Sri Lanka In Style and Dilmah Teas join with Jeff Fuchs

 

Though I’m not known for cocktails, looking forward to joining tea-stained forces with Dilmah Teas and Sri Lanka In Style for a series of hosted talks and evenings throughout some of Sri Lanka’s most fabled resorts. Tea tales, mountain tales, and some ‘tangent’ tales to be shared.

Event(s) Information here.

tea - Jeff Fuchs

 

Posted in Media, Mountains, Tea | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Horse Road – Nomad Style

Few can claim to live as simply and as absolutely efficiently within (and atop) their environment as the nomads (ndrog’ba) who have long learned to survive and thrive well above 4,000 metres. Closer to the sky than most, their lives are shorn down to essentials, and precious few luxuries. One of the great fuels and treasures was ‘ja‘ (tea).

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

During many visits with Ajo and Omu over the course of years to their various seasonal homes, the bare minimum of ‘things’ always struck the mind. Like so much that is hidden and understated about these people, their role as prime consumers of tea along the Tea Horse Road has gone largely undocumented.

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs
Only what is absolutely needed is taken…tea was inevitably one of those necessities.

Tea,  could always be found and was always craved and in fact much of the tea in history that travelled along the Tea Horse Road was destined for the smoky yak wool tents of the nomads. As one old saying of the nomads goes, “We waited for the caravans bringing tea like we waited for family”.

Within Ajo and Omu’s tent, tea was a constant, whether flowing, being prepared, or waitng. Most often in its bamboo and rattan cylindrical containers, bricks of the stuff inevitably sat close to the altar, occupying a place of rare privilege in the lives of truly stoic people.

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

Cooked rather than infused, with additions of thick butter globs and salt, a kettle would be tucked into the embers and kept at the ready day and night.

Of tea, Ajo once said, “Tea is a food, it is something valued from far away, and it is something that no nomad would ever leave the tent without first sipping.”

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

Ajo, like his people, wasn’t given to much excess talk, but tea, yak wool, and the weather occupied both his thoughts and words to an almost obsessive degree.

It is as concise a description as any I’ve heard about tea’s enduring vitality.

Posted in Explorations, JalamTeas, Tea | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tea Horse Road – The Faces

Yeshi during an interview in Pomda, in western Sichuan Province

Yeshi during an interview in Pomda, in western Sichuan Province

Beyond simply the daunting snow passes, eccentric bandits, and disorientation and dehydration abilities of the Tea Horse Road, there is the underside which kept business, business. Yeshi worked for one of the great family run companies, the Pomda-tsang, which ushered tea, resin, salt, and anything with value. In its time the family fought (and won) battles with the the Lhasa government, the Republicans of China, and any who challenged their right to trade. Many simply referred to the Pomda-tsang as the “masters of the Tea Horse Road”.

They were also known as a company that paid on time, and even went so far as to guarantee their shipments. What endeared them to (and garnered loyalty from) locals was the fact that they never interfered with smaller caravans or their shipments.

Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

In time the Pomda-tsang became like a mini-empire with their own stationary, codes of conduct, and even their own banks. Yeshi (who features in book documenting the Tea Horse Road) played a role, though in his words: ”I could not have traveled the route. It would have killed me, but my numbers told me all about how vital tea was. I could sip the tea but not walk the trail”. Geographies, mules, yak, a green leaf, and will all played a role along the Tea Horse Road, but so too did the faces.

 

Posted in Explorations, JalamTeas, Mountains, Tea | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tea Horse Road Expedition – 8 Years’ On…

Eight years ago this month, a team of mountain men that were in part desperate, utterly tough, and not entirely sure of what was to come, embarked on an expedition to trace what was left of the physical remnants of one of the globe’s most underrated trade routes.

It is time to include some shots and tributes of that journey through the sky.

Nomè (the most patient of all of us) leads our mule team up the Sho'La Pass

Nomè (the most patient of all of us) leads our mule team up the Sho’La Pass

The Tea Horse Road, Cha Ma Dao (Mandarin), and Gyalam (Tibetan for ‘wide road’) ended up taking twice as long to complete – 7.5 months – and ended up being far more about the memories of the last traders, muleteers and participants than it would be about anything else.

