Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Giveaway: Who Is Lu Yu?

Well, I fell into the rabbit hole of work and catching up but think I have found normal again. ")

Lu Yu's story was on my mind often during the Taiwan trip. And I saw his likeness several times. To celebrate a wonderful trip and a safe journey for my friends and  myself, I'm running a giveaway contest. Leave a comment telling me who Lu Yu is and I will enter you into a drawing for tea and other goodies. I'll announce the winner next Wed. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Taiwan: Picking Tea in Alishan

In Alishan (high mountain oolong), tea pickers (predominantly women) are often seasonal workers who move from farm to farm as the tea becomes ready to pick.  The readiness of the tea differs by altitude and microclimate.  It's an intense few days. The farm where we stayed had four days of picking during this flush.

The pickers work hard at this job. They fill their baskets and then deliver them to be weighed. The results are recorded in the books. Note the picker's blade attached to her finger. Not everyone uses these, but my own attempt at picking showed me how strong the stalk can be. For these high mountain oolong teas, three leaves and a bud get harvested.

Hard work in a very beautiful setting!  Thank you to all the people who bring the tea to life.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Taiwan: Aloeswood Incense

Aloeswood Incense

Incense and tea have been fast friends for centuries.  Incense provided its aroma during the spiritual practices of ancient Asia, and those practices often included tea.  Carried forward in time, incense plays an important role in today's Japanese Tea Ceremony (as well as being an art form of its own called Kodo) and in some Gong Fu brewing.

The trick is to find an incense that compliments the experience and does not overpower, cloy or cling to utensils.  When I was in Taiwan over the last few weeks, I became a fan of aloeswood incense (also called agarwood).  This wood develops a resin in response to a mold infestation.  The resulting aroma is subtle and complex.  Aloeswood is a limited (and protected) resource, and so it's pricey.  I was very  happy to bring home this box as a gift for the DH.
Do you know this incense? 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Taiwan: Stone and Wood Carvings

I am now spending a few days visiting with friends, drinking tea and meditating at the Tea Sage Hut, after a wonderful two weeks of traveling to tea farms in Taiwan.  Today we visited the town of San Yi which is known for its wood carvings. Lots of beautiful, large-scale works of art in not only wood but also stone and metal.  The textures, contrast and expressions drew me to these images.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Taiwan: Scooter Culture

Scooters are everywhere in Taiwan!  They are the primary mode of transportation for many, many people. Makes me miss Stella, my former scooter.

Photos (click to enlarge):  pink power!, doing business off the back of a scooter, temple entrance in background, row of scooters in foreground

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Taiwan: Night Market

This tour should be called the tea AND food tour!  Taiwan food is amazing, with its influence of Chinese, Japanese and local flavors, not to mention all the fresh fruit!  We've had guava, pineapple, lychee, wax apple, peaches, cantaloupe, plum, watermelon, mango, papaya, and more different types of bananas than I knew existed.  Taiwan is a very safe place to eat fruit and street foods.

Taiwan is famous for its night markets with stand after stand of snack food. These are very popular and lots of fun!  We visited the night market on a warm and muggy evening. It reminded me of being at the county fair, except way better food and lots more people.

Some of the things our group tried (see below):  Fish balls, Taiwanese sausage, sticky rice and peanuts in sausage skin, Taiwanese fried chicken (a specialty, really good!) and oyster/egg scramble, and stinky tofu! This infamous treat is fermented tofu that is deep fried and served with a sauce and cabbage. Our group described it as smelling a little barnyardish. I liked it, tho!  The taste is milder than the smell. We also had fresh fruit juices, and cream, sesame and red bean fillings inside a waffle-like batter made into a shell.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Taiwan: Alishan

Buddhist nun serving tea

We've just returned from four days on the Alishan mountain and at Sun Moon lake, both important tea growing areas in Taiwan. I'll focus first on Alishan. The region is so beautiful!  We were welcomed by the tea farmer like family and stayed at the tea farm. Tea, tea and more tea!

Time for Wu-Wo, too. I'm learning of the concept of "affinity" - and under such, we spontaneously met a group of Buddhist nuns while doing Wu-Wo tea beside a beautiful rock. They invited  us to have tea at their temple.  (Which we did). Beautiful gardens at the temple and ironically, a treasure trove of Taiwanese crackers and cookies.

Witnessing the picking and making of tea is particularly exciting for me. We followed the lifecycle of tea from  picking to processing to packaging. The tea at this farm for this season was picked in four days and we got to see the heart of the alchemy to turn it from picked leaf to dry tea.  This included getting up at midnight to witness "killing the green" - stopping the oxidation with heat. We tasted teas that were finished just hours prior. Majestic views, wonderful people and fragrant, luscious tea. My heart is full of gratitude!

Photos (click to enlarge):  view of Alishan mountains, tea fields and village; grandma and Granddaughter making tea; Wu-Wo; tea withering; "killing the green" to stop the oxidation (using heat tubes); Buddhist nun making tea

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Taiwan Day 5: TieGuanYin Tea

In Muzha drinking one of my favorites, Traditional style TieGuanYin tea. Click to enlarge.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Taiwan Day 3: Wu-Wo

Wu-Wo was born in Taiwan, and so it was with special excitement that we had the opportunity to participate in a Wu-Wo circle while here. We met with Steven R. Jones (aka Icetea Icetea) and students from the Lu Yu Tea Culture Institute.

We had the opportunity to brew, serve and drink tea together in silence, to share tea with observers and strangers, to listen to beautiful song, to discuss our experience and to learn.

For me, the most touching thing is how we shared this meaningful experience together regardless of language and culture. Thank you to Steven and the Lu Yu Tea Culture Institute for hosting us!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Taiwan Day 2: Baozhong and Aged Teas

Feeling joyful in the tea field
(Click photos to enlarge)

This is just an awesome trip!  So much tea to drink, food to sample, stories to hear and tell, moments to hold precious. Here are a few photos from our visit with Farmer Chen and his family.  Beautiful land, kind and generous people. He told us that if he felt appreciated, he was happy - even if we didn't buy. Farmer Chen - we appreciate you!  (And we bought tea!)

Below:  Farmer Chen, sampling an unfinished Baozhong (very special to try this!), gorgeous scenery, Tour leader Shiuwen, setting leaves to wither

Friday, May 03, 2013

Taiwan Day One: A Stroll and Wistaria Tea House

Hello!  Day one of Taiwan trip was great!  We arrived in the early morning and stowed our stuff at the hotel. I love the location, in a part of the city that still feels historic. More like a neighborhood than a giant metropolis. Scooters are everywhere!  Taiwan feels more relaxed to me than China. 

 As we walked around the neighborhood, we saw several tea shops. This man waits to offer a tasting. Below, we spent a leisurely afternoon at the famous Wistaria Teahouse enjoying delicious teas, lunch and snacks. A perfect way to settle in. Then it was off to an early bedtime for us. Tod
ay we visit a Baozhong farmer!