Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oriental Beauty Oolong in TaoYuan

There are three areas in Taiwan where Oriental Beauty is grown and harvested.  MiaoLi, HsinChu and TaoYuan.  Today I'm in TaoYuan visiting Tea Master Lin.

This meeting clearly illustrates the importance of "visiting and knowing your source."  Mr Lin, a third generation tea farmer and producer, grows his teas "organically" avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticide.  Instead he uses nature, such as ground cover that boarders the garden and keeps weeds at bay, to manage his tea gardens.  Based on his current annual production it is doubtful that Mr. Lin's tea gardens will be organic certified in the near future.
Mr. Lin has won many local and regional competitions for his Oriental Beauty. Just this year, his Oriental Beauty took 1st and 2nd place in the tea competition.

First stop was Mr. Lin's tea factory where I experienced a new and delicious cold brew technique.  Mr. Lin started our cupping session with a Taiwan black tea that he produces, added cold water and "steeped" it about one minute.  The taste was incredible - light with sweet honey notes that lingered in the mouth long after the tea had been swallowed.  I was told that this tea can be infused this way about 12 times.  Be interesting to experiment when I get back to the States.

Next up is a Green tea made from the same cultivar that Mr. Lin uses for Oriental Beauty.  This delivered a very smooth green tea taste with very light cream notes and not a hint of astringency.  This was followed by several grades of Mr Lin's Oriental Beauty.

The "greener" tea bushes will be ready for harvesting in about two weeks.  Mr Lin believes that what ends up in your cup is based on;
  • 30% on the tea plant
  • 40% on the processing
  • 30% on the brewing of the leaf
Mr. Lin had to set up at a local expo for local products grown in the TaoYuan area.  We headed out for lunch and plans to meet at the expo.

The expo was great, think green market meets rock concert all interspersed with fireworks and screaming vendors.  Yes, it was loud, however it was great to see 6 or 7 tea vendors, produce vendors and the like. We plopped down at Mr Lin's booth and continued cupping teas and expanded our discussion about tea and our individual involvement in the world of tea.

All and all a great day in the TaoYuan region of Taiwan.  I'm looking forward to offering Mr. Lin's teas to.

More to follow

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bao Zhong Oolong Tea and Wen-Shan Tea District

Rain, rain and more rain accompanies my travel in the mountainous area around Pin Lin in Wen-Shan where we source our Baozhong oolong tea - which we are out of.  As my hosts and I wander up the mountain road, we come across Mr Cheng tending to his tea garden, actually hand weeding among the tea bushes

He stops his labor and invites us to join him in his house/factory for tea.  The walls of his "cupping room" are filled with certificates and awards from local tea competitions.

Good to be out of the rain, we are joined by Mrs. Cheng who starts brewing gongfu style.  (I'll add a video clip later, seems I'm having trouble with the upload)

Mr Cheng harvests 3-4 times a year and produces approximately 600kg of Baozhong Oolong per harvest.  He is "old school" in that he does not have a retail store to support the sale of his tea, rather he sells it to wholesalers.  He will start the November harvest in the next couple weeks which should be ready for sale in late November.

Next stop was the tea museum in Pin-Lin.  Aside from the history of tea and tea making equipment, the main attraction was the restaurant.  All dishes were prepared with tea oil or had tea leaves as part of the recipe.  My favorite was a simple dish of tofu cooked with tea leaves, sesame seed, salt and scallions.  Cooking with tea is very popular in the states, but this was the fist time I had seen raw tea leaves as an ingredient.

The afternoon took us to Yi-Lan on the Eastern coast of Taiwan.  Here we visited with Tea Master Lung.  He produces a rolled oolong, but not in the style of a Tung Ting or Ali-Shan,  It is a loosely rolled oolong tea.  He uses a Jin Xuan cultivar for this teas. During our visit, he was kind enough to prepare an aged oolong that was out of this world - I'm not sure if he knew how old it was.  We also were treated to jello made with tea..

All and all an exciting day experiencnig tea in several ways that were new to me.  Today I'm off to TaoYuan to visit a tea garden that produces Oriental Beauty oolong and is undergoing organic certification, a tea exhibition in the area (NW Taiwan) and possibably a factory that produces tea oil.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oriental Beauty Oolong Tea

My travels yesterday took me to Miao Li and Hsin Chu County where Oriental Beauty oolong teas are grown and produced.

First stop was a delightful restaurant in Hsin Chu. The restaurant was part of a tea garden, tea factory and tea retail shop. Many of the smaller tea growers (3000 - 5000kg or less) produce their own teas then sell them through their own retail stores.  The local tea competitions have been an important factor in driving awareness and business to these small growers, but this is a topic that deserves its own blog entry.