Myself and Dorje enjoy a cave-bound hotspring...and briefly contemplate being pious....briefly mind you.

Myself and Dorje enjoy a cave-bound hotspring and briefly contemplate being pious….briefly mind you.

The beings that shared in this odyssey with me: Sonam, Dakpa, Norbu, Nomè, and Dorje ended up becoming epic characters for all time in my mind.

From left: Dakpa (the charmer and linguist), Sonam (aka Spiderman), and Norbu (the Bull) upon the Sho La Pass where 20 minutes after this photo was taken, we almost lost Dakpa in a blizzard

From left: Dakpa (the charmer and linguist), Sonam (aka Spiderman), and Norbu (the Bull) upon the Sho La Pass where 20 minutes after this photo was taken, we almost lost Dakpa in a blizzard

Here a little tribute to them eight-years on from a journey that gave life, risked it, and finally inspired. A tribute too, to the mountains that have – up until now at least – kept us all safe, hemoglobin-rich, and in awe.

Incorrigible, beyond tough, and man I came to refer to as 'the Peter O'Toole of the Mountains'...for reasons both provocative and good.

Incorrigible, beyond tough, and man I came to refer to as ‘the Peter O’Toole of the Mountains’…for reasons both provocative and good.

We were assisted and enriched by some mountains, a lot of tea, and the generosity of those with so very little, but who knew that they had been part of something epic (and by epic, I speak of the old connotation…of something truly huge). The Tea Horse Road was about far more than a route through the sky, a green leaf, or horses…it was about a  segment of rarely told mountain lore.

Kawa Gebo (aka Meili Xueshan, Meili Snow Mountain) in northwestern Yunnan, which threw a blizzard upon us, and very nearly take one of us.

Kawa Gebo (aka Meili Xueshan, Meili Snow Mountain) in northwestern Yunnan, which threw a blizzard upon us, and very nearly take one of us.

A deep bow of appreciation to all of it

What fueled a good deal of the route and our passing along it...tea.

What fueled a good deal of the route and our passing along it…tea.

Posted in Explorations, Mountains, Tea, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Financial Times reviews our JalamTeas’ Tea of the Month Club…and loves it

 

Financial Times reviews (after significant sipping) our JalamTeas’ Tea of the Month Club offerings…and loves them.

Sampling our rare Purple Leaf and the vibrant Bada Mountain Unfermented Puerh, the writer mentions that , “…the tea’s backstory was every bit as enchanting as its taste”.

Read the full story

here

JalamTeas tea of the month

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bulang Pu erh Tea – Spring Sips

 

The Leaves Arrive

There is something called a tea sweat, and I’m experiencing it. So is Andrew, and for someone of 250 lbs of Irish-Scotch bulk and a 6ft 7inch frame, this first time is something to enjoy, cherish, and in some small part despise. It is something that entirely takes you. It encourages with stimulant power while opening every pore of the body.

Maloh harvests leaves will soon be in a pan frying

Maloh harvests leaves will soon be in a pan frying

We are both ripped on Pu erh tea, and Andrew is a sopping mess of a T-shirt that is absorbing the gallons of sweat that pours out of him from every single cell. We’ve been sipping Pu erh tea for days in ever-increasing amounts. The happy part of the equation is that he is in that very wonderful tea mood that is part elation and part intensity. Nimble, wide-eyed, and curious, he shifts around looking at the precious leaves that have arrived and have just been shoved into the tea frying pans. He has long learned to cope with his bulk and is restrained in every movement he makes, making certain not to disturb the space around him. One wrong turn in this little home and he could bring much inadvertent destruction. This region’s Pu erh tea has been making its way to Andrew’s home in Canada through my urgings and now his curiosity as to where it is grown, and by whom is being revealed.

Puerh leaves withering

Pu erh tea leaves withering

His frame makes the setting that much more special and eclectic. Small bodies – and everyone is small around him – chuckle, sip, and stare at this latest harvest of Spring tea leaves from trees that have been harvested just metres from where we stand. We are far down in Yunnan’s southwestern Bulang mountain chain that hovers between Burma and Yunnan. Here in this tea district, Spring harvests are events unto themselves. It is the home of Pu erh tea, the home of some of the oldest tea cultivars on the planet and it is home to the quiet mountain people that have long used tea for all things.

