Friday, February 19, 2010

Bat Nuts Revisited

Back on January 4th, I posted a short show-and-tell piece about Bat Nuts. At that point I hadn't actually ever tasted them... but now I have!

On January 22nd, I came across a steaming basket of these "wicked-little-water-caltrops" for sale on the street behind Long Shan Temple (龍山寺) in Taipei.

They tasted pretty good to me... very much like their "less-awesome-looking-water-chestnut-cousins" and having a similar crisp, crunchy texture.

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?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vegan Taiwan Gallery #2

I am happy to know that I have a lot of veg' and veg'-curious readers! According to Google Analytics, my original Vegan Taiwan Gallery post (from March 12, 2009) is one of the top five posts for bringing new people to my blog.

So for all of you fine fellow foodies... here are a few photos of some of the more interesting things that I ate during my January, 2010 trip to Taiwan.

These crisp fruits tasted like pears but they had pits.
Anybody know what they're called?

At a hotpot place in Taipei where everybody got their own pot built right into the table!

Tea oil noodles.

Fried tofu.
(It was very dry but luckily they gave us some sweet/spicy dipping sauce).

Sauteed greens with ginger.

Vegetarian black tea jello.

Warm passion fruit juice with lime.

Curried veggies and tofu with peanut sauce and coconut milk.
(It doesn't look too good but it was.)

Spicy Thai noodles with faux shrimp.

Another great vegan hotpot!

Italian style veggie soup.

The only raw salad I've ever had in Taiwan.
Served with passion fruit dressing. Yum!

Baked sweet potatoes.

Wok fried greens.

Flavorful stewed veggies.

Soup with potato, enoki mushrooms and weird gluten balls.

Cheap lunch of instant noodles and a Lishan pear.

Best fried tofu ever.

Best stir fried mushrooms ever.

Got to have soup!
This one has those oddly yummy flowers and sliced ginger.

Stir fried wild fiddle heads with garlic and ginger.

Green beans with hot peppers.

More fried tofu.

Thai style eggplant with basil... always a winner!

Sauteed pineapple and wood ear mushrooms.
(Yes, you read that correctly.)

A hearty veg-beef stew.

S T I N K Y T O F U!

Spicy stinky tofu on a stick.

Sweet mochi and bean soup.

A weird radish cake with spicy garlic sauce.

Light breakfast at a Buddhist buffet.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sun Moon Lake Black Tea

While visiting a friend's tea shop in Taipei last month, I treated myself to a 150 gram bag of fine black tea produced near Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in Nantou county (which I believe is where most of Taiwan's black tea is currently being produced). I was told that this particular tea was made from the descendants of well maintained tea trees imported from Assam, India around 1925.

Its long twisted leaves have a sweet malty aroma like honey and dried plums.

I used about 8 grams of dry leaf in the 150 ml brewing cup pictured below and I steeped it 5 times with boiling water (2 min, 2 min, 3 min, 5 min, 10 min). This yielded a pretty orange-red color with great clarity.

The mouth feel was smooth and thick and constantly reminded me of dark raw honey. It even had the same wonderful peppery finish that raw honey and extra virgin olive oil should have.

When it was piping hot it tasted more like a strong Assam tea but as it cooled it developed some sweeter, earthier characteristics that reminded me of Yunnan tea... and at room-temperature it delivered a bright, brisk flavor like some Ceylon teas.

Most of the spent leaves looked liked that one on the left... but I found 3 that looked like the monster on the right.

My tasting notes for this tea included: Yum, Ahh and Mmmm.

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).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Teacup Tea Classes - February 2010

This month I am very excited to present 2 tea classes at Teacup (2128 Queen Anne Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98109).

February 11, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Oolong Tea "Taiwan Style" - In this class we will discuss Taiwanese oolong tea history and production and we will taste several oolongs from different parts of the island while focusing on their distinct flavor profiles. This class will feature some fresh new high mountain oolongs from my mid-January buying trip! This class is a repeat of last month's class at the request of several lovely folks who were unable to come last month. But even if you did come last month, you're very welcome to come again this time!

February 25, 2010 - 7:00 to 8:00 pm
Green and White Tea Brewing Workshop - In this "hands on" class, students will form small groups to brew their own tasty tea. I will guide the class as we rotate between four unique green and white teas and use several different brewing methods.

These evening classes cost $3 per guest and require a RSVP. It's sometimes OK to RSVP even on the same day. You may RSVP anytime by visiting or calling the Teacup (206-283-5931) or by emailing me at I will let you know as new classes are scheduled, and please feel free to suggest a class idea on a subject you'd like to learn more about. I hope to see you soon at a class!