As we enter into spring, we can really feel the energy behind this year, and all the change and connection it is bringing... and you are a part of this energy!
We have a brand-new webstore where you can order your own custom GTH apparel and much more! Plus, there's a photo contest you can all be a part of, sharing glimpses of Tea in your life with the rest of us around the world ...
April's Global Tea Hut On Its Way!
April's Global Tea Hut was sent out this past Tuesday and is on it's way to you!
We go back to the basics of tea this month, shedding light on the fundamentals that should be a part of our every brew ...
There are also more tea travels, including Wu De's recent trip to New Zealand/Australia!
We named April's Issue "Temple Mist" after the wonderful green tea we are grateful to share with you. It's rare that we share green tea in the Hut (read why in the magazine) and this is a special tea at that! It's certified organic, from Wu Liang Mountain, the highest peak in Yunnan, China. Produced as a Mao Feng from big-leaf trees, it's full of vibrancy and Qi to help usher in spring wherever you are.
Enjoy it in a bowl or cup, and think of how many others around the world might be doing the same in that very moment...
"Tea" Shirts & More!
Now you can order custom Global Tea Hut apparel and much more—from T-shirts and hoodies to bags and cell phone cases!
Choose your favorite GTH designs, as well as Wu De's Tea-inspired art and calligraphy!
How it works: Select from the "Shop By Item" menu on the left, and browse the different designs and artwork available. For T-shirts and clothes, you can further specify different sizes, colors, and materials, including organic cotton.
Tea is connection. This bowl of tea,
held in my two hands, connects me internally and externally. My senses
awakened, my attention drawn inward, I gain permission to slow down and find my
center. All the same, I can simply glance up from this stillness and see a
brother or sister across the tea table, to whom I am also connected. After we
finish this bowl and before the next one is poured, all our bowls come back
together to receive the tea as one bowl. As a resident student at this tea
center, it is a true gift to meet so many of you who travel to our center, and
share so simply and deeply through this tea tradition. However, if you have not
made it to our center, you may like to know that you are still a part of our
life of Tea. Our hearts open to you again and again in a very real way. When we
say we raise our bowls or cups to you wherever you are, we truly mean it!
Every day or two at our tea center, we
take a pause during our tea session to brew some tea not for ourselves, but as
symbolic offerings to both within and beyond ourselves; to our own Divinity we
wish to make space for, and to each of you, our community of tea brothers and
sisters across the world. It is a beautiful ritual that arises from our daily
tea sessions. After a few bowls are shared in silence, the brewer places a
special tea cloth on the table, used specifically for this ceremony. At this
moment, the students rise from the tea table to gather the cups that sit at
each altar. After they are carefully rinsed and cleaned, the cups are placed
upon the tea cloth in a circle, and a fresh steaming pot of tea is poured into
them. With dedication, intention and care, each cup is taken, one by one, and
placed back on the altars as an offering.
These altars are dedicated to various
deities or aspects of Divinity, relevant to our practice of Tea and Zen. These
figures include the Buddha in our meditation room and Kuanyin, who watches over
our tea sessions in the main tea hall; Milafo
(Laughing Buddha) brightening our Gongfu tea room, and Tea legend Shen Nong in
our main hallway, inviting us to feel rooted in Great Nature. Upon each of
these altars rests a unique teacup, along with the traditional offerings of
fresh flowers and fruit, incense, and light. The presence of these altars is
not a sign of any religious affiliation here at our center—after all, there are
deities from many different spiritual traditions watching over each space.
Instead, their role in our daily life here is more universal and accessible.
They are vehicles through which we continually cultivate humility, presence and
gratitude. Bowing before the Buddha, I bow to the stillness and awakening in
me. In offering this cup of tea not to myself, or even another person in the
room, its potential becomes infinite. Its expression can reach far beyond this
tea space, as far as my mind will allow. And while maintaining the beauty,
purity and cleanliness of these altars has its own significance with respect to
our internal practice of Cha Dao, the ceremony of offering tea to them also carries
another intention—an act that welcomes each and every one of you into our
hearts on a continual basis.
You may have read these words in
previous issues: “at our center there is always a cup of tea waiting for you”.
This is not simply a symbolic gesture or saying, but a living expression. In
the true spirit of Tea, we commit to continually opening ourselves; opening our
doors, our home, and our hearts to let others in. The life and breath of this
center is not found in any abundance of tea on the shelves, or teaware in the
cabinets; it is lived through our sharing of each moment together, and in
giving of ourselves to others. This tea, this bowl, are mere material things
without someone to share them with.
I place this cup on the altar before
Buddha or Kuanyin, but I also set it out for you. These cups, which are not yet
drunk, signify that a cup of tea is always waiting for everyone still on their
way to visit us here. Whether we are joined by just one beautiful being at the
tea table or several wonderful guests, we remind ourselves that, beyond these
walls, our family is ever more vast than we can see in any given moment. This
is easy to remember once a month, when addressing hundreds of envelopes to
carry this magazine across the world. But we remember our connection with you
throughout the month, seeing you reflected in the cup of tea that warms our
hands and our hearts. Each week, we receive the gift of meeting more and more
of you as you make it here to our center and share in this community. It is a
unique joy to live our days together in the spirit of Tea, and I hope you are
able to welcome this experience more and more, wherever you are. This cup of
tea I place on the altar is dedicated to awakening my higher self, my own
Buddha nature… but it is also to prepare for your coming here, whenever that
day might come.
Whether you are planning to come here
in the near future, or haven’t thought the least of it; whether you reside in
the Americas, Europe, Australia, or Asia … you are every bit as connected here
at our tea table as you can imagine. The presence of this magazine and its
continual growth are evidence of this connection—and surely, if you have
visited us here, you might not have imagined two years earlier that you would
find yourself at a tea center in Taiwan!
This cup that won’t be drunk transcends
the physical, and becomes an offering made purely of intention. From there, it
is only our imagination that will define its reach in time and space! Just as
we pause and place our hands on the Global Tea Hut envelopes of those we know,
sending love and metta before they are sent out, we close our eyes and
invite each of you into our minds and hearts, as we put forth this cup of tea.
Of course, we don’t want you to arrive and drink this cup from the
altar! But this practice is very real inside us, connecting us each time to the
true essence behind a life of tea, which is ultimately of sharing ourselves,
our own awakening and wisdom, and holding space for others.
Without believing in some sort of 'magic'
behind this ceremony, there is an obvious energy you can feel when seeing a
gathering of steaming cups on the table that no one in the room will drink. For
me, it is a physical reminder that the tea we brew is not our tea. This
center, which indeed we call home, is not only our home. It is always
open to you, as are our hearts. Joined together by the Leaf, we are ever warmed
with gratitude for each and every opportunity to share our lives together.
Until we do so in person, know that I raise this cup of tea to you…
We’ve received some
requests to return to the basics, exploring the foundations of all tea brewing
from a practical level. Returning to the practical foundation of tea brewing is
important for us all. Every now and again we have to renew our contract with
the most essential principles in order to make sure that the ground on which we
build our mastery is strong. Though these principles apply to bowl tea as well,
they are primary in gongfu brewing. Over the next five issues, we plan to
explore the Five Basics of Tea Brewing one by one, adding depth for the more
experienced brewers and covering the foundations for those of you who are new
At the center, we
often teach that “repeat” is a dirty word. It is much better to say, “renew”.
The Sanskrit word for wisdom is “prajna”. “Pra” means “before” and “jna” is
“knowledge” so prajna is that which
is before knowledge—the “beginner’s mind” as it is often translated. When we
think we know something, we shoot ourselves in the feet, crippling our ability
to learn from the lessons all around us. The enlightened mind is humble, open
and receptive. There is an old Chinese saying that “everything which is not me
is my master”. When we dismiss things as “basic” we interrupt our learning, our
humility and heart growth. We get in our own way. Our heads prevent our hearts
from being fully present, from realizing that this lesson that is returning in
our lives is a chance to renew our contracts with positive support. We miss the
chance to deepen and refine our relationship to the foundation of our art and
practice. This applies to Tea as much as to life.
We also often have
the bad habit of assuming that mastery is an extravagant, difficult skill. Real
mastery is in the simple. Advanced
techniques are basic techniques mastered. In life, it matters little that
we achieve exalted spiritual states if we cannot be happy in the simplest ways;
if we cannot connect to this moment fully, it doesn’t matter what satori we had in the past. And if we
cannot connect heart to heart with the people, places and things around us, all
the wisdom cultivated in meditation or at seminars is lost on us. We must brew
tea with heart to master this art!
There is a great Tea
story that expresses this: A man once walked across Japan because he heard that
the great Zen master Rikyu was accepting students. After some time, he was
allowed to study tea with the old master. He worked hard and progressed. After
about a year of study, he asked Rikyu: “Master, now that I have been here a
year, would you initiate me into the essence of Cha Dao?” The master smiled,
“Of course, I would have done that on the day you arrived… “The essence of Cha
Dao is this: draw the water, lay the coals, boil the water and steep the tea!”
The man scoffed, “That’s it! I could have realized that at home.” Rikyu looked
at him in askance, shaking his finger. “The day you can do that, I will walk
across Japan and lay my head at your feet and call you master!”
With the right spirit
of heart—knowing that the path from the mind to the hand travels through the
heart—and a beginners mind, let us then return to the Five Basics of Tea
Brewing, starting with the first: Separate
the tea space in half and do everything on the left side with the left hand,
and everything on the right with that hand.
A lot of the basics
of tea brewing arise out of the need for fluency and remaining centered while
brewing tea. Lefties are usually more centered, having grown up in a
right-handed world. The rest of us, however, are often off balance in our daily
lives. Our right hand is usually much stronger than the left, and we go about
our day as though the left hand is some kind of evolutionary vestige, like the
tailbone.Through Tea, we return to
balance. We should be able to do every movement proficiently with both hands.
This brings our whole body to the center, and the movements will then flow from
our heart. We will be more present, more engaged and brew from the core of our
being—the “dan tian”, as it is called in Chinese. This is the navel-point we
breathe from when we are relaxed and focused. Using both hands will bring tea
brewing to that space.
and physically front and center to your tea and your guests promotes
mindfulness. This simple aspect of tea brewing cannot be overestimated. There
is a profound change in brewing with both hands, without swiveling from the
center of your space. It changes the way you handle each implement, promotes
dexterity and availability to your guests.
In Asia, it is rude
to turn your back on your guests when brewing tea. When you reach over the
center with either hand, you will invariably lose your center to your tea implements
and turn your back on some of your guests. This is a minor reason for this
principle, but it is important. By staying upright and facing the center, you
will find concentration easier. You will also find it easier to connect to your
guests, whether energetically if it is a silent tea session or in heartfelt
conversation if you choose to have a discourse over your tea. Staying oriented
towards the center honors your guests, showing that you are fully present to
The simple, most
practical and maybe most important reason for dividing the table and doing all
movements with the corresponding hand relates to protecting your teaware. In
decades of tea brewing, the number one reason I have seen teapots, cups or
other implements knocked over or broken (by beginners and advanced brewers
alike) is reaching across the table with the opposite hand. If you reach over
your pot and cups with the left hand to get something from the right side of
the table, when you return to a centered position, the pot and all your teaware
are now in a blind spot. Tea brewers are encouraged to wear loose-fitting and
comfortable clothes, and if your sleeves are long, it will be easy for you to
catch them on your tea cloth, tea tray or even the pot and knock something over.
It happens a lot! If you try reaching across in this manner, you will see just
how blind you are to the placement of things on your tea table.
You will have to
practice using both hands in tea brewing if you are to achieve gongfu, which
you know by now means “mastery”. This will mean that many times you have to
pass things from one hand to the other. Make a habit of this. It is always
amazing to see this unfold in Japanese or Chinese tea ceremonies, as it inspires
clarity, purity of movement and mindfulness/presence in host and guest alike.
In Japanese tea rooms, for example, there is often a sliding door that the host
goes in and out of to bring supplies from the back room. If you have the chance
to attend a ceremony, or watch a video of one, you will notice that the host
opens the door halfway with the left hand and then finishes opening it with the
right. She then goes out and closes the door in the same way.
This month, try
putting your hands together in a good Namaste over your heart. Then extend your
hands together to the center of the table and commit to do everything left of
that line with the left hand and everything on the right with the right hand.
There are, of course, many deeper levels to this practice that we haven’t
covered here (like the movement of Qi in the body). We encourage you to renew
this practice even if you are a seasoned brewer! As always, we are excited to
hear your insights. Contact us with any ideas, comments, wisdom our questions: globalteahut [at] gmail.com
Article by Andrew Taylor From Global Tea Hut: Issue 38 / March 2015...
Our tea community here at Tea Sage Hut is the most important aspect of our tradition. We are a group of people working towards a greener and happier world while cultivating a greater connection to Nature, self and others through the use of the Leaf. No matter what separates us in our preferences toward a certain kind of tea or teaware, brewing vessel, or method of preparation, we are all interconnected through Her and the way in which we approach Her binds us together. But what does that mean exactly, a “tea community”? A community can be described as a social construct where the interactions and behavior of the members are oriented through their shared values, beliefs and interests. Therefore, we all share a common thread in our reverence and respect to tea and Nature while relating to Her in our individual ways. The community is backed by a deeply rooted tradition linked back to ancient sages and tea masters. Most importantly, we are all inclusive and stay outside the concept of "us" versus "them", so please come sit for a bowl as no applications nor prerequisites are needed!
Since we’ve had quite a large increase in our membership since last year, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain a bit more about Global Tea Hut and the importance of our worldwide community. First and foremost, as a not-for-profit organization GTH operates because of the good graces of numerous people donating time, money, resources and expertise to bring you this magazine, tea and gift every month. Here at GTH headquarters in Miaoli, Taiwan we are only a core of five people, so without those folks, and you, our members, we would not be able to sustain the ongoing operation of this organization! Our community is a group of Tea lovers from all walks of life and cultures, promoting and cultivating the awakening of self and others through the spirit of Tea. We are part of a Tea tradition that connects us to tea masters and teachers of years long past and work within the vision that it will be carried on for generations to come. One of the three guiding principles is that our tradition is a community of people, unique individuals who desire to create a Tea family that bonds us closer together with love and support along our own personal journeys through life. Our community spans the whole globe and grows larger by the day. Los Angeles, Moscow and Tallinn are a few of our biggest hub communities, with established tea communities that host gatherings every week. Many of our guests that come to the center were introduced to Tea through these events held by our worldwide brothers and sisters. Why this tradition and community has resonated with so many people is because our approach to Tea is one of respect for Nature and recognition of Tea as plant medicine and a vehicle for self-cultivation. And no matter what community you want to connect with, Tea will always have a place. We do not see community as a matter of "inner" and "outer", and in this way we can facilitate a connection to everyone, regardless of how different our ideas or views of the world may be. In this way, we can relate to all circles and break down the walls that separate us.
What makes Global Tea Hut a special community is right here in these pages and within these walls where I sit. To have this media outlet communicate via the center, where we share tea wisdom and knowledge—a beautiful tea center that anyone can visit for free—be completely supported through the donations of everybody who participates is a truly unique circle of energy. We write about the tea wisdom cultivated in the space you support and visit, inspiring you to send more support… I've gotten to know the names of many members over time by preparing GTH each month, and it's always a special occasion when one of those household names comes to life in the flesh with a visit to the Tea Sage Hut. A real treasure of living here at the center is getting to know the guests and being able to serve them during their stay. We share our stories of how we came to meet Tea and how we found the Hut. We share about our lives, the paths we are traveling on and have traveled through and what we are celebrating and struggling with in the present. Some guests arrive without much of an intimate relationship to Tea, but have been called to Her for reasons unclear at the time. Many of them fall in love immediately and continue to make Tea a sacred part of their day. This connection and transformation represents not only an individual’s willingness to receive, but also the potency of a Living Tea and the effect of steeping it in intention, reverence and stillness. Some guests have been longtime members, dating back to the inception of Global Tea Hut, and have just recently visited the center for the first time. I had a realization when one of the original GTH members visited last year; that her support over these past years was partially responsible for the creation of this center, thereby allowing myself and hundreds of others the opportunity to live and learn in this space. And now all of you follow in that chain, supporting the future guests and residents to come! Another longtime member of our community, a dear brother and important figure behind the scenes in the operation of GTH, visited the center for the first time ever during this past Christmas. After a few days of allowing the center experience to settle in, he exclaimed out in a dumbfounded and celebratory manner to no one in particular, “This is a real tea center!” Yes, indeed, but one whose existence would not be actualized without the support and love from him and every one of you reading this right now!
With our attention focused on serving the guests visiting here at the Tea Sage Hut and preparing for the monthly GTH, we must take time to reflect on the people that came before us, before Wu De, our elder generation who have been such an integral part of helping us function and thrive. Some of the more special days are when we get the opportunity to visit with our older Taiwanese tea family of farmers, tea makers, artists and shop owners. These great people support the community in so many ways, from donating tea and teaware, hosting us at their farm, or helping to organize trips to China. They see us not as cute foreigners who have an interest in Tea, but as the younger generation to carry on the knowledge and spirit of Tea that they have cultivated over so many years. They see in us the same passion for Tea as they themselves have towards farming, roasting, pottery or research and education. This elder generation may not be able to connect with us on the level of our daily lifestyle at the center, but they certainly want to support us in contributing to the awareness of Living Tea and the true Taiwanese culture of tea. As Wu De has written about, farmers’ eyes light up upon hearing that their tea will be sent to people in over thirty countries. And their incredible generosity and willingness to give is a personal reminder that Tea (and everything for that matter!) is not about gathering and collecting, but giving and sharing. Often when Wu De speaks about the tradition and our future center, Light Meets Life, he speaks with a deep passion for creating something that will outlive ourselves and be passed on to future generations. As the tradition continues to evolve and transform in minute ways, the wisdom, spirit and teachings imbued from Wu De’s teachers, mentors and tea family will be forever ingrained. There is a special connection within the members of this community. Strangers meet here in Miaoli as if in reunion from lives past to later reconvene for bowls of tea on Skype. We are volunteer agents of the Leaf, facilitating Her destined meeting with the uninitiated. You and I have brothers and sisters all over the globe, waiting for our visit with a kettle on the fire and an open heart. And whether separated by a tea table or by time zones and vast oceans, we are all sharing the same bowl, steeped from the purist heart and Spirit…
There is magic in the way tea trees have changed over time, evolving into new varietals based on their terroir. When you see just how much variety there is in the tea world, you can’t help but feel some awe, as well as a sense of great excitement and adventure, for there is so much to learn, so many teas to taste and so many cups to share! Some of the famous varietals of tea are wild mutations, created by the energies of Nature and Earth, while others are the genius of generations of farmers and masters who devoted their lives to the Leaf. And looking back at the many millennia of culture, heritage and spirit that have gone into tea, a Chajin (tea person) can’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude.
Many authors, especially in English, write that all tea is Camellia sinensis and that the differences in teas are all in the processing. There is truth in this, though it is also potentially misleading. It is important to remember that processing methods developed over time in response to certain varietals of tea, which in turn evolved in response to a particular terroir. Farmers were learning, honing their skills through some trial and error, as well as a deep connection to a life of tea. It would not be correct to say that oolong, for example, is just a method of processing tea, because that processing was advanced to suit certain varietals of tea. And as oolong varietals have changed, moving from place to place (whether naturally or carried by men), so too have processing skills adapted and changed, creating a whole array of different oolongs. So you could say that oolong is both a processing method and a varietal (or more correctly varietals as there are now many).
Nowadays, there is a lot of experimentation, processing teas form one region in the way that they are made elsewhere. Like most of the modern world, this fusion is due to faster communication, more access to information, easier travel and a greater connection to the rest of the tea world that modern farmers enjoy. And a lot of that is great. People traditionally only ever bought tea from tea shops, but nowadays many people can purchase directly from farms, often resulting in a fare trade for the farmers themselves. And some of the new experiments do result in amazing teas, like the purple red tea from De Hong many of us know and love. But the majority of such teas don’t turn out well, like the modern attempts to cultivate Taiwan’s Three Daughters, as well as Ching Shin oolong, in Vietnam and Mainland China. No matter how nice the trees or the skill of the farmer, you can’t find the same quality elsewhere. In other words, a Taiwanese tea processed like a Wuyi Cliff Tea might be a nice tea in its own right, but it will never compare to a real Cliff Tea, at least not by Cliff Tea standards.
When it comes to Taiwanese varietals, there is a lot of misinformation and debate about details. Much of what a farmer understands about the fine details of tea genetics, hybrids and varietals is uninteresting to us. Still, a basic understanding of the main varietals of oolong that has made Taiwan famous is worthwhile, especially the “Three Daughters” as they are called. In exploring the amazing variety of tea that has made Taiwan famous, we can learn about the heritage, culture and history of tea here, and also about the amazing variety of energy and healing available through tea.
Many of you will recall that there are two broad categories of tea trees, big leaf and small leaf. Big leaf tea trees are the original tea, born in Yunnan. They have a single trunk, with roots that grow deeper and more downward-facing. As tea traveled north and east, whether propagated naturally or carried by man, it evolved to suit the colder climes. Small leaf tea is more of a bush, with several trunks and, of course, smaller leaves. In fact, the further north you go, the smaller the leaves—until you get to Japan where the leaves are so small they are like needles when they are dried and rolled. And all oolong tea is considered small leaf tea.
Oolong tea in Taiwan can be broadly divided into two main categories: the traditional varietals that were brought from the Mainland and the hybrids which were researched and developed specifically in Taiwan. As we discussed earlier in this issue, when we explored the tea of the month, the traditional, classical varietals were brought over with immigrants during the Qing Dynasty. The native hybrids, on the other hand, are the result of decades of research that began when the Japanese controlled Taiwan from the end of the nineteenth century up until WWII. The work the Japanese initiated, with the help of local farmers, continued after they left and resulted in the creation of the Three Daughters of Taiwan tea in the 1970’s, all of which have contributed greatly to the success and fame of Taiwanese oolong. In order to better understand and appreciate Taiwanese tea, let’s explore these varietals…
Traditional Oolong Varietals; Gentle Heart Oolong (Ching Shin)
Ching Shin leaves
At the start of the Qing Dynasty, farmers transplanted several varietals to Taiwan, mostly bringing them from Wuyi. All the varietals that they brought were lesser-known and undervalued teas. The famous varietals, like the Four Famous Teas of Wuyi, were protected and weren’t allowed to travel. Even within Wuyi, it isn’t easy to get cuttings of first, or even second generation Da Hong Pao, for example. Several of these varietals were later abandoned, found to be unsuitable to Taiwan’s unique terroir, while others still thrive here—in new and bright forms only found on this island.
In Beipu, where Eastern Beauty comes from, they have Huang Gan and Ching Shin Da Mu, the latter of which can also make a nice green tea. In Ping Lin, and to a lesser extent also Beipu, there is also the Wuyi Cha varietal (sometimes called “Da Ye”, which means “big leaf”, though that’s confusing because it isn’t a big-leaf tea tree; it merely has larger leaves than other varietals in Taiwan). There is also the legendary Tie Guan Yin, brought from Anxi, Fujian and cultivated primarily in Taiwan’s Mu Zha region. The most famous of the tea varietals that were brought here from the Mainland long ago, however, is Ching Shin oolong, which means “Gentle Heart”.
Some say Gentle Heart Oolong is named after the tenderness of the fresh leaves, while others suggest that the name refers to the fact that this kind of tea tree is sensitive. Ching Shin doesn’t do well at lower altitudes, since the trees can get sick easily, having delicate constitutions. Ching Shin is by volume the largest percentage of Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong, thriving at high altitudes where the air is fresh, clean and cool. Of the four tea varietals we are going to discuss in this article, Ching Shin is closer genetically to Four Seasons Spring (Si Ji Chun). It also produces the best, and highest quality of Taiwan high mountain oolong teas. With the right terroir and processing, a Ching Shin oolong can shine brightly, indeed.
In order to distinguish these four teas, you have to look at the leaves, their shape, and most especially the veins. All tea leaves have a central vein that travels from the stem to the tip, but it’s the branching veins that help determine the varietal. Ching Shin and Si Ji Chun both have branching veins that join the central vein at angles from 30 to 60 degrees, while Jing Shuan and Tsui Yu display veins that come out at an 80 to 90-degree angle (almost straight). You can then separate the pairs by looking at the shape, because Tsui Yu and Ching Shin are longer and thinner shaped, while Jing Shuan and Si Ji Chun are rounder. We’ll highlight these characteristics again as we discuss each varietal individually.
Ching Shin tea has a dark green hue when viewing the bushes in a row, though color is never a clear determiner—not without analyzing the leaves. The foliage is also not as dense or vibrant as Tsui Yu or Jing Shuan cultivars.
Ching Shin tea is often produced as lightly oxidized oolong nowadays. It has a refreshing flavor with a light liquor that tastes of flowers, green leafy vegetables or orchids. The light greenish-yellow to yellow liquor is clear and thin, with some bitter astringency at the front, and a lasting hui gan (a sensation of cool, mintiness on the breath) when it is processed properly. The Qi is light and uplifting, cooling and breezy.
The Three Daughters: Golden Lily (Jing Shuan)
Jing Shuan oolong is a hybrid that was established in the 1970’s. Its Taiwanese number is TW #12, though farmers often refer to it as “2027” or just “27”. These numbers refer to the process the Taiwan Oolong Tea Research and Development used to classify the teas as they were developing and testing them. As mentioned above, the leaves of Jing Shuan are more round while the branching veins come off the central vein at an almost right angle (80 to 90 degrees). From a distance the bushes have a yellowish-green hue, which may also help distinguish this cultivar. Jing Shuan tea is primarily grown on Mt. Zhu in central Taiwan. It doesn’t thrive in the extreme cold of very high altitude gardens or plantations like Ching Shin, but isn’t as susceptible to cold as Tsui Yu. When it is healthy, Jing Shuan has more vibrant foliage than other varietals.
Jing Shuan is one of the easiest of the four teas to distinguish. The dry leaves have a golden, yellowish-green hue, as does the liquor. Jing Shuan is famous for its milky texture and fragrance—often referred to as “Milk Oolong”. There is misinformation in the tea world that this name is due to using milk as fertilizer, but the name actually comes from the tea liquor itself: Jing Shuan is thick and creamy, and if the terroir is right, with more sun, and the processing done well, it has a definite milky aroma which is very pleasing. Its fame has resulted in fake “Milk Oolongs” produced in Mainland China that are sprayed with artificial milk flavors post production, giving them a strong and unnatural fragrance of milk. (Yuck!) Real Jing Shuan has only a subtle hint of a milky fragrance in the aftertaste. The thick, oily liquor coats the throat. It has a deep and lasting Qi that resonates inwards.
Jing Shuan bushes on Mr. Xie's farm
Kingfisher Jade (Tsui Yu)
Tsui Yu oolong is also a hybrid which came to life in the 1970’s, after decades of research. In the Taiwanese index it is TW #13, though farmers often refer to it as “2029” or just “29”. Like Jing Shuan, the leaves of Tsui Yu have veins at 80 to 90-degree angles, though they are long and arrowhead-shaped. When you stand back from a field of Tsui Yu, the leaves have a bluish-green (kingfisher) tint to them and they are more vibrant, with lusher foliage than all the other four varietals we will discuss here. Tsui Yu dislikes cold weather, so it can’t be grown at very high altitudes. It is predominantly grown on Mt. Zhu and in the lowlands around Ming Jian, where our tea of the month comes from.
As we discussed earlier in the magazine, Tsui Yu has a flavor of seaweed, lima beans and often fruit. It is more famous for an aroma of wildflowers and an aftertaste of fresh fruit. Some say it tastes of lotus or lilac, others say cassia or peach. Much of this depends on the terroir, the season and the skill of the producer. The Qi is Yin. It centers you in the heart.
Four Seasons Spring (Si Ji Chun)
Si Ji Chun young buds and leaves, with their beautiful red hues.
Though you could perhaps call Si Ji Chun a hybrid, it is a natural, wild varietal that arose in Mu Zha. Since it is a more natural varietal, it is heartier than the others. This is a testament to one of the principles we always promote in these pages when discussing what we call, “Living Tea”, which is that the leaves produced by man will never compare to Nature’s. It’s possible to further distinguish manmade teas by calling them “cultivars”. These trees yield buds at least four times a year, which is where its name comes from. “Si Ji Chun” might also be translated as “Four Seasons like Spring”, referring to the fact that this bush can produce as much in other seasons as in spring. It is also thought to be the youngest of the Three Daughters, coming into commercial production in the 1980’s. Si Ji Chun does not have a Taiwan classification number, since it evolved naturally. Of the four teas here,
Si Ji Chun is more closely related to Ching Shin than it is to Jing Shuan or Tsui Yu. The leaves of Si Ji Chun are round in shape, with veins that shoot off at 30 to 60-degree angles. The leaves have a light green hue, with less foliage like Ching Shin. The buds of Si Ji Chun are often a gorgeous reddish hue when they emerge.
As many of you will remember from June of 2013, when we sent out this fabulous tea, Si Ji Chun has an exuberant, golden liquor that blossoms in a fresh, musky floweriness. It is tangy, with a slightly sour aftertaste, like the Tie Guan Yin varietal it evolved from. Many Taiwanese compare the aroma to gardenias. Of these four teas, it is the most distinguishable flavor. The Qi is cleansing, pushing outward from the center. It rises up in gusts, and leaves you feeling refreshed.