Transport by hand

Transport by hand

Hosted by a local Bulang family – with blood vessels roaring in expectation of successive infusions of the green – we stand in a kind of crucible of simplicity. Sub-tropical forests, mountains, spring water, and food, that is sourced from the soil upon which we stand, it is a small corner of goodness in so many ways. The one thing in particular that holds Andrew and I is tea. It is in fact the only reason we have come. Thick forests, red clay, and an altitude of 1600 metres all contribute to an ideal Pu erh tea geography.

Andrew manages to get right into the tea action

Andrew manages to get right into the tea action

Grown locally, produced simply, and sipped at its bitter best, it is a tea that I’ve longed to slurp down. It is always this way: expectation, and words spoken of a region or tea, a sip here and there, and then one is suddenly and nicely thrust into a particular tea’s tannins and tangs. As per normal down here in the south, there is no warning until hours before that we will actually be visiting this area. “Bring a thirst, your body, and just go with it”, seems to be the mantra of the region. Andrew and I are jammed into a car and hustled southwest out of Menghai.

This little village creates teas that by the year improve through more thorough processing and more attention to each step. This is, in my little green-veiled world, the equivalent of a paradise. Green heat, mountain mists, and people who haven’t yet forgotten how to work with the land make this region a place of generosity and stimulant joy.

A local Bulang woman sorts a Spring harvest

A local Bulang woman sorts a Spring harvest

The leaves that crackle within the pan are being deprived of their moisture and are sinking, but at no point do they remain immobile within the heated pan. They are churned, and shrink all the while letting off wafts of roasted green glory. Patient and muscular arms with gloved hands make sure that the leaves are rolling and never still.

After pan frying of almost 10 minutes the leaves are carted over to a well-used rattan rug where bodies hustle into position on knees to knead out what is left of the leaves’ moisture. The rattan is stained dark by years of harvests that have bled their tannins into their fibers. It is a visual testament to an enduring effort.

The Fry

The Fry

Andrew has been swiveling, bending, and coiling himself ever closer to the action to take in every movement making comments to me, to himself, and to the air around him. Our host gently shakes the leaves out, separating and giving them air while keeping an eye on Andrew who moves ever closer. Our host’s talon-like hands then spread the tea leaves out on rattan drying trays making sure that the leaves are evenly distributed. Sun and shade will do the rest.

First Sips And a Few More

There is a saying about tea in this little valley-ridden part of Asia that speaks to what should be felt in the mouth when sampling a harvest of Pu erh tea. “The word bitter isn’t something negative”. Here, where tea was born, a little bitterness must hit the mouth (rather than sourness which is the one great ‘ill’ flavour-wise) but dissipate into an almost sweet sensation at the back of the gums before swishing down the throat. Andrew and I are seated in this same small Bulang village waiting for our sample sips.

The sips begin

The sips begin

Andrew is seated while our lean host prepares another fiercely fresh dose of the tea that his family has created. Andrew’s tea sipping skills (and appetite) have increased to a point where he actually admits to faint cravings. Air currents come through the open space, which is a casual assortment of chairs and a tea table. This tea sampling station is utilitarian; above us a tin roof, some beams, a noisy new floor below us and little else besides tea utensils. No windows are necessary in this temperate zone. Walls are waist high and my long held view that all things consumable are best enjoyed outdoors is reaffirmed.

The tea that we sip is as fresh as a tea can possibly be and carries a kind of volatile grace. Raw force and vegetal power hit first. New teas and harvests are not gentle and they are not mean to be. They carve a trail into the mouth, and if the production process is done right they’ll ease in their assault and finish gently. Our tea does exactly this and our host knows it.

DSC_9948

The mother of our host, who is known by all as ‘Maloh’ is a constant blur and seemingly everywhere. She runs everything and from the look of her, she has been doing it all for a very long time. When we first arrived she was harvesting leaves, then she helped fry them. Disappearing then reappearing she ordered us up to sample and sit. Now she has gone and the sips are being taken. My own curiosity for the production activity of tea is easily swayed by any opportunity for a cup. We sit perched slightly forward waiting for each successive cup, which come at wonderfully short intervals.

