Photo Essay Feature in Action Asia Adventure Magazine: The Tea Horse Road, Nomadic Route of Salt, and The Route of Wind and Wool

Photo-Essay feature of mine out in Hong Kong’s Action Asia this week. Images and tales of the precious Himalayan ‘routes through the sky’, the faces, and the vital memories and lessons along them.

Not simply trade routes of economic vitality, these highways through the sky were migration paths, pilgrimage routes, and strands of exploration for peoples throughout the Himalayas and beyond. The Tea Horse Road remains one of the great underrated adventures of all time and linked far more than simply tea. The essay looks and binds the landscapes with the faces and memories of a not-so-long-ago time.

Ridge-lines at 6,000 metres along the Tea Horse Road in Central Tibet.

Ridge-lines at 6,000 metres along the Tea Horse Road in Central Tibet.

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Interview with a legend of the Himalayas: Sadanand the Mountain Man

That wonderful renegade man of the mountains, Sadanand, who was such a dynamic horseman on our most recent expedition (and unknowingly achieved something near cult status) gets his very own piece, which celebrates his observations on the mountains, the love-lives of horses, and all things ‘life’. Within the realms of the Himalayas, such beings continue a long tradition of passing on tales and histories through oral narratives.

Sadanand - Jeff Fuchs

Interview here

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Oolong Tea….Roasted


Roasted Oolongs and the roast itself have long been a vital part of what the palate takes in. Roasting is a part of tea, a notion of tea that many westerners have had since schooners brought tea leaves back from the far ‘East’ to cups in the ‘West’ over the seas. Beyond heating and flavouring with specific kinds of heat, fragranced woods, charcoal, and controlled times, roasting is and always has been a way of enhancing and in some cases ‘hiding’ teas.

Oolong teas have long been flavoured, restored, burnt, and enhanced for centuries by those in the know and also by those hoping to profit. Roasting in the traditional sense is an art-form long performed by masters, who create something unique, and sometimes roasting is a stage performed by the desperate trying to salvage a harvest.

Shui Xian Oolong - Jeff Fuchs

Long leaves, delicately roasted, and almost elegant the Shui Xian (at its best) is a gentle and narcotic roasted Oolong tea

In Japan roasting reaches a kind of pinnacle of deliberate manipulation that results in teas that – depending on the palate – can be something paradisiacal. Across the water to the southwest, an Oolong stone or cliff tea from Fujian province in China can reach a state of delicious delirium if the roaster is competent and has intention. In Taiwan there are Oolong tea makers that produce less than a half kg of something that is akin to a liquid panacea; of the soil itself, shared amongst only a few dedicates tucked away in a tiny tea house.

When a roast is something nefarious and slightly off-putting is when (and this is performed more often than many drinkers might think) the ‘roast’ is used for the very deliberate purpose of ‘re-infusing’ or breathing some flavour into a badly produced, very old, or disturbed tea. Roasting can in many ways ‘hide’ an inherent problem in a tea. Be it the taste of a tea, age, or simply questionable storage habits, the roast can salvage something perhaps best let go. An Oolong tea badly produced can hide easily in a roast or smoke dried process. Roasting can hide an atrociously produced tea as well. Legends – fact based and otherwise – run rampant in China about teas (that underwent ‘roasts’ or  ‘smoke dried’ processes) that the west became enamored with, that no self-respecting local would touch, sip, or even consider.

Powerful, dark, and almost risky, the Ru Gui is a tea that needs a delicate touch, otherwise it can assault the palate

Powerful, dark, and almost risky, the Ru Gui is an Oolong tea that needs a delicate touch, otherwise it can assault the palate

Recently surrounded by snows, in a nice deviation from my precious raw Puerhs, I was gently reminded and inspired by what a roast ‘done well’ could be. The months of February and March were saturated by three roasted Oolongs that gifted the mouth and memory again and again. It was a series of tea sessions, sampling marvelously finished leaves that had been roasted to a gentle kind of glory.

A narcotic Shui Xian from Wuyi, a potent Ru Gui also from Wuyi and masterpiece of Taiwan, a small batch of Wushe Oolong from a friend, Mr. Lien. Mr. Lien considered roasting as an act of finessing and detailing, rather than obliterating a tea. He had laboriously hand-crafted this last of the three, the Wushe Oolong. The Ru Gui from Fujian province’s fabled Wuyi Mountain is another stunner though heavier and made to hit the mouth with power and jarring grip. The Shui Xian is less robust and traditionally carries a lighter almost subtle liquor of cedar.

An Oolong custom roasted by a long-time friend, Mr. Lien, this tea goes into the lore of 'one time, one pot, one tea' - a rare classic

An Oolong tea custom roasted by a long-time friend, Mr. Lien, this tea goes into the lore of ‘one time, one pot, one tea’ – a rare classic

The roast in these three cases was applied not to hide any faults, but rather to enhance a traditional tea with an aroma and add another whole flavour value. The leaves used in the first place were cultivated with attention and an unerring ability. No inferior teas here, but rather stunning leaves, produced well, with a final little additional touch.

Roasts and roasters should be things of attention and subtlety rather than blunt heat trauma. “A gentle roast should enhance rather than blanket or obscure a tea” so says Mr. Lien from Taiwan, an uncompromising cultivator, producer, and sipper of Oolongs.

As with so much of the world of food and consumables there should be attention to the source, the creator, and ultimately the preparation of an Oolong tea. Mr. Lien once again seems to sum up so much wisdom in a few words, “Roasting is done in two ways: carefully, or without regard. Careful roasting is a tradition to infuse an already good tea with more flavour. Badly roasted tea is simply done to confuse and cover an already suspect tea”.

Clear dark apricot liquor...clarity is a sign of good production habits

Clear dark apricot liquor…clarity is a sign of good production habits

Roasting a tea is about temperature, time control, and ‘flavouring agents’. What Mr. Lien calls an “innocent roast” is simply expelling yet more moisture from the already ‘dried’ tea leaves and preparing the tea for ageing and storing. His “flavouring roast” on the other hand is about a very ‘trial and error’ method of using charcoal and/or certain types of fragrant woods to deliberately infuse a tea with other characteristics. Bamboo, pine, cypress, and all manner of different woods, including cherry can inundate a tea with their essence through careful roasting. While roasting itself is a subject that can be almost painfully loaded with details, the intention is usually simple: to expel moisture and humidity, and to further enhance and/or flavour. After a roast is done, the flavoured tea will then further develop in character taking months and perhaps years to get to its peak, whatever that peak happens to be.

A good friend once uttered the immaculately sage words that he much prefers drinking good tea, to philosophizing about and discussing good tea. Ponderous attention to detail, unpredictable palates, and vehement disagreement on methodology have long plagued the world of the leaf, he said. Teas were – in a perfect world – created by those who wanted to make something transformative and something eternal, so why spend too much time on the phrase-ology?

Though inevitably, whether a tea appeals or not is up to an individual palate, there should at least be a sense of how a classic ‘should’ taste or affect the palate, and particularly something as niche as a good roasted tea. Oolong teas are not the only to be soothed and tampered by roasts, but they are the most frequently altered by the process.

A Chinese tea farmer from Anhui had summed up his view of the world of roasted teas in another way: “It is something that only the skilled should do with a very good tea. The rest of us, should sit back and enjoy their labours”.

Little more than a thirst, some good leaves, and a vessel are needed. Tea is eternally simple

Little more than a thirst, some good leaves, and a vessel are needed. Tea is eternally simple




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Award-Winning Writer Mariellen Ward Got Curious about an explorer, and then Interviewed Me

Always nice when someone is asking questions and allows responses which are laden with tangents (which I’ve been known to do). Mariellen Ward, brilliant and award-winning writer (and fellow tea maven) does it up nice in the following article and interview with me.

See the interview here.

Jeff Fuchs

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New York’s Tea Drunk – I’m Bringing Pu erh tea Leaves and We’re Drinking

After the Explorers Club talk this Friday, I head south for tea sips to New York. No regular sips either…Pu erh tea leaves off of ancient trees. I’ll be in New York at the wonderful Tea Drunk sipping, serving, being served, and chatting away with Nicole Martin this Sunday, at 12:45 pm. Located at 123 E 7th Street. Come join for some leaves…they’ve got stunning teas and I don’t often say this, as many of you know. I’m also bringing along some Lao Banzhang Summer 2012 ‘Old Tree’ leaves. These Pu erh tea leaves are in one grower’s words “immortal”.

Tea - Jeff Fuchs

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Explorers Club Talk – Jeff Fuchs Presents the Himalaya’s ‘Route of Wind and Wool’

February 14 at 7:15 PM ET: Explorer Jeff Fuchs and the Route of Wind and Wool at 

Valentine’s Day Talk….ahem

Kensington Tours
36 Toronto St #300, Toronto, ON M5C 2C5

Route of Wind and Wool - Jeff Fuchs

Explorers Club members and friends across Canada are encouraged to join the Ontario Nunavut monthly dinner as award-winning explorer and Explorer Club member Jeff Fuchs traces his experiences on the oldest trade pathways through the desolate magnificence of the India Himalaya.

