest Mucha Tie Guanyin oolong" then she led me outside to help me brew it overlooking Taipei. She was surprised to learn that I already loved tea and that I had come to Taiwan to learn more about it. She gave me a little tutorial on gongfu (功夫) tea brewing and took a few pictures of me. Then she left me alone to sip my tea meditatively in the open air. The morning was very quiet except for some cool breezes and light drizzle, but the temperature was very nice (about 60 degrees).

A photo the proprietress took of me:

The first thing I wrote in my travel journal was "I have made it!!!" I was overcome with joy to be drinking delicious Taiwanese oolong in Taiwan for the very first time. The tea rejuvenated me and I felt very peaceful.

I drank tea alone for about an hour before I felt a little cat rub up on my leg. I looked down and saw a tiny kitten hanging around!

He (or she) was very small and mewed at me for some attention. I pet him for a few minutes before I saw a bigger kitty approach.

Soon after that, a little white one came along too!

The curious cats kept me company for the next three hours, during which I caught up on my journal, ate some lunch, and took pictures of my new "feline friends." It was a wonderful start to my first Taiwan tea trek!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Xiao Xiao's big day

You may already know that quality loose leaf tea is a great value. I usually tell my clients that a pound of tea brews 180 to 200 cups, which means that the price per cup can fall anywhere from one penny to a few dollars. While I'm sure this all varies greatly from person to person and tea to tea, I still feel this statistic is a pretty accurate rule of thumb.

One day Xiao Xiao and I decided to find out just how much brewed tea we could make using my last 8 grams of 1997 Nannuo shou cha. This tea cost $128 per pound, so 8 grams would be $2.26.

Xiao Xiao!
(What he lacks in size he makes up for in spirit.)

Xiao Xiao holds enough tea to fill three small teacups, but because I was drinking solo, I poured a third of each infusion into a large mason jar, a third into another small drinking cup, and the rest into my own cup to savor. We went for 13 delicious infusions.

After I was done the mason jar held 10 ounces of tea:
(This room temperature mix of all 13 infusions tasted great too!)

... and the cups looked like this:
(I didn't drink all of these, because I was already feeling a super puer buzz.)

(They are shown here in order from left to right, top to bottom.)

30oz of tea is 3.75 cups so this time a $128 per pound tea worked out to about $0.60 per cup!

After our little experiment, Xiao Xiao was very sleepy (brewing 30 ounces of tea can be very hard work when you're the size of a golf ball) so I made him a nice little "nest" out of some used tea leaves and let him rest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shu Shu's Mandarin Lesson #6

Ni Hao tea friends. It's your old pal Shu Shu here with another Mandarin Chinese diversion.

Brett has been drinking a lot of wonderful new spring teas lately and I'm very lucky because sometimes he pours a little hot tea on yours truly!

I hope he pours this matcha on me!*

Today's phrases are:

中國和日本的綠茶有什麼不一樣? = What's the difference between Chinese and Japanese green tea?
中國 = zhōngguó = China
和 = hé = and
日本 = rìběn = Japan
的 = de = possessive particle
綠茶 = lùchá = green tea
有 = yǒu = have
什麼 = shénme = what
不 一樣 = bùyīyàng = different (or not the same)

春茶很好香 = Spring tea is very fragrant.
春 = chūn = spring
茶 = chá = tea
很 = hěn = very
好 = hǎo = good
香 = xiāng = fragrant

玫瑰不管叫啥名,聞起來總是香的 = A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
玫瑰 = méiguī = rose
不管 = bù guǎn = no matter what, regardless
叫 = jiào = called
啥 = shá = what
名 = míng = name
聞起來 = wénqǐlai = smell like
總是 = zǒng shì = always
香 = xiāng = fragrant
的 = de = possessive particle

*cool photo by my buddy James!