After lunch, my host and I were treated to a sampling of the gardens award winning teas.  The tea was prepared gonfu style by Mr Ku, who at 21 is a third generation tea producer.  Their garden produces approximately 1,500kg of oriental beauty per year.  It is all sold via their retail tea shop.

Next stop was in Miao Li county to meet with Tea Master Deng.  He grows and produces the Plum Blossom oolong that we are crazy about. 
Master Deng has won 18 Oriental Beauty tea competitions during his career. He generously prepared a 1st place and 3rd place Oriental Beauty for us. Once again gongfu style. The taste of ripe fruit, honey and a slight wood note (considered smoky by my host) coupled with an exceptional mouth feel were amazing and were prominent through the 8th infusion. I lost count after that. I've posted a little unedited video clip shot with my iPhone.
Master Deng produces approximately 1000kg of Oriental Beauty per year.  Most of this tea is purchased locally due to his reputation based on his competitive successes.

Last stop of the day was in Hsin Chu to visit Tea Master Hsu.  He produces the Oriental Beauty that we offer at Teas Etc.  Like most of the small grower/producers, he supports his tea sales with a retail outlet.  I had the privilege to cup several outstanding Oriental Beauties.  Now comes the hard part, which one to source and offer our customers.
Tomorrow I'm off to Pin-Lin in the Wen-Shan area in search of  Bao Zhong and then on to Yi-Lan to visit and cup high mountain oolongs.
More to follow

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taiwan, Tea and Travel

I love travel, especially the alertness of the senses upon landing at a new destination - which in my case happens to be Taiwan. The high humidity (think Florida, so no big deal for me), the smell of spices and food from small shops, the lovely sing-song sound of the local dialect, even the buzz of the motor bikes. However, it is tea that I really look forward to.

If I had to proclaim a tea category that was a favorite at Teas Etc, it would be oolongs.

For the next two weeks, I'll be based out of Taipei City visiting with existing growers that produce our Plum Blossom Oolong, Oriental Beauty, Fanciest Formosa, Tung Ting and Baozhong oolongs, and meeting a new growers.

Next week I'll meet up with the Taiwan Oolong Study Tour sponsored by the Taiwan Tea Manafactures' Association. This is an intensive 6 day immersion into the growing, harvesting and producing oolong teas including the history of tea in Taiwan. One thing I've learned for certain in the tea business - there is always more to learn - and I'm psyched to participate in this in depth study.

Must run, I'm off to Miao Li and Hsin Chu.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Bohea Black Tea, Part of Americana

There's a story behind every tea...

Bohea Black Tea made a big splash in American history when it was symbolically tossed overboard at the Boston Tea Party.

342 chests of tea were thrown into the harbor by revolutionaries, including Paul Revere.

Bohea, the original Lapsong Souchong, embodies a smoky aroma, fired oak notes and a sweet layered finish.

Celebrate your independence – try Bohea Organic Black Tea for a cup of Americana.


Friday, July 02, 2010

World Tea Expo

The 2010 World Tea Expo was super exciting!

I love expo for a number of reasons. Obviously there is the business benefits. Expo also provides an opportunity to connect with so many awesome tea people. It's a chance to see firsthand new products, see who is new in the tea world and to socialize with so many tea folks in way you cant online or over the phone.

Among those awesome tea people is Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review. I had the pleasure of meeting Jason, thanks to my husband Newman, a couple of years ago via telephone and finally in person at the 2009 expo.

Jason's obvious devotion to the leaf is inspriring. Having lived and worked for a period of time in China Jason was introduced to quality teas at the source. Upon his return to the US he began sharing his tea thoughts with others through Walker Tea Review. Jason has a serene, thoughtful approach to tea and posses a geniune openess to learn and share his insight with others.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason at World Tea Expo to taste and talk about the Bolivian teas.

Here is the video link

On a somewhat related note -
Several months ago some controversy surfaced regarding the relationship of online tea reviewers/bloggers with the companies that provided them samples for review, and what impact that may have on the review results.

You could not meet anyone with higher integrity, honesty and dedication to accurately sharing his opinion, whether I agree with him or not, about the teas he reviews.

Jason Walker of Walker Tea Review, Chris (in the black) & Nathan (in the blue) of Teas Etc, serving and talking tea at the Teas Etc booth at WTE - is this the future of tea?

Until next time, Beth

Monday, June 28, 2010

Cold Infusion Methods to Eliminate Bitterness

In response to Tiffany's experience with cold brewing I have two methods to try that I have found will resolve the problem of bitter tea.

The first is the most environmentally, and economically, friendly just reuse leaves that you have already enjoyed in a hot infusion earlier in the day.

Toss the used leaves into a glass pitcher, add water and let it sit. I prefer using an oolong or black tea for the most pronounced flavor with this method.

