My New Tea Room

 

 

 

 

I’ve gotten my new tea room set up, and have been enjoying it for the past few months actually, but unfortunately, I haven’t had much chance to photograph it until recently, so here is a first look. My friend Rivka was (is) back in town and stopped in for an afternoon cup, and the lighting through the front window was too good to pass up. I know some people will think that I’m going to an awful lot of trouble just to have a simple cup of tea, but those who have experienced a ‘proper’ tea session can appreciate the value of creating a relaxing tea space suitable for chatting with friends, studying/working, or just quiet introspection.

 

 

 

My basic layout is usually a square or rectangular cloth, with my tea tray, pitcher, tea pick, and scoop placed within easy reach. When I want to have tea, I can have my pot, cups, and leaf ready to go by the time the water boils. I also like to play with different fabrics, shapes, colors, and textures to create a unique experience for each tea session.

Budhhist scriptures basking in the sun       

                                                                                                                                          


Having a dedicated tea drinking area serves two purposes for me. Firstly, it provides an uncluttered space to set up my pot, pitcher, cups, and utensils. While I do use my laptop while brewing tea, I try to keep my space mostly reserved just for tea. This helps remove distractions and create an atmosphere more condusive to tea drinking. Secondly, it helps me clear my mind and focus on being in the moment, so that I can give my full attention to the leaf.
The result is a cup of ‘liquid gold’, served fresh and hot. As the light, delicate aroma wafts through the room, I can feel the stress and tension melting out of my shoulders. Time stands still while I savor every drop, allowing the essence of the leaf to infuse my soul and renew my spirit.

 

 

Green Lake

 

 

 

 

I’m often asked what it is that attracts me to Tea drinking so much. While my answers generally range from the quasi-sarcastic ‘thirst’ to the more esoteric ‘satisfies my soul’ (shout out to The Man on that!), on my recent tea tour I realized that one of the qualities I missed from my Taiwan tea drinking days is spontaneity. There is a certain freedom and joyful spirit that comes with being able to simply sit and enjoy a cup of tea in in just about any circumstance. The opening night of our Tea Tour is a case in point. As we were coming in from the airport with our tour group, we passed through the Xin Dien district on our way to the hotel. It was getting dark, and I was looking out at the rain falling on Green Lake, a popular scenic area on the Xin Dien River. I found myself thinking of the days I used to live just up the road from there, and it gave me an idea. After getting everyone settled at the hotel and washed up, we were all in the mood for a bite to eat So on a whim, I took them down to the ‘lake’ for an introduction to Taiwan’s local culture.

 

Now Green Lake, or Bi Tan, as the locals call it, is basically a slow-moving section of a small river that runs out of Wulai (famous for hot springs). On the East side, which is Xin Dien proper, there is a small farmer’s/night market where you can get all manner of street foods. It is located behind the Xin Dien MRT Station, which is the southern terminal of the Green Line. Just exit the station to the left and you’ll see the market area down the lane to your left. Along the riverside there are cleaner, more upscale restaurants with outdoor seating and river views to enjoy. If you are in the mood for some exercise before or after dinner, you can rent paddle boats and take a water tour, or even swim in some areas if you’re brave enough. In addition, there is a suspension foot bridge that takes you across the river to the West side. There are a few shops and eateries along this side as well, although it’s mostly a residential district. There is a very good shop for dumplings and potstickers on the left about 30 yards straight down from the bridge that is one of my favorites.

 

My dumpling shop was closing as we got there, so we walked across the river and chose a likely restaurant along the East side. After sharing a couple of hot pots and a variety of local fried snack foods, we went back across the bridge to the Bi Ting tea house for our first tea together. Although we didn’t have the best seats in the house (it was a Friday evening, after all, and they were fairly busy) it was a great feeling to be back in a place where sitting outside & enjoying the night scenery over a cup of tea is a normal activity.

 

 

 

My presentation of the tea was very relaxed and informal, more in line with the commercial nature of tea houses such as this. While the view from the top of ‘the rock’ is quite nice, the teas and tea wares aren’t top quality, so the focus is more on the conversation and snacks rather than the actual tea (a little like having a beer at a barbecue as compared to sampling a microbrewery’s finest wares). Nevertheless, it was the perfect way to unwind after the long flight while getting to know each other a little.

 

 

 

Back in the Saddle

First of all, thanks to anyone who has visited this site in the past year and wondered why there haven’t been any new posts put up, and my sincerest apologies for abandoning you. No, I haven’t been in a coma, jail, or lost on a deserted island (I was actually a bit lost on an inhabited island, but that’s a long story!). As convenient as any of those excuses might be, the truth is I’ve had a lot of personal issues to deal with, and I simply lost my path, and my connection with tea and the Dao, and as a consequence I stopped writing for awhile . I’m happy to say that, through an extraordinarily lucky series of events, I’m (nearly) back where I belong, and it’s time to catch up with everything tea that is so dear to me.