You can join us just by turning on your computer and following these instructions from Go To Meeting. You’ll be asked to download a little bit of software. Just say yes. It will only take a minute and won’t cost anything.

February 14 at 7:15 PM ET: Jeff Fuchs and the Route of Wind and Wool

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Award-winning explorer Jeff Fuchs will share his experiences on the first western expedition to trace one of the ancient world’s long lost trade routes, through some of the planet’s most daunting and stunning geographies. The Route of Wind and Wool traces what is left of one of the oldest trade pathways on the planet over and through the desolate magnificence of the India Himalaya. The team was searching for the remains of the route – and the memories along it – in an odyssey by foot and mule through ice, over stone, and back into time on a 33-day journey by foot. It was the fourth such exploration in Fuchs’ series to revisit the lost Himalayan trade routes. Jeff is a brand ambassador for The North Face, Kensington Tours, and kora Himalayan baselayers and would like to thank the generous support of each.

Jeff Fuchs on Route of Wind and Wool

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Tea Tour with Jeff Fuchs and Sri Lanka In Style through Sri Lanka

One of this year’s joys will be hosting another kind of tea tour. This tea tour is aided by  the impeccable talents of Sri Lanka in Style across jungles, into cultures, and all happily fuelled by teas of a different colour. Sri Lanka’s scents, tints, and tastes come alive this summer in a tea tour of so much more here.

Sri Lanka Tea Tour - Jeff FuchsA Tea Tour designed, indulged in, and presented by Jeff Fuchs, Miguel Cunat and Sri Lanka in Style.

Sri Lanka Tea Journey - Jeff Fuchs

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Tea Horse Road and the Women’s Touch

As a New Year came in I thought back to those whose ‘new’ year’s have not yet come. I thought back to three generations of women who hosted our team on a barren portion of the Tea Horse Road years ago. Their community at over five thousand metres, ‘Ala Dhotok’, bristled with wind and yet our team of dusty husks of glazed eyes and matted hair was welcomed, fed, and sent off with a mountain warmth that remains in the veins still. Within their tent, grandmother spoke of the days of trade and plied us with tea and yak cheese, her daughter cared for her own daughter and our filthy group lay back content in the knowledge that even if for the moment, we were warm and fed.

Nomads along the Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

Some sips of tea later we made out for the waist deep snows of Nup Gong La (Western Pass), warmer and a bit more sane for our little stop. Good Wishes to you mountain goddesses for your own upcoming year in the snows. Even a great route through the sky like the Tea Horse Road needs the warmth of its people.

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Tea Interview with Tealet and Jeff Fuchs…with Tea

Tealet’s fearless leader Elyse Petersen sits down for an interview with yours truly about tea, where I get to gently rant a bit about Puerh tea, people, and why tea and people cannot be separated. Enjoyed with a sip of course. A tea interview is always something good.

See interview here

Tealet with Jeff Fuchs

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Two Worlds – The Himalayas and the South Pacific – and Global Warming

So much of the time I’ve had here with the East West Center in Honolulu as an invited speaker has been time spent showing, seeing, and being reminded of the very similar plights that people share, while living in very different spaces leagues away from one another.

Nomads' Plight - Jeff Fuchs

During one talk, I introduced portraits and words of indigenous locals (their words not mine) and their observations of Global Warming and Climate Change in their intimate worlds within the Himalayas. What followed the talk was a number of women from the incredibly gifted and committed ‘Pacific Islands Women in Leadership Program’ coming to express the feelings of empathy and a kind of kinship in the struggle to deal with an imminent threat to basic livelihoods.

I'm joined by the 'forces of nature' from Kiribati Takena Redfern and Roreti Eritai. Both felt enormous parallels between their world of rising ocean levels and the Himalayan worlds of nomads where ice and snow disappear at an ever-increasing speed.

I’m joined by the ‘forces of nature’ from Kiribati Takena Redfern and Roreti Eritai. Both felt enormous parallels between their world of rising ocean levels and the Himalayan worlds of nomads where ice and snow disappear at an ever-increasing speed.

It is perhaps when far off lands ‘collide’ and when stories are shared that there is an opportunity for complicity and understanding that the world – more than ever – needs engagement, and a sense of shared purpose to move forward.

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