Kneading the tea

Kneading the tea

Around us sips are taken in quick thoughtful shots. Andrew’s relentless energy forces him at times to wander, photograph, or simply stare before returning to the table to sit and sip some more. The simplicity of the event belies the taking of a tea at its prime. Full of power, the tea will develop over days, months, and years.

Tucking back into our van that can barely contain Andrew’s frame, the day’s light softens and the smells alter in the forests around us. As things begin to ease into the night Andrew and I have a tea high that is on the ascent.

A tea drying shed

A tea drying shed

 

Posted in JalamTeas, Tea | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lao Ban Zhang Pu erh – A Tea of Endurance

 

Few teas that sit in my collection of leaves have ever not made a journey with me, accompanying me as a stimulant companion, ally, and vegetal mate. It is a kind of rite of passage to be taken, prepared, and enjoyed in another temporary place or simply on the move. Teas that are made on a consistent basis in the same kettle in the same kitchen, with the same attention are wonderful…but they are the predictable panacea that they need to be. A tea that travels needs to be something a little bit more. It needs to have something akin to a special appeal or something uncertain. Maybe strength, maybe outrageous strength, sometimes simply a stimulant tea, and sometimes simply a tea that comforts; whatever the tea, travelling is an erratic and informal test of what a tea really means.

Tea Cake - Lao Banzhang Puerh

In the past months, one tea has been tucked away in its mulberry handmade tea paper (which itself remains in an inauspicious clear blue sandwich bag from IKEA) in my possession while I roamed Yunnan, New York, Hong Kong, Hawaii, and Canada’s familiar winter cold. It remains with me still here in Hawaii – where in just a few short days I will depart – to the very place this tea was born. It will remain here while I travel back to its soil, its space, and its wonderful maker. The tea is Lao Banzhang Pu erh (also often spelled Puerh or Puer)

It is a little over a year since I acquired the magnificent cake from my mentor, Master Gao. Friend and fellow lover of the leaf Marco Zamboni Zalamena and I were both gifted cakes for assisting in last year’s Spring harvest which not only allowed us to sweat with the leaves, but also to care, handle, and learn about the leaves (all under Gao’s soft brown gaze). It also provided a wonderful look into how a master looks at leaves.

Jeff Fuchs

We ate, slept, sipped, chatted, and lived tea in Lao Banzhang village. It is a town transformed by the income that has come into it in the past years. Where once there were small homes with slats, sitting on stilts, there now are expansive homes that widen and grow yearly. Our stay however is much like my annual trips to the town. It was a no less than a debauched and sleepless feast of liquids that found their origins in the forests that surrounded our mentor’s home. One of my long loved tea hunting grounds, Ban Zhang, lies high up in the Pulang/Bulang Mountains of southern Yunnan province along the Burma border. Sub-tropic, with soft cool winds, armies of hens and their chicks and the odd wild boar share the earth with its indigenous Hani and Bulang dwellers.

Lao Ban Zhang Pu erh

The tea, a Lao Ban Zhang Pu erh from unfermented autumn harvest from 2012, was from ‘ancient’ trees and in my own frame of reference beyond any amount of money. Of tremendous monetary value, yes, but what set it apart was that it was a tea Marco and I had been introduced to by Master Gao, and described it in the immortal and typically understated words, “It is very good, and it is the tea I take before I sleep. I need a good tea before I sleep”. While not from one of the fabled Spring harvests Gao’s palate rested somewhere in the realm of ‘beyond reproach’. Though every palate is different, absorbing flavours, tannins, theanine, and the multitudes of mineral power, every tongue takes and enjoys differences in punch, bitterness and vegetal potency.

Lao Ban Zhang Pu erh

This tea that Marco and I took in every evening was a kind of beautiful peak for our respective tastes and it would become the tea that I began to covet. There was also this notion that these leaves had been shared by someone I’ve long looked at as a rare vestige of authenticity in the tea world. The world of tea as it expands is – like so many trends – risks being enveloped by many who know less than little about tea, its home, and its cultural roots.