Time is less important than if you are using dry leaf so 4 hours, overnight, a couple days whenever you get back to it the tea will be perfect. Note the viscosity, or mouth feel, of the liquor when cold brewing like this. It makes for a nice cup and there is literally no waste. Re-infuse 2-3 times depending on your personal taste or strength preference.

The other way to avoid a bitter cup is to wash the leaf before you cold brew. In essence you are doing the same thing as above just not enjoying that first hot cup. Instead steep the leaves for up to 10 min., let them cool and continue as illustrated above.

My preferred method is the first one. I just leave the cold brewed leaves in the pitcher for weeks and every time I pour myself a glass or two I replenish the water in the pitcher and start all over again. At that point I start to add about 1/8 dry leaf to whatever is in the pitcher already. Then once again I let it sit. Unfortunately Astringency can be more pronounced in some teas, so my suggestion here is more of a guideline than a hard and fast “rule.” They way I was taught in Taiwan is not to use a tremendous amount of leaf, believe it or not the tea still delivers a nice character.

Tiffany, thanks for the question, and good luck.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Discovery of Cold Infusion

Steeping hot tea is great. Various methods and styles peaked my interest and I am constantly curious of just how far I can push the leaf.

Recently while traveling in Taiwan I discovered cold brewing. Since then I have been passionately exploring this new facet of steeping and have discovered some interesting outcomes.

Cold infusion seems to be gentler on the leaf slowly drawing out flavors and mouth sensations. I wonder, is this due to the extend steeping time or the more gentle extraction? What I am certain of is that the resulting cup character is astounding and especially refreshing during these hot Florida summer days.

I am excited to continue to experience cold infusing teas and will be working to further formalize my techniques. I would encourage others to explore cold infusions and share their results with me and the Teas Etc blog community.

Cold brewing has done a lot to change the way that I experience tea. It has opened up possibilities that had never occurred to me before, introducing tea flavors and mouth feel that are entirely new.

- Chris -

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Life is Full of Change

Change is inevitable. Change can be positive. It is time for change with the Teas Etc blog!

I understand that to operate a blog that is useful and interesting at minimum you must post regularly. No matter how hard I have tried I am just unable, due to my very busy schedule, to post on a consistent basis.

In our most recent discussion about this issue we collectively determined that having some of the other folks at Teas Etc begin posting was a good solution. Not only will readers benefit from regular postings the most positive advantage will be the varied points of view and tea interests of the other contributors.

Beginning this week, Newman and Chris Johnston will both begin posting. Chris's travels and young perspective on tea will add great energy. Newman's historical insight, interest in the online tea community, and current trade events will add depth for readers.

Along with my periodic travel postings I will begin contributing short posts on the business of tea with topics such as organic, marketing, private label, and regulatory updates.

Hopefully this new collaboration will generate fresh ideas and renewed interest in the Teas Etc blog making it an enjoyable and insightful read.

Until next time, Beth

Sunday, January 17, 2010

December, the Holidays and Looking to the Year Ahead

Once again we have survived the holidays. Grateful to have been busy the month of December was a blur. I must admit that I look forward to a time when it is, personally, less hectic. Having already mastered the ability to avoid the holiday frenzy, because of the years I have spent too busy to partake, I should actually know how to really enjoy this special time of year.

As we bring the fiscal tasks of 2009 to a completion we are pleased at the end results and feel even closer to our 2010 goals! As an eternal optimist I have avoided the "bad" economy mindset, which is what works for me. That said what is most encouraging is the refreshing optimism of many other people, particularly the buyers at our recent show in Atlanta.

Our big January gift & gourmet show in Atlanta was great. The foot traffic was up significantly and buyers, both large and small, seem to be looking for new revenue generators and tea fits perfectly. Overall expectations are for a positive year ahead which translated into sales and some cool new partnerships.

2010 will bring other changes to Teas Etc the first of which began in December with our strategic planning. Exciting new product additions include new private label packaging options and some fun, innovative products that include tea.

Also new this year will be my writing contribution to Fresh Cup magazine. I will be writing a marketing column quarterly with my first article, The Benefits and Strategies to Holding a Tea Tasting, in the March issue.

Another change in 2010 will be the relocation of the World Tea Expo. Co-locating with Natural Grocers at the Las Vegas Convention Center the show opens June 10 with New Business Boot Camp the two days prior on the 8th & 9th. Registration has opened and the education program has some exciting new sessions. I really enjoy going to World Tea for a variety of reasons. Some of the less obvious ones are the opportunity to see other exhibitors that I don’t make time for during the rest of the year.

My trip to Asia is coming together nicely. We have a ton of new arrivals from the late summer/fall harvests, monsoon varietals and the freshly scented jasmines. Excitement about the development of new grower relationships overseas and the anticipation of many more teas to taste as spring arrives and the launch of our new flavored line scheduled for the second quarter of the year. 2010 looks to be a successfully, tasty year at Teas Etc.

Until next time, Beth