 

So we’ll start with the most exciting news. I just returned from my first trip back to Taiwan in almost 2 years, where we conducted a really amazing tour of northern Taiwan tea growing regions, tea factories, and tea houses with some of our good friends from the International Tea and Coffee Academy in the Netherlands. We were able to have tea classes with my Tea Master, David Tsai, and also my good friend and teacher, Mr. Aliang Ong, owner of the Hsi Tang Tea Company in the Mucha District of New Taipei City. We also visited the Tea Research & Extension Station in Yangmei, a Tie Kuan Yin tea factory in Pinglin (plus a visit to the tea museum there), and also a cutting-edge technology high mountain tea production facility in the famous Li Shan (Pear Mountain) region, home of Taiwan’s best oolongs. Looking back at it now, it’s incredible how much territory we covered in such a short time, and yet still left so much more to do, see, and learn. I collected over 60G of photos and videos from our group members, and will post in detail on each day of the trip as I process through everything, but for now here’s an overview to whet your appetite.

 

Our group members arrived on a Friday, so after collecting everyone and getting them settled at their hotel, we went to the Bi Tan (Green Lake) Scenic Area in the Xin Dien district for dinner. I used to live in the hills just southwest of there, so it was a return to my old stomping grounds for me. After dinner we had tea at a scenic tea house on a cliff overlooking the lake. Then it was back to the hotel for some rest.

 

On Saturday we had an orientation and introduction to tea culture and brewing, then traveled to Taipei for lunch and an afternoon class with Tea Master David Tsai, founder of Lung Tsuey Fong tea house, and the man most influential on my own philosophy of tea. We were treated to a formal tea presentation to start things off, then sampled several wonderful organic Taiwan oolongs brewed by the man himself, who patiently answered as many questions as I could translate (and even some I couldn’t!).

 

 

For dinner we went on an adventure tour of Taiwan’s busy and crowded streets while I tried to remember the correct route to a mountainside restaurant and tea room I used to frequent when I lived in the Shijr district of New Taipei City back in the late 1990s. The tea gods were absolutely smiling on us, as not only did I find the road, but the restaurant was still there, it was completely devoid of customers (it was a cool rainy night), and the hostess even remembered me from the ‘old days’ – I was the strange foreigner who would come up on Saturday afternoons, eat Cha Ye Tofu (A tofu dish cooked with tea leaves – absolute heaven!) and strum his guitar while drinking tea. On one of my trips, I lost a shoe, and one of the cooks gave me his flip flops – literally off of his feet – so I could get home on my motorcycle in the rain. Now, back after a 12-year absence, she asked if I still had the flip flops or not (sadly, a ‘not’). I couldn’t help but think our tour was off to a grand start, and even better things were to come.

 

On Sunday, better things came. In the morning we stopped by the Chr Nan Temple complex in Mucha for a quick look while the weather was good, then headed over to meet Aliang and learn about Taiwan oolongs. He had an impressive presentation prepared for us, mixing power point with tea samples and tea wares spread across the table. While we ended up not having time to finish everything he had for us (too many questions – right Danny?), we did get to have a go at loading the roasting racks before heading out to lunch.

 

 Boss Man gets his hands dirty

 

 

After lunch, we visited the famous Mao Kung (literally means ‘no cats’) area in Mucha, famous for its dark-roasted Tie Kuan Yin teas. We toured some tea fields for awhile, then walked to one of the many tea houses on the mountainside for dinner and some lessons on handling gaiwans, with a lot of tea drinking mixed in, of course!

 

 

 

 

Monday we met at the hotel and traveled to a Tie Kuan Yin production plant in the Pinglin area. We spent most of the morning learning how the leaves are processed, asking questions, and exploring the small family-owned farm. We were also able to talk the farmer into selling us a few of their older tea plucking baskets to take home as souveniers.

 

 

After lunch in Pinglin, we toured the tea museum, then headed back through the countryside to Taipei. We stopped at a second tea factory to visit one of Aliang’s friends, and had an opportunity to sample some of their fresh Baojong tea, which had only been processed a few days before our arrival.

 

 

Tuesday was a big day for our group.  We went to the Tea Research & Extension Station in Yangmei, where we were given a personal tour of the facility by Dr. Justin Lai, one of the research associates at the facility. Our tour included tastings of a variety of Taiwan teas, all of which were first-place winners in local production competitions. Although we were limited to a spoonful or 2 of each tea, we all appreciated having the opportunity to try some of Taiwan’s best.