Red clay soils, the Hani people’s competent and integral hands, and a ‘name’ make Banzhang teas sought after, pricey, misunderstood, and obsessed over.

Where Jing Mai teas coax and charm with gentle floral notes, and where Meng Song teas deliver a power blast of tangible almost reckless power, Lao Ban Zhang Pu erh seems to impart a bit of everything hitting so many vital requirements.

Lao Ban zhang Pu erh

In my home in Shangri-La (Zhongdian) in northwestern Yunnan province, I made it first upon my small tea table, with water harvested from a nearby mountain spring. Tea always seems to impart a different sensation when one prepares it oneself. It still rattled the system with its strength when I prepared it, but this time other more floral essences were felt. Infusion after infusion continued to expand and some of the inherent magic of the ancient tea trees’ leaves released themselves. It is a tea that is remarkable in its ability to continually expand and grow. Adding onto the raw materials, was the production perfection of Master Gao. Neurotic, calm, and relentlessly drilled into a kind of walking meditation while creating the teas, his are creations that are consistent and patient. Not only is he acknowledged by the buyers, he is looked at as a divinity by other growers from surrounding mountains and towns.

Canada offered up another opportunity to sample Banzhang’s elegantly powerful leaves. It seemed that it was almost impossible to brew the tea too strongly – though of course, I tried. The Ban Zhang has strength but it is a distinguished power and one that isn’t lacking in subtleties. It was again remarkable in that it could be wide-ranging with floral hints and yet remain unrepentant in its strength.

Lao Ban Zhang Puerh

In Hawaii’s soft winds and heat, Ban zhang was a tea that forced one seasoned tea drinker friend from Japan to comment: “What is special is how the initial bitterness eases into a sweetness and leaves the mouth wanting more”.

New York’s gentle and not-so-gentle chaos allowed for a tea time in a little loft to slow down…before being revved up. So often tea’s stimulant capacity is looked at as something negative and yet it was this very capacity to serve as a natural fuel for the body that is coveted within true tea circles.

Master Gao’s words on tea and its world and influences were never far from my mind and his words on why a “good” tea was “good” were demonstrative and revealing. During a late night tea session with him at his home in the Pulang/Bulang Mountains with night’s fragrances wafting in and the chirpers of the night in full chorus his soft voice floats out words: “good trees”, “time”, “traditional methods”, “mistakes”. All of these impart to a tea’s ultimate qualities along with many more technical items. Gao’s words have never reeked of pretension because they don’t need to. He considers everything slowly and only speaks when he has something to mention or respond to. The closest to anything resembling anger I’ve seen from him is when a particular stock of withering leaves had been stacked too high (which can cause a sour note to a final tea), or when on another occasion I wasn’t expelling enough moisture from leaves when wringing them after a fry. Gao was not a man whose ire I wanted to incur at any cost but tea appeared to be one thing that might push him over the edge.

Lao Ban Zhang Puerh

Ban Zhang town has now reached the kind of status that the Champagne region of Burgundy has within Puerh tea fanciers. Fakes abound, and false information runs rampant, but if the source is to be trusted and the palate respected, a genuine Banzhang regardless of the ‘age’ is worth sampling.

Gao once again has a last word on this: “As long as you know what you enjoy and what a good tea should taste like as a reference point, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks”. I don’t mention the fact that his least desired teas are sold out a year in advance and that his fresh Spring harvests of ancient tree Puerh’s rarely sell for less than $800.00 per kg. His philosophy though has been consistent for years and long before he was a known producer of some of the finest Puerh teas, he was still the quiet, immaculate, and confident being as he is now. Indeed, he seemed to know intuitively that his offerings were masterpieces. Quality in some wonderful and rare instances is entirely quiet in its origin and that makes it so much more trustworthy.

Lao Ban Zhang Puerh

His summer 2012 harvest remains beside me still puffing out its little hot humid wafts from a cup waiting to feed once again. A half cake remains and it will be stored for the next months so that I don’t polish it all off…to wait for another day to sate some more, or until I’m offered up another cake as a gift.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in JalamTeas, Tea | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

Posted in Explorations, Media, Mountains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Explorations, Media, Mountains | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

 

 

 

Posted in JalamTeas, Tea | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment