Recently in tea people Category

tea journey

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Greetings, friends. It's been a while, I know, and I apologize for my long absence. But I'm back and not only writing, but also creating videos for a new online digital tea publication called "Tea Journey". Tea Journey is a collaboration of journalists and tea experts from around the world, bringing content from the tea lands, much of which has never before been available in English. I am excited to be a part of this, and I hope you will consider taking a look at the Tea Journey Kickstarter page and perhaps even deciding to subscribe. Here is the link.

It's been great to be in touch with those of you who continued writing to me and sharing your own tea adventures. I value your friendship and your views on tea and tea culture. Keep writing! And thank you for being a part of my own tea journey.

tea people

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Trying to explain "tea people" to someone who is not a tea person is like trying to express what a rainbow looks like to someone who is color blind. In Japanese, it is sometimes stated that a person "has tea". This refers not to what is stocked in one's cupboard, but what is stored in one's heart and mind, and the actions that ensue. A person who "has tea" is a person who has a depth of character that exceeds commonly held values, and a person who behaves in cooperation with his or her deeper knowledge and understanding.

He or she might live handsomely or modestly, but at the heart of many tea people is a person who feels deeply and has a strong value system that includes an appreciation of nature, of friends and family, and of the arts and literature. (S)he knows that life is brief and moments fleeting, and so crafts a lifestyle that reflects this vision, from the quality of food that is consumed to the quality of company (s)he keeps.

The tea person has a relationship with tea that rivals religion, and often can't help evangelizing, trying to save those who can't see "the light" or "the rainbow". Eccentric?  Maybe yes. Informed? Probably. Engaged? Definitely. 

A person who "has tea" knows that kindness exceeds other values, and acts on same. Like any "true believer", a tea person might sometimes trip and fall, but never fails to ultimately find a way back to kindness--the greatest of all values perhaps, and a sign of greater wisdom as well. 

What I love about tea people is their passion, not only for tea, but for the finest things in life--namely family, friends, art, poetry, nature and simple kindness.

Just my two cents.
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Bon Teavant is truly inspired by the amazing qualities of Taiwanese high mountain oolongs. From the floral and fruity aromas of Alishan and Da Yu Ling to the mineral notes of Shan Lin Xi. there is something so special about these teas and I love to share them with friends.

In Part Two of our interview with Bret Hinsch, author of The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea, we learn more about tea by observing and smelling the leaves. Listen and enjoy:

Does your tea have good rhythm? Below is a discussion on the topic with Bret Hinsch, author of The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea. A Harvard PhD in Asian Studies, Hinsch has spent fifteen-plus years in Taiwan as a professor and Chinese history scholar. His years in Taiwan have exposed him to a plethora of connoisseur teas, and his fluency in Mandarin enabled him to to research the subject by reading numerous texts in Chinese. Bon Teavant welcomed the opportunity to discuss tea appreciation with Mr. Hinsch. Does Your Tea Have Good Rhythm? is Part 1 of a series that will hopefully bridge some of the gaps in information on tea and tea culture for an English-speaking audience. Enjoy the interview below!

The growing demand for information from eager English-speaking tea connoisseurs in the U.S. inspires this post. Here is a first-installment list of tea books that are well worth a read as well as a couple of books that will increase the depth of feeling and awareness of the tea connoisseur:

-The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea  (Bret Hinsch) We believe this is possibly the best introductory book out on Chinese-style tea appreciation. Bret Hinsch is a Harvard-educated Asian Studies scholar who has lived and taught in Taiwan for more than fifteen years. Disappointed in what is available on Chinese tea in English, Hinsch researched Chinese teas and tea connoisseurship by surveying a vast amount of information written in Chinese. His book is already out of print, but you can find used copies or an e-book version. This book is so good, it is almost worth purchasing an e-book reader in order to absorb all the great, articulately written information on tea production, appreciation, brewing, and the like. We give it highest marks for both the content and the clarity of delivery. Thank you for your contribution, Bret!!

The Time of Tea (Dominique Pasqualini & Bruno Suet) This French author-photographer duo published a timeless two-volume set that is as beautiful to the eye and the touch as the content is fascinating. One volume is filled with rustically reproduced color photographs of tea culture around the world, and the other volume is a treatise on tea appreciation. This double-volume set is out of print, but there is talk of it being republished in the near future. There are only a handful of copies available...you know where. Get it while you can.

The Classic of Tea (Lu Yu) The first treatise on tea culture in China first published in the eighth century, this classic work informs tea lovers the world over how to consider and participate in tea ritual and practice.

Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (Beatrice Hohenegger) 
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea (Beatrice Hohenegger) These two books by Beatrice Hohenegger really compliment each other and should not be missed by the tea historian interested in how tea came to the West. Full of interesting facts, Liquid Jade reveals some of the darker secrets of tea's history. Steeped in History is a companion volume to the exhibition curated by Hohenegger at UCLA's Fowler Museum in late 2009 and includes discussion and images of fascinating artifacts from various Chinese dynasties and from Europe. Here is an interview with Hohenegger by Bon Teavant in 2009.

The Way of Tea (Aaron Fisher)- This is a beautifully written and thoughtful book about tea appreciation from a more spiritual perspective. Written by Aaron Fisher (aka "Wu De"), a tea aficionado living in Miao Li, Taiwan. Check out his site Global Tea Hut to support this outstanding non-profit organization dedicated to the sharing of tea and tea education.

The Book of Tea (Okakura Kakuzo) This 20th century classic on tea culture from a Japanese perspective is a gem that should not be missed. The content of this book has recently been re-packaged and published by Bruce Richardson.

Culinary Tea (Cynthia Gold): What a fine collection of recipes and information on the historical and contemporary uses of tea as food. Cynthia Gold inspires not only the reader to try tea in new ways as an ingredient in dishes, but also invites chefs around the world to reignite the passion for tea as food and to take it in new directions.  As such, Cynthia contributes much to the growing information on tea and tea culture around the world. Here is a more in-dephth review of Culinary Tea by Bon Teavant.

The Tea Dictionary (James Norwood Pratt) This newly minted tea dictionary is a manageable volume of information provided as a quick reference to teas and terms used in the world of tea appreciation and industry. The hefty price suggests that you are receiving a distilled inventory of terms that require curation for the professional or avid tea lover. You can find a video interview of JNP here.

The Art of Tea (Magazine) Published by Wu Shing Press in Taiwan, this magazine, which is published at indiscriminate intervals, is well worth perusing for hours and hours. Back issues are available on a variety of topics, including puerh tea and yixing teaware--information that is not always so easy to find in English elsewhere (but can be found here).

Wabi-Sabi (Leonard Koren) This 1994 classic volume explains the complex concept of wabi or wabi sabi, which I will not try to distill on this page, other than to tell you that this is the concept that infuses Japanese tea culture and frankly, all tea culture to some degree. To understand wabi is to absorb and digest the art of fine tea and the duality inherent in life itself.

The Secret Life of Plants (Peter Tomkins & Christopher Bird) This book is not specifically about tea but about the way plants interact with humans, and should not be missed by those who want to increase their enjoyment of Camellia sinensis on a new level. Scientific studies illuminate the powerful ways in which plants respond to human thought, intention, and actions. This book is revelatory for any lover of plants, and tea is certainly our favorite...

There are so many more tea books that deserve attention, and you can consider this a first installment to our growing bibliography of tea books that we love and want to share. We want to shout out to some of the best tea authors (and their books) of our times and of times past.

roy fong on wuyi teas

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What makes a good wuyi tea and how is it processed?  Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court has been visiting Wuyi Shan (Mountain) in China for thirty years and has watched processing methods change over time. 

(Note: if you have trouble viewing this video, you can see it on Vimeo or try a different browser like Safari)

professional tea cupping

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There is a common protocol used by tea professionals to judge teas which is called "cupping". When visiting a tea farmer or wholesaler, the tea buyer might see several white porcelain cups and several plates of tea which are set up by the tea seller. The seller will then weigh four to five grams of tea, and put it into each of the cups. S/he will then pour near boiling water at the same temperature into each of the cups, which contain the same amount of tea. A timer will be set for five minutes, and when the five minutes is up, the buyer then begins sampling the teas, using a white porcelain spoon to dip into the cups, smell the aroma, and also serve him/herself some tea into the sampling cup.

By using the same weight, water temperature and steeping duration, all of the teas are treated exactly alike. While teas are naturally grossly over-steeped with near boiling water, (which is counter intuitive to making a great cup of tea), this method of employing extremes brings out the characteristics of the teas to the highest degree, allowing the tea professional to quickly assess both the strengths and weaknesses of the tea.

Generally the buyer will be sampling one kind of tea and therefore judging many different options of the same tea. For example, (s)he will be tasting five or six different Lishan teas or Asian Beauty teas (if in Taiwan). From time to time, a seller will also include a sample that is a different kind of tea to the others.

heating elements for tea

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Many variables play a role in the making of a great cup of tea: water quality, water temperature, and amount as well as the  type, quality and quantity of tea leaves, and of course, steeping time. What few consider, however, is the impact of the heating element on the tea.

Some tea people are mindful of this, and go out of their way to find or create just the right  heating element.  Possible sources for heat include charcoal fire, wood fire, electric coil (stove), gas range, and ceramic heat, among others including electric plug-in appliances.

In earlier times, and still now in some parts of the world, people had no choice but to heat water over a wood or charcoal fire. From experience, I can say this does enhance the pleasure of a tea event, but how does it influence the tea itself? Does it matter if you boil tea over a hot flame or stove or more slowly at a medium high temperature?

According to Lu Yu, author of The Classic of Tea (Cha Ching) in eighth century China, "The ancients placed a great store in tea's flavor when it was brewed with firewood that had been cured for a long time." If using charcoal, he said, be sure to use new charcoal so that it does not "give off a musty, rank and greasy smell".  He also advised against using "oily wood or worn-out or discarded utensils as fuel."

It is hard to know what he would have thought of a gas or electric range or a Zojirushi, but my guess is that he would think electricity to be too excitable for the best in tea.

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In American society, we tend to like the quick fix - the electric kettle or Zojirushi. Some among us still revert to wood fire, but usually when camping, and not on a regular basis. Others use ceramic hotplates, which heat the tea at an even rate, and have high marks among tea connoisseurs for its impact on the tea.

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Japanese tea ceremony relies on the ritual making of a charcoal fire in a pit as well as the cleaning of same. There are even special procedures for placing and removing particular pieces of charcoal as part of the ceremony.  For the making of the fire to be a part of such an important tea ceremony, the quality of the fire must have impact on the quality of the tea and the tea experience.

Some people think electricity disturbs the energy of the tea water and that a wood or charcoal fire lends a natural element which cannot be duplicated by nuclear generated power.  Whether these enhance the tea itself is up for speculation.  Any comments?

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Vintage teaware invites the imagination.  A Song Dynasty tea bowl or a Qing Dynasty
gaiwan (as above) brings history to the tea table and invites the sharing of legend and lore.

So too does the incorporation of teaware previously owned by those we love or admire. 
When writing my book on San Francisco tea culture, for example, I met with famed Zen priest and cookbook author Ed Brown, who shared tea with me using the special tea cups given to him by Zen Master Suzuki Roshi. This gave me an opportunity to ask questions about Suzuki Roshi and the personal relationship he and Ed shared for so many years. It also gave me goose bumps to drink tea from the same cup that touched the lips of such a great man.

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Aaron Fisher (Wu De) serving tea

When visiting Taiwan, The Way of Tea author Aaron Fisher (aka Wu De), created some fascinating tea gatherings with his very nice collection of antique teaware. Watching him pour hot water water from his silver Japanese tea kettle into Song Dynasty tea bowls created an amazing ambiance.  This rare and special privilege inspired an even deeper interest in teaware for me and encouraged me to seek out more experience of how teaware effects the taste and feeling of drinking teas.

Sipping tea from such old and rare pieces made me feel as though I were somehow absorbing something of the past and bringing it to the present.  This feeling of timelessness is one of the greatest attributes of any tea gathering.

Old tea ware can be challenging to find, particularly at reasonable prices, but it is out there. Sometimes it is of benefit to seek out information from experts as to the authenticity of a piece before purchasing.  Here are some suggestions passed to me as I sought out information on the vintage gaiwans I recently bought in San Francisco:

First, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum offers a Contributors Consultation Day the third Friday of every month, inviting contributor level members an opportunity to consult with curators about asian art works (each member is allowed one consultation per year). If you bring several pieces, the $150 membership pays for itself in the consultation alone, and provides other special benefits to the museum as well. You may want to check Asian art museums or Asian departments of museums in your area for consultations.

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I also learned of Jan-Erik Nilsson, an expert in porcelain who offers an online forum http://gotheborg.com for those interested in Chinese and Japanese porcelain.  For $25, you can become a member, or for $20, you can send photos of your piece to Nilsson for an assessment. 

At Bonham and Butterfield auction house, there are three locations in the United States where  complimentary appraisal clinics intended for those who wish to consign their pieces are offered. The San Francisco branch hosts such a clinic the first Wednesday of each month; Los Angeles offers one the last Wednesday of each month, and New York offers one every Wednesday. Consultations are free, and you may bring up to five pieces. You can also find an area of their online site that offers consultations by uploading photos of your items.

Finally, you might be lucky to know tea people who are adept at appraising the age and value of vintage tea ware.

Fakes and frauds are rampant, however, and you are best off finding a skilled professional to evaluate whatever you might want to purchase.  Bon Teavant is having recently acquired pieces evaluated for our collection and for sale, and we look forward to sharing our special finds with you. Stay tuned!
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Culinary Tea by Cynthia Gold is a favorite book of Bon Teavant, who interviewed Gold at the Boston Park Plaza, where she is employed as Tea Sommelier. Culinary Tea is not only very elegantly designed, but filled with more than 100 recipes using tea as a prime feature, and tea information that tea lovers will gobble up or sip page by fascinating page for hours with delight.

With this book in your library you don't have to be a trained chef to create a Vegetable Tart with an Assam tea crust,  for example, nor recreate the wheel to prepare a Fresh Tea Vinaigrette on your dinner salad, not to mention the delectible Flourless Keemun-Cherry Chocolate Torte to top off your meal. Are you salivating yet?  If not, the gorgeous photos (both color and black and white) will help you along.

The book is very well organized, with Part One offering valuable information and insights into many aspects of tea from tea storage to the cultural roots of culinary tea.  Part Two serves up recipes and techniques for cooking with tea, and is sorted into Starters, Entrees, Desserts, and Tea Beverages (including cocktails). The book also covers information on pairing teas for drinking with different foods. 

Many readers will appreciate the further categorization of each segment, for example, Entrees are grouped into Vegetarian, Seafood, Poultry, and Meat dishes. If you happen to be vegetarian, this book will not disappoint.  The vast majority of dishes in this book are meatless, and the great information on tea history and culture is worth the cost, even if you don't cook.

According to Cynthia, "In each culture, there is a wonderful tradition of cooking with tea, but for some reason, these historic dishes are looked at as something very distinct and tend not to be replicated, to not go through modern variations within those cultures; so to me, those dishes are beautiful as-is, but they also should be inspiration for a wide variety of other techniques and uses."  In Culinary Tea, Gold offers the results of her inspiration, with a wide variety of dishes and even a series of tea cocktails.

If you are simply a tea lover searching for hard-to-find information on how tea is used as food by different cultures throughout history, Culinary Tea is a great reference.  The book also features a number of stunning color and black and white images of the dishes as well as of tea farms, tea ware, and tea growing regions around the world.

Check it out and feed your ravenous appetite for inspiration, beauty, inventiveness and, of course, the ravishing deliciousness that is Tea.

roy fong's tea farm

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Blog-RoyFongonTractor.jpgFarmer Roy atop his tractor on his tea farm in Northern California

One of the greatest contributions to humankind by the Camellia sinensis plant is the way it encourages the overcoming of difficulty. When people are troubled, few actions express more kindness or healing intention than serving them a pot of tea. 

I was reminded of this quality in tea when visiting the new tea farm of Roy Fong, owner of Imperial Tea Court and the first and most influential tea man to bring high quality Chinese tea to the United States.

I asked Roy if I could bring my video camera when visiting the tea farm for the first time, and he said "Let's wait.  We have had some issues with the tea." Hmmm....

 

When reaching the bucolic 23-acre property about an hour or so north of his Berkeley tea house, I couldn't imagine what might have gone awry. "We imported and planted 600 tea plants and all but 40 perished," said Roy.  The problem?

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Roy looks over some of the 500+ plants that didn't make it.
 
"We discovered that our water source here is too alkaline to grow tea."  The forty saved tea plants are being rehabilitated at his home, where the water is compatible with the tea.

 

"The water here [on the farm] is great for brewing tea because it has a high mineral content, but it's no good for growing tea," said Roy. Alas!

 
Another person faced with such a situation might lament his fate and sell the property. But not Roy Fong.  Instead of discarding his tea farm idea with the failed plants, Roy has come up with a way to change the ph balance of the water before it reaches the tea plants.  In fact, his next planting is already in the works.

 
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The Fong tea farmhouse
Roy comments on how much he loves the nature of the land and its quietness.He shows me the koi pond, teaming with polywogs as well as koi fish; we amble over to the cherry and peach trees, which already overflow with fruit.  Then we visit the greenhouse, and ache to see dozens of twigs reach up from dry soil where once there were tea plants full of vigor and expectation. 


 

 

 
 
 
We leave the greenhouse. Roy looks across the open land, a streak of intention punctuating his expression, as if he is seeing something others can't imagine.  I turn my attention from the rolling hills back to Roy. And there it is: in every muscle and contour of his quietly determined face, I too can see the tea.

Stay tuned as the story unfolds.
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Last Spring, I met with Shiuwen Tai, owner of Floating Leaves in Seattle, who took me along with her on a tea buying mission in Taiwan.  Here is a short video in which Shiuwen explains the process of analyzing teas for purchase:


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tea ceremony etiquette

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Meiya Wender, Head of Tea, Green Gulch Farm & Zen Center
"The tea room is a laboratory for studying the self and our relationship with others," said Meiya Wender, Head of Tea at Green Gulch Zen Center in Muir Beach, CA several years ago when I interviewed her for my book The Way to Tea.

Yesterday, Meiya hosted a public tea ceremony at the Center's Sowing the Moon Teahouse, which gave me an opportunity to "experiment" firsthand.

The beauty of the tea room is distinguished not only by the carefully placed flowers, tea scroll, and tea implements, but also by the behavior of the host(ess) and guests.  

As the ten or so of us filed into the tea room, on our knees as prescribed by tradition, we entered a sanctuary where the norms of the external world fall away to a breathtaking humility and community that is tea and zen. 

It is the art of the guest, in this case, most specifically the "first guest" (and the only one among us who knows tea ceremony etiquette in detail), to match the hostess' kindness, and whose job it is to compliment and draw out the virtues and efforts of the hostess in creating the ceremony by requesting information about the tea art and tea ware used in the ceremony.

 

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Chashaku resting on natsume
"I see you have chosen a special piece for this tea gathering. Please tell us about this lovely tea scroll," says the first guest to Meiya.  Meiya initially explains to us that each object in the tea room has both a practical and poetic function.  For example, she says, the chashaku (tea scoop) is functional in that it scoops the tea, but it also has a poetic function, which reinforces the theme of the tea experience. In this case, the chashaku was carved by Meiya herself, and was named by a Zen priest.  The tea scoop's name--"Swift And Unbridled"-- comes from a Zen poem and also reinforces the message of early spring, the season in which we are gathering for tea. 

As for the tea scroll, Meiya translates the calligraphy for us: "No highs or lows in the colors of spring," which echos the Buddhist appeal for people to follow the "Middle Path" in which one does not identify oneself with extremes in order to find balance and harmony within.
 
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Sowing The Moon Teahouse
It occurs to me that the guest also has both a practical and poetic function in the tea ceremony. The guest is needed as the one who receives the gift of tea, but (s)he also serves the function of bringing delight and awareness to the gathering. Just as we sometimes learn more when we share our thoughts, the guest serves as the facilitator for the expression of the hostess. Our "first guest" continues to request information, while complimenting the hostess:  "And the flowers that you have chosen and arranged so artfully are lovely. Could you tell us about them?"

Meiya tells us the tight white bud surrounded by high gloss, forest green leaves is a camellia, about to bloom. The camellia is from the same species as the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), and so has significance in the tea ceremony.  The other flower in the iron vase is a small-fisted bud of pink-orange quince, one of the transient delights of this season.  Neither opulent nor strongly fragrant, the flowers too reinforce the message of simplicity, humility, and the temporal nature of the moment and of the season. 

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So too might a guest come to tea simply, humbly, and not flashy or full of himself and his ego. The tea room is not a place for heated discussions or demonstrations of one's own knowledge, virtues or abilities. The guest's role, in particular, is to put the focus of discussion on the hostess' efforts and to ask about the objects used in the ceremony.

Subjects considered oafish to raise in conversation in the tea room include anything divisive (most especially politics), gossip (particularly speaking badly of others when they are not present), and money (which creates disharmony, jealousy, and stratification).  The tea room is a place for equals (which is why everyone enters on their knees),  and while certainly no two people have equal abilities or qualities, the appreciation of each others' kindness, intentions, abilities and actions (not one's own), is what creates delight, peace, and harmony.

The guest's role is to compliment the hostess, to draw her out, to put the focus on the inspiring objects created and/or used in the ceremony for the benefit and enjoyment of all present. This  intention by the guest of bringing harmony and inspiration to the tea room heightens the experience for all, and reinforces the meaning of the tea ceremony,  to which is traditionally attributed four words that are as much intentions of awareness: Tranquility. Respect. Harmony. Purity.

Were that the whole world engaged in tea room etiquette throughout all interactions.

finally, a tea dictionary

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The tea trade is excited by the recent publication of James Norwood Pratt's Tea Dictionary, a definitive guide to the terminology used in the industry. First place winner for new books at the 2010 World Tea Expo, Pratt's Tea Dictionary is the first attempt since 1935 at delivering a concise and thorough tea reference in the English language.

Mr. Pratt, a noted tea guru in the landscape of American tea culture, has outdone himself (again) with this publication. At a hefty $155 price tag, its value is greatly appreciated by tea professionals and serious connoisseurs who will find this reference indispensable in their pursuit of tea knowledge and understanding.

Enjoy this short video of Mr. Pratt discussing the Tea Dictionary:

David Lee Hoffman is known as one of the great tea experts in the United States. His thirty-five-year history of collecting teas in Asia has given Hoffman a rare and deep understanding of tea collecting and tea brewing. Here, Hoffman shows us how to open up the stalk of the Bamboo Fragrance Puerh and also how to steep it. Each sip of this smokey, exotic tea makes you feel as though you were sitting by a wood fire in a small tribal village with the people who made this tea. A tea no connoisseur would want to miss, and offered at a price accessible to both the novice and the collector.  Enjoy this video:

How is "ecologically grown" tea different from just organic tea?  First, ecologically grown teas are grown without fertilizers or pesticides, like organics. But one tea farmer we caught up with in Taiwan takes cues from nature to produce the healthiest and best tasting teas:  he allows nature to make the tea as it wishes. 

Most herbalists know that plants grow best in the company of certain other plants, and by doing this, you get the best result. By allowing other plants to grow in and among tea plants, the farmer monitors the teas but allows the tea plants to mimic wild tea by letting nature play the lead role.

We went directly to the tea farmer so he could tell you himself about ecologically grown teas:



We just got our shipment in of the most delicious "ecologically grown" white teas from this tea farmer. We call it Honey Dew White, not because it has flavoring in it, but because this lovely, full-bodied white tea has that slightly sweet white melon taste to it, along with a smooth mouth feel. For those who are interested, this is a great tea to hang onto for aging.

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aesthetics of the tea table

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AaronFisherSilverpotjswm.jpg Aaron Fisher (aka Wu De) uses a silver teapot and antique Chinese tea bowls as an aesthetic and soulful treat

Tea enthusiasts spend countless hours tasting teas, but perhaps even as much time focused on the aesthetics of their own personal rituals with tea.  Collecting fine or simple tea ware is a favorite pastime of most tea lovers and brings a deeper awareness of the potential of a tea by the kettle, gaiwan, teapot, or cups that are used to heat the water, prepare the tea, and sip it. 

People who study tea know that all aspects of tea ware will influence the final cup.  The kettle and its heating element, the teapot or gaiwan and serving vessels, and the cups themselves all have an effect on the taste and "mood" of the tea.

While some use very expensive and collectible tea ware including silver or antique Japanese iron tea kettles, others seek out or come upon items for the tea service that fit more into the "wabi" aesthetic of tea in which the rustic, pure nature of the tea ware stands out by virtue of the beauty of its simplicity. In other words, the refinement of the unrefined. 

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A roadside stone can be put to use on a tea tray
For example, I had tea with a well-to-do, Taiwanese tea company owner who has one the largest collections of antique Japanese tea kettles I've ever seen.  However, for his own tea service, he uses a kettle that is "un-sellable" because of its cosmetic defects, and in addition, uses a stone he found on the side of a road as a platform for his yixing teapot lid.  His tea tray? Part of an old wooden door whose finish has been worn by years in the elements.


Aaron Fisher, a tea teacher and author of the new book The Way of Tea, uses Ming Dynasty tea cups and Song Dynasty tea bowls to teach his students about the impact of tea ware on the taste of a tea. He told me that the quality of tea ware has a huge influence on the tea, and that even touching one's full tea cup to a treasured piece before sipping from it will heighten the taste and experience of the tea.

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Some tea friends of mine bought slices of semi-precious rocks at a mineral show, and use these under their yixing teapots, so when the water flows down over the teapot and onto the rock, the slice of geology is transformed into a lustrous and luminous tableau full of color for all to appreciate. This demonstration of the abundant beauty of nature is the most fitting offering in a tea ritual of any kind.

You may wish to purchase expensive items or simply find usable "tea ware" in nature, abandoned construction sites or at estate sales. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on one silver tea kettle or find a gorgeous item for your tea table on the beach, in a forest, or even on the roadside. Whatever you choose, have fun experimenting with what makes your tea experience look, feel and taste the way you want it to.
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tea vacation

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Many people cannot afford the time or extra expense of a vacation right now. But we all need some rest, to be sure. Years ago, when I was traveling in Bali, some Balinese people asked "Why do you Americans take vacations? We don't have big vacations, but we have a small vacation everyday when we see our friends and make music, art or a meal together."

This got me thinking that it is important to take a small vacation each day, and having a daily tea ritual fits nicely into this logic. While I don't see tea friends in person everyday, I do think of them when I have my tea, as I have bought or received tea ware from some of them.

My wood bark display dish was a gift from Shiu Yuen Li, a Singaporean teacher of tea culture who lives in Taiwan; my tea tray comes from my friend, Shiuwen Tai, my gaiwan and serving pitcher from Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court, aroma cups from friends at Pure Puerh, who brought them back to me from Taiwan, and tasting cups from Peter Luong of Red Blossom. The small ceramic figure of Lu Yu that graces my tea bench was a Christmas gift from my dear friend Norwood Pratt. So when I have my daily tea, I feel the presence of all these special tea friends as well.

I offer up a cup of tea and the scent of an aroma cup in thanks for all the gifts of life so generously given to me. And perhaps even more than tea, gratitude offers the release from care that we seek from a vacation. 

If you don't have time to take an extended rest this summer, take your daily tea vacation....
Taiwan's revival of tea culture spans only about 30 years, since the early 1980's. Yet in that short time, several tea people have emerged as gatekeepers of the leaf on the emerald isle.

One such person is Shui Yun Li, a native of Singapore and teacher of tea culture in the capital city of Taipei who founded the organization "Chrysanthemum Teaism".  Her lovely venue for tea education feels as much Japanese as Chinese or Taiwanese, with rough "wabi" style furniture punctuating the dominant Ming and Qing Dynasty cabinets and tables that are carefully placed for both use and consideration in tea gatherings.

What is unique in Ms. Li's offerings are the public tea ceremonies that she coordinates with sponsorship and grant money from various tea merchants and other donors. Her students, many of whom are interior designers, architects, and film makers, are given instruction by Ms. Li about how people around the world create spaces for tea gatherings.  From this base of knowledge, Li's students create unique tea spaces that are used for public, outdoor tea gatherings, where tea is served and celebrated with dancers and other performers adding to the mystery and beauty of the gatherings.

Literature and art are invited guests as well. The concept of Indoor and outdoor space becomes blurred as they merge and bend to each other as gracefully as the dancers.

A slide show of events Ms. Li screened for me at her tea space brought back memories of how I felt when I first went to Spain and viewed Gaudi's architectural triumphs--buildings and landscape design so unusual as to inspire even the least creative person to expand all references to "reality" and "possibility" in art and in life.

The "tea room" designs created by the students under the direction of Ms. Li are sometimes very contemporary and at the same time in rhythm with centuries of traditional tea cultures found in Asia. Ming Dynasty tea bowls sit on brightly colored modern textiles laid on the ground as a tea "tableau" rather than a traditional tea table. Dramatic overhead lighting is screened through trees brought in to throw shadows on the scene and highlight the drama of the tea ware.  Dancers spin through the empty space like human mobiles or constellations in a dark and open sky.

I have yet to see anything similar to this being done in the United States, but we are ripe for this, I believe. Where are the tea loving dancers, writers, film makers, architects and interior designers with boldness and creativity? Come out, come out wherever you are!

rethinking the steep

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This morning I did a sampling of the 2006 Rice Pollen Puerh from Pure Puer Tea. Using very hot water for the first couple of infusions for a minute or more produced a very bitter, almost undrinkable tea. But the lovely, smokey aroma wafting off the lid of the gaiwan suggested that I had erred, and there was something good to be found in this tea.

According to Roy Fong in his book, The Great Teas of China, "Younger, less fermented puerh can easily become bitter, so try about 2 tsp in medium-hot water with a 1-3 minute steep time." I've noticed that Roy likes his tea "thick" (heavily infused), so even the 1-3 minute steep time might still be too long for some teas for another palate.

So I started completely over with a new serving of leaves, and this time brewed only one teaspoon in 185-190ºF water for only 5-10 seconds (similar to brewing specs at Pure Puer Tea). Nice!

I had a very similar experience with David Hoffman's Bamboo Fragrance Puerh, which when steeped for 90 seconds was undrinkable.  Taking it down several notches made the magic happen. Brewed in 195ºF water for about 15 seconds created a really fine and unique brew, offering a kind of smokey, exotic taste that made me feel as if I were sitting by an open fire with the tribe that had picked and processed the tea.

So, the next time you find an "undrinkable" tea, try steeping it very differently.  Hotter or cooler water, more or less leaf, different tea ware, or a change in steeping duration (or a combination of some of these variables) can make all the difference.

Then again, some teas ARE undrinkable.  In such a case, toss it in the garden, and find a new tea.
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In Roy Fong's new book, The Great Teas of China, Roy shares his 30+ years of knowledge and experience with tea, and distills it into a slim volume that is direct, concise, and elegantly written. You would be hard pressed to find a better book with which to begin your tea adventures, and it will serve for years to come as a reference guide.

In broad, clean strokes, Roy shares information about each of the ten teas he features, including its history, lore, processing techniques, and region of origin (including a map).  He also provides color-correct and proportional images of the teas before steeping and as a liquor in the cup, so readers have a good reference for selecting and brewing each tea. 

All the elements of this book come together to teach tea.  Roy takes this opportunity to reach out to anyone who cares to learn a lot about tea.  With this book, you have a tea master's training in your hands, and someone to whom you can turn with questions. 

Each time you scan this book, you will learn something new or be reminded of a different facet of the relationship between tea, its origins, and the tea drinker.  You will feel as though you were being tutored by Roy directly, and hearing his tea stories first hand, as if walking through China together as he teaches you the most important things he has learned about each tea, and how he learned it.

Very simply, Roy is a great tea man.  If you want to be trained by a master, this is your book.
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Roy Fong sipping tea
Roy Fong, owner of Imperial Tea Court, has just come out with his long-awaited book,The Great Teas of China. We caught up with Roy to do a multi-part interview, with our first discussion focusing on puerh teas.

Click here to listen:

Download


It seems that many tea connoisseurs ultimately favor puerh teas.  Why is this?  Puerhs don't usually have the strong and intoxicating floral fragrances of Taiwanese oolongs, nor do they have the very light, crisp notes we find in some greens and whites. 
   
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Some people even refer to puerh teas as "dirt teas."  I once saw someone pick up a puerh cake at a tea shop and mention quizzically, "Hmmmmmm....smells like feet!" 
 
With all this in mind, what is it that tea lovers favor in puerhs?  Click on the interview for a short and fascinating answer from Roy.


Green Gulch240forbt.jpg For nearly four thousand years, China kept tea to herself. During the latter part of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), some Buddhist monks from Japan visited their Chan Buddhist counterparts in China, and discovered that drinking ground, whisked green tea (now known as matcha) could be an asset to their concentration and meditation practices as it was for that of the Chinese monks.

Japanese tea ceremony is based on such a meditation with tea, and its practice is meant to support awareness,  and harmony. Why, of all the plants in the world, is tea the one chosen by Chan, Taoist and Zen monks to assist in meditation? I went to the best source I know to find the answer.

"The medicinal properties of tea are extremely significant as to why tea is used as a beverage and for meditation," said Christy Bartlett, head of San Francisco's Urasenke Foundation.

"When tea was drunk in early Buddhist monasteries in China, they drank it for several purposes, and one was that it was considered to be a medicine that prolonged life and helped to keep people healthy. As well, caffeine stimulates and sharpens the senses during meditation or study", said Bartlett (below right, instructing a student in tea ceremony, also known as chado, chanoyu, or the way of tea).
 
UrasenkeforBlog copy.jpg "Then, by people gathering together and making tea for one another, it fostered a sense of community.  So in early Buddhist temples those were the associations made to drinking tea," she said.

We know that many plants are stimulants, but tea offers more than just stimulation, which could, by itself, hinder the steadiness and concentration required for good meditation practice. Instead, tea offers a relaxed alertness which aids in contemplation and meditation. Perhaps we can attribute this to tea's high concentration of the amino acid L-theanine --known for its ability to relieve mental and physical stress and to enhance cognition and awareness. Most botanists will tell you that the thousands of combined chemicals found in a single plant cannot be duplicated by another plant (or distilled or fabricated into pill form as a medicine). So what tea offers is a unique concert of chemicals that delivers wakefulness, awareness, relaxation, and perhaps something extra that cannot be named.

Asked about tea ceremony as a ritual, Bartlett was careful to correct the association: "Tea ceremony is not a ritual but a practice, a form.  It's like a score was written for the practice of making tea, and when we sit down, for example, and play a piece of music, which someone else might have written, we don't feel like we are doing a ritual.  When you play music or when you go to a dance performance, there is very little sense in that case of viewing it as a ritual, even though there is a predetermined sequence of gesture and motion through time. So I view tea the same way as that, not as a ritual but as something very simple and something that has a clear form to it."

tea and kindness

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"A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses." ~ Chinese Proverb

YadollahPouringTeasm.jpg When I come to one of my favorite local tea rooms, Teance, I am sometimes lucky enough to be greeted at the door by Yadollah Moghaddam.  He takes my hands and says "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you. Seeing you here makes me feel so good!"  His kindness is inspiring. Through his bearing, I feel valuable all of a sudden, as if my presence has meaning. He has reminded me of what is good in me with just a few kind words, a gesture, a smile, and a humble graciousness that says "You matter to me." If anything, this is the finest art of tea.

I once asked Yadollah's son, Darius, who also works at Teance, how his father had come to be so kind and gracious. "Practice," said Darius simply, as if to remind me that any of us could become like this if only we could make a small effort each day and with each person we greet.

"Everyone loves my dad," said Darius. "When I go to the bank, or to our favorite Pakistani restaurant or anywhere people know Yadolllah, people say "I love your Dad! Tell him I say hello.  Give him my best!"

Just as making tea is a practice for those who are avid tea lovers, so is kindness a practice for those who want to achieve a certain state of grace. The Dalai Lama stated, "My religion is kindness."  Though tea is not a religion, the act of serving tea with an eye towards making the guest feel welcomed, appreciated and valuable has the same essential goodness at its core and the same desire to serve with selflessness.

I had thought that some people were just born good-natured, but perhaps this is not the only way. Perhaps it can also oneday be me who glows radiantly like Yadollah, who after saying goodbye as he walked me to my car, stood at attention and watched as I drove away.  I watched him too, in my rear view mirror, saw him standing silently and diligently, as if he were my father, my brother or my best friend, saying goodbye for the last time.

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"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness"~ Seneca



cooking with tea

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Why cook with tea?  With the hundreds of herbs and spices available, you might wonder why someone would focus on tea. Robert Wemischner, chef and author of Cooking with Tea, took some time out from the kitchen to explain. To begin with, "tea has no calories, no sodium, no carbohydrate, no fat, and yet a lot of flavor," says Wemischner. As well, he enthuses, tea transforms the food that is made with it. He uses tea in several ways to cook both sweet and savory dishes.  Whether you use it to smoke meats, create rubs, marinades or sauces, tea is a versatile and exciting ingredient for the adventurous chef.Click to hear our 4 min. interview:

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"Wu-Wo" tea ceremony is an outdoor tea ceremony, based on the Taiwanese gong-fu style tea brewing method, but embracing all different cultural styles of brewing tea. As many as 1000 people brew tea outdoors for themselves and each other--simultaneously and in silence. If you are interested in viewing or participating in such an event, you will have a rare and outstanding opportunity to do so this weekend.

The12th International Wu-Wo Tea Convention--a bi-annual event usually held in Asia-- is coming to the United States for the first time, next weekend. Hosted by the American Tea Culture Association, the three-day event, from October 16-18, will feature two public outdoor tea ceremonies, each expected to draw upwards of 150 people from around the world, who will be bringing their favorite teas and teaware, and in traditional dress, brew tea for each other outdoors. Tea brewers will be coming from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, and other areas for this rare, bi-annual convention.
folliage.jpg  Teas and tea brewing styles will be as different and diverse as the participants. If you miss this convention, you will likely have to wait another ten years for it to return to the United States.

"The Wu-Wo tea ceremony encourages participants to forget about knowledge, wealth, and appearance and to establish group equality without prejudice," said Betsy Meyer of the American Tea Culture Association.

Listen to this podcast interview with Betsy Meyer on the fun and fascinating wu-wo tea ceremony:
Click here to listen:

Download

The wu wo tea ceremony is simple easy to learn.  You simply bring a mat to sit on, a teapot pre-filled with the tea of your choice, a tea serving vessel, four cups, a thermos of hot water, and a tray. There is time to mingle before and after brewing tea, so you can admire each others'  tea ware and enjoy meeting tea lovers from around the world.

   The ceremony originated in Taiwan, where Grand Master Tsai Rong Tsang decided that he would like a more convenient way for modern people to do an outdoor tea ceremony. He discovered that by using a thermos of hot water and placing tea leaves in the pot beforehand,  you can easily take your tea set out on a hike or out to a park. From that outdoor service,  he asked 'Well, why not do it in a group?' and that's how the Wu-Wo tea ceremony and convention was born.

For larger gatherings, tea brewers choose lots to determine their seating, and then brew and serve tea to the three people on their left, while reserving one cup for themselves. Sitting in a circle, the three people to your right will be serving you their tea while you serve your tea to the three people to your left. As such, each person is both host and guest, tea server and tea sipper. At least three steepings are brewed before everyone packs up and goes about their day (or hike). The whole ceremony takes only about 30 minutes.

Many events at the convention require payment, but the Sunday Wu-Wo tea ceremony is open to the public and free of charge. You must register to be a tea brewer at the event, so follow the links in this entry. The Sunday morning (Oct. 18 @ 9 a.m.) event will be held at the Foster City Parks and Recreation Center (650 Shell Drive, Foster City, CA), about 30 minutes south of San Francisco.  Anyone interested in participating must register in advance, and will need a little practice. There will be a practice period on Friday morning, at 10 a.m. at the same location. Listen to the podcast above for information on what to bring with you, and go to www.atcasf.org to pre-register for the ceremony.

Coordinates:
Friday 10/16: 10 a.m. practice session: Pioneer Memorial Park, Mountain View. Contact Betsy Meyer at rabbitz@aol.com to sign up for training and to receive an equipment list.
Saturday 10/17: 9 a.m. Wuwo Ceremony in Memorial Park, Cupertino 
Sunday 10/18: 9 a.m. Wuwo Ceremony at Foster City Parks & Rec Center 650 Shell St., Foster City. This event is free and open to the public.
Please go to the American Tea Culture website for complete information on tea ceremony presentations, dinners, and other events taking place during the convention.

nw tea festival news

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The Northwest Tea Festival held last weekend in Seattle was a great success, with nearly 1500 visitors, more than a dozen tea tastings, and special presentations by great tea peeps like James Norwood Pratt, Shuiwen Tai, and "Tea Geek" Michael Coffey.  If you missed the festival this year, be sure to put it on your schedule for October 2011 in Seattle.

Students had an opportunity to taste countless teas with tea vendors, importers, and specialists, as well as enjoying information about WuWo Tea Ceremony (more soon on this), tea and caffeine, rare oolongs, and a special monologue performance by James Norwood Pratt as Okakura Kakuzo. NWTeaFestival2009023.jpg It was great getting together with some of the Northwest's tea merchants, like Shuiwen Tai of Floating Leaves, Marcus Gramps of Teahouse Kuan Yin, and Julee Rosanoff of Perennial Tea Room.  Barnes and Watson owner (and NW Tea Festival organizer) Ken Rudee was there with his son, Joey, offering tea and tea tastings as well as a wall full of exceptional photographs from Asian tea farms.  The best part of going to the tea festival was the fun of watching people new to tea transform as they viewed, smelled, tasted and learned about tea.  If you missed it, come next year!
SusanaTruax.jpg If you could walk through a time machine and visit the landscapes and history of tea, it might look like the new exhibition, Steeped in History: The Art of Tea, now on display at UCLA's Fowler Museum until November 29, 2009.

Nearly a decade of dedicated attention went into the creation of this seminal collection of Chinese, Japanese, European and American tea ware, paintings, scrolls and other tea paraphernalia. The exhibition was put together artfully by guest curator and author Beatrice Hohenegger, who wrote the fascinating book on tea, Liquid Jade (2006 St. Martin's Press).

Click here to listen to an interview with Beatrice Hohenegger:

Download | Duration: 00:04:46


Staged in five parts, the exhibition introduces tea itself, then covers tea's fascinating history from its origins in China, into Japan, through the "Tea Craze in the West" and finally to "Tea and Empire." The collection and exhibition catalogue highlight the many expressions of tea, from sacred objects to priceless and exquisite examples of art and craftsmanship to the off-beat and obscure. 

teabowlSongDynasty.jpg The collection offers both a historical and sociopolitical look through tea's past and Asian origins as well as to the European and American influences on its present.  It is also a call to attention towards the human cost of colonialism as well as that of mass produced commodities. That Hohenegger is able to scold with an arc of absurdist humor points to the intelligence and good nature with which she created the exhibition.  You are meant to be disturbed, but also awed, amused, and intrigued. 

This is an amazing opportunity for students of tea, ceramics, Asian philosophy and history, or the sociopolitical ramifications of colonialism and commodity manufacturing--to view the story of the world's most loved beverage, next to water.

Whether you make it to the show or not, you will want to purchase the catalogue (with the same title as the show) for its scholarship on tea. This remarkable anthology of essays, written by Ms. Hohenegger and a carefully selected group of experts with divergent points of view and interests in tea, is a must for anyone dedicated to the study of tea. To buy a copy, you can call the Fowler Museum store at 310-206-7004.



IF YOU WANT TO ENJOY THE NORTHWEST TEA FESTIVAL at the Seattle Center on October 3-4, this isa good time to book a flight. (I found a flight from SF - Seattle for $119 RT on Priceline).  In the spirit of preparation, I caught up with one of the festival organizers, Ken Rudee from The Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle to find out more about the events, vendors, and educational opportunities at the event.  Here is a short interview with information about the upcoming tea festival:
Click to hear interview with festival organizer, Ken Rudee: 

Download


The Northwest Tea Festival was conceived in a 2007 meeting of some local tea purveyors and led by author and tea expert, James Norwood Pratt.  They were talking about different ways to celebrate tea and support the tea industry in the area. 

"We're planning to have more booths, better educational seminars--most of which are free-- and a lot of other things going on," said Rudee.  The NW Tea Festival will  kick off with an opening tea dinner by the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Wild Ginger. On Saturday and Sunday, you will find lots of fascinating tea events and speakers-- several tasting tables will be set up for you to try different teas served by tea professionals,  tea movies, tea book authors doing book signings, and at least one special cooking-with-tea demonstration,.

If your wallet is too heavy, you will find ample ways to lighten your load.  You will find plenty of unique teas, tea items, and tea books to buy.

Click here to listen:

Download | Duration: 00:02:17



Tea book author and consultant, Jane Pettigrew, was kind enough to offer her views on new trends in tea at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas in June 2009. Please click arrow above to hear a short podcast of our interview.


    
Chinese gaiwan (l) and Japanese tea bowl (r) ©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer

While for centuries western women have enjoyed afternoon tea, men hear the word "tea cup" and think of a dainty porcelain cup covered in flowers.  For this reason alone, a lot of men have been turned off by tea.  This came to my attention when the 14-year-old son of a friend became interested in tea only after being introduced to Chinese tea. He had to be bribed into coming to Chinatown for tea, sporting a pair of dark sunglasses, just in case a friend of his might see him at the teashop.  But then something great happened: the gaiwan appeared. A Chinese man deftly steeped and poured tea from the gaiwan into a serving vessel.  "Cool," the kid said, non-committally.  By the third steeping, he was fully engaged, focused, and fascinated.

Originating in Chinese tea culture,  "gaiwan" means "covered bowl", and is a three-piece set comprising a saucer,  vessel, and lid. It is perhaps the most ubiquitous teaware in the world, considering the great number of Chinese people who prepare and sip tea with it. Gaiwans are cool, masculine even in contrast to my grandmother's Limoges teaware.  This is "real men's"  teaware.  No flowers, frills, or obviously feminine lines. I could see Clint drinking from a gaiwan, raising his squinty-eyed, chiseled face in stoic silence through the hot steam and hissing a line as quiet and rich as the steam itself. 

Chinese gaiwans as well as Japanese tea bowls and Moroccan tea glasses could be put in the hands of any man without necessitating the extending of a pinky, and with few exceptions, are monochrome, neutrally glazed, or covered in dragons. What guy could feel like a sissy with these in his hands?

The vast majority of Asian tea masters are men, and in fact, the tea industry itself is known as a "gentleman's" business.  Women might drink much of the tea in the western world, but men are usually the ones buying and selling it in the wholesale market. 

Most people think of a delicate Asian female serving tea when they think of the classical Japanese tea ceremony, but in truth, the most prominant Japanese tea masters are men. One of the biggest surprises at a Japanese tea ceremony class at the Urasenke Foundation in San Francisco was the male-dominant ratio of students in the evening classes--and none of them were Asian.  More and more American men are inspired and engaged by Asian tea culture, which is mutating and fusing in the landscape of the "new world".

All of this is great news for American tea culture.  The influence of Asia is bringing the tradition of  gender-neutral or male-leaning tea culture and teaware to our shores, and this makes for a great balance.  Go to any non-British tearoom, where doilies and flowery teaware cannot be found, and you will find highly educated, well-healed, masculine men imbibing in the best of teas.  Check it out. Throw off all notions of tea parties, and join in the old tea traditions finding new inroads in America.

"TEA HAS AT LEAST THREE times the variety and complexity of coffee," said Eliot Jordan, Director of Tea for Peet's Coffee and Tea. When asked about the benefits of being a tea man in the center of a coffee kingdom, Eliot Jordan, in his kind and intelligent manner, cited the great platform he has been given to influence how Americans receive and perceive tea. With 192 stores in the U.S., Peet's is one of the largest tea retailers in the country, and its tea program is highly regarded, thanks to the skill, knowledge and sensitivity of it's quietly diligent tea buyer, Eliot Jordan.

"To put Peet's name on a tea, it has to be worth every penny," said Jordan, who began working at Peet's in 1984, and was mentored by Jim Reynolds for 14 years before being offered autonomous leadership for Peet's tea program.  I'm also not a tea elitist," he said. Rather, his goal is to buy the best tasting teas at the most affordable prices to delight the palates of a broad range of consumers. "The biggest market for quality Chinese teas is China, not the U.S.," said Jordan who shies away from "tribute teas" and tea competition winners. "It is fantastic tea, but even if I could buy it (for Peet's), I couldn't sell it here because of the price. Tea is just not valued in the same way in this (U.S.) market."

Jordan does buy single-estate, hand-processed teas for Peet's Rare Tea collection, including the Ancient Trees Organic Pu-erh, Golden Dragon Oolong, and Silver Cloud white tea. This is greatly to his credit, considering the care and effort that must be made to procure finer quality teas at prices that match the bottom line for such a large retailer.

Jordan focuses mostly on first- and second flush teas from India and China, buying Chinese greens in April, oolongs in May, and North Indian and Chinese black teas in June. He is responsible for buying about 200 teas and spices (in a ratio of 4:1 respectively) which are (often but not always) blended to create the 44 tea products made available to Peet's customers.

He has, of course, different criteria for judging different teas. "I approach all teas with a British style cupping (method) of boiling water and five-minute steep, with the intention of drawing out all the good and bad that the tea sample will offer. Then for certain styles of tea from China and Japan, I will re-evaluate the tea in the context of how it's brewed by Asian experts, in particular for greens, oolongs, and pu-erhs, so that I fully understand how the tea can taste at its best."

Jordan cited the current trend towards the Chinese way of evaluating teas. In China, he said, they value the appearance of teas more than they do in India, and, in fact, sometimes might pay too much attention to how a tea looks rather than on its taste. "When I evaluate a Chinese tea, I take appearance more into account than when I judge an Indian tea. If an Indian tea tastes extraordinary but looks so-so, I might buy it, but with Chinese tea, if it looks bad, I'll avoid it. Americans expect rare teas to look good."  "if it is in a tea bag, the appearance of the leaf is not relevant," said Jordan.  He looks carefully at the leaves in any case to be sure the leaves are evenly graded.

"There is cultural freight or inheritance with every tea," said Jordan. "In China, you have generations of tea farmers experimenting with varietals, and many teas have at least 700 years of history. India has a much shorter history of tea cultivation, Jordan said, "but what the Indians have that the Chinese industry doesn't is a system where all teas are tracked from the field to the factory to the exporter to the buyer. Each lot is tasted and tracked complete with sale price, at least for teas sold at auction. There is a long history of tea cupping and record-keeping that goes back to the British. China, with its much bigger diversity of tea and less Westernized approach to production just has a different and more diverse tradition."

A good tea is only good in its application," Jordan added with enthusiasm. "Green, white, or lighter oolong teas are meant to be smooth and light, so excessive heat is out of balance to the flavor and aroma.  It's better to drink it at a little cooler temperature,. This allows the subtle flavors to come up," he said. "In contrast, black and pu-erh teas are best brewed and sipped hot to get the best out of them."

As we sip our tea together, I realize that this year marks the 25th anniversary for Jordan's career with Peet's, much of it spent as the Director of Tea.  With a light in his eyes, he exclaims, "There is so much more to know about tea.  It is never ending."

Download

Click on the arrow above to hear our interview with Nigel Melican on tea's carbon footprint.


Nigel Melican (R) and Bill Waddington of TeaSource at World Tea Expo 2009

The World Tea Expo, taking place this weekend in Las Vegas, is a fabulous place to meet leaders in the tea industry who set standards for tea as well as those who undertake in-depth research on the subject of tea. The World Tea Expo educational conference is hailed as the most comprehensive education on tea in the world, and its Core Conference Program & Skill Building Workshops are designed to provide a forum for tea experts to share their knowledge.

During one such program, I caught up with Nigel Melican, Managing Director of Teacraft Ltd, who is a scientist as well as a tea man.  He has more than 20 year's experience improving the technology of tea manufacture in over 35 different tea countries and is a consultant to trade experts. Melican has recently undertaken extensive research on tea's carbon footprint, and in his final analysis, he has found that tea has the potential to be an environmental saint rather than sinner when we measure its carbon footprint by a number of criteria (listen to the podcast above for details). But several variables in the domain of the tea drinker herself have a great impact on the environment.

In his research, Melican discovered that the choices of consumers can determine the carbon footprint of the tea they drink. For example, teabag tea has ten times the carbon footprint of loose tea (all other variables being equal). The kind of fuel a tea drinker uses to heat water for tea also has an impact.  Recycling or re-using your tea (as well as its packaging) also improves its carbon footprint.  Used tealeaves can be put to good use to fertilize your houseplants or garden, to clean your home or for skincare.  (Listen to Ito En's Rona Tison in my earlier interview with her on the uses of green tea).  Re-use tea to cook, to clean, and to reduce odors in your home. Composting tea rather than tossing it in the trash will also benefit the earth.  If you don't have a garden, offer your used tealeaves to friends and neighbors who do (they will thank you for it).

All in all, tea does pretty well against other beverages in terms of its carbon footprint, coming in at only 5% of the carbon footprint of bottled beer.

Mr. Melican would like to see mandatory carbon footprint labeling on all food products, a law which is being considered in England and which consumers in the U.S. and around the world can request of their representatives.

Be looking to Bon Teavant for more podcasts and in-depth interviews from the leaders of the tea industry, including Jane Pettigrew on rare teas and Yoon Hee Kim, Korean tea master on her art. 

water for tea #2

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                                                          All images ©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer 

WATER TEMPERATURE ALSO INFLUENCES the final cup, and tea masters are vigilant about heating their water optimally to match the tea they are brewing. However, they determine the "readiness" of the water in different ways--visually, auditorially, and electronically.

Some look for visual signs of the water temperature to determine when the water is heated properly for the particular tea they intend to brew. You may have heard that some tea masters look for "fish eyes" in the water. This is when medium bubbles form just before the water moves towards a roiling boil, and when the water is ready for oolongs. The way the steam leaves the spout of the kettle--in wisps or in gusts--also signals the water's readiness to some tea masters.

Lu Yu said:
         
    When at the edges it chatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it has reached the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic and resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Any more and the water will be boiled out and should not be used.1

David Lee Hoffman listens to the water. During our tea time together, as the water began to get closer to boiling, he stopped the conversation and said "Listen!" as he waited in anticipation for exactly the right crackling or rumbling noise to emit from the iron kettle over the fire. A skilled sound man, Hoffman has a keenly trained ear which he puts to good use as a tea master. He said he also pays attention to the way the steam rises from the spout at different temperatures.

Many tea masters simply use automated kettles that brew water to a pre-selected temperature, and still others in the slow food movement who like to be numerically exacting without the aid of electronic technology, will use a simple kitchen thermometer meant for liquids. (Note: these thermometers have a range that does not exceed about 220°F and will melt if accidentally use in the oven).

I rely on a combination of visual and auditory methods to brew water to the right temperature. I watch for the intensity and velocity of the steam coming from the spout of the kettle, and if I am busy doing something else while the kettle is heating, I listen for a certain sound I have come to recognize when the water is close to boiling (kind of like popcorn popping). If the whistle blows before I reach the kettle, I've failed.  I just recently had to buy a new tea kettle, and notice that it makes different sounds than the old one, so I am having to learn the language of this new tea kettle.

You will also want to become familiar with the relationship between tea type and water temperature. Here are some basic guidelines, which are meant to be experimental baselines. Green and white teas tend to require cooler water temperatures, usually between 160-185°F; oolongs do well in higher temperatures, approximately 185-205°F; and black teas can usually be steeped in water 205°F to boiling (212°F). Playful experimentation might also lead  you to discover some of the secrets of tea, such as steeping an oolong in cooler-than-optimal water will bring out sweeter notes in the tea.

This is just a brief overview of water for tea.  Each aspect regarding water for tea is a subject in itself that some tea experts delve into with great vigor and in depth. Collecting and heating water is the first step to brewing good tea. But however you brew tea, be sure to drink, dream, share, and be merry.

1 The Classic of Tea, translated by Francis Ross Carpenter (Ecco Press, 1974)

water for tea #1

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©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer
Before tea there is water.  While you invest time and money to procure great tea, you might also want to consider your investment in "gathering" and brewing water for tea.

Any cup of tea will be at its best when you use the finest water available, heated to the optimal temperature for the particular tea. While I don't profess to be a tea master, I've made it my life's work for the past three years or so to research tea for my book and blog by interviewing great tea masters. They all have different preferences and standards when it comes to water, and I'll share some of what I have learned from them.

One of the most engaging tea experiences I have had was my recent visit with the legendary tea master David Lee Hoffman. During this second tea encounter at Hoffman's home, he gave me the choice of having tea in his open-air teahouse or at a fire pit just behind the teahouse. Despite my appreciation for his gorgous teahouse which he built himself, I chose the latter. At the fire pit, we would be building a fire together as part of our tea gathering. I thought this would be fun, and I liked the idea of building a fire together for tea.

Brewing water this way seems to change the character of the water and certainly that of the tea experience. Hoffman told me that he regularly collects water for tea from an undisclosed local stream. He also occasionally makes a trip up to the Sierra Mountains and when he does, he collects water from high mountain streams that derive from glacial runoff. What's good about this water, he says, is that it has aerated from cascading and also picks up dissolved minerals along its journey. When possible, he brings a bit of this water back for making tea at home.

This is an amazing standard and reminds me that how we live is sometimes much more important than what we do. David Lee Hoffman's appreciation for quality tea water reminds me of Lu Yu, the eighth century Tang Dynasty tea sage who instructed his readers in The Classic of Tea about how and where to collect water for tea:

  On the question of water to use, I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is
       best, river water is all right, but well-water is quite inferior.

Other tea masters rave about the water used for brewing tea in the rural mountain villages of China where they go to find teas. They believe that where good tea grows, good water is often close at hand. As well, the experience of drinking a tea in its natural habitat with local stream water meant for that tea is an inimitable lifetime experience to be treasured.

Rites and rituals for heating water for tea can of course be found in Japanese tea ceremony. If you were to be a fly on the wall watching a Japanese tea master prepare for a tea gathering, you would see him or her carefully positioning hot colas in the hearth. The vision of the gleaming scarlet coals is meant to heighten the aesthetic experience of having tea. Whether it influences the water or not is hard to say, but seeing the bright coals glowing under the large cast iron teapot makes the guest feel warm and cared for, as if they were existentially "home". There are even ceremonies to mark the seasons by changing the hearth itself. The act of brewing water for tea is that important.



If you don't have the time or will to go to the mountains to collect water for tea and you don't happen to have a tea brewing hearth or fire pit nearby, you will probably, like most of us, be using tap water heated in a tea kettle on a gas or electric range. You can still attain an easily-met higher standard by simply filtering the water. You can find a variety of filters, some that are quite sophisticated and are installed in your water system, and some that are more basic, like a Brita® filter over a plastic jug. You can also do what I've seen done for Japanese tea ceremony, which is to put a special piece of whole-stalk bamboo charcoal into your tea kettle, which absorbs undesirable chemicals and odors while your water heats up. (These can be found in Asian tea shops and in places like San Francisco's Japantown). However you do it, it's worth the effort of filtering local tap water. Your tea will taste better this way.

As an extra note, the distillation process is said to rid water of the minerals that bind with the tea to bring out its best flavor and character, so you will not want to use distilled water for brewing tea.

     
  Rona Tison, Ito En ©2009 Jennifer Leigh Sauer                 Change, Hope & Progress

DON'T THROW AWAY YOUR USED GREEN TEA leaves before listening Ito En's Rona Tison, who shares her own and her Japanese mother's secret benefits of green tea.  As well, this is a great opportunity to respond to Ito En's haiku contest call for entries on the subject of "Change, Hope & Progress."

      Click the Play Button for Rona Tison Interview:

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IN A FORMER ECONOMIC COLLAPSE, Franklin Roosevelt, in his famous address to a frightened and ailing nation, said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  I would concur and also add that the most important thing we have to choose is discernment itself. And quality tea is one ofour greatest allies in this endeavor.

Discernment is our most precious renewable natural resource, and this concept should be especially appealing to the artisan tea and foodie crowd who welcome the opportunity to hone their palates. Discernment is the axis upon which our love of tea depends and upon which our survival relies as well.

It is good discernment that will save us as a society. The exact same discernment we use to identify and give value to one tea over another is the same quality we use to make decisions about the direction we choose to go in from now on.  The old ways of selling and buying meaningless and irrelevant products are falling away.  What will remain, one hopes, are the products and services that require the affection of our discernment, and as such, benefit us most profoundly in the present and in the future.

Without discernment, drinking teabag tea covered in pesticides would be just as good as sipping a wild tea handcrafted in the remote ancestral tea regions of China by people whose kin have known and tended these tea plants for generations. Those of us who love artisinal tea--perhaps we can call ourselves the "Slow Tea People"--will know the difference and will do what we can to support and defend good tea (and good food).  We instinctively know that in doing so, we support discernment itself. And discernment is survival.

As such, we support tea shops and tea houses that take the risk of buying and serving slightly more expensive teas that are worth drinking. Some think five dollars for a pot of tea is too dear, but we Slow Tea People consider all that we are drinking when we drink this "expensive" tea. For one, our keen discernment tells us we are drinking not just a beverage but a phenomenon. When we pay five dollars for a good pot of tea, we are also paying for the wisdom and responsibility of the tea farmer as well as an earth-friendly cosmology which informs us of our dependence on the soil, the plants, and the many creatures who share and nourish our planet.

Each time we sip a premium tea, we know we are consuming hundreds of years of craftsmanship and skill, and in so doing, we are supporting farmers who for generations have relied upon their own good discernment to protect, nourish and preserve the land. Our discernment in this case naturally leads us to protecting the land and its thoughtful caretakers, so that it will continue to support us. These tea farmers have an intimate understanding of nature and its rhythms and secrets. Our good discernment tells us this is worth five dollars.  It is our survival.

By drinking artisinal teas, we also naturally move into an elevated state of mind, a state that offers us the benefit of a heightened sense of discernment in all of our daily choices and activities, a state that helps us make good, sound decisions with long lasting constructive effects. In this intimate and direct way, tea also supports our personal discernment, which in turn, helps us to make good decisions within our own lives and relationships.  Tea brings out generosity and goodwill, the hallmarks of successful community and business.

As well, if we are in a tearoom or tea shop that serves premium tea, we are undoubtedly sipping our tea among interesting, thoughtful people. These are good people to be surrounded by during any kind of crisis, precisely because they have good discernment. 

In quality tea rooms, we also find ourselves enfolded in an ambiance imbued with fabulous art, be it teaware, photographs, sculpture, furniture, or paintings. Slow Tea People bring these objets d'art into their lives, because they know the value of beauty and craftsmanship, beyond just the obvious. They recognize and cherish symbols that  suggest humanity has the potential to be a successful endeavor at all. It encourages us, and reminds us that our creativity harbors the possibility of continually raising the bar of our potential.

This is one of the pivotal moments of our species, which demands that we consider what products and services we consume and support. This will happen of itself, without any prodding or pushing, because people are not able to afford everything they want at every moment they want it.  We will have to make hard choices and narrowly edit our selections  The paradigm of the moment can be summed up in a couple of words, perhaps "relevance" and "value".  And it is our discernment that will help us to identify what has relevance and value.  Drinking tea naturally supports excellent decision making because it heightens the quality of our discernment.

As such, we Slow Tea People will keep good tea and visiting quality tea rooms at the top of our list and in the "must have" section of our carefully honed budgets.  It is not that we "deserve it," we rely on it and know that it is a metaphor for our best chance at thriving.

Thumbnail image for DavidHoffman©2009BonTeavant.jpg 
I had the honor and pleasure of visiting famed tea master David Lee Hoffman and his wife, Bea, for tea not long ago.  An unsuspecting visitor might be tipped off by directions to David's home and private tea house that (s)he is in for a magical adventure:

"Come up the driveway, past the boat on the lake at right and chicken coop on left.  Pass the bell tower, bear to your right, walking up the brick path that leads to the tea house, and enter through the large steel doors on left. Pass through the stone tunnel below the tea house, up the brick steps, past the worm palace and moat on the left....."

I have suddenly become Dorothy searching for the (tea) wizard in a Chinese/Nepalese version of Oz. I would not be entirely surprised to see the Tin Man or the Scarecrow waving to me at any turn of the brick path.  Whimsical stone sculptures stand erect by half-built "castles" and towers. The brick path brings the visitor over bridges and streams and past ponds and chicken coops.  I wonder when the Lollypop Kids will appear to greet me. "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," I think to myself bemusedly.

Finally making it to the open-air deck of the Chinese-style tea house which faces a panoramic cathedral of old-growth redwood trees, I hear the music of male voices discussing the completion of a Japanese tile roof. "Helloooo???" I chime.  "I'm just coming down from the roof," I hear in response, as David magically flies down from above to welcome me to his kingdom. Neither hidden behind a curtain nor donning a cape, David appears before me.  He is as lovely, rustic, and authentic a character as his magnificent Chinese tea house with its gnarled-wood antique Chinese chairs and festive Nepalese prayer flags. We shake hands, and I return the quiet grin spreading beneath Hoffman's kind and curious gaze.

David's private tea house, to which guests are welcome by invitation only, is the ultimate place to savor the delights of tea and take in the lavish gifts of the magical redwood forest (not to mention David's inspiring company). But a late autumn chill drives us into David's home, as the tea house, for now, is unheated and open to the elements.  I have brought with me a photographic print as a gift for David and Bee, yet something in me wonders if I should have brought tea. It seemed imprudent at best, and cheeky at worst, to bring tea to someone whose legendary status in the U.S. tea world is dwarfed only by his reputation among Asian tea groupies, who follow him around China to find out which teas he will buy each season.

We enter David's warm and cozy home, which, like the tea house, faces out to the great  Northern California redwoods. "Did you bring your favorite tea?" he asks.  Hawks circle the air.  I shake my head.  "Not this time," I say, feeling a bit sheepish.  I look around the wood-and-glass home to see the lovely gifts of nature David and Bee have collected, as well as some Asian art and writings.  One piece of writing tacked to a beam in the house especially moves me:

              "These three ways
              lead to the heavens:
              asserting the truth,
              not yielding to anger,
              and giving......."
                        ----Dhammapada, verse 224

David is indeed generous, bringing out three different pu-erh teas to taste, one in a bamboo casing, one a cake, and one a loose tea. He steeps the teas in ceramic gaiwans, lining them up, each behind a tasting cup, so we can taste the brews, one after the other.  He pours the rinse water into a three-legged earthen frog, which he loves because of its stability, and it's mirroring of the Chinese belief in the strength of three-pillared bases.
 
"Which tea do you think is the oldest?" he asks me later.  "How do you judge the age of a tea?" I ask.  He says there are many factors, each of which can be faked.  Hmmmmm....All of the teas are smooth, and each has a very different and distinctive aroma and flavor.  One is brisk, vegetal, and almost astringent; one is mossy and changes on the tongue, and one is very earthy, the "dirt" taste many associate with pu-erhs.

One tea has a particular depth and, as I decide not to risk flaunting my ignorance, I wait for him to tell me that it is this complex tea which is the oldest.  "Probably around 1992," he says.  "This tea is much darker than the other two," he offers, pointing to a different tea, "so some might guess this to be the oldest tea. But the darkness of the tea doesn't mean its older. It's this other tea here which is the oldest", and he points to the tea in the middle, the mossy one with the personality that keeps growing and shifting with such subtlety.

The afternoon moves forward, the tall trees tossing themselves into a rose sunset.  It is time to go, to let David relax after a long day of working on the roof, which has been in the making for years and years, David says.  We promise to meet again. "Next time, I will bring tea," I add.

"Can you find your way out?" David asks. I assure him I can, although within moments of departing, I find myself in a maze of tunnels, trees, streams, and collected things that have not yet found permanent homes.  I click my heels three times.......

tea_evensong.jpg

TEA ILLUMINATO,James Norwood Pratt, and his lovely Lady Valerie invited me over to share tea and Evensong this week. Evensong is an enchanting, half-hour, weekday afternoon ritual of music and prayer held at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral onNob Hill. Our mutual love of Camelia sinensis combines well with our shared interest in ritual, prayer, devotion,and music, and creates a magical afternoon that some can only dream of.

To enter Norwood and Valerie's home in North Beach is to discover a temple of tea and culture. The aura of literature and art, with its books, busts, and religious icons, wash over the visitor like fragrant notes of a fine tea.

Norwood is devoted--to tea and more deeply and personally, to his sense of the more subtle structures of the universe with its sky-blue porcelain gods, earth-green teas, and amber-brown, leather-clad beckonings of Goethe. Valerie is a lovely English woman whose gentle and intelligent bearing remind one that femininity is both strong and soft.  With ember-red hair, and a liquid awareness about her blue eyes, Valerie offers perhaps more with her attentive and quiet demeanor as most others do with their many words.

What moves me most about Norwood is not only the depth of his knowledge about tea, history, art and literature, but the depth of his spirit. His Southern manners prevent him from flaunting his sturdy intellect, so it slowly seeps into you like a soft, fine mist. I get the sense that he will meet whatever level of mental faculty is offered by his companion, but his gentle kindness and humility would not permit him to brandish overly rigorous thoughts that might elude or intimidate his guest.

Despite his bearing of refinement, Norwood is also magnificently irreverent. One of my favorite art pieces in Norwood's home is a clay cast bust (made by San Francisco sculptor Harriet Moore) of Norwood himself, sporting a large, floppy English afternoon tea hat which Norwood has apparently placed on its head. Norwood loves to poke fun at himself, and this makes him not only endearing inside his gigantic persona as the country's foremost tea expert, but more approachable as well.

Valerie offers me the best seat in the living room, a red leather, high-backed chair facing the San Francisco Bay with its toy sailboat views. We try our first tea, a 2008 spring harvest Tung Ting oolong,  which I brought with me as an offering. Norwood steeps the tea in a lovely white porcelain vessel, custom designed by his friend, Jason Chen, who is the owner of Lu Yu Tea in Bellevue, Washington. The infuser looks like a tall tea cup with an elongated filter. We drink from large white porcelain tea cups, antiques seemingly worn with the ancient sipping of old Chinese tea drinkers. The tea is delicious, and Norwood approves. He is especially pleased, as he has been focusing intently on oolongs for the past six months, he says.  I breathe easier, and the level of revelry between us swirls and rises.

We then try a very special tea, Golden Lily, from Lu Yu Tea. This tea was really spectacular. Just a few kilos of this organically grown and hand-processed tea is made available, and then only to tea maker Jason Chen's closest friends. Apparently Chen owns many hectares of land in the Zhejiang and Fujian provinces of China, where he oversees the growing, harvesting, and processing of his own organic teas. The tea label includes information on the tea's origin, altitude at which it was grown, harvest season, and steeping suggestions--all the information a connoisseur would want to know about a tea (s)he is purchasing. We finish with a lovely Te Kuan Yin, an homage to the goddess Norwood reveres.

"So what makes a great tea, Norwood?", I ask.

"In my opinion, the tea plant is the highest form of vegetation. It is always a combination of heaven, earth, and man -- heaven being everything above ground, earth being the ground and everything below it, and of course, the influence of man relates to the growing, harvesting, processing and brewing of the tea plant. A great tea is made when all three of these factors combine, each at their best and in perfect harmony with each other."

Two hours of discussion and tea evanesce into wisps of fine memories, and we hasten out the door to walk up the hill to Grace Cathedral, which is both grand and graciously welcoming, like my hosts. We sit in chairs on the altar, right by the Grace Men & Boys Choir. Hearing the child voices mingle with adult voices creates a wonderful wand of energy passing over the church. Together, Norwood, Valerie and I sing and pray, voices lifted to the lovely arched ceilings and stained glass masterpieces.

As we leave, Norwood pays respects to a special corner of the cathedral that holds a statue of "Saint" John Donne. "Now this is the kind of saint I can really pray to," says Norwood. "You wouldn't want to trust praying to a saint that was always only good. Donne is the saint of writers and poets," he says with a bemused smile, and gently bows to St. John Donne.

lu yu

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LU YU, AUTHOR OF THE FIRST comprehensive book on tea culture (before there was such a concept), was intellectually rigorous, but at the same time, soulful and intuitive.  These are the qualities found in a lot of great tea people today, which is why those of us who love tea are drawn to other tea people as well. 

Lu Yu's understanding of tea was paralleled by his love of nature (the true source of any good cup of tea), from choosing the right plant, the right farming and processing methods, to, finally, using the right kind of water in which to brew the tea.  In his book, The Classic of Tea, Lu Yu distinguishes between several different sources of water to optimize the steeping of tea:

"I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is best, river water is all right, but well water tea is quite inferior....Never take tea made from water that falls in cascades, gushes from springs, rushes in a torrent or that eddies and surges as if nature were rinsing its mouth."

Lu Yu understood the elements of nature and how they played into the final expression of a good cup of tea. He therefore responded to that understanding with cooperation and respect. What initially seems like a personal preference actually has several layers of universal awareness, expediency, and action behind it.

First, water has its own nature, depending on where it comes from and the particular characteristics of its origin.  Tea made from well water will be inferior to tea that springs from a mountain stream, says Lu Yu.  Why?  Perhaps because mountain water is WILD.  What could be more exotic, intoxicating, memorable, and love-inducing than wild tea made from wild water?  Then there is the tea plant and its leaves.  Are the tea leaves from an ancient tree or a young bush?  Was it grown high on the mountain, near lavendar or jasmine or onions?  What time of day was it harvested? Who processed it and with what tools?  How would a machine-processed tea differ from a tea that is lovingly processed with attention and care by the farmer who harvested it? 

These are the questions asked by true tea people, like Master Yu.  Inside these questions lies at least one basic premise: that all beings and objects possess their own nature, or spirit. The tea, the water, the hoe, the hand that plucks and processes the tea, the wok in which it is roasted, and the container in which it is finally packaged--all of these beings and objects influence the tea, not only because of their material composition, but because of the nature and energy they possess.  Otherwise, why would Lu Yu differentiate between river and mountain stream water, or water that gushes rather than sits quietly in a pool?  Although all water is H2O, not all water is the same in spirit or character. And I don't mean just hard or soft water, chlorinated or fluoridated water, but really the energy and nature of the water's source.

This harkens back to nature-based cosmologies in which believers recognize the inherent and particular spirit imbued in each place, object, and being.  We all know it is there, whether we openly acknowledge this eternal truth or not.  Who has not fallen in love with some very personal place--a forest, a quiet beach, a stretch of land that beckons?  Some mystery falls upon a such a place, and we appreciate it even if we can't put a name on it. 

Everything in this paradigm speaks of the intimate network of nature that is required for good tea--and the tea is very very good because it suggests a path to healthy sustainable living and survival.  Not only physical survival, but spiritual survival--the very inclination to love life itself. We are all made of the same stuff:  water, leaf, hand, sun, wok, Chinese paper with pretty designs.  We know goodness better than we know math. We smell and taste it, we see it, fringing the edges of the quietly smiling tea master, who chooses to process his tea with his bare hands rather than with a machine.  Everything in him speaks of the goodness of tea and life. 





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