 

 

 

 

For lunch we stopped in Ying Ge, which is famous for pottery and tea pot production, and spent time browsing some of the hundred or so shops that line the ‘old street’ there. It’s a great place to browse and wander around, but there is so much to see there that it’s easy to suffer from sensory overload. We only stayed a couple of hours, and then headed back to Taipei, where we geared up for the highlight of the tour – a trip to the highest tea growing region of Taiwan.

 

We took the highway out to the coastal city of I Lan, then turned back onto the No. 7 highway that winds up through the mountains to Li Shan. Our stop for the night was a wonderful mountain villa, which we reached eventually, although I did manage to get us ‘confused’ for a bit getting through the cities and onto the correct road. After dinner, I set up for the night’s entertainment, which featured a tea and calligraphy demonstration by me, followed by tea and conversation and tea until everyone dropped off to bed.

The Man in Action

 

In the morning we had a quick look at some local tea fields, then headed up the long and winding road to Pear Mountain. At one of the stops along the way, some of the group members (not Belgian) were marveling at the local flora, asking if the giant leaves of this mysterious plant are used to make tea. I had to carefully inform them that the fields we were looking at were actually a type of vegetable commonly used in Chinese cooking, known in English as ‘cabbage’. They were so amazed at the sight that they took numerous photos, one of which I present below:

 “Sorry guys, I couldn’t resist. I know I’ll pay for it someday!  :)

 

Arriving at the Li Shan area in late afternoon, we checked into our digs at the 2450 Tea Factory, just over the top of the mountain on the Nantou side. The name comes from the fact the factory is at 2450 meters above sea level. They have an amazing facility there, and all of us were very impressed with the efficiency and technology they had at their command. After our main tour of the production floor, we were able to witness and even assist in starting a new batch of tea that came in, and those of us who stayed up late (or woke up early) were able to hang out with the workers and observe all stages of the production.

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey, Bob, I think there’s sumn’ wrong with da ball roller”

 

 

Our last full tour day, Thursday, began with departure from the factory and a tour of the Fu Sho Mountain tea growing areas. Some of the fields we visited grow the most expensive teas in Taiwan, and it was a wonderful feeling to walk among the plants and touch the tender new buds glistening in the morning rain.  After a brief lunch at Li Shan, we headed back to Taipei, where we had a late dinner at Wisteria Tea House, then returned to Aliang’s store for a serenade (Aliang plays several Chinese instruments) and final round of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

Our last day was a ‘free’ day, but most of us wanted to go back to Ying Ge and have another look, so we did. After loading up on tea cups & pots & etc., we went back to Wisteria for a rest, a chat, and of course, one (or 3) rounds of tea. When our back teeth were finally floating, we returned to the hotel and packed up for the last ride to the airport. Overall, I felt that most of the tour went very smoothly, and we all had a great time. With all of the positive feedback, I’m now looking at putting together another tour, perhaps in November, or for sure next June, so if any of you are interested in joining us next time, just let me know. I will set up an information page here when I get some of the details sorted out.

 

 

East Coast Ride

Now that I’m back in the US, one of the most common questions I hear is, “What do you miss about Taiwan?” While I could probably come up with a list a mile long if I thought about it enough, I think one of the things I haven’t had a chance to do is just take a ‘tea ride’, cruising some side roads through the hills and finding a nice spot to enjoy a cup of tea. The last such ride I had was last spring, when I went for a solo ride out to Taiwan’s east coast.

 

I headed out on the old Taipei County Highway 106, changing over to the 102 and following it out to the coast. It’s a great ride on a smooth, curvy 2-lane road through lush, jungle-covered hills. Just the thing to get me in the mood for an inspired roadside tea party. The highway cuts through Shr Ding township (now Shr Ding District of New Taipei City), which is Bao Jong tea country. When you pass the giant teapot, you know you’re there.

One of my favorite things about Taiwan is the east coast. The mountains rise steeply right out of the water, and the highway hugs the cliffs as it follows the coastline, providing numerous vantage points with sweeping vistas of the Pacific. One of my favorites is a coastal park near the village of Longdong. There are several walking trails that follow the hills, leading up to 2 gazebos overlooking the ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While enjoying my tea break, I watched some fishermen angling from the rocks below me ( friend of mine who grew up in this area says they actually swim out to the outcroppings, where they can cast into the deeper waters). Although it was a Saturday, I was there early enough (about 10am) that there wasn’t much traffic out yet, so I had the area all to myself until about noon.

 

 

 

After enjoying my tea, I continued up the coast towards the port of Keelung. To avoid the traffic congestion of the harbor area there, I turned off a few miles south and climbed up through the hills past the mining town of Jiu Fen. This was originally a silver mining area, and the town was founded by nine families, who agreed to share expenses as they developed the area (this is where the name comes from – the literal translation is ‘nine parts’). There is a great tea house in the town, but in the past 10 years the area has become over-developed, with coffee houses and tourist businesses moving in, ruining the tranquil, rustic setting that made this small village famous in the first place. I just gave it a drive by on this trip, only stopping for a view and photo of ‘tea pot mountain’, which is dear to my heart for obvious reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

From there, it was back through the northeast hills into New Taipei City, and home by the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t a long ride by any means – about 50 miles – but it gave me a chance to get away from the city, enjoy some great scenery, and spend some quiet time alone with the leaf, which is what I really miss the most about ‘the beautiful isle’.

     

 

 

 

 

 

Back at It!

Hey guys! Apologies to my devoted followers for the ‘disappearing act’. Had a lot going on the past year, and blogging kind of took a back seat to other stuff. I’m happy to let y’all know I’m getting back in the saddle, and will begin catching up on all the tea stuff I’ve been collecting. The big news for now is that I’ve moved back to the US, and am working on setting up some tea classes and seminars in the States, while also developing the site here with more teas and tea wares to sell online. Fortunately, I’ve still got some good tea buddies in Taiwan, so we will be able to continue direct sourcing of Taiwan’s great oolongs, blacks, and greens for you. I’ll have more on that soon, as well as a Taiwan Tea Tour that we are organizing for next year in May or early June, in which we will be inviting tea enthusiasts from everywhere to join us in Taiwan to experience the amazing tea culture there first hand.

For today, I’d just like to catch up a bit on what’s been going on. I’m still getting myself settled in and have found quite a bit I need to do, starting with some yard work. We’ve moved back to the house I grew up in, which is very exciting for the teaboy. Over the summer, we’ve had a yard sale, taken out some shrubs in front, and cut down a tree in the back yard. Now that the weather here is turning colder, we’re focusing more on the inside, where I’m planning out my new tea room.

 

Here are a few photos of some of the work we’ve been doing:

 

The front yard:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready, set, . . .

 

GO !!!

                       

 

The back yard:

 

 

Of course, it wasn’t all just hard work. We also had a yard sale, and naturally the teaboy wanted to help out. Since our iced tea sales last summer weren’t that good, we switched to KoolAid and homemade popsicles this time around. The economy must have been better this year because sales were definitely up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll also be adding some more ‘stuff’ from our summer, as well as catching up on organizing the 5G of photos from the past year of Taiwan activities I need to get on here as well, so expect more  tea-related material in the near future! Promise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Merry Christmas

We didn’t have a real big Christmas here this year – the Teaboy and I were both a bit sick, and besides, there’s never any snow! Luckily, Santa was pretty good this year. He brought me an iron kettle set so I can start working on my charcoal water boiling here at home. Now I just need some coal in my stocking and I’m all set!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Hey dad – there’s a hole in your bowl”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“That makes a big pot of tea!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be blogging about my charcoal adventures as I go along, so stay tuned for more, and happy holidays!

Local Scenery

On our trip to make Black Tea with Master Tsai, we took time out for a well-deserved break in Suei Li, a small farming community just south of Sun Moon Lake. Among other things, the town is famous for its ice cream, which we naturally just had to sample!  Read the rest of this entry »

Picking Black Tea

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On the second morning of our Black Tea Workshop, we  went up to some of the Assam tea fields in the Yu Chr area to pick tea.  It’s in a very unassuming area – just a narrow concrete road winding into the hills. There wasn’t even room to turn the car around! Read the rest of this entry »

Gettin’ Our Kicks on Route 66

      

No, not that Route 66! On our trip to make Taiwan Black Tea with Tsai Lao Shr (see Making Black Tea), we stayed at a small bed & breakfast in  Yu Chr Township, near Sun Moon Lake. Since the big earthquake in 1999 (I was here for that!), the area has struggled to recover, but eco-tourism is becoming popular now, so things seem to be improving in the area economically.     

      

Read the rest of this entry »

Making Black Tea

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Master Tsai offered me space in one of his Nantou tea-making workshops, so of course I jumped at the chance. We rode the high-speed train to Taichung, then by car to Yu Chr, a black tea growing area around the north end of Sun Moon Lake.  The first day consisted of actually producing our own hand-rolled organic Assam tea in the local style, a group dinner, and then a late-night tea session at a local bed & breakfast. The second day we picked tea in the mountains, toured the Sun Moon Lake area (including a visit to the Tea Research Center near the lake), then held an informal competition to taste and discuss our tea before heading back to Taipei. This post focuses on the actual processing of our black tea. Read the rest of this entry »